by Greg DePalma
New York Giants (3-13)
Not since before legendary coach Bill Parcells roamed the sidelines at the old Giants Stadium has this organization experienced such a destitute period. And to top it all off, they let their two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin go to Jacksonville, where he’s built a winner from the ashes.
Enter former Giants personnel director and new General Manager, Dave Gettleman. Gettleman was a key part of the Giants front office over their last three Super Bowl appearances before he was hired to run the Panthers. During his reign in Carolina (2013-2017), the Panthers were post-season eligible in his first three years including a trip to Super Bowl 50.
Gettleman was hired to get the Panthers out of salary cap hell thanks to former G.M., Marty Hurney. He’s a tough negotiator who wouldn’t cave in to fan favorites like WR Steve Smith and most recently, TE Greg Olsen. Gettleman even traded longtime top linebacker Jon Beason in his first trade as team G.M. back in 2013. This is important to note as Gettleman needs to decide on whether to give Odell Beckham Jr. a major long-term deal. In other words, don’t expect him to give in to a player just because they have clout with the fans or even the media.
Gettleman also prefers quality over quantity, so trading away picks to move up and select a higher quality player is something to keep an eye on. Speaking of the draft, some of Gettleman’s most notable selections have included players such as WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Devin Funchess, RB Christian McCaffrey, DT Kawann Short, OG Trai Turner and OT Daryl Williams.
Gettleman’s first big move with the Giants was to hire current Vikings Offensive Coordinator, Pat Shurmur, as the team’s new head coach. Shurmur is getting another shot as an NFL head coach after a failed two year stint with the Browns (9-23). Since departing Cleveland in 2012, Shurmur has coordinated offenses for division winning teams in Philadelphia and Minnesota.
Key Free Agents
RB Orleans Darkwa
C Weston Richburg
OL Justin Pugh
CB Ross Cockrell
LB Devon Kennard
Cap space ranking/amount
QB…Two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning will never be confused with the all-time great’s of the position, but he did play like one during both of his championship runs which is enough that he’ll considered one of the greatest Giants to ever play the game. But with a new sheriff and deputy in town, will that supreme Giants legacy be enough to keep him around for a few more seasons or will he join his brother and several other top quarterbacks who were forced to play out their final days in another uniform?
The decision to draft a young signal-caller with the 2nd overall pick probably won’t be as simple as one might think. Can Gettleman and Shurmur trust Manning to play at a high level for a few more seasons? Manning is 37, but Tom Brady (40) and Drew Brees (39) are still playing at elite levels, so why can’t Manning keep performing at his optimal level? Especially if the brain trust can surround Eli with a stronger front wall as well as a difference-making running back. And what about Davis Webb? Last year’s 3rd-round pick has some good credentials including breaking several of former first overall pick Jared Goff’s passing records at Cal as well as earning MVP of the Senior Bowl. Webb is a student of the game and is getting a great teacher in Shurmur. His chances of becoming a starter in the league just grew exponentially. Hey, if Shurmur can get Case Keenum to play like a Pro Bowler…
Of course, if Gettleman and Shurmur are enamored enough by one of the top available QBs in this rookie class, then either Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield or Josh Rosen will be taken second overall instead.
RB…There is little doubt that Shurmur wants to run the football. The Vikings ran it more than every other team in the league this past season outside of Jacksonville. That’s why two of the biggest off-season projects for Shurmur and Gettleman will be to find a franchise rusher and rebuild the offensive line.
If the Giants decide to use their first pick on a quarterback, they could try and pick up a runner later in the draft or even acquire a veteran free agent like LeGarrette Blount, Jamaal Charles, Isaiah Crowell or Jerick McKinnon. If Latavius Murray were to become available, he too could be someone to watch.
No matter what they decide to do with their top pick, I expect the Giants will try and re-sign leading rusher Orleans Darkwa. At 25, Darkwa has a lot left in the tank, but he’s been injury prone thanks to his physical running style and should be affordable. Last year’s 4th-round pick Wayne Gallman showed promise his rookie season as both as rusher and a receiver. Paul Perkins is third on the UCLA all-time rushing list and ended his career there as the Bruins all-time leading receiver for the position. The kid has talent. But for some reason he hasn’t been able to translate that talent to the pros. A coaching change could be just what he needs. And I wouldn’t expect veteran Shane Vereen to return, especially since both Gallman and Perkins are capable receivers.
TE…First-round pick Evan Engram led the team in targets (115), receptions (64) and TD receptions (6). He was such a focal point for the offense that he had 31 more targets than the player with the second-most, Sterling Shepard. No. 2 Rhett Ellison is a solid player and by far a better blocker than Engram.
WR…With Beckham Jr. out after just 211 snaps with an ankle injury, Shepard assumed the role as the team’s top wide receiver and led the unit in targets (84), receptions (59) and yards (731). He was able to accomplish this while missing two games with an ankle injury, two games with a migraine and the final game of the season with a neck injury. The rest of this unit is below average and will need increased depth bodies even though Roger Lewis (36-416-2) and Tavarres King (18-240-3) are coming off their best statistical seasons. I don’t expect Brandon Marshall will return after participating in only 256 snaps following an ankle injury. He’ll save Gettleman $5 million in much needed cap space. Veteran kick-return specialist and back-up receiver Dwayne Harris should also be cut following a foot injury that sidelined him after just five games. Harris will also save the team nearly $6 million if he’s sent packing.
OL…This will be a position of major change with possibly only two returning starters returning in center Brett Jones and guard, John Jerry. Both are cheap options who performed admirably this past season. Jones was a nice surprise taking over for starting center Weston Richburg, who suffered a concussion in Week 4 and was placed on injured reserve. After a strong rookie season in 2015, Richburg had trouble staying on the field over the past two seasons and the Giants might be better off letting the free agent walk. The team’s best lineman has been free agent guard Justin Pugh, who’s also having trouble staying on the field over the past two seasons. Pugh has missed 13 games since the start of 2016 including the last seven games this season with a back injury. The Giants might be able to bring Pugh back if other teams get scared away with his injury history. But Pugh is a versatile player who should be able to land a decent deal. Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been a major bust and will surely get replaced by a draft pick or a free agent in the starting lineup. He’ll probably have one more year in his rookie deal to make things right. 6th-round pick Adam Bisnowaty cracked the starting lineup at right tackle in Week 17 while rookie free agent tackle Chad Wheeler made three starts during the season at both right (2) and left (1) tackle. It’s unlikely that either player will be counted on for more than developmental depth in 2018.
Since the Giants won’t be taking a lineman with the second overall pick, the 34th is another story entirely. Another possibility - if they are unimpressed with this QB class - is to trade down a few spots with a team that is, which would open the door for them to select Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson.
DL…The Giants spent top dollar prior to the 2016 season on free agent lineman, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison. The high-priced deals paid off as the defense became a team strength. With most of the personnel back last season it was expected that the defense would get even stronger. But inability by the offense to keep drives alive and the defense fresh cost the team plenty, as defenders got worn down during games and then ultimately the season. The good news is that many of the top players along the line should return including Vernon, Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul and Dalvin Tomlinson. Vernon did miss four games with an ankle injury, but had another strong season as did Harrison, who continues to shine as one of the league’s elite interior run defenders. Alongside Harrison is rookie 2nd-round pick Tomlinson, who allowed the Giants to part with former tackle Johnathan Hankins. Tomlinson had an excellent rookie season and should enjoy a productive career. Pierre-Paul continues to deal with finger issues due to his fireworks fiasco in 2015, but he still led the team with eight sacks and plays stout run defense. The problem though is that the team gave him $62 million over four years last March so he could also provide the type of elite pass rush ability he demonstrated back in 2011 (16 ½ sacks) and 2014 (12 ½ sacks). If the defense is going to elevate its game, they’ll need to up the pressure from the line.
The Giants are also well equipped on the bench thanks to veteran DT Jay Bromley, 2016 priority free agent DE Romeo Okwara and 2017 5th-round pick DE Avery Moss. Okwara played in all 16 games as a rookie while starting the final five and then appeared to be on his way last season as a developmental talent before suffering a knee injury that forced him to play just 82 snaps. Moss is another promising young talent who looked good in a limited role and is expected to get even more playing time in 2018.
LB…This is another unit that should see significant change, especially with three of the top four linebackers not currently under contract. SLB Devon Kennard is the only one who deserves to return at an honest rate after starting 35 of 52 games since 2014. WLBs Jonathan Casillas and Keenan Robinson might return if the price is right while rookie free agent Calvin Munson gave the team a versatile player who played significant snaps on special teams. But the real position that needs to be addressed in this unit is on the inside where the Giants must find a true leader here, something they having experienced since Antonio Pierce left following the 2009 season. 2016 4th-round pick BJ Goodson isn’t the answer.
The Giants should strongly consider taking either Micah Kiser from Virginia or Josey Jewell from Iowa at some point in the draft. This would be my top priority for the defense.
CB…The top three decisions that need to be addressed here concern whether to drop Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who turns 32 in April and would save the team $6.5 million; how much should they offer Ross Cockrell, who is coming off a breakout campaign after being acquired just prior to opening day for a 7th-round pick from Pittsburgh; and whether they give former No. 10 overall pick and noted ‘cancer’ Eli Apple another chance with a new head coach or trade him. The only player in this group who is locked-in and should be headline-free is Janoris Jenkins, who had his season end prematurely after nine games with a season-ending ankle injury that effected his game from the very start.
S…Landon Collins is a great building block in the secondary at strong safety. He’s getting close to superstardom and will become a free agent next off-season along with Beckham Jr. He should garner a $50 to $70 million dollar deal unless he gets tagged. The main question back here is at free safety where Andrew Adams and Darian Thompson patrol. Adams, an undrafted player in 2016 started 13 games as a rookie after Thompson, a 2016 3rd-round pick, missed 14 games with a foot injury. Adams played surprisingly well as a starter, but was replaced this past season when Thompson returned to full health. The problem is that Thompson did not have a good season which can make one think that draft pick status had a lot to do with who received more playing time. With a new regime in town though, that possibility might no longer be in question and the best player should win the job in training camp. Adams did play a ton on special teams as did back-up Nat Berhe, who has the ability to play a hybrid SS/LB role.
This unit was a disaster and longtime coach Tom Quinn will be replaced. Rookie kicker Aldrick Rosas missed three extra points and seven field goals even though he made all three of his kicks from 50+. Punter Brad Wing was coming off his best season in 2016, but then regressed again back to a bottom-level player. This is clearly a unit that needs more competition in camp.
If I were the Giants G.M.
Pat Shurmur is coming off quite possibly his best season as a coordinator and I would imagine he’d like to build an offense similar to the one he worked with in Minnesota. That’s a good enough reason for me to take Saquon Barkley with the first pick and for Barkley to play the Dalvin Cook top-dog role, and to do it even better. I would then re-sign Orleans Darkwa and have Darkwa become the Latavius Murray of the offense. Shurmur could then use either or both Wayne Gallman and/or Paul Perkins the way he used Jerick McKinnon.
My other priority moves in free agency and the draft would be to upgrade the personnel along the offensive line with at least two starting caliber players, use an early pick on a middle linebacker and bring in another young QB to battle Davis Webb for the future No. 1 role.
Tune in to the Ourlads’ Football Radio Network for more in-depth details of every team on free agency and the draft with special guest analysts including Ourlads’ G.M. and National Scout, Dan Shonka, on such programs as Ourlads’ Guide to the 2018 NFL Draft.
For the record
The Giants have made the post-season just once since winning their last Super Bowl 2011.
The Giants finished in last place for the first time since 2003.
The last time the Giants won 3 games or less in a season was in 1983 (3-12-1), which happened to be Bill Parcell’s first as head coach.