This is a piece I’ve been contemplating writing for a while now, dating back to before the bye week.
It’s well past time for me to offer some tough love to the Giants.
I’ve been writing about the New York Giants for eight years now. Of those eight seasons, I’ve seen one winning season — 2016. Of course, that one great year when it felt as though the team was revving up to make one last push in the twilight of Eli Manning’s career, was immediately followed by a spectacular collapse in 2017.
The sad fact is that only three teams have been worse than the Giants since 2012: The Jets (54-106), the Browns (51-108-1), and the Jaguars (42-118). Of these four teams, three know who they are: Bad teams looking to escape the doldrums — and so far only the Browns have any kind of success.
But the Giants don’t see themselves as a bad team. They don’t see themselves as a team that just can’t get out of its own way or that needs to re-evaluate how they approach the game of football.
Michael Lombardi recently described the Giants as such:
“I think the biggest issue is they have won and been successful, and it’s hard to change and be adaptive and mobile when you’ve done that,” said Mike Lombardi, a longtime NFL executive and former GM of the Cleveland Browns. “Because you remember when you’ve won and you don’t want to change what you did when you won. So they are kind of stuck in time.
“And so what happens is, they just bring in people that support what they already want to know. That’s really what they do and that’s what they become. The hardest thing to do in any sport is evaluate your own team correctly. When you’re not doing that correctly, you’re prone to make mistakes.”
That’s close, but I also think Lombardi misses the point slightly. I don’t think it’s quite that the Giants don’t want to change, but rather that they don’t think they need to change — at least up until 2021.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that they upset the Perfect Patriots and twice interrupted Bill Belichick’s decade of dominance. Even in the Giants down years that followed 2007 and shortly after 2011, they were at least still competitive. They might finish with a losing season, but they could rattle off a string of wins and be a team that could stand on the same field as a playoff team and look like they belonged.
But they were just so darn unlucky. The ball bouncing the defenses’ way in 2010, or injuries in 2012 and 2013 and 2014 and 2015 ... The Giants weren’t bad, they were still a proud flagship franchise.
The Giants had become the temporarily embarrassed millionaires of the NFL world. They hit a patch of bad luck but would be back on top in no time, just like their cousins the Steelers.
In reality, the Giants have become the “Old Money” blue bloods of the NFL, rattling around a dusty mansion with sheets on most of the furniture. There’s been an air of almost derision for the nouveau riche teams with their “analytics” and up-tempo spread offenses that smack of the lesser college game. And by the same token, a surety that the world will come back to its senses and the rest of the League will be trying to emulate the Giants’ consistency again, if they just stay the course.
But really, football has passed the Giants by.
To be fair, the Giants have dipped their toes in the pool of modernization over the years. Jerry Reese tried to incorporate hybrid players (then known as “tweeners”) into the roster a few times. Tom Coughlin was one of the first coaches to be open to the idea of GPS and player tracking data. Ben McAdoo tried to institute many of the spread concepts that made Sean McVay’s offense so difficult to defend (albeit with very poor execution).
But every time it didn’t work right away, they retreated back to their comfort zone.
The Giants had a chance for a fresh start in 2018. They had the second overall pick, just under $24 million in cap room, and a roster that, while flawed, had enough talent on it to win 11 games and sweep the top team in the NFC in 2016.
While that season certainly looks like a fluke in the context of the decade of lost seasons that surround it, winning is tough in the NFL. Winning 11 games doesn't happen by accident.
Instead of grabbing opportunity by the horns, the Giants turned around and grabbed their security blanket. They decided to try and turn the clock back and stay the course.
We don’t really need to go over what happened the next four years, other than to say “here we are again in 2021.” The Giants once again have double-digits in the loss column. The offense is as bad as it’s ever been, and the excuses are piling up.
To circle back to Mike Lombardi, I think he’s on the money when it comes to the difficulties of self-evaluation.
Having the fortitude to have the humility and flexibility to look in the mirror and honestly evaluate your flaws is tough. But it’s also the common thread in the long-term success of teams like the Patriots and Ravens.
One of the biggest things Dan Hatman stresses at the Scouting Academy is the importance of being aware of your biases.
The report that Kevin Abrams is a “strong contender” to be the Giants’ next GM tacitly confirms what we’ve all suspected for a while now, that Dave Gettleman won’t be the Giants’ general manager next year. But it also suggests that the Giants could once again do the comfortable thing and go with who (and what) they know.
The Giants, and Giants’ ownership in particular, need to be honest with themselves. They need to realize that if they keep making the same decisions, they’ll get the same results.
That means checking their biases at the door to the facilities.
The Giants absolutely should hold themselves to high standards. They should believe they are one of the true “Flagship” franchises who bear the standard for what professional football should look like. But they also need the humility to look in the mirror and realize that they aren’t that right now.
The Giants are losers, and have been for some time.
They need to own that and realize that what they've been doing just hasn’t been working — it’s lead them to this point. The Giants have had one solid line of succession from George Young through Dave Gettleman and the Giants’ family tree is basically a log.
The time is long past for the Giants to stride into the 21st century. It’s also time to (metaphorically) air out the old estate on the upstate banks of the Hudson. It’s time for a new voice, new ideas, new experiences, and new approaches.
Football is a brutally Darwinian sport. Even treading water is always a moving target for teams, and making improvements year after year means taking every advantage a team can find. Teams that come to believe that they’re set and have everything figured out tend to quickly fall behind. Gaining ground back can happen quickly in the forced parity of the NFL’s off-season, but it can also take some drastic measures for a team to pull itself out of a spiral.
It also takes the self-awareness to realize that drastic measures are sometimes necessary.