The Giants Approach to the Offseason

There are various ways to build a team in the NFL and right now the Giants plan certainly isn’t working. In 2016 the Giants made a number of changes to the team, in particular on defense. GM Jerry Reese identified a big area of weakness and went all out to repair it. Last year watching the Giants it was pretty clear that their offensive line was a problem, specifically the tackles, yet Reese did little, if anything, to fix it.

When it comes to defense the Giants spared no expense. In 2016 they were incredibly aggressive on three players in free agency when they signed Olivier Vernon for $17 million, Janoris Jenkins for $12.5 million, and Damon Harrison for $9.5 million. I think you could make a very strong argument that he overpaid for all three players, but for one season they certainly justified the contracts. This year he also signed Jason Pierre-Paul to a pretty lucrative, but market value, contract. Normally I would see something like this and say that the Giants were going to remain equally aggressive moving forward to fix other hole yet they ended up being pretty passive.

Despite what was said on WFAN radio by Mike Francesa the other day about free agency being very weak this year for offensive linemen, that was not the case. At tackle you had Russell Okung, Andrew Whitworth, Riley Reiff, Matt Kalil, Ricky Wagner, and Kelvin Beachum. At guard was Kevin Zeitler, TJ Lang, Ronald Leary and Larry Warford. You can argue the ceiling of some of those tackles but I don’t think you can argue that they would each be better than what the Giants had this year.

I do think for some teams, Giants included, that part of the issue when it comes to offensive line right now is the cost of the players. The NFL has a handful of elite NFL tackles and those players make in the ballpark of $12-$13 million a year. The players signed this year, with the exception of Beachum, basically made between $11 and $13 million and none of those players are elite. Guard is probably the biggest growth position of the last three years partially in response to better defensive tackles being in the NFL and not everyone is on board with that just yet.

The teams signing these players understand that right now there is a shortage, specifically at tackle, of players coming in from college capable of playing in the NFL. Basically the position is becoming like quarterback where everyone, regardless of how good or how average, has a salary in a pretty tight range. Either you have one or you don’t and if you can get one pay them whatever they want. Still this is surprising that this would be a barrier for the Giants, given their very optimistic evaluations of the players signed in free agency last season.

Could there be some argument made that the Giants spent so much last year that they didn’t have the money to spend this year?  I guess it’s possible that you could make that argument, and many teams do make such arguments and they are legit arguments, but it’s not as if the Giants didn’t spend this year.

They Giants more or less “Titaned” the offseason. When I say that I am making reference to the Tennessee Titans, one of the cheapest teams in the NFL. Titaning is when you go out and sign a bunch of lower cost players to moderate level contracts and pat yourself on the back for not spending much for some starters and name talent. In most cases the players don’t make a difference because you don’t win in the NFL unless you have some top level talent at a few key positions.

This year the Giants spent $5.5 million on wide receiver Brandon Marshall, $4.5 million on fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison, $3 million apiece on journeyman guard John Jerry and reclamation project guard DJ Fluker, and $3 million on linebacker Keenan Robinson. That’s $19 million. Of those players, Marshall was more of a luxury signing, Jerry is a starter, Ellison plays under 40% of the snaps, Fluker hasn’t played a snap, and Robinson has been nursing an injury.

You could have scrapped the two cheap guards and Robinson, a six game starter last year, and signed one of the top available guards. All you lose there is Robinson. You could have scrapped Marshall, Fluker, and Ellison and signed the top tackle. Sure it’s a tradeoff of one versus three, but when that one plays a premier position and is a top level talent at a position of need it’s far better use of money than getting the three lesser needed guys. They can be replaced by minimum salaried talent.

The way I look at the NFL these days you have to have a set group of talent, either through the draft or free agency to win. You can simply look at salaries around the NFL to see what those positions are- quarterback, edge rusher, cornerback, left tackle, and wide receiver. Creeping into that group are guard and defensive tackle.  No longer in the mix are running back, linebacker, center, right tackle, tight end, safety, and fullback.  Those are more luxuries to have than necessities.

The Giants had the QB, bought a 2nd edge rusher and cornerback, and drafted a wide receiver. They bought the defensive tackle and went out and likely felt that Justin Pugh was strong enough, if healthy, at guard.  The problem really lies with the bias that so many general managers show towards their draft picks.

The Giants drafted their offensive tackle, Ereck Flowers, with the 9th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Flowers at best has been ok and his best was probably the earliest days of his career. Last year with more focus on him he struggled and at one point shoved a reporter from ESPN as frustrations boiled over. This year his confidence looks shot and he’s arguably the worst tackle in the NFL.

But general managers have such a hard time abandoning draft picks. The new CBA was supposed to fix this by making the financial commitment at the top of the draft so much smaller that you are not forced to trot a player out there who clearly doesn’t belong on the field as a starter. But GMs continue to shoot themselves in the foot by using these players for 3 or 4 years in critical roles that impact the team.  My feeling is that this is a bigger issue than anything in the Giants decision to not upgrade the position in free agency.  It’s one of the biggest traps in professional football.

Maybe the GM just had extraordinary faith in head coach Ben McAdoo after his rookie campaign. I always think that’s a bad idea. The NFL is such a creature of habit that if you give a new head coach some talent, more often than not they can surprise in their first year. As teams break down what those teams did and did not do well in the offseason you need to come back with some new wrinkles to repeat your success. The sophomore jinx takes down a lot of coaches and most of the time those teams had little improvements in personnel from year 1 to year 2.

I do think a stronger justification for the lack of spending is that the Giants do have to re-sign Pugh and center Weston Richburg after this year and that could be expensive. These contracts the Giants did sign are all short term deals and signing a guard in free agency was likely going to just lead to Pugh leaving in 2018 unless the Giants were going to have two guards making close to $9 million a season. Odell Beckham is also looking for a new contract and he will be incredibly expensive.

That said you have to understand your roster when you are making the decisions. When you look at the construction of the Giants roster this is a team that has to win now. This isn’t a team with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack in their early 20s with years to go. This is one of the older teams in the NFL, especially at key positions.

They have a 36 year old QB that is in the later stages of his career. They have a center and guard in the final year of their contracts. Free agents generally give a team, at most a three year window, and Harrison, Vernon, and Jenkins are already in the 2nd year of that window. You could argue that Pierre-Paul is also there. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is probably near the end of his Giants career and Shane Vereen is a free agent after the year.

This is your season to win. It’s not 2018, at least not with this group. The Giants needed to improve in key areas not remain status quo, but that’s what they did. Even when it comes to the draft, the team essentially drafted another receiver. Beckham and Sterling Shepard were already capable enough. Roger Lewis showed flashes. You signed Marshall. I’m sure Evan Engram was the best available guy and may be a truly great player, but with weaknesses on the offensive line, running back, and linebacker that are far more glaring needs than a tertiary receiver I am not sure how you go there with a team like this one that needs to improve today, not tomorrow. There are times when you have to sacrifice the future and this was one of those times, but they didn’t do it.

Going for broke of course isn’t a magic cure. I’ve watched my Jets do that on more than a few occasions.  It worked for two years and more or less failed every other time they did it. Their biggest deficiency was at quarterback, which is impossible to fix in free agency, and maybe it will turn out that Eli Manning is as big of a problem as anyone else, but the Giants should have given themselves a better chance. By relying so heavily on a poor draft pick and deciding to go cheap they didn’t give themselves the best chance to win this year and now have to hope that they can keep that window open with this group one more season and fix it next year.

  • McGeorge

    How long doe sit take to train an Olineman, given the reduced practice time?
    I wonder if there needs to be an established off season training program (on a voluntary basis) for aspiring Olinemen to attend so they can get good enough in 4 years that they can cash in..

    • Cliff Baum

      this has to be collectively bargained which means nothing can be done until 2020

      • McGeorge

        Sorry, I wasn’t clear.

        I’m not saying this is done through teams, thats why I said voluntary.
        Players on their own train.
        If there was an Olineman school, how long would it take to get up to speed, given the lack of development in college and lack or training in time in the NFL.

        Would 2-3 off seasons be sufficient?

        • Cliff Baum

          I think everyone agrees there needs to be a system in place for better development of the O-linemen. The devil will be in the details. For example, I suspect the NFLPA would strongly object to O-linemen coming up with this system on their own or a third party organization selling something to O-lineman. Practice time is a point of leverage in collective bargaining discussions and the presence of this external system would take away some of the NFLPA’s leverage. Also, owners would basically get something for free.

          The fans are the losers in all of this

          • McGeorge

            I don’t think the NFLPA would care what the players organize among themselves, since they already do this. Its not uncommon for a QB and his receivers to get together and practice in the off season.
            This would benefit the participating players, and hopefully be in an environment less likely to lead to injury.

          • Werner

            Just looking at positional spending here in OTC: Giants are about 1:1 (21’4 for QB – 21’7 for OL), Cowboys after Romo are 1:10 (2’3 vs 23′). Plus, with the right LoE, Cowboys have much better rush with Elliott compared to Giants. I am not seeing, that Giants will come back to Play Offs this year. The jury on the 2017 Draft Class will still be out for some time, so the way to go probably should have been to pick anyone from the FA, Zeitler, Lang even Whitworth or to look for a reasonable trade for J. Thomas or Staley. Even picking up Boone from the Roster Cut Heap could have helped some.

  • Cliff Baum

    I agree with you about Free Agency and O-lineman (looking at you too Seattle!). But the draft would not have worked as it has arguably the worst O-line crop of all time! There is simply a bottleneck at the positions that matter (e.g. left tackle) and it is unavoidable that teams with lines like the Giants and Seattle pop up every year. Remember: it’s a zero-sum game and if the Giants paid for those players in free agency then another team or two would have taken their place as having a terrible line. It’s hard to criticize teams so vehemently when you understand that it’s impossible to avoid this.

    • Arc Trinity

      That’s not necessarily true. The Giants did have a chance to get Laremy Tunsil last year but instead (AGAIN) went for a luxury pick in Apple (when they already had Jenkins and DRC on the roster). Please spare me the nonsense about that video that popped up as if the rest of these guys (especially some of the free agents like Jenkins and DRC and Marshall) are choir boys. In fact I just don’t get how they are so willing to discard / dismiss a 20yo kid that has had an indescrsion but are fine and dandy when it’s a veteran who has had a track record in the NFL as a grown man!!! Either way, Reese doesn’t seem to understand asset allocation and time sensisyive nature of a teams ‘window’. He has repeatedly made luxury picks (and signings) which end up being very limited contributors. I’m not sure if it’s hubris or idiocy

      • Cliff Baum

        agree with the Giants and the 2016 draft (they obviously should have taken Tunsil). I’m talking about the 2017 draft. I have seen multiple times on this site now where a team was criticized for not using the 2017 draft for taking a lineman. That is just not good advice.

      • eddiea

        The Giants had a chance to sign Okung,for LT,but didn’t want to move Flowers to RT. Reese thought Flowers was/is,despite his production, a good LT. So despite Manning being an immobile and highly paid QB, the Giants are risking his health and Teams SB Dreams on a Proven Bust. This move should be Exhibit 1 for Reeses firing,especially since better LTs WANTED to be Giants and it wouldn’t have been costly to sign them

  • Jessy Scholl

    Jerry Reese is one of the worst GM’s in football, Period. As far as this Cowboys fan is concerned, hopefully John Mara gives him an extension.