Dave Gettleman made it plain when he was introduced as general manager of the New York Giants in late December of 2017 that changing the culture of a losing team with a fractured locker room was at the top of his “to-do” list.
“Football is the ultimate team game. You throw 11 guys out there on offense, one guy makes a mistake, you’re second and 15. You throw 11 guys out there on defense, one guy makes a mistake, the official is doing this (touchdown signal). It’s the ultimate team game. Culture is critical,” Gettleman said at the time, a mantra he has often repeated. “These guys have to know when they step on the field that the guy right, the guy left, the guy behind, the guy in front has got their back and we’re going to build that kind of a culture.”
Examples of the kind of culture Gettleman has attempted to are everywhere around the Giants.
Saquon Barkley is the one player on the roster who really should be considered a “brand,” but Barkley spoke at the beginning of training camp about the importance of a “team first mentality,” and from everything I have seen I believe he is sincere about that.
Dexter Lawrence asking to room with Daniel Jones for the express purpose of helping him deal with the slings and arrows being tossed his his is an act of maturity beyond Lawrence’s 21 years.
Sterling Shepard practicing with a broken thumb might not be smart, but it is an example of a guy putting team before self in trying to get ready to help the Giants at the beginning of the season.
Julian Love, while learning two positions, telling me that he has been helped by “veterans that aren’t very standoff-ish” is another.
The impact of Kevin Zeitler and his “no-nonsense” attitude that is rubbing off on teammates is yet another.
Nate Solder, Michael Thomas, Antoine Bethea, Alec Ogletree, Mike Remmers, Russell Shepard and Cody Latimer are all players who bring a seriousness, a work ethic, a attitude to the locker room. There are others, those are the ones that quickly come to mind.
In addition to Barkley, younger players like Will Hernandez, Evan Engram and Jabrill Peppers are growing into leadership roles.
Gettleman has admitted that he insists his scouting department learns the character of players the Giants are considering drafting. Here is what he said at the conclusion of the 2019 draft:
“You know, it’s part of the evaluation process, and I bang on our scouts big time, you’ve got to vet these guys out. Very honestly, these are the kinds of kids we want to bring in here, smart, intelligent kids who hate to lose, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Judging from the kind of players he has signed in free agency, I’d say that philosophy applies there, as well.
I’m reminded of this offseason quote from Gettleman:
“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.”
And this one, issued right before the draft:
“Building a roster is not just about collecting talent. It is not just about how fast, strong or talented a player is, but does he fit athletically, intellectually and culturally into what you are trying to accomplish, that is to win a Super Bowl.”
The goal seems to be to acquire good players who are also good people and can help the Giants establish the identity they want, and the Giants’ roster shows an obvious effort to do that. Yes, there is the four-game Golden Tate suspension and the Kamrin Moore suspension related to an alleged domestic violence incident to deal with, but no NFL team is a City of Angels. Yes, there is the potential distraction of the Eli-Manning-Daniel Jones situation, but both are class guys who have been and will continue handle it with diplomacy.
Will it all lead to winning?
Gettleman says “talent sets the stage. Character sets the ceiling.”
I don’t know yet if the Giants have the talent. I think they have some of it, but perhaps not yet enough. I’m pretty sure they have the character.
That’s a pretty good start.
Where it all leads, nobody knows. Gettleman, though, has started by arming the Giants with the kind of people he believes can guide the Giants back to a winning track.