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Trying to make sense of the Landon Collins decision

Is there a method to Dave Gettleman’s apparent madness?

Chicago Bears v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The knee-jerk, emotional, reaction was — and still is — to roast New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman for Tuesday’s decision not to use the franchise or transition tag on Landon Collins, thus allowing him to become a free agent.

Upset fans on Twitter, and in the comments here at Big Blue View, did it. Many in the media, confused by the message this sends to players in the locker room and uncertain how Gettleman plans to make the Giants better on defense, did it.

I’m not going to do it.

I’m also not going to sing the praises of this move, be a Gettleman apologist or try to downplay the talent of Collins. What I’m going to try and do is figure out what happened on Tuesday, why it happened and what it means for the 2019 Giants.

Look, by itself I don’t like this move. Not even a little bit. The Giants can’t keep hemorrhaging talent, especially young talent that the organization drafted.

Jason Pierre-Paul is in Tampa Bay. Eli Apple is in New Orleans. Damon Harrison, Devon Kennard and Romeo Okwara are in Detroit. Ereck Flowers is in limbo. Olivier Vernon is almost certain to be gone soon.

Collins now is an ex-Giant. For all of the criticism of former GM Jerry Reese — here and elsewhere — trading up to get Collins at the top of Round 2 in the 2015 NFL Draft was one of the best and most aggressive moves Reese ever made.

Now, the only players remaining on the roster that Reese drafted are Zak DeOssie (2007), Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) , Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins (2016) and Evan Engram, Dalvin Tomlinson, Wayne Gallman and Avery Moss from 2017. That’s eight.

When the Giants replaced Tom Coughlin with Ben McAdoo in 2015, co-owner John Mara spoke about the Giants’ inability to build a core of long-term Giants from within, from their draft classes.

Four years later, they still haven’t been able to do that. It’s one of the reasons Reese is gone and Gettleman is in the GM chair. This move, though, won’t help build that core.

Gettleman and Pat Shurmur have spoken since the end of the 2018 season about the need for more defensive play-makers. Gettleman has spoken about being aware that every move the team makes sends a message to the locker room.

Collins is just 25. He is one of the game’s premier box safeties. He was already a defensive captain and team leader. The respect everyone around the Giants organization has for him is obvious. You don’t have to be in the locker room to know. All you have to do is look at the turnout of both present and former Giants for Collins’ annual charity softball game to benefit the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund to see it. Collins played hard. He played hurt. He played well.

What more could he have done? Probably not a whole lot.

It’s absolutely fair to ask the question “what the heck is Gettleman doing here?” So, let’s do that.

What is Gettleman doing?

This is the part where it helps not to just blindly write the first thing that comes to mind. Where it helps to sit back, gather your thoughts, try to gather some information. Try to, for lack of a more original way to put it, see the forest for the trees.

During the Combine, Gettleman kept going back to the idea of eliminating distractions. It’s apparent he knew Collins would be unhappy with the tag and that there would be months of attention in the media focused on that.

Gettleman also spoke about the money and about how decisions can’t be made “in a vacuum.” It’s apparent that he felt like the $11.2 million franchise tag was too much. He also didn’t want to use the $9.531 million transition tag, risk being blown out of the water by an offer he didn’t want to match, and end up without even a 2020 compensatory pick for Collins.

All of that is well and good, and I believe that the general manager believes those things. I don’t, however, believe they are reasons to let a 25-year-old foundation piece on defense — one of the few play-makers you have — leave.

So, what’s the deal?

This is really all about asset allocation in a salary cap league. It’s apparent that Gettleman, Pat Shurmur and defensive coordinator James Bettcher don’t see Collins as a guy they want to allocate a massive amount of money to.

Perhaps it comes down to the simple notion that the organization doesn’t see the player’s value the same way the player — and the fan base — does.

Collins fell to the second round of the draft largely because talent evaluators questioned whether he had the speed and range to patrol the back end of the defense. He doesn’t. While he has always grated against the notion, Collins is a box safety. He is a play-maker at the line of scrimmage vs. the run. He can cover adequately in the short areas of the field. He’s not an Earl Thomas or an Ed Reed who can go sideline to sideline as a centerfielder. He is, by traditional definition, a strong safety rather than a free safety.

Back to value.

Reality is, in the NFL the safeties who get PAID are generally the free safeties. Seven of the top eight contracts for safeties are currently for players considered free safeties, the last line of defense guys who make plays all over the field. Yes, Kam Chancellor and Reshad Jones are exceptions to this. The Giants apparently didn’t want to make Collins one.

Collins is a really good player. He is not, though, a free safety. In a league where everyone is looking for guys who can cover, that’s not his strong suit. He is more of an old-school thumper.

It’s not popular. It’s not easy. I don’t know if it will end up being right or wrong. Perhaps, though, the Giants just have a different vision for how they want to allocate resources on a defense that needs to be rebuilt.

What matters is what happens next

During his Combine chat with New York media, Gettleman reminded multiple times that it is early in the process. Free agency hasn’t begun yet. The draft is still weeks away.

It’s easy to be upset because all we have seen is what the Giants have subtracted. We haven’t yet seen what Gettleman and Co. will do about getting better.

Will they make a big run at Chicago Bears safety Adrian Amos, a 26-year-old player who could handle the single-high responsibilities required in a Bettcher defense? If it’s not Amos, the free agent market is flush with good players who won’t cost as much as Collins. Could the Giants perhaps find a box safety in the middle portion of the draft?

Could they use some of that money that would have been allocated to Collins to make a run at a free agent cornerback like Bryce Callahan, also of the Bears? Other top corners on the market could be Ronald Darby, Pierre Desir and Steven Nelson.

Gettleman has made a risky, unpopular move here. No doubt. He didn’t make it in a vacuum, though, as he would remind everyone. What really matters isn’t what the Giants defense looks like today, March 6. What matters is what Gettleman does between now and when the season begins in September.

It is easy to rush to judgment now. Let’s see, though, what things look like once we have the full picture.