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Are the Giants really stuck in the past?

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Maybe their approach isn’t quite as old-fashioned as it appears on the surface

NFL: New York Giants-OTA
Coach Pat Shurmur watches the Giants during an OTA.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are often criticized for being an archaic franchise. Many believe they are stuck in yesteryear and that the game is passing this organization by as we speak. There might be some truth to that and clearly this organization believes in a set of principles that, over the course of time, has been quite successful. But let’s just examine their recent team building to see how much that really holds true of late.

Many will point to building an offense around a running back as a very outdated strategy. On the surface that is true, but is anyone going to argue that Saquon Barkley isn’t a truly special player at this position as well as being extremely suitable for today’s NFL with his outstanding abilities in the passing game. And … most importantly … don’t you think Daniel Jones is thrilled that Barkley is in place to help the young quarterback’s development into the professional game?

The Giants also traded a very valuable position, an edge defender, for a guard. There is no doubt that the passing game rules in today’s NFL and without question it is the most important aspect of being a consistently winning organization. However, let’s examine Olivier Vernon vs. Kevin Zeitler as individual players.

New York certainly isn’t set at the edge position of their defense, but they are looking for a different type of player here now than the mold of Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants want athletic ability with the possibilities of these players dropping into coverage more so than stoutness at the point of attack. While the lines between 4-3 and 3-4 fronts in the league now are very blurry, the Giants now prefer traditional 3-4 outside linebacker types rather than the 4-3 defensive mold that Vernon personifies.

Vernon will also be turning 29 years old early in 2019 and was overused in a Giants uniform. Despite high snap counts, Vernon has only surpassed 8.5 sacks in a season once. On a per game basis, Vernon got very little rest in New York. He was also injured for the first five games of the season, an injury that appeared to linger. All of this could take a long-term toll on his career and it also could be argued that Vernon no longer is an overly threatening edge rusher and is more suited to stop the run at this point of his career. His value isn’t what it once was, especially when considering how much money Vernon was making. New York now does have two high upside youngsters that fit the system better in Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines from the past two drafts, as well as adding Markus Golden to help hold down the fort for the time being as the recent draft picks develop.

Still, it’s undeniable that it is unlikely that the Giants have a true number one pass-rusher on their roster at the moment. Filling that need could be next year’s top offseason priority, but this scheme is also built more on blitz than getting to the quarterback with just four-man pressure packages.

This isn’t to imply that Vernon wouldn’t still be useful in New York, but Zeitler is better at what he does right now and his addition should go a very long way in actually fixing the Giants offensive line. Clearly this has been a massive problem area for this team over the past few years and with forces such as Fletcher Cox in the division, being strong at the guard spots is a mustM, particularly for when Jones inevitably takes over behind center. Maybe it seems archaic on the surface, but swapping Vernon for Zeitler, an elite pass blocking guard, is a win for the Giants.

Two other peculiar swaps are the Giants allowing Landon Collins to leave in free agency and their trading of Damon Harrison during the 2018 season. New York quickly replaced Collins with Jabrill Peppers and used the 17th overall pick on a Harrison replacement, Dexter Lawrence.

The argument here shouldn’t be Collins vs. Peppers or Harrison vs. Lawrence. Not only did New York, a rebuilding organization, get younger with both these swaps, but they also clearly got more athletic at both positions in the process. They also received draft capital for Harrison while getting his contract off their books and should receive compensatory compensation a year from now by allowing Collins to sign in Washington for big money.

But where there might be some validity to New York living in the past with these two swaps is positional value. If you move away from a pure run stuffing nose tackle and an in-the-box safety, maybe you should invest in defenders that disrupt the passing game more than Lawrence and Peppers.

While that is mostly true, the need for a strong interior defensive line presence is very important to James Bettcher’s defensive scheme and for better or worse, obviously Dave Gettleman believes in having huge power players in the middle on this side of the ball. This organization, more than most, has believed in bigger being better, especially in the trenches. But if you are going to become lighter in weight and more athletic on the edges as they have, having power and mass in the middle is pretty important. The trio of Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill should make this area of the defense a strong point as well as a youthful and inexpensive one. Also, we all expect Lawrence to affect the passing game more than Harrison. It also should be noted that the NFC East is more run-oriented than probably any other division in the NFL right now and the rival Redskins could be poised to be even more run-heavy than ever.

Bettcher also wants a versatile middle of the field defender that he can utilize in numerous ways. While Collins is probably the better football player of the two right now, Peppers was starting to come into his own last year in Cleveland and overall, with much more athletic ability, should inevitably be able to impact the game in more ways than his predecessor. In no way do you want Collins running down the field in man coverage against Jordan Reed or Zach Ertz or manning the deep portion of the field in coverage in any situation. Again, Peppers is a work in progress here, but he is already better in this capacity than Collins and could develop into much more than that.

So while it looks like Giants are archaic in their approach of replacing positions of little value with players at the same spot, the logic behind these moves is sound. Also, it must be noted that the analytics people are now very much believers that the best way to build a defense is investing in cornerbacks. This is a newer vantage point that New York subscribes to. The Giants are on board with this strategy and including the supplemental draft, have added three highly regarded cornerback prospects in less than one calendar year.

Gettleman and the Giants are easy targets of critics right now. His interactions with the media and the market they play in certainly does not help the way the Giants are currently perceived. That being said and again, there is no denying that New York does do things their own way and with some traditional philosophies in place, but the Giants rebuild might just be a little less old-fashioned than most seem to think.

Matt Williamson is a former college and NFL scout. He has been an analyst for ESPN and is currently host of the Locked on NFL podcast.