He left himself plenty of time and so Joe Schoen was not late, but the drive from New Jersey to Long Island — Huntington, specifically — was the typical harrowing experience. It took the general manager of the Giants 90 minutes to get to his destination and he seemed in need of some tension relief.
“It’s just that you can’t relax during any part of the ride,” he said.
Buckle in. Schoen in his new job will not be able to relax much, if ever, for the next six months or so. He has been in the role for half a year and in that span hired a new head coach — Brian Daboll, a comrade from their time together in Buffalo — spearheaded a free-agency signing period hampered by severe salary cap restraints, engaged in his first NFL draft owning final say on every pick and rebuilt the front office to better shape his vision for the franchise.
Up next: His first training camp as the leader of the pack. Rookies reported on Monday — the last two unsigned draft picks, wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson and safety Dane Belton, agreed to terms on their contracts; the veterans arrive July 26. This summer work is more about Daboll and his coaching staff than it is about Schoen but that does not mean the recently turned 43-year-old general manager plans on exhaling anytime soon.
“Me going out there being a nervous wreck,” is how Schoen anticipates he expects to feel, speaking with The Post on Monday at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic & Gala at Oheka Castle.
“Probably not” was Schoen’s take on whether he anticipates his first camp practice as a GM, the morning of July 27, will feel like a big deal. This is because one day is not differentiated from the next, in terms of the angst felt by the person in charge of the roster. There is a certainty when players take the field: Some of them will get hurt. When they do, Schoen has to find replacements.
It is no wonder Ernie Accorsi, the former Giants general manager, used to observe training camp practices anxiously awaiting the final horn to sound, welcoming the end of the workout and closing out the possibility of an injury, until the apprehension starts up again the next day.
“As roster attrition sets in, that’s stressful, because there’s 90 guys on 32 rosters, there’s only so many players out there at each position that can still function in a camp,” Schoen said. “It’s always very stressful for me.
“You’re watching the football but you also want to make sure you have enough bodies that you can practice and you want enough competition where guys have to put their best foot forward. It’s a delicate balance between guys getting enough work in and being ready to play and contact and also keeping everybody healthy. We’ve got a really good sports science department, medical department, they’ve been working closely with Daboll on the practice schedules. I think we got a good plan in place.”
Schoen knew what he was getting into when he was hired, having studied the Giants’ financial constraints and realizing the team was pushed up against the salary cap. He went in with specific goals, prioritizing strengthening the talent and depth on the offensive line and adding a quality backup quarterback behind Daniel Jones in Tyrod Taylor.
“Could we have done better? Yeah, if we had $40 million in cap space, yeah,” Schoen said. “With what we had, I think we executed a plan.We were able to upgrade the roster with the resources we had.”
He has not heard the latest updates about the health of some of his key players — most notably receiver Kadarius Toney and left tackle Andrew Thomas — and said, “I would expect everybody will be all right” for the start of camp. Thomas (ankle) and Toney (knee) during the spring did not participate in any 11-on-11 work.
Schoen is heartened hearing about Jones gathering some of the Giants’ offensive targets near his Charlotte, N.C., home for a passing camp, calling this effort by Jones “The leadership element. Those guys working together, the continuity, spending time together outside of the facility, I think all that’s important.”
The overhaul that brought Schoen and Daboll in is yet another attempt to resuscitate a franchise that is 22-59 the past five seasons. Schoen is not looking ahead any further than this upcoming camp and is steering clear of establishing or commenting on expectations, which on the outside are extremely meager for the 2022 Giants.
“I don’t think we’ll really know with this team — again, we got a lot of work to do — Week 3, Week 4, how are we gonna react when we’re up 14?” Schoen said. “How are we gonna react when we’re down 14? Every year is a new year. It takes a while to figure out who your team is and how they respond to adversity, how they respond to success. … We’ve said since my opening press conference and [co-owner] John Mara said the same thing, we want to see progress. We want to see an upward trend that we’re getting better, we’re improving from the bottom of the roster to the top of the roster.”
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