New York Giants' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said last week that it was "like Christmas" on Day 1 of NFL free agency when the Giants threw open their checkbook and in a flash added defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
"It was nice. It was like Christmas," Spagnuolo said on Friday at the team's practice facility. "Jerry (Reese) and his staff, Ken Sternfeld, they did a great job of identifying the guys, then being real aggressive and getting what we think are some pretty good football players. It's exciting."
The Giants will also have Jason Pierre-Paul for a full season, including the offseason program. They added Keenan Robinson and re-signed Jasper Brinkley to give them options at linebacker. There could be more pieces coming via free agency, and the 2016 NFL Draft will probably bring more toys for Spagnuolo and his new defensive staff to play with.
This is undoubtedly a time for Spagnuolo and the Giants to be optimistic that they will be better defensively than they were a year ago. Of course, since they were last in the league in yards allowed, near the bottom in sacks, last in the league in stopping third-down plays, second-last in yards allowed per play ... well, enough, you get the point that the Giants were bad on defense ... they should be optimistic that they can be better in 2016.
"Let's go back a year -- JPP, as we all know, is a really good football player -- he wasn't here with us, didn't have him all spring. So now we get him fully right from the beginning, that's an advantage. We do think obviously the three guys that we got in free agency obviously give us something; whether that's because we didn't have it last year or we did, I'm not really here to talk about that," Spagnuolo said. "I'm here to talk about going forward. Again, I'm excited about the guys we got. I'm hoping, certainly, that we can put a better product on the field than we did a year ago. I think that we will. All the pieces coming together -- whether it's players or coaches -- is something that we're excited about."
Left unsaid is the reality that Spagnuolo has to realize he will be fighting for his coaching future in 2016. He is no longer the White Knight, the hero who rode in from the Philadelphia Eagles and built a Super Bowl-winning defense in his first season as a defensive coordinator. Well, he is still the guy who did that, but much has changed since that 2007 season.
Spagnuolo had a miserable 10-38 three-year run as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. He was defensive coordinator of the worst defense in NFL history with the New Orleans Saints in 2012. His next DC opportunity was last season with the Giants, probably the only organization in the league that would have given him such a chance. Blame whatever reason you want, but Spagnuolo's name was attached to that defense, which means the last two times he has been a coordinator his groups have been the worst in the league.
Despite that lack of success, Spagnuolo was a legitimate candidate for the head-coaching job with the Giants when Tom Coughlin resigned/was ousted from the job. That opening, of course, went to Ben McAdoo, and on Friday Spagnuolo had to answer questions about now working for the man who got the job he sought. While expressing disappointment, Spagnuolo also seemed to understand that he is fortunate to be getting another chance to get the Giants' defense back on track.
"I'm not gonna lie to you. I was disappointed that I wasn't the guy, but look, I like Ben a lot," Spagnuolo said.
"It [becoming the head coach] didn't happen so there's disappointment, but it's always nice to be wanted. I'm excited about that. I'm looking forward to moving forward. It's not odd, it's the game, it's the business. I'm not giving up on my dream of being a head coach again, but certainly I'm excited about being with Ben."
For Spagnuolo to have any chance to keep that dream alive in the NFL, or to even continue to have an opportunity to be a coordinator, the Giants almost certainly have to show marked improvement on defense in 2016. Spagnuolo's career, and the Giants' ability to have a winning season for the first time in four years, both likely depend on that.
Do you still have confidence that Spagnuolo is the right guy for the job?