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2019 Giants: Not a finished product, but are they headed in the right direction?

From John Mara to the players in the locker room, they believe the answer is yes

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 New York Giants are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. You know where this is going — they don’t get no respect.

They have a general manager who has been belittled for a bunch of personnel moves that befuddled many NFL analysts. Dave Gettleman’s New England accent and his penchant for not always using common GM speak probably add fuel to the fire of those who aren’t fans of the GM.

They have a coach with a 15-34 career record. A Pat Shurmur-led NFL team has never won more than five games in a season.

They will start the season with a 38-year-old quarterback many think should have been run out of town years ago. My granddaughter will be 4 this fall, and the naysayers will tell you Eli Manning hasn’t been a quality NFL quarterback since before she was born.

They will begin the year with NFL analysts believing they have no chance to win, putting them generally in the league’s bottom third.

They don’t have Odell Beckham Jr., Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins and Damon Harrison. Shoot, they don’t even have Golden Tate.

They have one star in Saquon Barkley. They have a collection of solid, unspectacular veterans. After a couple of seemingly solid drafts they have a slew of unproven young players trying to build resumes.

When it comes to the Giants it seems that there is only one thing everyone agrees on — that Barkley is a special player. Even then, there are still some who wonder if the Giants did the right thing selecting him No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.

And yet ... and yet, there is something about these Giants.

That was Shurmur on Friday talking about both the victory Thursday and the difficult decisions he faced in trying to put together the Giants’ initial 53-man roster.

Let’s remember where the Giants were when Gettleman and Shurmur took the reigns. They were a broken team coming off an embarrassing, dissension-filled season that saw them go 3-13, the most losses in a season in franchise history. There was very little real NFL-caliber talent on a barren roster.

Gettleman and Shurmur talked bravely about being competitive in 2018, and to an extent many drank the Kool-Aid it seemed like the Giants were selling, that with the right moves they could compete and perhaps sneak into the playoffs.

Everybody likes to be hopeful, right? Truth is, after so many down years the process getting the Giants back on track, of making them a consistently good football team, was never going to be quick. Or easy. Or without pain or controversial moves.

That was Gettleman in January.

When I think of what Gettleman and Shurmur are trying to do with the Giants I’m always reminded of buying a fixer-upper house. Anyone who has done that knows that the job is always bigger than what you think before you actually get inside the walls and start working. That, more or less, is what they were handed.

“You can’t turn this thing on a dime,” Gettleman said at the beginning of training camp.

Before you can make the improvements you want or need to make you have to tear down or rip out the stuff that is broken, decayed or just plain doesn’t work for what you want to do.

That part of the job is mostly done.

Behind all of that excavation, the Giants have been building. We can’t yet completely judge, but they appear to have had two quality drafts, headlined by a generational running back and a potential franchise quarterback. That’s where a team’s foundation comes from. Miss too often and you end up with cracks in the foundation that you are constantly trying to repair.

Via free agency and trades, the Giants have been adding veteran players who they hope will not only help them on the field, but bring professionalism, leadership and locker room stability they believe will help their young, developing core.

Players like Kevin Zeitler, Antoine Bethea, Michael Thomas and Nate Solder, among others.

The job isn’t done, but in 2019 we should begin to see what type of house the Giants are building.

That’s Giants co-owner John Mara on how he sees the state of the team entering the 2019 season. Yes, there is reason for optimism that things are pointed in an upward direction. There is, however, much to prove.

Don’t get giddy about the 4-0 preseason. The won-loss record means nothing. Remember, the Giants followed up a 5-0 2014 preseason with a 6-10 regular season that brought about the end of the Tom Coughlin era.

Instead, sift through the preseason for signs of what might be. There are a couple of positive ones.

The play of Daniel Jones is an obvious one. Ultimately, the long-term success or failure of what Gettleman and Shurmur are trying to do with the Giants will be determined by whether or not they find the right franchise quarterback to take over for Eli Manning. Despite the heavy criticism the Giants received for using the sixth pick in the draft on him, Jones has as of yet given no indication that the Giants will end up being proven wrong.

The other might be in the absolutely joyous way the entire roster reacted on Thursday night when Alonzo Russell caught a game-winning pass from former Giant Kyle Lauletta to beat the New England Patriots on the final play of the final preseason game.

Over the top for a preseason game that won’t count for anything in the standings? Maybe. It was, however, fun. It was also an indication of what is happening with this Giants team inside the walls of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.

“We’re just a family, we have honestly just become a family. Everyone genuinely cares for the guy next to him and you can see that on the field the way that everyone has been playing this preseason and just the competitiveness we have had at camp. All the grinding we have done together, all the hanging out we have done with each other and growing as a team like I said we are becoming a family,” said tight end Evan Engram. “We just love to see guys do well. Last night was a perfect way for us to finish this preseason strong. ... It was just a really good ending to a really good camp and like I said we became a family. It was a good moment for our team to celebrate together, [end] camp on the right foot.”

Starting center Jon Halapio has been a Giant since 2016. He saw the good and the bad with Ben McAdoo. He earned a starting job for the first time in his NFL career last season, only to go down to injury before the end of his second game.

“We just have good, good, good solid guys in the locker room,” Halapio said of the 2019 Giants.

“I love it. I love the makeup. I love this group. I LOVE the attention to detail, the fact that more guys have league experience that we’re going to be counting on,” said veteran defensive back Michael Thomas.

“I definitely feel like this group is in a great place. We have team chemistry, we have great leadership, we’re expecting to go out there and make plays, we’re expecting to go out there and play at a high level. We’ve shown we could do it and I feel like we got better.”

“I love this group. It’s competitive.”

Thomas, technically, was speaking about the defense. Really, though, that seems to be the attitude permeating the entire roster.

I asked veteran wide receiver Russell Shepard about Mara’s “I also like the feel of the locker room” quote. He gave a lengthy, well thought out response.

“Got different guys in there. You’ve got a lot of young guys that are looking at the older guys and kinda learning from them. Last year we had a veteran presence. We had guys that have had success in this league, were accustomed to doing it a certain way,” Shepard said.

“I think the difference this year is we have a bunch of young guys that are new and willing to do it whatever way. It’s not an attack on anybody, whether you’re talking about Odell, OV, Snacks. All great football players. Landon. They can help us and they were great teammates, amazing teammates.

“But I think when you take an older locker room and you add in some younger guys in there you tend to get a different vibe, a different feel.”

Shepard praised the work Gettleman and Co. have done in assembling this roster.

“Great mix. The front office and the coaching staff did a great job evaluating guys character and their mental game before they even brought them into the locker room, regardless of their physical skill set,” Shepard said.

‘I think they did a good job of bringing in guys who love football and want to contribute in a team way.”

Gettleman has talked again and again about the importance of culture to a winning football team. Shepard brought our conversation back to that topic.

“If you want to win and do it the Giants way, do it the right way, you’ve gotta lean on each other, you’ve gotta spread wisdom. The term we use is ‘iron sharpens iron.’ Just be able to go over and beyond your duties as a professional athlete, as a pro, being able to teach guys how to play a certain way, how to win a certain way,” Shepard said.

“At the end of the day it’s creating a culture. You can’t create or start a culture a certain way if the older guys don’t communicate and really show the young guys how to do it.

“I think that’s what we’re experiencing at this point in time with this organization and this team. Creating a culture that we think can sustain good and bad and win a lot of football games here.”

That was Mara in his training camp state-of-the-franchise presser getting straight to the bottom line.

The Giants believe they have improved the talent level of the roster. They believe they have built a foundation and established a culture that can lead them to brighter days.

Can they, however, win enough games in 2019?

That, of course, is a Gettleman quote from the offseason. Here is more of it:

“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.”

The Giants are not yet fully constructed. Not, in a league where rosters change dramatically from year to year, that any team is ever completely built. There is change every season. Gettleman, Shurmur and Mara all know, though, that this team isn’t where they would like it to be.

Maybe another strong draft and an offseason that promises free agency activity because the Giants will have cleared substantial cap space will get them closer.

Before then, though, is the 2019 season.

They enter it with an unproven defense. With an unspectacular receiving corps lacking a player who commands a double team. With an aging franchise quarterback who many think should already have been replaced by the sixth overall pick.

Everyone knows a quarterback transition from Manning to Daniel Jones is coming. But, when?

As long as Manning is healthy, that question will likely be answered by how many games they win. An awful start like last season’s 1-7, and Jones almost certainly will be playing. The longer the Giants stay in realistic playoff contention, the longer Manning likely remains in the lineup.

What kind of quarterback Jones will become is really the key question in the building of Gettleman’s Giants. No matter how much he plays or doesn’t play, we won’t get a full answer to that question in 2019.

We should, though, get some answers as to whether or not the Giants — as they so obviously believe — are truly headed in the right direction.

After a hotly-debated offseason, can they earn some respect? We begin to find out a week from today.

Because I can, a little Rodney Dangerfield for you: