Lawrence Cager, Theo Johnson Vying For Giants’ Pass-Catching TE Role?

In between the Evan Engram and Darren Waller New York stays, Daniel Bellinger worked as the Giants’ primary tight end. During Waller’s latest time off the field due to a hamstring injury last season, the 2022 fourth-rounder returned to a role as the team’s top TE. It would, then, stand to reason the Giants would turn back to Bellinger following Waller’s retirement.

If that is to happen, the team is taking a roundabout route to that depth chart arrangement. The Giants’ offseason program featured Lawrence Cager and fourth-round rookie Theo Johnson splitting first-team reps, per the New York Post’s Paul Schwartz. Bellinger missed time due to an unspecified injury, Brian Daboll said (via The Athletic’s Dan Duggan), adding the injury occurred weeks ago.

[RELATED: Darren Waller Details Retirement Decision]

Teams do not have to disclose players’ offseason injuries, and Daboll noted the Giants are proceeding cautiously with the third-year tight end. The third-year HC expects Bellinger to “be fine,” though Schwartz adds the parties do not appear on the same page regarding the injury. Considering Bellinger’s extensive playing time over the past two seasons, his role during training camp and the preseason will be a topic to monitor as the Giants transition from Waller.

Despite the Giants trading a third-round pick for Waller in March 2023, they used Bellinger on a career-high 688 offensive snaps. The San Diego State product moved back into the top TE slot during Waller’s five-game absence midway through last season, though the Giants have not involved him heavily in the passing game. Bellinger, who started 11 of the 12 games he played as a rookie, has not eclipsed 275 receiving yards in a season. While Bellinger missed five games due to injury in 2022 and was behind Waller for much of 2023, he did not exceed 375 yards in a season with the Aztecs.

A converted wide receiver, Cager earned praise from Daboll at the conclusion of the offseason program. It should be expected Bellinger will remain a regular for the Giants, but’s Jordan Raanan notes it appears Cager and Johnson are being groomed to take over receiving responsibilities at the position. Daboll referred to Cager as one of the team’s most improved players this offseason. Considering Cager’s past as a frequent practice squad stash, his move to regular duty would be a notable development for a Giants team again grappling with the loss of a productive tight end. In 17 Giants games since his 2022 arrival, Cager has just 17 receptions for 154 yards.

Although Waller continued to battle health issues in New York, he totaled 552 receiving yards in his 12-game Giants stint. Only Engram has topped that among Giants TEs since 2013. Waller’s summer exit leaves a gaping hole in the Giants’ skill-position corps.

The Giants did not add a receiving tight end in free agency but did use their first Day 3 pick on Johnson, who caught seven touchdown passes at Penn State last season. Johnson topped out at 341 yards in a Nittany Lions campaign, but he averaged 16.4 yards per catch as a junior in 2022. Johnson measured 6-foot-6 and ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the Combine.

Additionally, Duggan notes Chris Manhertz exited the offseason program ahead of the other UFA tight end the team added (Jack Stoll). The Broncos released Manhertz, a blocking tight end, this offseason. Manhertz making the roster would cut into the above-referenced trio’s work, as he would be of use to the Giants’ post-Saquon Barkley rushing attack, one still expected to feature the struggling Evan Neal at right tackle.

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