As we start 2008, let's look back at 2007 and see what rookie General Manager Jerry Reese accomplished with the New York Giants.
Admit it, at some point throughout the off-season you wondered if Ernie Accorsi's replacement was in over his head. Mostly, it seemed like Reese spent his time releasing guys or letting them walk away. There weren't any splashy moves or big-name replacements brought in.
You had to wonder at times, like I did, what Reese's plan was? What was he doing? Did he understand this team had holes to fill? If so, was he capable of finding quality players to fill them.
Turns out, as we should have expected all along, that Reese knows a lot more about football -- and player personnel -- than we gave him credit for.
Look back on it, and you have to say that just about every move he made has turned out well for the Giants.
Let's examine some of those decisions.
• Allowing Luke Petitgout to leave: This one caused an uproar among Giants' fans. Who would play left tackle? Reese caused even more angst by not drafting an obvious replacement. Turns out, David Diehl has done just fine. You might even make the case that he's a better player than Petitgout. He could man that spot for the next 5 years.
• The Linebackers: The Giants waived goodbye to unproductive veterans Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington, and there was an outcry to sign a big-name play-making linebacker. Get Lance Briggs! Sign Adalius Thomas! Get Al Wilson out of retirement! Draft Paul Pozluszny!
Reese did none of those things. Instead, he made an under-the-radar free agent signing in Kawika Mitchell, convinced the coaching staff to move Mathias Kiwanuka to linebacker and relied on backups Reggie Torbor and Gerris Wilkinson to continue to develop. I'd say that move has worked out just fine. Mitchell has played brilliantly. Kiwanuka was becoming a force as a hybrid linebacker/defensive lineman, Torbor has played well and Wilkinson was fantastic Saturday. If the Giants can keep Mitchell and Torbor from leaving at the end of the season this position is set.
• Letting Jay Feely go: Reese simply did not want to pay a kicker the kind of money Feely was asking for, so he let him go and traded for Lawrence Tynes. Some of you will argue with me on this one, but this move has worked out fine. Tynes struggled early on, but has kicked the ball better and better as the season has progressed. He ended up making 23-of-27 field goals (85.2%). Feely had a better year (21-of-23), but is the difference worth the money? Reese didn't think so.
• The 2007 Draft: One of my criticisms of recent Giants' drafts has been that, while they would get 1-2 good players each season, they missed on so many guys that they were left with no depth.
That was not a problem this year. All eight of Reese's draft choices made the team, most have contributed this season, and several look like building blocks who could be key players for several years. Aaron Ross could become the best corner the Giants have had since Jason Sehorn was healthy. Second-round pick Steve Smith has had a tough year, but will be fine. Kevin Boss looks like he might someday push Jeremy Shockey out of a job. And, most impressively to me, seventh-round picks Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Johnson are starting-caliber NFL players. When is the last time a team got two players that good out of the last round?
Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the undrafted free agents who have contributed. I'm talking primarily about tight end Michael Matthews, who is a quality lead blocker, and safety Craig Dahl, who contributed on special teams and played well filling in for Gibril Wilson earlier this season.
Reese came with a reputation for being a supremely gifted talent evaluator, and he backed it up in 2007. If he can continue to do that, the Giants will be a perennial contender.
• In-season acquisitions: Due to injuries, guys get picked up off the street and the waiver wire every week in the NFL. It's not often, though, that those waiver pickups become key members of your football team. Reese unearthed two such gems this season, fullback Madison Hedgecock and wide receiver/special teams standout Domenic Hixon.
Hedgecock has been so good as a lead blocker in the Giants' running game after being picked up from the Rams that the Giants have signed him to a five-year contract. Hixon returned a kickoff for a touchdown Saturday, and has been a key part of the improved Giants' coverage teams since arriving from Denver after the Broncos released him.
• Other good moves: Dumping Will Demps, which many of us thought was crazy with only Dahl and Johnson as backup safeties; Trading Tim Carter for Reuben Droughns, who has helped the Giants at times despite being well past his prime; Getting a sixth-round pick from Green Bay for Ryan Grant, whom the Giants would have otherwise released.
It's an impressive body of work for Reese's first season. Of course, he will have to maintain his magic touch for the Giants to become a perennial championship contender, but it certainly does look like the Giants are in good hands.