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How did Dave Gettleman do constructing the Giants’ 2021 roster?

Let’s assess the work of the GM on that narrow question

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

We have been using the bye week to asses the New York Giants in a number of ways. We have done an ABCs look at the team, a position-by-position ‘Kudos & Wet Willies,’ breakdowns of the offense and defense, and a rookie report card.

Along the way there has been much discussion of head coach Joe Judge, as well as offensive and defensive coordinators Jason Garrett and Patrick Graham. Our bye week would not be complete without a look at the work on general manager Dave Gettleman in constructing the 2021 Giants.

During the bye week a season ago, I did a full assessment of Gettleman’s tenure as general manager up to that point. There is no point in going over all of that ground again. Click the links in the sidebar if you want to go back and read those posts from November of 2020. I think most of that work still stands up. What I want to do instead is focus specifically on the decisions made in putting together the 2021 Giants.

There are really three categories to consider:

The offensive line, free agency, the draft. There will be some crossover with both free agency and the draft as we discuss the offensive line, but I think it is important that that we break that into a category of its own.

Offensive line

Everyone who pays even a modicum of attention to the New York Giants knows what the plan was for the offensive line. The Giants were all-in with a young, homegrown, seemingly talented but obviously unproven group. From left to right, the starters were going to be LT Andrew Thomas, LG Shane Lemieux, C Nick Gates, RG Will Hernandez, RT Matt Peart.

The Giants were going to hold a group of veteran players in reserve. As training camp opened, that group looked to be Nate Solder, Zack Fulton and Joe Looney. A young player like Kyle Murphy was probably headed to the practice squad as a developmental piece.

We will never know if that plan would have worked.

Injuries and retirements blew that plan to smithereens before it had a chance to get started. The timing of training camp retirements by Fulton and Looney, the decision to try and nurse Lemieux through his knee injury that resulted in him lasting 17 snaps before heading to IR and Nick Gates’ gruesome season-ending Week 2 injury, left the Giants scrambling for replacement bodies at the beginning of the season.

The Giants acquired center Billy Price in exchange for defensive tackle B.J. Hill. You can argue that Hill is a better player that Price, but it seemed apparent Hill wasn’t in the Giants’ long-term plans and they got something immediately useful in return rather than cut him outright or lose him as a free agent after this season.

Price, 15th of 22 qualifying centers per Pro Football Focus grades, has done a decent job in eight starts filling in for Gates. He does not, though, look like a long-term answer at the position.

The Giants made what now looks like a questionable trade with the Baltimore Ravens for second-year guard Ben Bredeson. They gave up a 2022 fourth-round pick in return for Bredeson, a 2022 fifth-round pick and a 2023 seventh-round pick. Bredeson suffered a hand injury in Week 3 and has subsequently lost his job to Matt Skura.

Signed to the practice squad in early September after being cut by the Miami Dolphins, Skura has been a decent pickup. Like Price, though, he probably is not more than a long-term backup.

The Giants have used seven different starting combinations and 11 different offensive linemen at this point. That number will grow if former Tennessee Titans first-round pick Isaiah Wilson, now on the practice squad trying to work his way into shape, ever gets called to the 53-man roster.

No one could have foreseen the number of issues the Giants have had on the offensive line, and in scramble mode Gettleman and the Giants have done the best they could to piece the line together. The upheaval and the shortcomings of the current group, though, have contributed mightily to the offensive dysfunction.

Should the Giants have kept veteran guard Kevin Zeitler rather than cut him in a salary cap move? Yes, the 31-year-old Zeitler is better than any guard on the current Giants’ roster. If Zeitler is a Giant, though, Kenny Golladay or Adoree’ Jackson is not. I am still OK with moving on from Zeitler. I would rather do that a year too early than a year too late.

In retrospect, the primary flaw in the construction of the line was not using at least one mid-round draft pick on an interior offensive lineman. The Giants should not have had to trade for Bredeson, a 2020 fourth-round pick by the Ravens. They should have already had a young player in house.

Yes, Rashawn Slater was available to the Giants at No. 11. Yes, he would have looked great in a Giants’ uniform. No, I’m not talking about Slater as the player the Giants should have drafted.

Where Gettleman and the Giants erred, I believe, is in the third round. Now, cornerbac Aaron Robinson might turn into a terrific player one day, but the prudent thing to do at that spot would have been to add offensive line depth. There were a ton of possibilities at that point in the draft. Here is the list of offensive linemen chosen between the time the Giants took Robinson at No. 71 and edge defender Elerson Smith at No. 116 in Round 4:

G Wyatt Davis, No. 86, Vikings; C Kendrick Green, Steelers, No. 87; T Spencer Brown, Bills, No. 93; G Ben Cleveland, Ravens, No. 94; T Robert Hainsey, Buccaneers, No. 95; C-G Quinn Meinerz, Broncos, No. 98; T James Hudson, Browns, No. 116.

Personally, I was a big booster of Davis before the draft. Still, almost any of those players would have been useful to the Giants. Particularly the interior ones.

Then, of course, there is Trey Smith. A guard who was an early-round talent, Smith lasted until the Kansas City Chiefs’ pick at No. 226 in the sixth round due to concerns about blood clots. Smith is now starting for the Chiefs.

It’s easy to say it was a mistake for the Giants not to be the team to take a gamble on Smith. Right now, he would look good in a Giants’ uniform. It is also unfair to kill the Giants for not selecting him. Almost every team in the league wants offensive line help, and 30 other teams also declined to take the plunge.

In the end it comes down to this: Gettleman walked in the door at the end of 2017 saying his first job was to fix the offensive line. He said the 2020 draft, with three offensive linemen selected, was about fixing the line “once and for all.” The line is still not fixed.

Free agency

We will discuss free agency before the draft. The splashy part of free agency happens prior to the draft, which means it has to impact what happens during the draft, so we will take the two things in that order.

Biggest free-agent losses: DT Dalvin Tomlinson, G Kevin Zeitler, RB Wayne Gallman, EDGE Kyler Fackrell

Biggest free-agent additions: WR Kenny Golladay, CB Adoree’ Jackson, TE Kyle Rudolph

Other notable free-agent additions: RB Devontae Booker, WR John Ross, LB Reggie Ragland, DT Danny Shelton, Mike Glennon

The Giants went for a big splash in free agency in 2014 after a 2013 season in which they started 0-6. They signed Geoff Schwartz, Rashad Jennings, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Robert Ayers, Quintin Demps, Walter Thurmond, J.D. Walton and a handful of other players. It didn’t work, as they compiled 6-10 records the next two seasons.

They went for the big splash again in 2016. They signed Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison, among others. They got a one-year playoff bump, things fell apart in 2017, Jerry Reese got fired and Dave Gettleman was left with a cap mess to clean up.

Giants’ ownership must have thought or at least hoped the third time would be the charm, because despite a shrinking salary cap they went as big as they could in free agency. Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson got big contracts, and players like Kyle Rudolph, John Ross and Devontae Booker were added.

The Giants also paid Leonard Williams big money. To make the moves they made, they had to part with Zeitler and Tomlinson. Keeping it purely to a defensive side of the ball argument, would you rather have Tomlinson or Jackson? I’m not sure there is a right answer.

You can argue that it has been a mixed bag. The Giants, though, are 3-6. So, it’s not really working the way they hoped it would. Golladay has been injured and hasn’t given the Giants the production they hoped for. At four years and $72 million with $40 million guaranteed, right now he looks like an overpay. Jackson’s been good, but is he really worth three years and $39 million? Booker’s been good, but he’s not supposed to be a No. 1 running back.

What the Giants tried to do is understandable, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The splurge just hasn’t yet paid real dividends.

2021 NFL Draft

Here is the Giants’ draft class:

Chris was absolutely right on Friday when he wrote that “right now it’s tough to say that Micah Parsons and Rashawn Slater wouldn’t have been better picks.”

I always thought Parsons was the best defensive player in the 2021 draft class. Well, guess what? He has been the best defensive player to come out of the 2021 draft class, and one of the better ones in football. No surprise.

I loved Slater. I thought he would be a terrific player, and would fit seamlessly for the Giants at right tackle or either guard spot. Lo and behold, Slater has been incredible at left tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers. He has given up two sacks, both against the Cleveland Browns. Are you surprised? I’m not.

Sure, over the first nine games Parsons or Slater would have helped the Giants more than Toney has. Does that mean Gettleman and the Giants did the wrong thing? Absolutely not. Am I saying the Giants did the right thing? Absolutely not. We don’t know yet, and probably won’t know for a couple of years. Probably long after Gettleman is no longer the GM.

The answer has nuance to it, and requires patience,.

The Giants, obviously, traded down from No. 11 to No. 20, using that pick to select Toney. We have only gotten a hint of what Toney can be, and his electrifying 10-catch, 189-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys showed us that what he can be is pretty special. Injuries, though, have limited his opportunities.

In part, we have to wait and see how the next few seasons play out for Toney. Will he get healthy and play consistently to his talent level? Will injuries always hold him back?

An even bigger part of the equation, though, is how well the Giants use all of the additional assets they acquired from the Chicago Bears for moving down from No. 11 to No. 20. They got a 2021 fifth-round pick, and 2022 first- and fourth-round picks.

The fifth-round pick was used to move up five spots in Round 3 and select cornerback Aaron Robinson. Again, we have to wait to see what Robinson becomes.

That 2022 first-round pick is the key. As of now, that would be the ninth overall pick. What if that pick next year becomes a cornerback as good as Patrick Surtain, who went No. 9 to Denver this year? What if it becomes a player as good as Parsons or Slater? Or DeVonta Smith, who went No. 10 to the Philadelphia Eagles?

Before you can adequately judge that move, you have to see what becomes of the accumulation of Toney, Robinson, and the two picks in the upcoming draft. It was a long-term play by Gettleman and the Giants, and it can’t properly be judged in the short term.

Edge defender Azeez Ojulari was a great get in Round 2, especially since the Giants were able to trade down eight spots, add a 2022 third-round pick, and still land a player who looks like the best pass rusher drafted by the franchise since Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010.

We have to wait and see what becomes of Robinson, Smith and sixth-round picks Gary Brightwell and Rodarius Williams.

A team will never hit on every player it selects, or come away with everything it hoped to find, in a draft. There are 31 other teams swimming in the same pool. The top of the 2021 draft could work out nicely for the Giants. The big hole, of course, was failing to add any offensive line depth. The Giants are continuing to pay for that sin.

Final thoughts

Giants fans, and media members have been arguing for years about what Gettleman has gotten right and what he has gotten wrong. I am honestly not sure how much it matters anymore. It seems likely that we aren’t going to have Gettleman to argue about a whole lot longer.

The bottom line is, of course, wins and losses. If the Giants end up with double-digit losses for the fourth straight season it is going to be virtually impossible for ownership to justify giving him a new contract. If the Giants happen to play well over the final eight games, perhaps Gettleman can retire of his own accord while using the justification that he believes the franchise is pointed in the right direction.