This week SB Nation has asked us to pose “What If?” scenarios as a part of their theme week.
“What Ifs” can be tricky and dangerous to explore. After all, there’s a butterfly effect to every decision and you have to be careful that you don’t confuse what you think would have happened with what you want to have happened.
That very nearly happened after the 2017 season when the Giants nearly hired Louis Riddick.
At the time, many Giants fans were very excited at the prospect of hiring Riddick — myself included. It even formed the basis Ed’s yearly adaptation of The Night Before Christmas.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the Field Turf below,
When, what to their wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and a volunteering savior, oh dear,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
It was a shiny-headed St. Riddick.
More rapid than eagles (of course) Grinch Gettleman’s troops also came,
Cursing and shouting in very un-Christmas-like fashion, he challenged St. Riddick to a war game;
“You won’t take my job, Riddick, because I’ve got the fix in! Patron Saint Accorsi is hiring me,” he said with a grinchy grin!“ To the top of the standings we go! While you go back to your TV casting call! Now go away! Go away! Go away and bawl!”
Ultimately, the Giants hired Dave Gettleman to be their new general manager. But the whispers at the time suggested that the decision was a close one.
But because Riddick has remained a public personality — as opposed to a VP for another franchise — he has shared his thoughts on a number of players and decisions over the last year and a half. So not only do we get to play “What If?” but we can do so while making some educated guesses as to what might have happened.
Note: I’m not going to game out every single decision that has been made over the last year and a half. I’ll just be touching on the big ones with the understanding that different choices will cause a domino effect and more recent choices probably wouldn’t have existed to be made.
More from ‘What If?’ week
- What if the Giants drafted Sam Darnold instead of Saquon Barkley?
- What if the Giants hadn’t won the 2011 Super Bowl?
- Could Ben Roethlisberger have succeeded in New York?
Head coach - Josh McDaniels
This one isn’t actually a slam dunk. McDaniels and Riddick are (reportedly) tight and are frequently linked and discussed as a GM/HC duo. However, Riddick DOES have a good relationship with Pat Shurmur going back to when the two were both with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He [Pat Shurmur] is definitely someone I would’ve wanted to talk to and see if it fit at the highest level between him and I,” Riddick said. “I have a ton of respect for him.”
”I know what kind of offensive style Pat runs based on what (coaching) tree he comes from and how he likes to teach based on what tree he comse from,” Riddick said. “From afar, I like what did in Minnesota. He was able to keep that team relatively balanced and got Case (Keenum) to play at a high level like he did and got them within a few plays of still being a Super Bowl participant. I thought that was nothing short of spectacular.”
In his appearance on the Adam Schefter Podcast, Riddick stated that “Everyone knows” the coaches he would want to work with, and that is taken to mean Josh McDaniels.
The decision between the two could be a close one, but for the purposes of this scenario, McDaniels has more to offer.
For one, McDaniels has as much experience as anyone (and more than most) with working with an aging cerebral quarterback. Secondly, while McDaniels is known for his adaptability as a scheme designer and game-planner, the Giants’ personnel last year were an excellent fit in what McDaniels had already been calling. Bill O’Brien reorganized the Patriots’ offense around a 12 personnel package as the core of the spread offense run by McDaniels in his original run as offensive coordinator aged out of the league. Rather than insist on reinstalling the spread offense, McDaniels adapted his schemes to the Patriots’ existing roster upon his return to New England. Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, and Rhett Ellison would have fit well into roles occupied by Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Dwayne Allen, and Rob Gronkowski.
Taking a step back from the X’s and O’s side of things, McDaniels also has head coaching experience and, like Shurmur, it ended badly the first time. No doubt last year’s debacle with the Indianapolis Colts was, as Riddick put it, “a mess”. However, the Giants are not the Colts and not only are they not conference rivals, but Bill Belichick still bears fondness for his old team. If McDaniels was going to get his second chance in a locker room that Belichick gets teary-eyed to enter, and be hired by one of Belichick’s former players in Riddick, I would be surprised if he didn’t encourage the signing (rather than make a last-minute push to keep him in-house).
Defensive coordinator - James Bettcher
I don’t think this would have changed. Perhaps Riddick and McDaniels would have brought in someone with whom they were more familiar — either from the Patriots side of things or with the Eagles. However, Bettcher’s availability was a late surprise as he was considered one of the favorites to be the head coach of the Cardinals. Bettcher is well-respected around the league and hiring him was seen as a coup for the Giants (and it still should be).
This is where things start to get a bit interesting. Riddick appeared on Adam Schefter’s podcast back in May and was asked about some of the Giants’ moves and what he would have done differently had he been hired. But first, let’s go back to 2017 and look at some of the moves made. We don’t actually know how Riddick would function as a GM, but given that he grew up as an executive in the Philadelphia Eagle’s front office, we can make some inferences.
Alec Ogletree - I do not think the Alec Ogletree trade gets made under Louis Riddick. While it’s been argued that the Giants couldn’t afford not to make the trade, Ogletree was a (very) flawed linebacker on a (very) bad contract that the Los Angeles Rams were only too happy to be rid of. Typically, both the Eagles and Patriots operate on the other side of these trades.
Jason Pierre-Paul - This one I go back and forth on. The Eagles highly value defensive linemen and pass rushers in particular, so it makes sense that Riddick would keep JPP. Likewise, I don’t buy the argument that he has no place in James Bettcher’s defense — not when the Cardinals heavily pursued him in 2016 for the role for which they eventually acquired Chandler Jones. While shedding JPP’s salary and getting a third round pick is nice, the Giants needed JPP’s pass rush ability.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite - Releasing DRC is a move I think Riddick does make in this timeline. The Giants originally planned to move DRC to free safety full time, a move he was willing to make. However, things fell apart when he balked at taking a pay cut in addition to moving. Unfortunately, the Giants do still need to shed some salary, and DRC becomes a cap casualty.
Nate Solder, Patrick Omameh, and Jonathan Stewart - As mentioned above, neither team this timeline’s brain trust hails from makes a habit of spending big for average (at best) or aging talent. Does this mean that Ereck Flowers would once again be the Giants’ left tackle in 2018? Maybe, maybe not — that is very “in the weeds” and there are a lot of dominoes that could potentially fall if Solder signed elsewhere. Even if it did work out that way, were Flowers’ 6 sacks allowed and 6 penalties in 2017 that much worse than Solder’s 8 sacks and 4 penalties in 2018?
Trent Brown - One advantage to having McDaniels in-house, the Giants could have known of the Patriots’ evaluation of, and interest in, Trent Brown. It is entirely likely that the Giants could have been in touch with the San Francisco 49ers and acquired Brown. After all, the Giants’ 3rd round pick that year (66th overall) was MUCH more valuable than the 95th overall pick New England sent for Brown and the 143rd pick. To make the deal work, the Giants could have gotten a pick as high as the 128th pick.
Landon Collins - Riddick said on Schefter’s podcast that he “Absolutely” would have tried to keep Landon Collins.
“Now, heading into 2019, would I have wanted to keep Landon Collins? Absolutely,” Riddick said on Schefter’s podcast. “Landon Collins would have been a guy I wanted to keep. I wouldn’t have wanted to let him get out of there. So I didn’t necessarily like that.”
That doesn’t, however, mean that he would be paying him 14 million a year starting in 2019. Instead, the Giants could have extended Collins after the 2017 season, which is the route I think Riddick would have taken. The Eagles have made an art out of hacking the free agent market by identifying and extending players early. With the safety market so weak in the 2018 free agency class, the Giants could have signed Collins to a contract averaging $10 million — but structured it so the bulk of the money didn’t hit until Eli Manning’s contract expires following this season. By extension, I believe extending Sterling Shepard early is a move Riddick absolutely would make.
With DRC gone and Collins extended, Riddick might have looked to Tre Boston or Eric Reid as lower-cost alternatives for free safety — or perhaps not waived Andrew Adams or Darian Thompson.
Odell Beckham Jr. - This is the biggie. Riddick stated that he would not have traded OBJ to the Browns, saying,
“No, I wouldn’t have,” he said. “I would have signed him to the long-term extension that they did, and I would have really tried to have a plan in place to make sure that a relationship was built between him, the head coach, me, so that he’s a guy who we don’t feel like six months later we have to send down the road and eat a ridiculous amount of cap space up for in dead money and have him in his prime going to another football (team).
“I mean, that’s not why you do those kinds of things,” Riddick added. “And to make those kinds of sharp turns in terms of decisions that you make for guys that are premium players like that, that tells me that maybe you didn’t think it through, or you didn’t have a good enough plan. And it happens, nobody’s perfect, but that’s not how I would have fore(seen) it going.”
By extension, that could also mean that Olivier Vernon would still be a Giant and Kevin Zeitler would not. That trade first went down independently of the Beckham trade, and could also have been made by Riddick If so, we could look at former Giants Brett Jones and D.J. Fluker. Both played well for the team in 2017 and could have been retained with minimal impact on the salary cap.
The first two round likely would have played out exactly the same. Riddick said that he would have drafted Saquon Barkley at second overall, acknowledging on Schefter’s podcast that the Giants’ ownership wanted him.
We can also speculate that he would have drafted Will Hernandez in the second round — after all, Hernandez was widely considered to be a first round talent and it was a complete surprise when he slipped to the second round.
But what about linebacker? With Riddick not trading for Ogletree and trading the third round pick for Trent Brown, linebacker could have been in play in the fourth round. Could Shaquem Griffen have been in play? The hyper-athletic (but undersized) linebacker would be a good fit as the “moneybacker” hybrid safety/linebacker in Bettcher’s defense, and much of what Riddick said about Devin Bush (who he called the best player in the 2019 draft) would apply to Griffen:
The kid is fast, a great blitzer. He has tremendous instincts. He will come downhill, and he will absolutely just test your will as an offensive lineman. He can tackle.
He has terrific instincts, and his eyes are where they need to be pre-snap. And he’s getting to where he needs to be post-snap. He has closing speed at the second level, and that’s what the Steelers need as far as pass coverage is concerned with tight ends and running backs. And then his speed. He’ll track you down because he’s athletic at a 4.4 guy. When you tracks you down, he’s coming with bad intentions.
The Giants’ 2019 draft would have been very different under Riddick. With a different roster and Josh McDaniels manning the helm, we don’t know where the Giants would be drafting. However, we DO know that Riddick was an outspoken fan of Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the lead-up to the 2019 draft.
“As far as quarterback is concerned, yeah I would have made it a priority to try and draft a quarterback. I just wouldn’t have drafted this one [Daniel Jones],” Riddick said. “Everybody knows how I feel about Dwayne Haskins. Been around him. Was at his Pro Day. Watched all his tape. Know his coaches. Know what kinds of things they asked him to do up there at Ohio State. He was coached by a guy, I think Ryan Day is brilliant. So I would have went that route with it.”
We don’t know if a tandem of Riddick and McDaniels (and the personnel changes noted above) would result in a better or worse season 2018 for the Giants. So we don’t know if Riddick would have been in a position to draft Haskins or if they would have been vulnerable to being jumped by another team. But we do know that if Riddick had the chance to draft Haskins, he probably would have.
What that would have meant for Eli Manning is anyone’s guess. Riddick did say that he “could have lived with Eli Manning for a year”, which suggests that if he was able to get Haskins in the draft, it would signal the end of Manning’s time in New York. That would be a difficult decision for the Giants’ organization, but it would also save the team $12 million in cap space.
So where would that leave the Giants? It is entirely possible that Riddick would have come in like a storm, completely cleaning house and bringing in “His Guys.” Gettleman was hired as the experienced hand who could right the ship and immediately make the Giants competitive again in 2018. Riddick would have been a breath of fresh air and a different perspective with a different background from what the Giants have had since 1979. However, Riddick would also have been a novice behind the Big Desk and could have taken his time as he learned the ins and outs of being a GM.
Based on his comments over time I think that he has at least some regard for some of the players put in place by Jerry Reese. So I have him keeping the bones of the team that went to the play-offs in 2016 intact while he evaluates the roster with better coaching and from inside the building. Would that have happened? Would 2018 have worked out better or worse for the Giants?
At least with Riddick we can make some educated guesses, but we don’t really know. That’s what makes this an interesting “What If?” to ponder.