I heard an interesting debate on the radio the other day. Is this the Fourth of July Weekend, or is that actually next weekend? The Fourth is on Wednesday, smack dab in the middle of the week, so it’s a good question.
As Forrest Gump would say, maybe it’s both.
Regardless, as we roll through the slow period of the offseason and begin the build toward training camp you are here for thoughts on the New York Giants. So, to give you some, here is this week’s ‘Valentine’s Views.’ This week, some thoughts on things I liked and didn’t like about the Giants’ offseason.
Going all-in on Eli
Eli Manning, because of his contract and the deep respect ownership and GM Dave Gettleman have for him, was always going to be on the roster in 2018. The Giants had a choice — go all-in on Manning and try to win as many games as possible in his time left as Giants’ quarterback — or draft his replacement, tell him more or less that he no longer mattered, and for all intents and purposes tell everyone they were starting over and that what happened on the field record-wise in 2018 didn’t matter.
As we know, they chose to go all-in on Manning. That’s a decision some love, and some hate. Whether it’s the right decision long-term will be decided by Davis Webb, Kyle Lauletta, Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley. Also, by how successful the Giants are while Manning remains their No. 1 quarterback.
The NFL is such a year-to-year league, though, anything can happen. As much as I personally favored the idea of drafting Sam Darnold No. 2 overall, and he may one day make them regret not selecting him, choosing the route of helping Manning as much as possible was the right one. For 2018. Beyond that, we’ll see.
Hiring James Bettcher
The easy thing for the Giants to do would have been to keep Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Spags had a prior relationship with Gettleman from their previous employment with the Giants. Shurmur worked for Spagnuolo when Spags was head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Spagnuolo is a beloved figure by Giants ownership and the entire organization, and ownership felt they owed him at least an interview for the head-coaching job after he did the dirty work of being interim head coach after Ben McAdoo was canned.
Yet, the Giants pounced when the Arizona Cardinals hired Steve Wilks, a former defensive coordinator as head coach, and let the up-and-coming Bettcher go.
Truth is, Bettcher probably isn’t going to be Giants defensive coordinator for long. He got an interview for the Arizona head-coaching job, former Arizona coach Bruce Arians considers him one of the league’s bright young coaching stars, and success in New York is almost certain to lead to head-coaching interviews.
This, though, goes back to that all-in on Eli thing. The Giants have made it clear that they aren’t rebuilding, they are trying to win while the best quarterback in franchise history still has — they believe — enough left to do that.
Bettcher instead of Spagnuolo is part of that. Spags is a terrific person, accommodating and easy to like. Still, even though he helped the Giants win the 2007 Super Bowl there are a lot of black marks on his resume in recent years. Sure, he could have turned the defense around in 2018.
The new energy and new scheme of a rising coach like Bettcher, the spot Spagnuolo was in 10 or 11 years ago, should help.
Signing Nate Solder
The Giants haven’t had a solid, dependable left tackle since the pre-2013 version of Will Beatty. They haven’t had veteran leadership on their offensive line David Diehl and Chris Snee retired after the 2013 season.
Solder provides both.
No doubt, the Giants overpaid Solder. The four-year, $62.5 million ($34.8 million guaranteed) contract they gave him makes him the league’s highest-paid left tackle. Solder isn’t close to being the league’s best left tackle. In seven seasons, he has never made a Pro Bowl. He’s middle of the pack, maybe slightly above average. For the Giants, though, that’s a massive upgrade.
Solder has also quickly become the leader of the offensive line. He is helping rookie left guard Will Hernandez, who calls him a coach on the field. He has been a good influence on Ereck Flowers as he moves to right tackle and tries to prove he can be a quality player.
The draft as a whole
I started to list a few of the draft picks individually, then I realized that overall I liked what the Giants did in the draft as a whole.
Selecting Saquon Barkley at No. 2 overall was a franchise-altering decision. As we have talked about, it meant that the Giants were going all-in on trying to win with, rather than replace, Manning.
It also put Gettleman and the Giants in a position where they will always be open for second-guessing. Unless two things happen. First, Barkley stars, Manning plays well and the Giants win big before the Manning Era ends. Second, the Giants don’t wind up in what Gettleman calls “Quarterback Hell” in the immediate post-Manning era. Or, for that matter, during the end of it.
The New York Jets (the Jets of all teams!) took Sam Darnold with the very next pick. Many analysts, yours truly included, saw Darnold as the quarterback in the 2018 draft class who was the natural heir to Manning. If he becomes a top-tier quarterback and leads the Jets to glory there will always be a “should have drafted Darnold” crowd — no matter how good Barkley is.
Still, I like it. For now. By drafting Barkley the Giants got Manning real help and the potential for a running game they haven’t had for a long time.
Selecting Will Hernandez at 34, who most thought would go in Round 1, got the Giants the best offensive lineman left on the board. He has been impressive both as a player and as a person thus far.
The selection of Lorenzo Carter in the third round gave the Giants a player with pass-rushing potential, and the addition of B.J. Hill in the same round could turn out to be a better one than anyone realized at the time.
I also liked picking Kyle Lauletta in the fourth round. I have talked to the kid a few times and a like him, but that’s not why I like the pick. When the Giants made the selection of Lauletta they could not have foreseen the excellent spring Davis Webb has had. Still, Webb’s spring guarantees nothing. We don’t know if Webb or Lauletta will ever prove to be a worthy successor to Manning. What we do know is the Giants have given themselves two shots at the quarterback Roulette Wheel without using a high pick that would set the franchise back a number of years should it fail.
Releasing Brandon Marshall
If you’re a BBV regular, you know that I never thought then-GM Jerry Reese should have brought the veteran wide receiver to the Giants in the first place.
This is part of what I wrote in March of 2017, before the signing:
Should the Giants really spend a good chunk of the limited salary cap space they have available on an aging wide receiver of questionable character who might also have fading skills?
I think not.
The Giants need to prioritize the offensive line.
Reese and McAdoo thought otherwise. Obviously, they thought wrong.
The biggest problem, of course, was that Marshall played only five games. The second problem was that he was nowhere near the player who had racked up six 100+ catch seasons. He caught only 18 passes for a career-worst 8.6 yards per catch. There is also the fact that, his fault or not, trouble found Marshall at all of his NFL stops prior to the Giants. The toxic locker room atmosphere last season was due to a great many factors. Marshall was never directly involved in any of it, but I simply wonder if his presence in the room was a good or bad influence.
Trading for Alec Ogletree
Let’s be straight. Ogletree is a good player. He’s never been a great one. There are reasons why the Los Angeles Rams were willing to part with him. Chris broke down the good and bad of Ogletree shortly after the trade.
I liked the Ogletree trade partially because it brought the Giants a talented player who should be in his prime. I mostly liked it, though, because it signaled that linebacker, a position that was an afterthought for too long with the Giants, had become a priority.
The signing of free agent Kareem Martin, drafting of Lorenzo Carter and move of Olivier Vernon to linebacker furthered that impression.
Something to watch: BBV’s Dan Pizzuta believes the Giants could have gotten a linebacker just as good as Ogletree in Round 4 of the draft. For what it’s worth, the fourth-round pick the Giants gave up was 135th overall. The Carolina Panthers selected linebacker Marquis Haynes 136th and the Seattle Seahawks picked Shaquem Griffin 141st. Watch those two players.
The biggest thing I didn’t like
Quantity over quality at cornerback. First, after his tumultuous 2017 season the Giants took a huge gamble by going all-in on Eli Apple. There is no clear competition, or alternative, to Apple on the current 90-man roster. Fortunately, Apple had an excellent spring and appears to have a much better outlook than he did a year ago.
Second, the Giants let Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie go when he refused a pay cut, and lost Ross Cockrell in free agency. They replaced that duo with lots of bodies, both veteran journeymen and young undrafted free agents, but not with equal talent. They are just crossing their fingers that out of the collection of players they have assembled to compete for jobs that they find at least a couple of players they can rely on.
I have always espoused the belief that with the way offenses spread the field now with three- and four-wide receiver sets it is critical to have as many good cover corners as possible. If Apple and Janoris Jenkins are healthy and productive for 16 games, the Giants’ weakness here might not get exposed. If one of them gets hurt, that could be a major issue.
Maybe 33-year-old William Gay has a good season left. Maybe Donte Deayon or Grant Haley can help in the slot if needed. Maybe someone from the group of B.W. Webb, Teddy Williams, Chris Lewis_Harris and Kenneth Durden can help.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. Too many maybe’s for me.
To be honest, nothing the Giants have done guarantees they will be any better than they were last season. Or, that the run of only one playoff appearance in six years won’t turn into one in seven.
Right now, though, things feel much better. The adults are in charge and the Giants once again feel like a professional organization rather than a whiny kindergarten class (sorry, parents of kindergartners — and kindergartners).
You also have to like — at least I do — the fact that the Giants are trying to return to building from the inside out. Fortifying the lines, building a dependable running game. You can’t, however, fix years of worth of misguided decisions in one offseason. So, things are not perfect. There are plenty of question marks.
The Giants, though, are in a better place than they were at the end of the 2017 season. Whether that actually leads to more wins remains to be seen.