Giants OTAs: What does Darius Slayton’s late arrival mean? How long is Evan Neal’s leash?

The New York Giants will conduct their second OTA practice open to reporters on Thursday. Here’s a closer look at some observations from the first open OTA and a major development this week:

The Slayton situation

The Giants posted a photo gallery from Tuesday’s closed OTA practice that heavily featured Darius Slayton. The wide receiver had been skipping the voluntary offseason program to signal his desire for a new contract. There are no indications the Giants have adjusted Slayton’s contract.

Slayton was in a unique spot as a middle-class player skipping the offseason program due to his contract. Typically, holdouts are reserved for stars seeking market-setting extensions.

Slayton is set to begin the second year of the two-year, $12 million contract he signed last March. He has to understand he’s not going to get a salary at the top of the exploding wide receiver market. But he also feels underpaid after setting a career-high with 770 receiving yards despite the Giants’ abysmal quarterback play last season.

Slayton’s leverage took a major blow when the Giants selected LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers with the sixth pick in the draft. Slayton would have had much more value if the Giants instead drafted a quarterback in the first round.

The Giants now have three receivers — Nabers, Jalin Hyatt and Wan’Dale Robinson — picked in the first three rounds of the past three drafts. The hope for the Giants is that the trio becomes the wide receiver corps for years. The three young receivers count just $8.8 million on the cap this year. Having the steady, experienced Slayton under contract for this season with an $8.2 million cap hit is an ideal fit for the Giants.

The Giants know they can rely on him to produce roughly 50 catches for 750 yards if he’s a featured part of the offense. That’s a comforting insurance policy if Hyatt doesn’t prove he’s ready to expand his role and production after flashing big-play ability as a rookie.

Understandably, Giants general manager Joe Schoen has been resistant to extending Slayton since the hope is Hyatt develops into a well-rounded weapon.

Meanwhile, Slayton is justified in seeking a raise after receivers with similar production, Gabe Davis and Darnell Mooney, got matching three-year, $39 million contracts in free agency this offseason. But again, Schoen’s hand hasn’t been forced to grant a raise since Slayton isn’t an indispensable player. And the fact that Slayton apparently reported without getting a new deal shows that it was wise for Schoen not to budge.

“I’m playing hardball,” an executive with another team said earlier this week of how they’d approach the Slayton situation. “Depending on the precedent that you want to set, I probably would have moved on from him already for cap purposes. But now, I’d just hold him. I’ll be able to move him for something at the 53(-man roster cut).”

If Schoen does acquiesce with a raise, it would likely be done as a goodwill gesture. Schoen has consistently played hardball with contracts, including when he squeezed Slayton for a $1.6 million pay cut before the 2022 season. Slayton is popular in the locker room, so it’s possible Schoen could see value in keeping the veteran, who will lead an impressionable young position group, happy.

Regardless of where things stand now, there’s still the possibility Slayton is traded. An acquiring team would only owe Slayton $3.7 million for this season, so that could make him attractive to a contender looking for a quality complementary piece. But again, Slayton has value to the Giants, and they already paid him a $2.4 million roster bonus in March, so that makes trading him less appealing.

Benefits lapse

Slayton’s contract includes a $350,000 workout bonus that he was due to earn if he attended 84.4 percent of the entire offseason program and 100 percent of the OTAs and minicamp. Slayton skipped the first six weeks of the offseason program and the first three OTAs, so he won’t reach either threshold.

There is a notation in his contract regarding the OTA/minicamp attendance that states he’s required to fully participate “unless excused by the club’s physician, head trainer or head coach.” Theoretically, coach Brian Daboll could excuse the absences to allow Slayton to still collect the $350,000 bonus.

How long is Neal’s leash?

This was the Giants’ first-team offensive line during install periods in last week’s open OTA: LT Andrew Thomas, LG Jermaine Eluemunor, C John Michael Schmitz, RG Jon Runyan, RT Evan Neal.

Thomas and Neal didn’t participate in 11-on-11 periods, getting replaced by Josh Ezeudu and Yodny Cajuste, respectively. Neal had surgery in January to repair a small fracture in his left ankle that was initially diagnosed as a sprain. The injury sidelined Neal for the final eight games of the season. Thomas is not believed to be injured, so he was likely held out of live drills as a precautionary measure due to his injury history.

It’s not surprising Neal is working at right tackle to begin the offseason, but it’s unclear how long the leash is for the No. 7 pick in the 2022 draft. Neal has played poorly and has been plagued by injuries during his first two seasons.

Meanwhile, the Giants gave Eluemunor a two-year, $14 million contract this offseason. That’s a big raise on the one-year, $3 million deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. Eluemunor has played every position on the line besides center in his seven-year career, but he earned the payday from the Giants after two consecutive solid seasons at right tackle.

Eluemunor, who has spent four years with new Giants offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, has indisputably been a better right tackle than Neal during the past two seasons. And Eluemunor has never been more than a backup/spot starter at guard during his career. He has only played 71 snaps at guard during the past two seasons.

Neal’s draft pedigree has granted him another opportunity, but the Giants now have a viable right tackle alternative with Eluemunor. Daboll rotated players along the offensive line throughout training camp last year, so it will be interesting to see when — or if — Eluemunor gets reps at right tackle.

On guards

It’s also notable that Eluemunor is at left guard and Runyan, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract this offseason, is at right guard. Runyan had a near-even split at the two guard spots — 1,628 snaps at right guard and 1,555 snaps at left guard — during his four seasons with the Packers.

Runyan played almost exclusively at left guard until flipping to the right side in Week 7 of the 2022 season. He remained at right guard for the rest of his time in Green Bay, rotating with second-year player Sean Rhyan during the second half of last season.

When asked his preference during his Giants introductory news conference, Runyan said, “If I were to choose, I probably would say left.” Runyan, who mostly played left tackle at Michigan, added that “it doesn’t really matter” because he feels comfortable on both sides.

Still, it’s interesting he’s not starting out at his preferred side. And Eluemunor has played almost exclusively on the right side when he’s played guard in his career.

There are a few potential explanations for the initial lineup. Runyan is the best guard on the roster, so aligning him on the right side puts Neal in the best position to succeed. And if Neal falters at tackle, he played left guard during his freshman year at Alabama so that could be viewed as an easier transition.

On the flip side, an argument can be made for keeping Runyan at his preferred position and letting him develop chemistry with Thomas and Schmitz since the right side of the line is more volatile. If moving Eluemunor to right tackle is a consideration, it would make sense to have him working at right guard so he doesn’t need to flip sides in addition to changing positions.


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Leading man

Outside linebacker Brian Burns put his dominant performance against Ezeudu in last week’s OTA in proper perspective.

“It means nothing,” Burns said.

What has been meaningful during Burns’ early days with the Giants has been his leadership. A three-time captain with the Panthers, Burns has seamlessly stepped into a leadership role with the Giants after he was acquired in a March trade that included a five-year, $141 million contract.

Burns has embraced being a mentor for Kayvon Thibodeaux, who is entering his third season. Burns was in his third season when the Panthers signed outside linebacker Haason Reddick, who had two more years of NFL experience.

Burns credited Reddick with imparting wisdom that helped him take the next step as a player.

“IQ, moves — small things you don’t really think about, things only a vet can tell you about because they’ve been through that experience,” Burns said of the lessons from Reddick. “That definitely did wonders for my career.”

Burns and Reddick, who is now with the Jets, combined for 20 sacks in their lone season together in Carolina. The Giants are hoping Burns’ partnership with Thibodeaux is equally productive.

A ‘huge change’

Another piece of the puzzle the Giants hope will help their pass rush will be having defensive line coach Andre Patterson do some work with Burns, Thibodeaux and the other outside linebackers.

Patterson called his involvement with the edge rushers a “huge change” from the previous two seasons. The architects of that pass rush are gone, with the resignation of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the firing of outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins. They’ve been replaced by defensive coordinator Shane Bowen and outside linebackers coach Charlie Bullen.

The pass rush scheme will be much different under Bowen, who relies on the front four to generate most of the pressure. Martindale’s defense featured exotic pressure packages that blitzed players from everywhere.

Patterson worked with edge rushers as the Vikings’ defensive line coach from 2014-21 because Minnesota ran a 4-3 defense. That meant he coached star pass-rushing defensive ends like Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen.

Bowen’s defense has more similarities to the one deployed by Mike Zimmer during Patterson’s time in Minnesota than Martindale’s unorthodox scheme. There will be more stunting among the front four, so the defensive line and outside linebackers will need to be more coordinated in their rushes, which makes the overlapping between Patterson and Bullen a natural result.

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(Photo of Slayton: Rich Schultz / Getty Images)

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