The New York Giants are a broken franchise. Their 10-34 record since 2016 is one of the very worst in football. Six of their last seven seasons have been losing seasons. They’ve fired one general manger, one vice president of player evaluation, and two head coaches during this time period. A head coach hired in 2016 was fired two years later. He was replaced by a coach with a 17-42 (.288) head coach record. The defense has become a perennial embarrassment and the offense isn’t much better. The Giants can’t beat the Cowboys (losing 12 of their last 15) and Eagles (losing 10 of their last 11). The Giants have become the “get right” team for opponents who have otherwise struggled.
How do the Giants get out of this mess? How do they fix it? Ownership needs to take a step back and dispassionately analyze the situation moving forward, both from an organization standpoint and a player personnel standpoint. One flows from the other.
General Manager: The Giants never really had a general manager search in early 2018. The minute former general manager Ernie Accorsi was hired to “consult” on the GM search, the coronation of Dave Gettleman was a foregone conclusion. We all know it. Gettleman appears to have drafted much better than his predecessor, being unafraid to make two controversial top-six picks in Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones. On the other hand, his free agent acquisitions have left much to be desired.
The bottom line is the Giants have not improved under his tenure. The same problems on the offensive line and defense continue to plague this team with no light apparent at the end of the tunnel. The Giants seem years away from seriously competing in their own division, let alone against the better teams outside of the division. In fact, they are one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Gettleman, who battled life-threatening lymphoma in 2018, will be 69 years old in February. Ownership is obviously comfortable with him given his long-standing relationship with the team that began two decades ago. But that may be part of the problem. One can become too comfortable. There is a lot to be said for stability, familiarity, and once-proven methods. But the organizational structure the Giants are still relying on has them now firmly ensconced in their worst period of football since the structure was adopted by George Young in 1979. In other words, the Giants have returned to their 1960s-1970s nadir. It’s not working.
Hiring a post-retirement age GM to oversee a rebuilding effort seemed odd in 2018. It appears even worse today. This offseason, John Mara and Steve Tisch must decide whether Gettleman is the right man moving forward, especially with the team poised to have large amount of salary-cap space to operate with. A potential fly in the ointment is the fact that Vice President of Football Operations/Assistant General Manager Kevin Abrams, the team’s salary cap “guru”, is clearly being groomed to replace Gettleman. Abrams started with the team in 1999, the same year Gettleman arrived, and has been weaned on the “Giants way” of doing things. Ownership probably considers this a huge plus. Many fans would beg to differ.
Recommendation: This team is years away from seriously competing again. Gettleman is too old to oversee the multi-year rebuild. It’s time to hand the keys over to Abrams unless ownership intends to conduct a serious general manager search outside of the organization, which is doubtful. Gettleman should also not be deciding coaching decisions at this point. Let the next GM pick his people.
Head Coach: Pat Shurmur isn’t the answer. He’s a 17-42 head coach who has won seven games in two years with the Giants. The team is not getting better under his guidance. Shurmur seems like a great guy, a good family man. But organizations usually don’t thrive under the guidance of “nice guys.” He has a milquetoast personality and his game-day coaching instincts are on par with George Costanza. He should actually do the opposite of what his instincts tell him. He would be better off. And so would the Giants. If that weren’t enough, the coaching staff he has cobbled together isn’t impressive either.
Recommendation #1: Fire the entire coaching staff. You can’t win in the NFL if you don’t have good coaches. Mara will be tempted to adopt his 2006 approach where he forced Tom Coughlin to get rid of both coordinators. But Pat Shurmur is not Tom Coughlin. Mara swung and missed with Ben McAdoo. He did the same with Pat Shurmur. Let the new GM pick the head coach and stay out of it. You’ve got some Costanza in you too, John.
Recommendation #2: Stop hiring “offensive gurus.” Get back to your roots: defense. Hire a defensive-oriented coach with strong leadership and organizational skills, or at least, make sure your new head coach hires an experienced defensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing (i.e., a Rod Marinelli type).
Pro Personnel and College Scouting: Something is endemically wrong with the Giants ability to scout offensive linemen, linebackers, and safeties. This must be addressed. If the scouts can’t get the job done, replace them.
Recommendation: Analyze every draft and free agent mistake. Find out who was the leading advocate for acquiring those mistakes. See if there are disturbing trends of incompetency. If so, terminate the offenders.
Defense: Full disclosure, I am personally biased towards defense. I firmly believe a team can compete and win with a middle-of-the-pack offense if they have strong defense and special teams. On the other hand, I do not believe a team can consistently win with middle-of-the-pack or worse defense. In my view, good defense can cover for a multitude of sins. I also believe that a team’s physicality and mental and physical toughness emanates from the defensive side of the football. Outside of 2011, most of the great Giants teams played great defense. And their personality came from their defense.
The Giants will not win again until they field a good defensive team. Outside a blip here and there, the Giants have been dreadful on defense for years, not just middle-of-the-pack, but near dead last. You can’t win like that. How many times have we seen the defense fold in a key situation, on 3rd-and-long, or defending a lead in the 4th quarter? Enough.
Recommendation: Stop emphasizing the offensive side of the football over the defense. We’ve seen that having a great wide receiver or running back won’t help you win unless you play good defense. Switching quarterbacks won’t matter either. Hire strong defensive coaches, including at the top head-coaching spot, and build a perennially strong defense. Start beating the crap out of other teams again. Deliver the punch instead of taking it. The wins will follow.
Offensive Line: We have to state the obvious. The Giants are completely incompetent when it comes to building an offensive line. Two general managers, three head coaches, and three offensive line coaches have been able to cobble together a remotely passable group. Talk to any non-Giants fan and what’s the first thing they usually say? “Man, your offensive line sucks!” It’s been that way for years. And contrary to popular belief, it is not because the Giants haven’t spent a lot of resources trying to fix the problem. They have. They have spent multiple premium draft picks and thrown millions of free agent dollars on players who simply could not perform at an acceptable level.
The Giants wasted the second-half of Eli Manning’s 16-year career due to poor offensive line play. The are now wasting Saquon Barkley’s early career and negatively impacting the development of Daniel Jones. The Giants can’t run or pass block. It’s pathetic. Enough.
Recommendation: Unless the Giants have a sleeper in Nick Gates, the team must acquire two new starting tackles and a starting center this offseason. The strong temptation will be use the top five pick on a tackle and throw as much money as possible to acquire the best free agent tackle and/or center the market. That is dangerous thinking. You can build a respectable offensive line without overspending in terms of draft capital or dollars. See Ereck Flowers and Nate Solder. Address the line, but be smart about it. It will do the team no good if you are cutting these players three years from now. For those who say the Giants will have a ton of cap space so they can afford to overspend, I say no. There will be a bunch of teams with just as much cap space or more as the Giants this offseason. Prices will get out of hand rapidly. And many of these other teams have pressing needs on the offensive line. Contracts like the ones the Giants gave Nate Solder will prevent the team from re-signing its hopefully talented draft picks to their second contracts.
Heavily scout the college ranks and free agent pool for offensive linemen. Along with the defense, addressing the offensive line must be the priority. The measurables are important, but so is the attitude. You can win with guys like Rich Seubert, David Diehl, and Shaun O’Hara. If you see another guy like Kareem McKenzie or Ron Stone, maybe open the pocket book. Like I mentioned on the other side of the ball, the Giants must become a more physical football team. Everything else will flow from the offensive line. Daniel Jones will look better. Saquon Barkley will look like the back he was at Penn State. And receivers will seem miraculously far more open.
Too simplistic? Perhaps. But sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. This team has been a bottom feeder treading water for years now. And I keep finding myself coming back to the same themes as to why:
- Poor player acquisition.
- Poor coaching.
- Poor defense.
- Poor offensive line play.
Some of these are bigger fish to fry. Fixing structural organizational problems is a nightmare. But unless the Giants acquire and coach talent better, nothing else will matter. Why does the defense suck? Because they don’t have enough good defensive players and they aren’t very well coached. It’s that simple. Same with the offensive line. Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur were the wrong men to lead this team. Admit to the mistake and move on, just like you did with Eli Apple and Ereck Flowers.
Organizational issues aside, we have all seen that this team can’t consistently compete until it fixes the defense and offensive line. And both have been a problem since the last Championship. Enough is enough. The problems are obvious to everyone. Fix it.