Thinking outside the Big Blue Box: Where to from here!!

By | January 5, 2019

(Ed note: Over the course of the past couple of weeks with another disappointing Giants season we have received a ton of questions asking in soem fashion ‘what now’ for the team. Rather than try and answer them all individually, we have chrystalized the most often asked questions into a general format and tried to answer as best we can. One thing readers will note is that there really aren’t any simple answers so folks looking for a quick fix probably need to look elsewhere. cl)

#1 What’s your reaction to the season? Simple answer: disappointing, frustrating; in fact, I suspect that no one is more disappointed and frustrated with the season than the Giants themselves. You add a tremendous talent like Saquon; you get Odell back healthy (at least for the better part of the season); Eli has a half decent season. And all you get is two more wins! Ouch! Unlike a lot of fans we have heard from, though, our biggest frustration this year was not necessarily how bad the Giants were, but how close they were. The margin between winning and losing in the NFL is often very small and in the Giants case it doesn’t get much smaller than two 1-point losses in the final minute, a two-point loss on a 63-yard FG at the end, a three-point loss, a 5-point loss (in which the winning points were scored on a pick-6 of a deflected pass) and a couple of 7 point losses. That’s 4 losses by a total of 7 points and 7 losses by a total of 26 points. What was frustrating is that it isn’t hard to go back and see where with a play here or there, especially a stop on defense in the latter part of any number of games, that the Giants could just as easily have won several more games and been in the thick of the hunt for a playoff spot. But that’s the wonderful, wacky world of the NFL!

#2 After three and five win seasons are the Giants ‘close’ or are they in the midst of a major rebuild?  The answer is Yes and Yes! See above; tweak the OL a little bit further and add a body or two on defense, especially to the pass rush, and it is not all that inconceivable that the Giants could easily win some of the close games they lost this year and finish with 9-10 wins and make the playoffs next fall.

However, that’s not really the goal here. As G.M. Dave Gettleman noted in his year-end presser, the ultimate objective is to “build sustained success’ where one posts double-digit wins, gets home-field advantage, and goes deep into the playoffs on a yearly basis. And in that regard the Giants appear to still have some heavy-lifting to do. Indeed, at least in general sense, teams that fit that characterization have at least one of two things: either a very good, if not elite QB; and/or a half decent defense that can at least hold a lead at the end of games. Truth be told the Giants have neither. Eli appears to still have some tread left on the tires, but he is simply no longer anywhere near the category of guys like Brady, Brees and Mahomes and obviously the heir apparent just isn’t very apparent! Meanwhile, right now the Giants defense bares no resemblence at all to the great championship defenses of Huff, Robustelli, Grier, Katcavage, and Patten; LT, Banks, Carson, Marshall and Collins; and Strahan, Tuck, and Unmenyiora. Not even close.

#3 So if the Giants are in reality in rebuild mode, how long will it take? I kind of chuckle when fans tell me – usually somewhat derogatorily – that the Giants really need a 2-3 year rebuild. The fact is that it takes as long as it takes! Indeed, ask fans in places like Arizona, Detroit, Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Houston, San Diego, and Oakland – not to mention the Jets across the hall – how long it takes to build a championship team in the NFL and they will tell you it seems like forever. Fact is that building a championship team in the NFL is HARD. There are no competitive advantages; there is no magic formula for success; and in the end nobody is really smarter than anybody else. Get lucky with your draft picks and free agent signings and you’ll hit a high; too many misses, though, and you end up where the Giants are these days. And everybody in the league goes through the cycles. In fact, Giants fans have actually been pretty lucky. Indeed, in the three decades plus in which they have one four Super Bowls, fully half the league hasn’t won even one! And we’ve been here before. The Giants had a terrific championship team in the late 1950s and early 1960s which played in 5 of 6 NFL championship games, but that team got old and it took 18 years just to get back to the playoffs. The Giants also had that great team that won two Super Bowls in the late 1980s. But that team got old and it took another decade and a half before the emergence of the 7/11 championship squad, but that team is gone. And so it goes.

#4 Will the Giants draft a QB at the 2019 draft? The simple answer again is Who Knows! Time will tell. However there are a couple of truisms here.  First, in all likelihood the Giants will enter the 2019 draft process with the primary objective to find a young QB. We know that, or at least highly suspect it, because Gettleman has already been out on the road personally scouting QBs – in particular Justin Herbert of Oregon and West Virginia’s Will Grier – and NFL G.M.s simply don’t do things like that unless they are serious about the position.

Truism #2, though, is that the Giants also aren’t likely to take a QB with a high pick this coming April simply for the sake of taking one. Everything we have been led to believe about the 2018 draft, for example, is that the Giants fully intended to take a QB with the #2 pick last year, at least when the process began. Indeed, no team in the league did more due diligence on last year’s QB class than the Giants. However, like the rest of the league, they appear to have soured on last year’s QBs as the process evolved and in the end opted to go with a generational talent at a lesser position rather than gamble on a flawed QB prospect.

Whether the Giants get a shot at a QB they like with an early pick this coming April is also still to be determined. Right now it appears as if Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is the only QB close to carrying a top ten grade – and even that isn’t guaranteed – which could be problematic for the Giants if they are indeed interested. The problem is that if Haskins is indeed worth the 6th pick it is almost a given that another team – Denver, Jacksonville, and Miami? – will try and trade up ahead of them to get him meaning the Giants likely would also have to consider moving up if they thought he was their guy. The other possibility that shouldn’t be ruled out for the Giants would be a move back up into the latter part of the opening round from their second round if they like any of the other QBs such as Daniel Jones of Duke, Missouri’s Drew Lock or Grier. We are also hearing some buzz that they have some interest in Ryan Finley of NC State. However, there is still a ton of sorting out to be done before April 25th.  Remember, for example, that guys like Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield weren’t even considered to be first-round prospects at this point in the draft roster in recent years.

While we are on the topic, we’d also caution people about getting too hung up on phrases like ‘its not a great QB year.’ For starters, that usually refers to the fact that there aren’t a number of QBs with elite grades. Clearly, there aren’t this year, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t good QBs out there. The other thing we would note is that you aren’t drafting a ‘draft class’; rather you are looking for one guy that you like. The final thing we caution people about is you don’t always want to get too hung up on a player’s supposed negatives or red flags. Obviously, they are going to be factors, but ultimately what you want to do, as NFL teams do, is ask yourself “what do we get if this player plays to his physical potential?” And that in a sense we are kind of intrigued about the possibility the Giants looking at QBs like Will Grier and Ryan Finley among others. The Giants have some of the league’s most dynamic skill position people in Odell, Saquon and Evan Engram and it’s possible they aren’t necessarily committed to finding a big, strong-armed pocket passer who can win games on his own when what the offense really needs is a QB who can find the mismatches and get the ball there quickly, cleanly, and accurately to the playmakers so they can make plays. Time will tell.

 #5 Wither Eli? Again who knows. I would have said at the bye when the Giants were 1-7 and spinning their wheels that the chances were slim to none that the Eli would be back in 2019. After a solid second half of the campaign in which the Giants averaged over 27 points per game, though, one would have thought it almost a guarantee that Eli would be allowed to finish his contract next year. However, at his presser, all Gettleman would say regarding Eli’s future with the team was that ‘the organization would do what’s in the best interests of the Giants’ which could hardly be described as a ringing endorsement. And while it seems like heresy, the fact is that the coaching staff works with Eli every day and is going to have an understanding of his arm strength, mobility and decision-making that’s way above my pay grade. And if the staff feel they can get the same productivity, or at least close to it, from a cheaper veteran free agent type, then the better part of Eli’s $23M cap hit maybe could be put to better use elsewhere. And while the Eli issue will surely dominate Giants’ talk over the next few months, we actually think it’s more of a distraction than anything else. The Eli era with the Giants is coming to an end whether this year or next and THE big question facing the Giants this off-season is the search for a long-term answer at the position. And if they don’t get their guy this year, there’ll always be next year and the next. I know fans tend to want a hard and fast plan that is clearly spelled out in black and white, but football is actually a game of a thousand shades of grey. Remember, for example, all the iterations at QB the Giants went through from Simms to Manning: Dave Brown, Danny Kannell, Kent Graham, Kerry Collins, Jesse Palmer, and Kurt Warner.

#6. What are the chances the Giants take offensive linemen with their top two picks this year (or some variation is probably the question we get asked the most often). It might have been a strong possibility pre-bye when the Giants were 1-7 and the offense struggled to get out of its own way. However, the story of the Giants season this fall could very well have been called ‘A Tale of Two Halves” as the offense took off after the bye, averaging over 27 points per game over the final 8 games of the year, which was among the top 5 totals in the entire NFL. Unfortunately, the defense gave up 26 per game going the other way, the third highest in the league and Gettleman was pretty clear in his season-wrap presser that fixing the defense was the priority. It is still likely that the Giants will continue to tweak the OL this off-season; in particular, they will almost assuredly add some veteran competition at RT and/or C. There’s also still an outside possibility that they do take an OL with their second round pick as that appears to be the strength of the draft at that point. However, at this time you can probably take Gettleman at his word and figure that the most of the heavy lifting in April will be on the defensive side.