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Giant expectations: How will the “building” Giants define progress in 2019?

Wins and losses are the bottom line, but 2019 is a transition year and there are other measure to look at

NFL: New York Giants-Minicamp
Pat Shurmur
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are almost certainly not winning Super Bowl 54 next February in Miami, Fla.

Neither, though, are they winning only four games — as some doom-and-gloom predictions have forecast.

The Giants’ 2019 season, I believe, will fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

I’m not going to go through the schedule game by game and try to figure out which games the Giants can or should win. We do that here at BBV when the schedule comes out because we have to, not because such a prediction offers any realistic value.

With training camp opening on Thursday, what I am going to do is try to set what I believe should be the expectations for 2019.

Building or re-building?

The Giants were a complete dumpster fire when Dave Gettleman took over as general manager in December of 2017. They were finishing a 3-13 season, one of the worst and most embarrassing in franchise history. They had fired a coach in midseason, something they hadn’t done since canning Bill Arnsparger midway through the 1976 season. They had fired a GM, something they had NEVER done before. They had experienced player revolt, with suspensions and lots of locker room dysfunction.

They had, in other words, reached an embarrassing low point for a proud, conservative franchise that is an NFL standard bearer.

Gettleman was tasked with rebuilding the Humpty Dumpty disaster the Giants had become. Don’t, though, use the “R” word around Gettleman. That one is not part of the GM’s heavily New England accented vocabulary.

“We’re building. The object of this is to win as many games as possible every year. We’re building. We were 3-13 when I took over. We were 5-11 last year -- 12 of those games were by a touchdown or less. We’re building. I don’t understand why that’s a question. Really and truly, you can win while you’re building,” was Gettleman’s response to being asked about the “R” word following his trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. “They’re not separate pieces.”

Gettleman also said this during the offseason:

“We won two more games than the team did the year before. Then, you had all those games where we lost by a point, two points. We lost eight games by a touchdown or less. The NFL is tight. A few more players get you over the top and you win more.”

All of that might be true. It probably is true. I do believe that you don’t have to tank to rebuild the underbelly of a roster and set a team up for long-term success. I do believe that, with the right short-term roster decisions, you can be competitive and perhaps sneak into the playoffs while creating a young core that can carry you to sustainable, long-term success.

As much trouble as Gettleman has had articulating what the Giants’ plan is, or as much trouble as some fans and media members have had in figuring out that plan, that is what it appears to be. Be as good as they can be in the short term while using the draft and other means to acquire as much young, cost-controlled talent as possible in the hopes of building a team that can become a consistent playoff contender.

I get it. I support it. Still, going from 3-13 to 5-11 is really only going from awful to slightly less awful. That’s not something to brag about.

The Giants need to make progress in 2019

Now, the tricky part is defining what “progress” means.

Ideally, that would mean not having a double-digit number in the loss column. Ideally, it would mean making the playoffs for only the second time since 2011 — or, at least, entering the final week or two of the season playing meaningful games with a mathematical chance of making the playoffs.

But ...

Of course, there is a but. With the 2019 Giants, there might actually be a couple of them.

The first is, of course, Daniel Jones.

Could the Giants actually make progress if they win only four or five games? The view here is that, yes, they could.

The way they would do that is by getting Jones valuable experience. Everyone who has followed Big Blue View over the years knows that ‘Valentine’s View’ has always been one that supported Eli Manning. Truth is, my fingers are crossed that 2019 is a good one for Manning, that given time to throw and a variety of weapons to work with, he proves the multitude of naysayers wrong, has a good year and leads the Giants to what would be an unexpected playoff berth.

If it becomes obvious that isn’t going to happen, however, the Giants have to turn to Jones. That, simply, is the reality of drafting a quarterback No. 6 overall and thus anointing him as your quarterback of the future.

Honestly, if there comes a point in 2019 where Jones takes over as quarterback, wins and losses no longer matter. Remember that Eli Manning went 1-6 as a starter as a rookie. That Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts went 3-13 and he threw a career-worst 28 interceptions in 1998. That Troy Aikman went 0-11 with a passer rating of 55.7 as a rookie in 1989.

Poor rookie stats really are no way to judge whether or not a quarterback can be a long-term success. What will matter are moments — moments that show leadership, moments that show poise, moments that show he is capable of making the exceptional throw or making his teammates better. Mostly, what will matter are how many moments there are that make the Giants excited about his future.

The other “but” entering the 2019 season is the Giants’ mostly unproven defense.

We have talked virtually non-stop this offseason about the plethora of Giants’ cornerbacks who have never played an NFL snap. The defensive line isn’t a whole lot more experienced. There is third-year man Dalvin Tomlinson as the sage veteran of the group, flanked by second-year players B.J. Hill and R.J. McIntosh, along with rookie Dexter Lawrence. Not much of a track record there.

There is reason to be excited about all the young talent the Giants have assembled on defense. There is also reason to be concerned that the young defense could be a sieve early in the season as all of these inexperienced players try to figure out not only how to play together but what it takes to perform well in the NFL.

There is an argument to be made that whatever the record “progress” on defense could be defined as being a better, more cohesive group at the end of the season that at the beginning. That “progress” could be defined as determining that Lawrence, Hill, Lorenzo Carter, DeAndre Baker, Ryan Connelly, Julian Love, Jabrill Peppers and a few other young players are long-term building blocks the defense can be built around going forward.

Thus, there is an argument to be made that the overall record could be irrelevant in determining long-term “progress.”

So, what am I expecting?

As I said at the top, I’m not expecting a Super Bowl. Or a dumpster fire.

I feel better than many do about the direction of the franchise. Sometimes, before you can move forward you have to clear out everything and everyone you feel is standing in your way. The path can sometimes be blocked by big old trees laying across the road. Talented or not, if players — especially top of the roster ones — aren’t all in with what your management and your coaching staff are trying to do their displeasure becomes apparent and has a trickle-down effect across the roster.

We continue to see that Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t on board with the Giants’ direction. I believe that to have been the case with virtually all of the big-name talent the Giants have moved on from since Gettleman and Pat Shurmur took over.

My view is that moving on from all of those players is fine. The Giants, I remind, have missed the playoffs six of seven years. That means they were bad with all of those highly-paid, sometimes opinionated, players.

The Giants felt they could get better, not in the short-term but in the long-term, by moving on and trying something different.

That’s fine. You have to get the fallen trees out of the road before you can make progress. Now it is incumbent upon Gettleman and Shurmur to make the Giants better, and the first step toward proving whether or not there is hope they have done so comes in 2019.

I do not believe this team is an NFL bottom-feeder, that a three- or four-win season is in the cards. Unless everything that could go wrong does go wrong. I think this is a team that ends up somewhere in the 7-9 to 9-7 range. The floor, I think, is 6-10. The ceiling, I think, is a generous 10-6.

Again, though, I’m not sure the record matters in the end. What will matter when the season ends is whether or not it feels like the franchise has made progress. I’m not certain what that progress will look like, but when it’s all said and done the belief here is that progress will have been made and the franchise will be moving in a good direction.