All eyes on Brian Daboll as Daniel Jones says Barkley, Lawrence absences won’t divide team

Brian Daboll earned the benefit of the doubt with last season’s 6-1 Giants start, and he received it through the 4-7-1 remainder of his rookie year into an award-filled offseason.

But the honeymoon is over, and that was clear Monday morning when Saquon Barkley and Dexter Lawrence didn’t show up to the start of the Giants’ offseason program due to their contract situations.

In many ways, this marks Daboll’s first true, pressure-packed adversity that could see every move of his scrutinized off the field:

How will the second-year head coach manage two of his best players being absent and disgruntled? It could be argued they are his two best players.

Monday, Daboll and his players stuck to a tight-lipped script of praising their absent teammates and downplaying any concern.

“A lot of respect for those guys,” said Daboll, who noted he has spoken directly to both players. “It’s April 17th here. We’ve got a long way until we get going.”

Quarterback Daniel Jones, who landed a four-year, $160 million extension this offseason, said he will “support” his teammates who also believe they should be paid.

“Those are business situations, and those guys have to go about them how they see fit,” Jones said on Zoom. “I certainly respect that. I think we all do. Knowing those two guys, they are team-first guys and they are great teammates to everybody. And everyone in that locker room has a tremendous amount of respect for both of them. That’s team business, and I’m not going to comment any more on that.”

Jones did comment more, though. He put his foot down on the suggestion that he might have to monitor the impact of these negotiations on the Giants’ locker room as a team leader.

“I think we’ve got great guys in the locker room and mature guys who understand that side of playing in the NFL,” Jones said. “I don’t think that’s a concern within our team. Those two guys are excellent teammates, stand up guys that everyone has a ton of respect for. In terms of it all dividing the locker room and making anyone feel differently, I think that’s out of the question.”

Daboll, though, had an interesting response when asked how he would address speculation that Barkley and Lawrence were planting their flags because Jones got paid:

“Privately,” Daboll said. “This is the NFL… [GM] Joe [Schoen] has done a great job with his conversations.”

Still, this isn’t about the Giants’ locker room fracturing at the moment. It’s a question of whether Schoen will be able to sufficiently reward two of his best players and get them back in the building in time to not adversely affect the 2023 season.

Barkley’s and Lawrence’s situations aren’t easily resolved, even though they are both players and people that the Giants have said consistently that they value.

Lawrence just made second-team All-Pro at a defensive tackle position where value is exploding across the league.

The 49ers’ Javon Hargrave got $21 million per year in free agency in March. Then Washington’s Daron Payne ($22.5 million) and Tennessee’s Jeffrey Simmons ($23.5 million) reset the market among D-tackles not named Aaron Donald, the Rams unicorn who makes $31 million a year.

That’s connected to why on Monday, the Jets’ Quinnen Williams and the Giants’ Lawrence both didn’t report to the start of their teams’ offseason programs.

Williams, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, was first-team All-Pro last season and is due to make only $9.5 million on his fifth-year option.

Lawrence, the No. 17 selection in 2019 and a second-team All-Pro, is scheduled to make just $12.4 million on his fifth-year option. And he’s playing next to Leonard Williams, whose current contract averages $21 million per year.

So while it’s certainly easier said than done for Schoen to agree to reset a position’s market, it’s also reasonable for Lawrence to expect a major payday coming off a big season.

Barkley, meanwhile, is in a less favorable position with little leverage from a business standpoint. The $10.1 million franchise tag is hanging unsigned over his head.

He’s staying away by not signing the franchise tag tender, which means he is ineligible to report to the Giants’ facility.

Barkley wants a multi-year contract, but his reps twice turned down a $12-12.5 million per year offer in November and January while seeking Christian McCaffrey money ($16 million).

And although Barkley encouragingly participated in Jones’ recent player-organized Arizona workouts, he’s clearly not pleased with the game of hardball the Giants are playing.

“I think he’s got a good mindset,” Jones said. “He’s taking care of his business and making sure he’s in shape, improving and working out hard. I think he’s doing all the right things as you’d expect him to do … I’ve seen him a good bit… We’ve spoken a lot, kept in touch, and I’m hoping for the best with the situation.”

It remains to be seen if there were other key players who didn’t report for the start of the Giants’ offseason program, too.

Daboll was asked if anyone else was missing on day one, and he responded: “I’d just say this: we have really good attendance. It was good to see everybody here.”

Safety Xavier McKinney assured the Barkley and Lawrence absences aren’t an issue to the rest of the team regardless.

“The guys aren’t really looking into it like that,” he said. “I think [Daboll] has handled it great.”

These standoffs can backfire if they linger, however, especially when they involve two of a team’s best players and don’t present any obvious immediate solutions.

All eyes are on Daboll, then, as he tries to keep guiding this program in the right direction without two of his most important pieces in the building.


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