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Point-counterpoint: Ed, Pat debate major questions facing Giants entering free agency, draft

We play off a recent ESPN post with our own thoughts

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN New York Giants beat writer Jordan Raanan and former Giants beat writer Dan Graziano recently composed a point-counterpoint analysis of the state of the Giants, each answering the same set of questions. Patricia Traina and I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to compare and contrast our views to those same questions, so that’s what we have done.

Below, our answers to those questions.

Why would they keep Eli Manning and let Collins walk?

Ed says: I don’t know why there is this “the Giants lost Landon Collins because they kept Eli Manning” notion. That’s nonsense. Manning’s salary isn’t the reason why the Giants decided to move on from Collins.

First, the Giants are — at this point — keeping Manning because they believe he can still make NFL throws and they saw enough from the offense over the final eight games of 2018 to believe they can function well with him behind center.

As for Collins, the Giants simply decided that the price tag was too high for the skill set Collins brings. James Bettcher’s defense relies heavily on a single-high free safety, and I think the Giants believe their money would be better spent on a player with that skill set rather than a box safety, which is what Collins really is.

They may also feel like they need money to add an edge rusher after trading Olivier Vernon, and perhaps finding a quality cornerback.

Letting Collins go was about simple asset allocation. The Giants decided they wanted to spend their defensive dollars on positions they feel have higher value.

Pat says: This is kind of an easy one for me and is not, as I see it, “Landon vs. Eli.” The Giants are apparently planning to invest on a bonafide free safety — a position that I don’t have to tell Giants fans came up way short in terms of production last year.

Given how limited their cap space is, there was NO WAY they were going to devote mega free-agency financial resources to both Collins (an outstanding box safety whose coverage skills were up and down) AND a free safety AND a pass rusher AND an offensive tackle.

Then there was the matter of Collins reportedly holding out if he got the tag. Let’s be honest: How many times in recent years have fans complained when the Giants missed out in a key free agent because they didn’t have the money or weren’t willing to spend? A lot.

Had the Giants tagged Collins and he made good on the reported threat to hold out until the season started while holding captive a large chunk of the available salary cap space that might have caused the Giants to miss out on free agents that could help the team, how many of you would have been pissed?

I get it that Collins is a fan favorite — heck, he’s a media favorite, too. But he is a player who can be replaced.

As for Eli, yes, he can be replaced, too — and he will be in time. But as I have said all along, I don’t get the impression the Giants are drooling over this year’s quarterback options and I also got the strong impression that they believe that by finishing the upgrade of the offensive line, that will help not just Eli but also his eventual successor.

NFL: New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Is OBJ next?

Ed says: I addressed this question in Saturday’s BBV Mailbag. To start, I’m going to fall back on that answer:

I think the Giants are keeping Beckham ... unless one of two scenarios unfold.

The first scenario? He gives them a reason to move on. That would mean another off-the-field distraction like last year’s unfortunate ESPN interview. GM Dave Gettleman can say what he wants about not signing Beckham to trade him, and coach Pat Shurmur can claim his relationship with Beckham is good, but I think there is only a thin rope tying Beckham and the Giants. Another incident could snap that line.

The second scenario? Simple. The Giants just plain get an offer they can’t refuse. Gettleman’s “we didn’t sign him to trade him” was not a “we absolutely won’t trade him.” It left him some room. If, let’s say, the San Francisco 49ers offered the Giants the No. 2 and No. 36 picks in the upcoming draft in return for Beckham that would be kind of hard to turn down.

I think the Giants really want to make this work. They really want Beckham to be part of it when they get this thing turned around. No one wants to move on from a player as talented as Beckham. They only do it because they feel like they have to, that they just can’t make it work. To make it work, Beckham just has to produce on the field and not make headlines that distract from football or embarrass the franchise off it. If he can’t, the Giants will eventually move on.

Pat says: I truly believe in my heart the Giants would like to make this marriage with Odell Beckham Jr. work. I mean, what better gifts could they give to their next franchise quarterback than a sturdy offensive line and a weapons arsenal that includes Beckham, Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram?

However, let’s go back to what Dave Gettleman said about being leery of potential distractions. Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur worked very hard last year to rid the locker room of distractions. They will continue to be on high alert for potential distractions and you better believe they’ll act accordingly if one should erupt.

While I do believe Beckham is starting to mature, it’s been a slow process for him. Last year, his ESPN interview set off a major firestorm that created a huge distraction for the football team because it became the story.

And you could just tell by his words and body language that Pat Shurmur was not happy with the firestorm nor with having to answer questions about the interview when there was a game on deck.

So the question for me is how much more rope does Beckham have before the Giants brass say, “Enough is enough!”

This is why I believe Gettleman won’t come right out and say, ”No, we are not trading Odell.” I suspect that if Beckham’s words or actions creates another three-ring circus on par with what happened last year, things could get very interesting.

What are some of the Giants’ other moves that never should have been made?

Ed says: If I was to go back through the Jerry Reese era, I could write a few thousand words on that question. I will, though, keep my answer to the moves made by Gettleman.

The signings of running back Jonathan Stewart and Patrick Omameh were mistakes. I know the reasons for them, but the Giants tossed too much money at both players and got basically nothing in return.

There is lots of argument about Nate Solder, but that’s a signing I support. Yes, it was an overpay but the Giants needed offensive line help and that’s the price of doing business when you dive into the deep end of the free agent pool.

I’m fine with the trades of Jason Pierre-Paul and Damon Harrison.

All in all, I think the Giants are still under construction. It’s hard to judge individual moves. The Giants feel like they made strides in 2018, and I would agree. Not enough, but they made strides.

Let’s just see if that continues.

Pat says: Look, I get what Gettleman and Shurmur have tried to do. While I give them an ‘A’ for the intention, I can’t give them passing grades for some of the execution.

For example, I liked the idea behind signing running back Jonathan Stewart, but my gosh, the money he received was insane! I mean who exactly were they competing with for Stewart’s services that they had to throw way more than the veteran minimum at him?

I also liked the idea of upgrading the offensive line last year with Patrick Omameh, but remember, he was mostly a left guard.

While I understand the Giants didn’t know at the time if they would get Will Hernandez, by moving Omameh to the right side next to Ereck Flowers, who had also played the majority of his career on the left side was a recipe for disaster.

I know people are also going to be critical of the moves the Giants made that involved trading Jason Pierre-Paul and Damon Harrison, and cutting defensive end Romeo Okwara.

The Pierre-Paul and Okwara moves were made, I believe with the scheme fit in mind, though in JPP’s case, this goes back to my belief that the Giants were too cap heavy at the defensive end position and not getting the return on investment they were seeking.

I see the logic behind trading Snacks Harrison — he wasn’t in the long-term plans, not with a few young pups behind him — and Gettleman apparently was giddy to get something in return while removing that monster contract Harrison had off the books.

But I think the timing of the trades sent mixed messages. Were the Giants giving up on the year? It certainly looked that way at the time.

In reality, I think what Gettleman was trying to do — and this is something Jerry Reese rarely, if ever did — was get draft capital rather than simply flush a wad of money down the salary cap dead money toilet and have nothing to show for it.

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp
John Mara
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Who is to blame for the team’s lack of direction?

Ed says: First, I’m going to argue that this whole “lack of direction” narrative is nothing more than drivel generated mostly by certain media members who have disagreed not only with most of Dave Gettleman’s decisions, but much of what the franchise has done for the past several years.

Gettleman knows what he wants to do with this team. It’s sort of like what coach Pat Shurmur said about the Giants and the quarterback plan a year. They have a plan, it just might not be the one most people think it should be. It’s Gettleman’s plan, Pat Shurmur’s plan, John Mara’s plan. It’s not my plan. It’s not your plan. It’s their franchise and their plan.

When Gettleman took over from former GM Jerry Reese he inherited a 3-13 team with a fractured locker room and, to be honest, not a whole lot of real NFL talent. The Giants won two Super Bowls while Reese was GM, but I will argue those titles had a whole lot more to do with Ernie Accorsi, Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin than with Reese.

In my view, you can go as far back as 2009 to see where shortcomings in Reese’s draft and free agent decisions created roster problems the Giants still need to fix. It took years and years of poor drafting and roster management to get the Giants into this mess. It was never going to take a new GM, any new GM, just a year to climb out of the hole. It’s a multi-year process.

I will argue that the biggest mistake of all was after 2015. If the Giants were going to force Coughlin out, that was the time to start fresh with a new GM. Maybe even a new quarterback. The desire for continuity is usually a good thing. The Giants, though, missed an opportunity for a clean break and a reboot that probably would have done the franchise good.

Pat says: We can sit here and debate until the cows come home from the pasture who was at fault for what appears to be a lack of direction with this team, but will that really change where things are today if we all come to a consensus on who is to blame?

With that said, one move this team made that I have to wonder if they could do again, would they, was why they never performed a clean sweep at head coach, general manager and quarterback after the 2015 season.

To me, it seemed like ownership, who is known to crave stability, chose to lop off part of the problem rather than start fresh and admit to being in rebuild mode. Problem is that I think ownership might have seen “stability” in the franchise that just wasn’t there to begin with given how badly the roster and record had deteriorated.

What is the long-term plan?

Ed says: Gettleman isn’t shy about reminding that he has worked for teams that have appeared in seven Super Bowls and won three. He will tell you he knows what it looks like, and you know that is what he is trying to accomplish. Remember what Gettleman said at his introductory press conference:

“My plan is to come in here every day and kick ass. That’s my plan, OK? And I’m going to keep doing it until they either take my key card or the Lord calls me home.”

Gettleman is 68 and has gone through a recent battle with Lymphoma. He knows he doesn’t have forever to get the Giants back to the top.

The long-term plan starts with finding a new franchise quarterback. The indication has been the Giants would like that to come through the draft. Will it come this year? Good question. If it doesn’t, that isn’t Gettleman ignoring the need. It’s him deciding he hasn’t found his guy yet.

Gettleman wants to continue to build the talent on both sides of the ball. He wants to rebuild the lines on both sides. The GM often talks about the balance between the present and future, and wanting to set the Giants up for sustained success. To do that, you have to build through the draft and keep core players into second contracts.

He also talks often about locker room culture and how much it breeds into winning. You know it will remain a focus as he tries to build the type of team he and Pat Shurmur want.

“Talent sets the stage. Character sets the ceiling,” Gettleman said. “Part of the responsibility of a general manager is to eliminate distractions.

“I’m not saying you can never take a chance on a guy. Part of the responsibility of a general manager is to eliminate distractions, allow players to play and coaches to coach.

“Unfortunately guys who have character issues create distractions. They do.”

Pat says: The Giants plan, in a nutshell, is to go back to building football teams the old-school style: Through the draft.

Let’s take the defense as an example. Since 2017, the Giants defense has struggled to recapture its magic from 2016, this even despite a change in defensive coordinator.

So if you’re the general manager and you have to decide whether to keep two guys who were the best players on that under-performing team but who are potentially going to choke your cap space, it becomes a no-brainer of a decision, especially since the free-agent safety market and the depth of quality pass rushers in this year’s draft class makes it a buyer’s delight to replace Landon Collins and Olivier Vernon with lower cost options.

As BBV readers know, I do a lot of work analyzing the salary cap. As far back as 2015, I began to have concern about the Giants draft classes not panning out, be it due to injury or due to the previous regime taking too many high-risk, high reward gambles that turned into busts.

In that article, I also wrote about how, thanks to the draft classes not working out, the Giants had to shift gears and start spending large amounts of money on mulligans—funds that they otherwise could have used to keep those few players who proved themselves worth of retaining.

The “vicious cycle,” as I called it, first came to light in 2014 when Reese and company spent like crazy in free agency only to end up with nothing to show for it.

Instead of learning his lesson, Reese did the same thing in 2016 when he spent $200 million on new contracts for Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, just to name a few—spending that contributed to a grossly top-heavy salary cap where the top five or so guys ate up the majority of the cap resources.

Gettleman’s plan, I believe, is to break that vicious cycle and get back to what so many successful teams around the NFL who make the playoffs on a consistent basis, do: Draft well and use free agency selectively to fill in holes that the draft can’t fix that year.

The key to making this work is to not overvalue the talent and making sure you leave your ego at home and admit when you’ve made a mistake.

Because as we saw with Reese, who famously chose Ereck Flowers over Andrew Whitworth and then tried to convince people that the Giants offensive line at the time was compatible with lines around the league, when you keep a player who has you stuck spinning your wheels, you’re only adding to the problem.

What moves will Gettleman & Co. make next?

Ed says: If we have learned anything about Gettleman since he became GM it is that he is somewhat unpredictable. We know he loves the hog mollies, we know he believes in the age-old tenets of run the ball, stop the run, rush the passer and that he fully realizes the importance of finding the next franchise quarterback. How he get the franchise to where he would like it to be is anyone’s guess. I will, however, try.

Quarterback — Gettleman has professed admiration for the ‘Kansas City Model,’ drafting a young quarterback and allowing him to sit and learn behind a smart, capable veteran for a year. If he’s going to pull that off it has to be this year.

Gettleman said at the Combine he believes franchise quarterbacks are found in Round 1. That likely means either drafting Dwayne Haskins or trading for last year’s 10th overall pick, Josh Rosen. Right now, though, only Gettleman can answer whether he believes one of them is capable of being the franchise guy he wants to leave the Giants with. If he doesn’t, he will wait. Whether the fan base and the media likes it or not.

Offensive line — After the deal for Kevin Zeitler and re-signing Jon Halapio, right tackle is the obvious target. I think the Giants will push hard in free agency for a right tackle. If they get one, they will supplement the line with one or more mid- to late-round picks.

Defense — The Giants have a lot of work to do here. Don’t be shocked if Gettleman does more wheeling and dealing. I think much of both free agency and the draft is going to be about adding talent on defense.

Pat says: Just when I think I have this figured out, along comes a monkey wrench that rendered my carefully thought out logic. But I’m going to try to figure this out because, hey, I’m a glutton for punishment.

I think we can all agree that the Giants’ biggest needs are, in no particular order, a right tackle, a quarterback, a free safety, and pass rushers. The question is where will Gettleman look to fill these needs.

Some thoughts…

Quarterback: I honestly don’t have a strong feel for whether the Giants will draft a quarterback at No. 6. When I left the Combine, I came away thinking that the Giants were still leaning toward defense.

I’m still not convinced that Dwayne Haskins will be there for the taking anyway as I have a gut feeling someone is going to trade up to get him. (I also think there is some merit to the Kyler Murray to Arizona rumors.)

Would the Giants trade for Josh Rosen if Arizona does make him available? Right now I have a hard time seeing the Giants giving up draft assets. Even if it’s just a No 2 pick, the Giants, remember, don’t have a No. 3. So I can’t see Gettleman waiting two days before he goes back on the clock again given the holes on that defense.

Pass Rushers: I think the Giants will use both the draft and free agency to boost this spot. I listed some names to watch for Forbes. Once I see how free agency pans out, I’ll try to give you some names in the draft class.

Free Safety: I’m thinking the Giants go with a veteran here, and I’d love to see them try to get Adrian Amos of the Bears, a move that I suspect might be too rich for their budget.

Right Tackle: Although I have mused about Jamon Brown possibly being an option here — if that were the case, the Giants wouldn’t have to worry about losing out on a comp pick for next year’s draft — I do think the more realistic approach will be to go after a right tackle in free agency, and I’m thinking one of the people Gettleman will reach out to is Daryl Williams of Carolina.

One thing I’m interested in seeing is if Gettleman somehow plans this to where he puts the team in a position to get multiple comp picks next year, especially if they do not go quarterback in the draft. Gettleman seems to like to stock up on draft capital any way he can, so this is definitely something to watch.