2017 was an utter disaster for the New York Giants. The 13 losses were a team record for a team that has suffered through some horrific seasons in its 93-year old history. It was so bad that team ownership took the incredibly rare steps (for them) of firing the general manager and head coach a month before the season ended.
What made this all the more shocking is that in many quarters, the Giants were expected to be a Super Bowl contender. Instead, they became arguably the worst team in the NFL with atrocious play on offense, defense, and special teams. It wasn’t just bad. It was really, really bad. And the demise began well before the injury bug hit once again.
Enter Dave Gettleman as the new general manager and Pat Shurmur as the new head coach. Both are uninspiring, safe, conservative choices. And for better or worse, the Giants did not completely break with their institutional past that was created by George Young in 1979. The GM search was largely telegraphed and settled as soon as the team hired former George Young-disciple Ernie Accorsi to consult in the selection process. It’s probably the easiest money Accorsi ever made. Gettleman is experienced and well-traveled, but spent 14 years with the Giants from 1999-2012 under both Accorsi and Reese. While the Giants fired Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross, everyone else in the personnel department (at least for now) has been retained. This is hardly any sort of institutional change in thinking.
The field of head-coaching candidates this offseason seemed underwhelming. Two Bill Belichick disciples, the relatively-inexperienced Panthers defensive coordinator, and the previously-fired, milk toast Shurmur. In hindsight, thank God the Giants passed on Josh McDaniels (or he passed on them) as he unbelievably screwed the Colts at the last minute. Shurmur may be bland, but he is respected around the league as probably has the highest floor. The question is how high is his ceiling? Can he manage, lead, and inspire an NFL team towards greatness? Or is he a middle-of-the-pack-type of coach? And while there were significant changes in the assistant coaching staff, Shurmur did keep a few Tom Coughlin-Ben McAdoo holdovers to not completely break with the past here either.
Then there is the third most important figure in the equation: the quarterback. For better or worse, the Giants are going to continue to hitch their wagon to the seemingly fading 37-year old Eli Manning. Gettleman and Shurmur keep pointing to the second game against Philadelphia as somehow indicative of Eli’s still-current vitality, while apparently ignoring the other 15 contests. Of course, the ultimate proof of their continued faith (or lack thereof) will be what the Giants do with the #2 pick in the draft. But that is a topic of discussion best suited for another day.
In sum, though not to the serious degree of January 2016, this still has the feel of somewhat half-assed approach to it. This was somewhat predictable in that it would be difficult to see John Mara completely breaking with the almost 40-year old institutional structure. He simply wasn’t willing to blow it all up. It’s not in his DNA. Only future results will determine if this was the correct decision or not.
On the surface, the biggest change appears to be the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (James Bettcher) who may shift the Giants back to the 3-4 defense that they abandoned in 1994. Honestly, at this point, we don’t really know what Bettcher and the Giants will do on defense. And that obviously will determine which type of players they pursue in free agency and in the draft.
“We had a meeting with all the college personnel and all the pro personnel and we sat in there for an hour and a half and James gave us a clinic,” Gettleman said recently. “He did a great job and now I feel like we really have a full understanding of what we’re looking for… There’s not a huge change (in the secondary). It’s the front seven.”
QUARTERBACKS: Much depends on whether or not Pat Shurmur wants to keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster and if the Giants plan on drafting a quarterback. Unless he is traded, which appears unlikely at this point, Eli Manning will be the starting quarterback in 2018. And unless he is traded, Davis Webb will be a back-up. If the Giants don’t plan on drafting a quarterback and want to carry three quarterbacks, signing a cheap veteran as insurance is a likely possibility. Geno “the Earth is flat” Smith is an unrestricted free agent and probably will be moving on. (Need Level – Low to Medium)
RUNNING BACKS: There could be significant changes at this position. Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen are both unrestricted free agents and could be moving on. That leaves only Wayne Gallman (who played decently as a rookie), Paul Perkins (who had a very disappointing sophomore season), and a couple of long shots (Jalen Simmons and Terrell Watson). This is an area to watch in free agency and the draft. This looks like a strong and deep draft class at running back. Yet the Giants may choose to sign a veteran presence in free agency too. The question is how much money do they want to spend? For example, do you want to spend more on Carlos Hyde (49ers) or a cheaper alternative such as Alfred Morris (Cowboys)? It remains to be seen how important the fullback position is to Shurmur; Shane Smith is still on the roster. (Need Level – High)
WIDE RECEIVERS: It will be interesting to see the working relationship between Shurmur and the diva Odell Beckham, who is showing signs of restricting his on-field time until he gets a mega $20 million per season deal. Assuming Odell plays and plays well, the focus really is on the complimentary pieces. Sterling Shepard will be the slot receiver. But who will start opposite of Beckham and what about depth? Brandon Marshall was extremely disappointing before he got hurt and probably will be let go. Dwayne Harris has had two injury-plagued years since his stellar 2015 debut with the Giants. He also makes too much money. Harris could return if he accepts a pay cut for the second year in a row. Behind them are 10 no-names who are easily replaceable. One of them could surprise, but that is doubtful and it might be smarter to move on. (Indeed, it is surprising that some of these players haven’t already been cut). Long story short, this is a VERY thin position where the Giants could use a lot of help. Don’t think so? Imagine the state of the position if Beckham gets hurt again. Don’t be surprised if the Giants both sign a veteran and draft a rookie at this position. (Need Level – High)
TIGHT ENDS: A year after the Giants spent big bucks on Rhett Ellison and selected Evan Engram in the first round, this is one position where the Giants are in good shape. Ellison was overpaid and underutilized, but he is a solid, versatile player. If Engram can cut down on the drops, he has All-Star potential. Jerell Adams is a good third tight end and the Giants claimed H-Back Kyle Carter off of waivers from the Vikings in January. Ryan O’Malley is an exclusive rights free agent. (Need Level – Low)
OFFENSIVE LINE: This position is a mess. The Giants have invested three high draft picks on the OL and so far none of them have panned out. Justin Pugh has been solid, but injury prone and may be looking for greener pastures. Weston Richburg had a very good year at center in 2015 but has struggled since then. And the Giants still don’t know what they really have in the very inconsistent and often awful Ereck Flowers. Guard John Jerry is an overpriced, average-at-best player. D.J. Fluker can maul in the run game but has had issues in pass protection; he also is a free agent. Brett Jones is an undersized player who struggled at times. The Giants re-signed 33-year old John Greco to a 1-year contract. The Giants may have found a player in Chad Wheeler, but that remains to be seen as the rookie was also up and down. The problem for the Giants is the offensive line free agent market is extremely thin as evidenced by the fact that Pugh and Richburg are widely considered two of the better players available. The offensive linemen reaching the market will be overpriced and mostly overrated. The Giants may need to add as many as four potential starters. Making matters worse is that almost every team will be looking to sign a lineman and most teams have have far more cap room than the Giants. My expectation is the Giants may make a push to sign one high-profile lineman (Andrew Norwell) but after that they will have to bargain-basement shop for older, over-achieving types who have serious warts to their game. The 2018 NYG line is likely to be a patchwork affair. (Need Level – Desperate)
DEFENSIVE LINE: Analyzing the defensive line needs is extremely difficult in that we don’t know what kind of defensive base James Bettcher will employ. While he will be multiple in his fronts, will the emphasis be on the 4-3 or 3-4 defense? If the latter, then things could get confusing and messy. Even messier if it simply some sort of chaotic hybrid. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are coming off of disappointing seasons. Both are vastly overpaid, to the point where the the cap hit may prohibit them from being cut or traded. Worse, neither is physically suited to play defensive end in a 3-4 system. Bettcher does have a history of converting athletic defensive ends to 3-4 linebacker. So there is a possibility that JPP and Vernon may be changing positions. If so, that is a risky proposition as it remains to be seen if they can handle the switch. If the Giants make the conversion to the 3-4, restricted free agent Kerry Wynn will probably be moving on and Romeo Okwara is not a good fit. On the other hand, the athletic Avery Moss can probably handle the transition to linebacker. The good news is that Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson can play in the 3-4, Harrison on the nose and Tomlinson at end. But the Giants would need to add more 3-4-type players at both positions. (Need Level for 3-4 – Extremely High)
If the Giants choose to remain in the 4-3, the Giants would ideally like to bring in talented defensive ends to compete with Pierre-Paul and Vernon. At some point in the future, the team will have to move on from JPP, and perhaps Vernon, unless they dramatically improve their play. However, that influx in talent would more likely come from the draft than free agency. Good defensive ends rarely hit the open market, including this year. At tackle, the question is one of depth. Jay Bromley will be a free agent and may be moving on. Robert Thomas is replaceable. I could see the Giants adding a veteran defensive tackle in free agency. (Need Level for 4-3 – Average)
LINEBACKERS: Right now, only five of the team’s 12 linebackers are under contact. And they are the injury-prone B.J. Goodson, Calvin Munson, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Derrick Mathews, and Thurston Armbrister. Yikes! That’s as bad as it gets. It also may be time to move on from free agents Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Mark Herzlich.
Like the defensive line, this position is confused because of the 4-3 vs. 3-4 issue. If the Giants shift to the 3-4, as mentioned above, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, and Avery Moss become linebacking candidates. Unrestricted free agent Devon Kennard’s worth increases as well as he has always been better suited to the 3-4. The issue at that point becomes adding additional inside linebacker to compete with B.J. Goodson and Calvin Munson unless the team wants to re-sign Sheppard or Herzlich for cheap veteran depth. (Need Level for 3-4 – Average assuming DEs can handle transition)
If the Giants stay in the 4-3, it means Pierre-Paul, Vernon, and Moss are staying put on the defensive line. It also means that Kennard is less likely to re-sign. In that case, the cupboard looks awfully barren, particularly at both outside linebacking spots. Given that there are very few impact 4-3-type linebackers in the NFL that ever hit the open market, the Giants would most likely have to take the bargain-basement approach here as well in free agency unless they want to make a strong play for Nigel Bradham of the Eagles. (Need Level for 4-3 – Desperate)
CORNERBACKS: The Giants appear much thinner at this position with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moving to free safety. Much now depends on how the Giants truly feel about Eli Apple and whether or not Apple is going to mature. When focused, Apple can play. The problem is that he wasn’t focused for most of 2017 and his play deteriorated significantly. Worse, he pissed off his teammates with his shitty attitude. For a new GM who harps on team chemistry, Apple is probably on a very short leash. Janoris Jenkins was also suspended last year for detrimental conduct, but he’s only a year removed from a Pro Bowl/All-Pro season and there has been no indication that the Giants are moving on from him. Ross Cockrell was a pleasant surprise last year and probably had his best season as a pro. Ironically, he’s probably the team’s most important free agent. He could sign elsewhere. Brandon Dixon flashed a little bit but is still a long shot. So are Donte Deayon, Jeremiah McKinnon, and Tim Scott. (Need Level – Average to Very High depending on the status of Apple and Cockrell)
SAFETIES: The strong safety position is in good hands with Landon Collins. Darian Thompson was serviceable at free safety but he had his ups and downs, and the Giants are now reportedly moving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to free safety to compete for the starting job. DRC has always been a bit of an odd fish. Some coaching staffs have put up with him; others have not. (He was also suspended last season for detrimental conduct). DRC is aging, expensive ($8.5 million cap hit in 2018), and while he doesn’t miss many games, he’s a fragile player whose snaps have been managed. It remains to be seen if he can handle the physical nature of the safety position. That said, the switch is intriguing as DRC could thrive as a ball-hawk in the middle of the field. Andrew Adams is replaceable. Nat Berhe is an injury-prone free agent who simply hasn’t worked out here. Ryan Murphy is a journeyman. Look for the Giants to address this position in free agency or the draft. (Need Level – Average)
KICKERS: Brad Wing’s game declined markedly in 2017 as he became one of the NFL’s least effective punters. Austin Rehkow has already been signed for competition but do the Giants bring in a veteran punter or hope Wing rebounds? A media report said the Giants are interested in place kicker Graham Gano, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season. If true, Aldrick Rosas may be toast. Rosas has exceptional ability but simply missed too many kicks. The patience level with the Giants doesn’t appear to be there. That’s hurt the Giants in the past with some green kickers who have moved on to have very good careers. Incidentally, the Giants have already added another place kicker in Marshall Koehn. (Need Level – Above Average)
SUMMARY: This roster is not in good shape. The offensive line is a mess. The Giants are thin at wide receiver and running back. The front seven has talent problems regardless if the team plays the 3-4 or 4-3. And a secondary that was once considered a team strength is now an issue because of attitude concerns. If that wasn’t enough, the kicking and return games are up the air. While the Giants are about $24 million under the cap, they have a lot of unsigned players, and relative to the rest of the NFL, their cap shape isn’t that great. Worse, the available talent pool in free agency once against appears shallow.