That was how New York Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham described Jason Pierre-Paul, whom he worked with as the team’s defensive line coach in 2016 and 2017.
Pierre-Paul was, of course, a key member of the Giants’ defense from 2010, when he was a first-round draft choice, through the 2017 season, after which the Giants traded him to this Monday’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
When the trade was made, it wasn’t difficult to understand from the Giants’ perspective. Pierre-Paul was heading into his age 29 season. He had not made a Pro Bowl since 2012. He had only compiled one double-digit sack season since his 16.5-sack All-Pro year in 2011, and that was in 2014. He had undergone back surgery in 2013. He had blown his right hand apart in a 2015 fireworks accident, missing half of that season because of it. He was only one year into a four-year, $62 million deal given to him by the previous regime, a deal it certainly didn’t look like he was going to be able to justify on the field.
When the Giants sent Pierre-Paul and his contract to the Bucs, I wrote at the time that I was “conflicted” when it came to how to assess JPP’s time with the Giants. Here is some of what I wrote at the time when Dave Gettleman sent Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay:
Pierre-Paul’s career with the Giants always felt it could have — no, should have — been more than it was. He always seemed to promise more than he could deliver, and the amazing promise of 2011 always seemed to leave whatever he did produce falling short of what you hoped he would produce.
I was always left wanting more from Pierre-Paul — feeling like there should have been more. More All-Pro seasons. More sacks. More dominance. Maybe even more maturity and willingness to lead. ...
Pierre-Paul back-flipped his way into Jerry Reese’s heart before the 2010 draft. Then, his smile and his relentless play during that 2011 season left many seeing JPP as perhaps being the next Giants Hall of Fame defensive end.
He never approached that 2011 level again. Sometimes he was really good. Sometimes he played really hard and had an impact, but just didn’t finish plays. Sometimes he disappeared for what seemed to be games — and maybe even seasons — at a time.
The hand injury, obviously, robbed him of a lot. Even when he isn’t wearing a club, there have to be times when the lack of a full right hand limits his ability to make plays. There have also been back and shoulder injuries that have taken some of his athleticism, though not his passion for the game.
Maybe it’s just that after seeing that incredible 2011 season you knew what Pierre-Paul had been capable of. I can’t help the fact that we never saw that again leaves me with a sense of ... disappointment.
In exchange for Pierre-Paul, the Giants got a third-round pick (No. 69) from the Buccaneers and swapped fourth-round picks, moving down from No. 102 to No. 108.
The Giants turned that third-round pick into B.J. Hill and the fourth-rounder into Kyle Lauletta. Pierre-Paul, though, has blown up all of the pre-conceived notions and made the deal look awful for the Giants. A backup defensive tackle and a quarterback who never completed a pass before speeding out of town in return for a guy who has had 26.5 sacks in 33 games since the trade despite overcoming yet another career-threatening injury suffered away from the football field, this time a fractured neck sustained in a 2019 car accident?
That’s pretty one-sided in favor of the Bucs.
Chris summarized JPP’s production in Tampa Bay this way:
“Since the Giants traded JPP, he has racked up 26.5 sacks and 43 quarterback hits, an average of 0.88 sacks and 1.4 QB hits per start, despite dealing with a career-threatening broken neck suffered in a car accident in the 2019 offseason. So far this year he has 5.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, and 3 forced fumbles.”
If you thought Pierre-Paul would still be playing at this level three seasons after the Giants traded him, I would think you were pretty far out on a mostly deserted island. Few people did. Considering all that he has been through, honestly, Pierre-Paul shouldn’t be able to do what he can still do. He probably shouldn’t be playing football.
Back to Graham.
“I’m not surprised by any stretch of the imagination, he’s different. You talk about all those guys that are different, he’s different. He’s a different human being walking among us,” Graham said. “I’m really happy for him, happy for his family. I’m sure he’s happy being closer to Florida. For him to go through what we went through and be able to come back out of it and having success.”
Graham said it took him only one game with the Giants to understand that JPP was special.
“The fondest memory I have of him was it was my first game with the Giants,” Graham said. “It was the national anthem down there in Dallas, it was a Sunday afternoon game. He could tell I was like, ‘oh, this is Dallas-Giants, this is a little different.’ He looked at me and said, ‘It’s a little different than them other games you’ve been in, huh?’ I laughed and then that game, the first three quarters he was playing okay, he made a few plays. When that fourth quarter came on and he turned it on, I looked at him and I said, ‘oh, you are different.’ He said, ‘I told you, coach.’ “
Giants’ offensive coordinator Jason Garrett watched JPP help wreck a lot of games against his team when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
“He’s a hell of a player and has been for a long time. You said it, I had the opportunity to play against him a number of times when he was playing here and I was coaching in Dallas,” Garrett said. “Just the utmost respect for him as a player. He’s always been someone that’s been disruptive, both in the run game, affecting the quarterback in the passing game, always had playmaking ability, always one of those guys when you’re breaking the huddle, you’re saying, ‘where’s number 90?’ It’s great to see him continue to do so well in his career, and certainly he’ll be a great challenge for us Monday night.”
Indeed he will.
Pierre-Paul knows the game has nearly been taken away from him twice. He’s playing it well, and enjoying it. His Friday Zoom call was plenty of evidence that he’s having fun.
Pierre-Paul delivered a message to the Giants during that call:
“Eli’s not there no more, so I won’t have to pick him up and say ‘Eli, man, you good?’ I’m coming for their necks, man. They know that ... I’m going to Monday Night Football and going to destroy the Giants. That’s what I want to do as an individual.”
Asked about the trade, Pierre-Paul said “You already know they made a mistake ... I know that I wasn’t washed up or finished up ... I have to show them.”
Watching Pierre-Paul line up against the Giants will be a reminder that sometimes when you do the right thing, which I believe the Giants did when they moved on from him, it still turns out wrong. Because, as Graham said, some human beings are just different.