Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, December 29, 2013: Stating the obvious, the New York Giants’ 2013 season has been a disaster. The franchise and its fans were sent into a state of shock by the 0-6 start. A 4-0 run against teams with shoddy quarterbacks raised some faint hope until Dallas swept the Giants with a crushing loss at the Meadowlands in Week 12. The final kick in the balls were the uncompetitive losses to the Chargers and Seahawks.
The six or seven wins the Giants will finish with in 2013 should not mask the fact that this team was one of the worst in the NFL this season. The defense was respectable, but the passing game on offense completely collapsed, the Giants were 31st in rushing, and special teams were atrocious for much of the season. Given the sorry state of the NFC East, the fact that the Giants were out of division race with more than a quarter of the regular season remaining is the most damning indictment of all.
There are legitimate questions concerning the coaching staff and I will address some of these below, but I think it is fairly obvious that the overriding issue with this team in 2013 was not coaching but lack of talent and the ever-obvious reality that General Manager Jerry Reese, Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross, and the entire college scouting department have blown far too many draft picks in recent years.
There is no sense harping too much on the Giants-Redskins finale other than to say that the Redskins are certainly capable of ending the Giants’ season on one final down note. Right now, Kirk Cousins is a better quarterback than Robert Griffin III, and Cousins has every motivation in the world to play well. The Redskins are one of the best rushing teams in football and their defense will want to play well for retiring MLB London Fletcher. The Redskins haven’t quit as demonstrated by last week’s game against the Cowboys.
I hope the Giants perform well and win for those players who might be playing in their last game as a New York Giant. This is likely it for David Diehl, who has been a warrior on this team for 11 seasons. Justin Tuck – whose play was so decisive in two Super Bowls – will be a free agent and there is no guarantee that he will be back. Hakeem Nicks, who tore it up in the 2011 playoffs – will probably depart via free agency. Linval Joseph, Kevin Boothe, and Terrell Thomas will be free agents and may not be back. The Giants may choose to let go of the high-priced Mathias Kiwanuka. No one knows if the Giants and Antrel Rolle will be able to work out a new contract in order to reduce his cap hit.
Twenty-nine Giants (including two with voidable contracts) will be free agents. Much of the core group of Super Bowl XLII and XLVI are gone or will soon be gone. I hope the ones who are about to leave go out with a victory.
Quarterback: The #1 priority this offseason is to rebuild Eli Manning and the most obvious way to do that is dramatically improve his supporting cast (more on that below). But the Giants also must improve the quarterback’s deteriorating fundamentals. In my mind, 41-year old Quarterbacks Coach Sean Ryan should be on the hot seat. An absolutely critical decision also needs to be made with respect to Eli’s contract. Eli is under contract for two more seasons, but his salary cap hit in 2014 will be over $20 million again. That’s almost 1/6 of the cap. The problem with restructuring is you are extending the contract, and if Eli does not rebound, the Giants could be in salary cap hell for years to come. The more prudent thing might be to wait one more year and see if Eli rebounds, but if the Giants do this, there won’t be a lot of cap room for free agents (both current Giants whose contracts are expiring and players from other teams). Eli could ease some doubts with a strong game in the finale.
Wide Receivers: Too much focus has been on the demise of Eli Manning and not enough regarding the demise of his wide receiving corps. 25-year old Hakeem Nicks’ game has deteriorated so rapidly since Week 2 of the 2012 season that it boggles the mind. He not only has been held out of the end zone all season, but he only has three 100-yard receiving games this season (and only one 100-yard game in 2012). To be frank, he’s just not that good anymore. Nicks might rebound with another team in 2014, but right now, I am not even sure he should have started for the Giants in 2013. He’s been that bad.
Nicks’ situation seems to have clouded the fact that Victor Cruz did not play very well in 2013. Cruz only scored touchdowns in two games, the last being in Week 4 and he had only one 100-yard receiving game since Week 4. Cruz is being paid to be an impact player and he wasn’t in 2013. He needs to rededicate himself in the offseason and come back strong.
This was supposed to be a breakout season for Rueben Randle and it wasn’t. Randle did have six touchdowns, but he really faded in the second half of the season. His only 100-yard game came in the opener and he hasn’t scored since Week 11.
Jerrel Jernigan finally showed some signs of life the last two weeks and Sunday will be another important game for him with Cruz out. Louis Murphy was supposed to be the Giants’ deep threat but was a bust.
Wide receiver used to be an area of strength and was expected to be for years to come, but Nicks’ fall and Randle’s lack of development has changed that. The Giants look slow on offense. And it seems like Eli doesn’t really trust anyone other than Cruz. The Giants have to cross their fingers that Cruz rebounds and Randle does develop in 2014, but they also need to add more speed and play-making ability. Don’t be shocked if the Giants go wide receiver high in the draft. The draft mess ups with Sinorice Moss, Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan (to date), and maybe even Randle have hurt. 34-year old Kevin Gilbride, Jr. – the offensive coordinator’s son – should also be on the hot seat.
Tight Ends: The Giants kept four tight ends. The most physically-talented two – Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell – did not develop and barely played. Brandon Myers and Bear Pascoe are subpar, unathletic overachievers who might not start for any other team in the NFL. No one here scares an opposing defense or presents match-up problems. The Giants have to pray 71-year old Mike Pope – who is nearing the end – can get something out of Robinson and Donnell, and the Giants need to draft a legitimate threat and not another project.
Running Backs: Is the 2014 starter even on this team? Who knows if David Wilson’s career is over? Will the Giants re-sign the injury-prone Andre Brown? Should they? Does Michael Cox have an NFL future? Was Peyton Hillis just a bandaid? Henry Hynoski will return in 2014, but I personally think John Conner is the better player.
Offensive Line: Excuse my language, but just a fucking disaster. Shame on Jerry Reese for letting this unit deteriorate to this point. Every fan who had been complaining for years that not enough was being done to address the offensive line has been proven 100 percent correct. It was stupid to rely on the physically-failing/now injury-prone David Diehl, Chris Snee, and David Baas. And not enough was done in case those players inevitably got hurt again. You can’t run or pass the football if you can’t block up front. In 2011, the Giants were 32nd in rushing; in 2013, they are 31st. Now the pass protection has also fallen apart as Eli often doesn’t have a pocket to step up into.
The Giants have Justin Pugh and a bunch of question marks. Can the high-priced Will Beatty rebound? Cutting the high-priced David Baas will actually hurt against the cap, but should the Giants risk trusting him again? Chris Snee should retire, but if he doesn’t, will Tom cut his son-in-law? Will or should Kevin Boothe be re-signed? Do James Brewer, Brandon Mosley, Jim Cordle, Eric Herman, and Stephen Goodin have NFL futures? The Giants need a ton of help in this area, but they only have six draft picks, a $20 million salary-cap hog at quarterback, and some pretty desperate needs at WR, TE, and RB. Why did the Giants suck on offense in 2013? Because an atrocious offensive line and their skill position players were not very good. It’s that simple.
Defensive Line: Most of the issues are on offense, but the defense could quickly deteriorate again if the Giants are not careful. After two down seasons, Justin Tuck rebounded with a stronger 2013, but he is now on the wrong side of 30. How much gas is left in his tank? Mathias Kiwanuka did not play as well as expected in 2013 and could become a salary-cap casualty. Damontre Moore flashed on special teams, but not at defensive end. And that brings us to Jason Pierre-Paul, who was one of the very best players in the game in 2011, but who has largely vanished since then. How much of a concern is his back? Should he have surgery on his shoulder now, and if not, will waiting delay the inevitable and risk creating another subpar season in 2014? If Tuck and Kiwanuka depart, this team may have to address defensive end early in the draft at the expense of ignoring an equally pressing need on offense, linebacker, or defensive back.
At defensive tackle, the situation becomes much simpler if the Giants are able to re-sign 25-year old Linval Joseph, but the team may decide he is not worth the money. They made a questionable decision in a similar situation with Barry Cofield a few years ago. Cullen Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins are still very much in the picture. Will the Giants attempt/be able to re-sign Mike Patterson? One would assume Shaun Rogers, who turns 35, will be out of the picture. How good is Markus Kuhn?
Linebackers: Jon Beason will be a free agent. It sounds like he wants to be a Giant so I would expect him back unless his contract demands are unreasonable. If Perry Fewell remains the defensive coordinator, the linebacker position simply isn’t all that important in the Giants’ scheme with Fewell playing so much nickel with two linebackers. Spencer Paysinger (UFA), Jacquian Williams, and Keith Rivers (UFA) may be good enough, especially with more pressing needs elsewhere. But if Beason were to get hurt, then this position could get ugly again. Drafting and grooming a mobile MLB behind Beason would be prudent.
Defensive Backs: The Giants are in great shape at safety if… if… if they can keep the high-priced Antrel Rolle… if Stevie Brown can be re-signed… and if Will Hill stays out of trouble. Even if Brown were to leave, if the Giants re-signed Mundy, and Rolle and Hill were still in the picture, this is a team strength. Don’t forget Cooper Taylor has the tools to develop into a good one too.
The bigger potential need is at cornerback. Prince Amukamara has developed into a very solid, if unspectacular – player. But ideally, the team probably wants to upgrade the other cornerback spot. Trumaine McBride was a pleasant surprise, but he will be a free agent, and one wonders if he was really playing over his head in 2013. Terrell Thomas stayed healthy but seemed to fade down the stretch. Will he even be stronger in 2014 and will he be re-signed? Jayron Hosley and Charles James seem to have talent, but Hosley has been injury-prone. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross probably won’t be invited back.
Special Teams: Quietly, Josh Brown had a great season, kicking 21-of-23 field goals through Week 16. I hope the Giants can re-sign him. Steve Weatheford started off very rocky but finished up stronger than ever. If David Wilson is not forced to retire, the Giants should use him as kickoff returner and offensive role-player (like the Saints use Darren Sproles). This team needs to find a better punt returner. Obviously, Special Teams Coordinator Tom Quinn should be on the hot seat.