The figurative gut punch delivered by last Sunday’s 38-13 playoff loss to the Packers is now a dull ache, and the literal punch by Odell Beckham Jr. that left a hole in the locker-room wall still was in evidence nearly a week afterward.
Now for the potentially encouraging news: After the season abruptly ended with a dreadful performance against a superior team in a late-season roll that continued into the postseason, it’s realistic for the Giants (11-5) to believe that they are not all that far away from being a contending team next season.
With a few key offseason moves in free agency and the draft, there is reason to believe 2016 was the foundation for something better in 2017. General manager Jerry Reese expressed optimism that this is just the start, and if he can make moves similar to the ones he pulled off last year, the Giants will be in good shape.
Here’s a look at what they should — and shouldn’t — do in several key areas:
1. FIND A LEFT TACKLE
The Giants drafted Ereck Flowers in the first round in 2015, and while he has proved to be a durable starter (missing only one game his first two seasons), he has demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that his blocking skills aren’t suited to the left side. He’s simply not quick enough on his feet to deal with speed rushers, and Eli Manning has paid the price by having to make quicker reads and throws. Move Flowers to right tackle, where his physical style is better suited, or move him to right guard, where he isn’t such a liability in pass protection. This is not a great draft for blue-chip tackles, but it’s very common for teams to find solid linemen beyond the first round. The Giants must find a better answer.
2. DON’T EXTEND OBJ’S CONTRACT
There is a school of thought that the Giants can save some money over the long term by extending the All-Pro wide receiver’s contract this offseason, especially with questions concerning his anger issues potentially holding down the price. Now is not the right time. With Reese and coach Ben McAdoo offering their sharpest rebuke of Beckham after he punched a hole in the wall after the loss to Green Bay, they need to know with certainty whether he has the temperament to be here long-term. At his best, Beckham is a generational player who singlehandedly can turn games around. His inability to control his emotions has been a consistent issue, though, and if he can’t find a way to make meaningful progress with what happens inside his head, the Giants would be foolish to invest big money in a second contract before they know the answers. The Giants have promised Beckham that they will get him the help he needs, but he has to be the one to accept it. While he has insisted in the past that he doesn’t need to speak to a sports psychologist, the narcissistic behavior he continues to exhibit suggests he absolutely needs professional help.
3. UPGRADE AT TIGHT END
There was a big problem there all season, and neither Will Tye, Larry Donnell nor Jerell Adams provided the answer. Donnell’s regression was a big problem, because the Giants lost their best receiving threat; his poor ball security left them no choice but to go in another direction. Tye is not explosive enough in the passing game, and his blocking was not good. Adams showed some promise as a rookie, but a late-season shoulder injury kept him out of the lineup. One name to consider as a potential upgrade: Martellus Bennett. He was terrific in his one year with the Giants in 2012, and he has since blossomed into a star with the Bears and now the Patriots. He’d absolutely fix a major problem.
4. RE-SIGN JPP BUT NOT HANKINS
Reese said on Monday that he believes the Giants can re-sign both free agents, but he might have to make a tough choice here because of potential salary-cap limitations. If he has to choose one, make it Pierre-Paul, because a pass rusher is more valuable than an interior run-stopper. Keeping him opposite Olivier Vernon gives the Giants a much-needed one-two punch.
5. PART WAYS WITH VICTOR CRUZ
This will be an emotional decision for the Giants because of what Cruz has meant to the team over the years, but he is due to make $7.4 million in 2017 and $8.4 million in 2018. His production doesn’t justify it, and the Giants need to get younger at the position. Consider: The best passing play in the Packers game involved 26-year-old Tavarres King, who scored the Giants’ only touchdown on a 41-yard post route. He’s a more promising outside receiver than Cruz and he’s more affordable.
6. KEEP DRC
There has been some chatter that the Giants might release cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 30, for salary-cap purposes, but that would be a mistake. He’s scheduled to make an affordable $6.5 million each of the next two years and had a career year in 2016 with five interceptions.
7. DRAFT A QB (BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF ANOTHER NEED OR A BETTER PLAYER)
Reese made news by acknowledging it’s time for the Giants to start thinking about life after Manning. His production slipped during the regular season, but he looked sharp in the playoff game and was impacted by several dropped passes right on the money. At 36, he still has two or three years of capable play left, so there’s no immediate need to look for a starter. If the Giants see a quarterback somewhat lower in this year’s draft — and by lower, we’re talking third round or later — it’s worth a shot to get a guy to develop in McAdoo’s system.