New York Giants co-owner John Mara said at the beginning of the 2020 season that he wanted to come out of it feeling like the Giants were on the path to building a team that could contend for championships.
Mara came out of a 6-10 season that nearly ended in an improbable NFC East title saying “I think we’ve established a basis for a foundation that can have continued success going forward.”
So, with it being Super Bowl week it is an appropriate time to ask the question: How far are the Giants from being a Super Bowl team?
ESPN asked this question earlier in the week and I did include it in Wednesday’s morning news post, but it seems an appropriate topic to expand on with my thoughts. Let’s start with what Jordan Ranaan of ESPN wrote:
Strategy to become a Super Bowl contender: Keep building piece by piece. The Giants believe they established a strong foundation and culture last year in coach Joe Judge’s first season. Team owner John Mara said he saw “progress.” Now it’s about adding big pieces to supplement an improving defense (a top edge rusher) and admittedly finding playmakers (No. 1 receiver) to help quarterback Daniel Jones and the offense. Still a ways to go.
Biggest X factor: Jones. The Giants don’t have a chance unless he makes a monumental jump in Year 3. His second season didn’t do much to instill confidence he can become the bona fide franchise quarterback they need. If Jones can make Josh Allen-like growth in 2021, it’s possible to start dreaming of Super Bowl contention. If not, turn the clock back a few more years.
The road from non-contender to perennial contender is a treacherous one. It is filled with obstacles. Some of those are pothole-sized speed bumps, but others are more like tumbling back down a mountain you have been trying to scale.
It’s not an easy path. Teams, even the best ones, never get every decision right. When you’re trying to scale that mountain, though, each mistake can be costly, knocking you back down a peg or more. Sometimes, misfortune strikes.
Let’s look at the things that will determine whether or not the Giants can become the contender they want to be in the foreseeable future.
Of course everything starts with Daniel Jones. Again and again, Giants coach Joe Judge, GM Dave Gettleman and co-owner John Mara have pushed their chips to the middle of the table and said they believe the 2019 No. 6 overall pick is the right quarterback to lead the franchise forward.
Jones has shown plenty of promise. The intelligence, arm strength, mobility and demeanor are all there. So, too, is the work ethic. There is a lot to like. The production just wasn’t there during the 2020 season as he threw only 11 touchdown passes and the Giants tied for last in the league with a total of 12.
Will Jones take a Year 3 leap that resembles the one Josh Allen took for the Buffalo Bills? Or, will Jones take the Jared Goff path, lose the confidence of his head coach and leave the Giants looking for a new answer at quarterback?
The Allen path means the Giants might be on their way to championship contention. The Goff path would set the franchise back, virtually knocking them a few pegs back down the side of that mountain.
Quarterback analysts Mark Schofield and Tony Racioppi had previously told Big Blue View they were believers in Jones. This week, former NFL player, scout and agent Marc Lillibridge told the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast that he, too, thinks Jones is the right quarterback for the Giants.
“I’m one of those analysts who’s a believer in Daniel Jones,” Lillibridge told me.
He pointed to the reality that Jones, a second-year quarterback, was trying to function in a new system with new coaches, and without the benefit of an offseason.
“He’s very intelligent ... football means something to him. I think he has been taught by one of the best quarterback gurus in the world in David Cutcliffe,” Lillibridge said. “I think he is an ascending player. This offseason will be very critical for him.”
Adding those pieces
Former Giants GM Jerry Reese often said that talent evaluators never bat a thousand in personnel decisions. He was right. Building a roster isn’t something you do in a science lab with a proven formula. Evaluations are subjective, and each decision carries both risk and opportunity cost, as well as potential upside.
In free agency, there will occasionally be bad contracts like the ones given to Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh. You better, though, spend well on the great majority of those big-ticket purchases.
In the draft, there will be misses like Ereck Flowers a few years ago or, more recently, DeAndre Baker. Each one of those knocks you farther down that figurative mountainside we’ve been talking about. You can’t afford many of those. You need to be right, especially about the biggest decisions, nearly all the time. You also need some good fortune, some Day 3 picks like Darius Slayton and maybe Tae Crowder, to become big-time contributors.
The Giants, despite the Year 1 struggles of No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas, appear to have had an excellent 2020 offseason. That trend needs to continue. Not every pick or signing needs to be a home run. To scale that mountain, though, you’d better string together a lot of singles and doubles that keep getting you closer to the top.
Running back Saquon Barkley says he is doing “really well” in his rehab from surgery to repair his torn ACL.
The Giants desperately need offensive playmakers, and when he is healthy few running backs can make the spectacular plays we have seen from Barkley. The Giants need Barkley’s post-injury career to look more like the one Adrian Peterson has had rather than the injury-wrecked career we are seeing from Todd Gurley.
Don’t forget the coaching
If you are going to win consistently, you need the right head coach. And the right coaching staff.
Joe Judge had an impressive first season as Giants head coach. He assembled an impressive staff, handled an unprecedented season well, and showed that he definitely wasn’t over his head despite being a surprise selection.
Now, can he improve and evolve the way he asks his players to? Can he build on that foundation? Can he win?
Maybe more importantly, can he keep finding quality assistant coaches? After going through Marc Colombo and Dave DeGuglielmo on the offensive line, can he find the right coach for that group? Whenever defensive coordinator Patrick Graham gets a head-coaching opportunity can he find the right replacement? Remember what happened when the in-over-his-head Bill Sheridan tried to take over for Steve Spagnuolo in 2009?
The other teams in the NFC East, and the NFC itself, will have something to say about how the future unfolds. Let’s focus on the division.
To be honest, right now I’m not worrying about the Philadelphia Eagles. That might change if Nick Sirianni isn’t as far over his skies as he looked in his introductory press conference as Eagles head coach, and if the organization doesn’t come completely apart as they try to figure out whether their quarterback is Carson Went, Jalen Hurts or someone else not named Nate Sudfeld.
The Dallas Cowboys? Dak Prescott will be back, and the talent they have to support him always makes them formidable. Even when the deck appears stacked in their favor, though, the Cowboys seem to find a way to underperform.
In the NFC East the team I worry about is the Washington Football Team. They have an outstanding, young defense. They have a terrific coach in Ron Rivera. They just don’t have a quarterback. If they get the right one, the Giants’ path becomes tougher.
There is a lot of work to be done before the Giants are perennial contenders. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, some of which are in their control and some of which are not. I think I agree with John Mara that they took a good step in 2020. Now, they have to build on it. That won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight.