Anatomy of a wasted off-season

By | October 14, 2020

As a general rule, we don’t like to spend a lot of time rehashing, past decisions especially ad nauseum. Fact is, very few decision in the NFL, whether it’s who to draft, make a trade, or sign a free agent come with a probability of success over 50%. Indeed, those are probably the ‘safe’ choices.

That said, it’s hard not to look back at the past Giants’ off-season and not come away unimpressed. Indeed, the Giants looked to be in great shape to finally make a move back to football respectability. They looked to have their young QB of the future; they had another top 5 pick, plus a passel of other picks; as well as a ton of cap space to work with. Unfortunately, though, QB Daniel Jones has been stuck in neutral so far this fall, while OT Andrew Thomas, who was taken with the 5th pick overall at last, has been underwhelming at best. Of course, it hasn’t helped that second round safety Xavier McKinney started the year ON IR with a foot injury and hasn’t played yet. It also hasn’t helped that the Giants haven’t gotten much productivity at all from the rest of their 10-man draft class.

So far, so not so good. Unfortunately, it’s hard not to make the case that it gets even worse when one looks at free agency. The Giants did add a couple of productive signees in CB James Bradberry and MLB Blake Martinez, both of whom have played well so far this fall. The fact is, though, that in terms of roster building, the additions of Bradberry and Martinez really didn’t do much more than replace Janoris Jenkins and Alex Ogletree, although Martinez, in particular, has been a legit upgrade from his predecessor.

The problems at CB, though, went much deeper than Jenkins or Bradberry. This is the NFL in the 21st Century. It’s a passing league where just about every team runs some form of three-WR set as their base offense. That means you really need as many as 4-5 corners that can play at some level and that no matter how good Bradberry has been, he’s still just one guy and the rest of the position has been pretty much a wasteland. Initially, the Giants may have been willing to give DeAndre Baker and Sam Beal one more year to prove their mettle, although that may have been more hope than plan.

The plan, such as it was, of course, kind of blew up in the Giants collective face when Baker was released because of his legal issues and Beal opted out because of covid just before the start of the season. To the casual observer, it would have seemed prudent to have maybe tried to move heaven and earth to find 2-3 veteran corners that fill in the gaps in the secondary, especially given that they got $16M in cap relief when OT Nate Solder also opted out.

The answer, though, was pretty much crickets. They did trade a 7th rounder to Denver for Ike Yiadom, a guy the Broncos were expected to release anyway before the roster deadline; they also found some other bodies on waivers and other team’s practice squads, but the bottom line is that, other than Bradberry, they have been forced to play what are essentially street free agents. That means you really can’t match up in man so you are pretty much committed to playing zone which means you can’t really blitz. And that really shows up in the data. The Giants are allowing opposing QBs to complete over 70% of their passes so far this fall, 30th in the league in that category, and are 32nd and last in the NFL in 3rd down defense. This is about as close to ‘criminal negligence’ in football parlance as you can get!

Of course, the beleaguered secondary might have gotten some help from an improved pass rush. Which the Giants indicated was one of their primary goals heading into the off-season. They did add Kyler Fackrell at OLB, and he’s been a nice addition to date, although he’s hardly the dominating type pass rusher that’s going to have QBs getting antsy in the pocket. In the end, the Giants major moves on the DL were to franchise DT Leonard Williams and resign DE Marcus Golden which can hardly be classified as upgrades. (And we’ll leave it to greater minds to explain the greater story of the Williams’ trade and tag, because we can’t make any sense of it.) Meanwhile, the team that lived and died by the mantra that ‘you can never have enough pass rushers’ hasn’t taken an edge rusher with a premium 1st or 2nd round pick since 2010 when they took Jason Pierre-Paul.

Bottom line is that it appears that the Giants blew through something in the area of $60M in cap space and did nothing, or at least almost nothing, to upgrade the pass rush, to fill in the gaps in their coverage units, to improve the speed at the skill positions on offense, or address the big hole at C on the offensive front! In fact, it seems pretty clear that the Giants are worse off in terms of both the talent in the coverage unit as well as the depth at receiver. Ouch! Double ouch!!

As noted, we don’t generally like to spend a lot of time sifting through the tea leaves looking for someone to blame. The most likely scenario is that there appears to be plenty of blame to go around. What concerns us, though, going forward, is that one really doesn’t get the sense that there is any particular overriding philosophy driving the rebuild. One gets the sense instead that they’re just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

And while it certainly isn’t all his fault, in that context, it does seem that it’s time to move on from Dave Gettleman. He was brought in to provide some veteran leadership overseeing the transition from Eli to whatever comes next. He’s done. But he’ll also be 70 by the time the next draft rolls around, isn’t the best of health, and too often seems caught up in a 1980s time warp when it comes to building a successful football team in the 2020s. The NFL is a passing league and you need guys that can run and catch passes, guys that can run and get after the QB, and guys that run and cover the other guy’s fast guys that can run and catch passes. It ain’t rocket science.