New York Giants: There is a Plan!
The Giants are a rebuilding ball club and it is important for their fans to understand the strategy being employed by General Manager George Young and the Giants’ front office. Yes, despite what you may hear on the radio or read in the newspaper, the Giants do indeed have a long-term plan. Simply put, it is to build through the draft, re-sign up-and-coming young ball players, and then only use free agency to fill glaring holes or weaknesses on the team. Now many argue that such a strategy is archaic, that free agency and the salary cap have left George Young and the front office confused and largely reactive, rather than proactive. We couldn’t disagree more.
The top two teams in the NFL since 1992 have been the 49ers and the Cowboys. These two teams were not built through free agency, but through the draft. They also had the critical advantage of having their corps of “star” players signed and entering their prime during the advent of free agency and the salary cap. Thus, they were given a 3-4 year “grace period” that other teams did not enjoy. The Giants’ problem? The 1990 World Champion Giants were not only an aging team, but even worse, the Giants’ “star” players were in the twilight of their careers. To make matters worse, after having a superb draft in 1989, the Giants entered a period (1990-1992) where the front office drafted poorly. Proof? Halfback Rodney Hampton is the only player from the 1990 draft on the current roster. Outside linebacker Corey Miller is the only player remaining from the 1991 draft. The Giants did better in 1992 (cornerback Phillippi Sparks, H-Back Aaron Pierce, defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, and middle linebacker Corey Widmer), but it was also the year where they drafted tight end Derek Brown in the first round.
The Giants have drafted much better since then and have acquired talented, youthful players at a number of key positions: offensive line, wide receiver, running back, defensive end, and the secondary. The current plan is to keep these young players on the team, in order to maintain continuity and build chemistry. Football, after all, is the ultimate team sport. Most importantly, the Giants hope these young players will grow and improve together. If the Giants are successful, they will have a great advantage over other teams in that they will have the “luxury” of having a roster filled with improving players who are both comfortable and familiar with each other, while other teams will struggle to maintain chemistry and continuity. The key for this strategy to work is for the Giants’ front office to correctly determine which players on the current roster will become good players AND to keep them on the roster. The book is still out on whether or not the Giants have picked the right players. Will Dave Brown become one of the top quarterbacks in the league? Will the huge, young players on the offensive line form one of the best offensive lines in Giants’ history? Is defensive end Cedric Jones an impact player? Can the Giants win with the current linebacking corps? All these questions remain to be answered.
Regardless, the Giants have done a fine job locking up their “up-and-coming” players. Most of the players the Giants have lost through free agency over the last few years were on the downside of their career or overrated by the fans and media. All eleven current starters on offense are already under contract for next year. Moreover, with the Giants recently extending the contracts of middle linebacker Corey Widmer and outside linebacker Jessie Armstead, the Giants now have seven of their eleven current starters on defense also under contract already for next season. Three of the five defensive free agents next year (defensive end Chad Bratzke, cornerback Jason Sehorn, and free safety Tito Wooten) will be restricted free agents, which means they are not likely to be able leave. That leaves defensive end Michael Strahan and defensive tackle Keith Hamilton as the sole starters left to be signed. The Giants have made a big push to extend Strahan’s contract. He is one of their best players, but if he does leave, it will be a big blow to the future of the franchise. His re-signing is more important than the Giants win-loss record this year.
The Giants are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. The average age of the players is under 26; the average age of the offensive and defensive starters is also under 26. If the Giants can keep this nucleus together for the next 3-5 years, and these players start playing like the Giants expect them to play (a big if), then the Giants should be once again in Superbowl contention in the not-too-distant future.
If you accept this “world view” of the Giants future, then what should Giants’ fans expect this year? The answer is as simple as it is brutal — not much. The Giants are too young, too inexperienced, and lack too much leadership to seriously contend for even a wild card spot this year. Ohh, they will tease, just like they did on opening night against the Bills, but 1996 should be considered a growing year for the team — a very long preseason if you will. The defense has been a pleasant surprise, but they are still one or two drafts away from becoming a top unit. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan has installed an aggressive, blitzing defense that we (and the players) love. Quarterbacks like Troy Aikman may make the Giants pay for this strategy like he did in week two, but most will not. We hope the Giants do not abandon this more aggressive philosophy. The offense, on the other hand, has been absolutely dreadful so far this year. This is not totally unexpected. It all starts up front, and even though the Giants’ offensive line should become one of the best in the league, it will take them 1-2 years to really become a force. Until they do, the offense will struggle. Dave Brown must also step forward. He has been unfairly criticized by some and treated with kid gloves by others — the truth, as it usually does, lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, the offensive line has not protected him well and the play-calling has been conservative, but he has also not played well this year. With each poor or mediocre performance on the part of Dave Brown, rookie quarterback Danny Kanell, who was impressive in camp this year, looms larger and larger in the picture.