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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Dave Gettleman sticks by his old-school building blocks

GM says “every decision will be made in the best interest of the New York Football Giants. ”

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to reporters

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to reporters at the conclusion of a press conference on April 19 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo Credit: AP / Julio Cortez

Arlington, Texas — Say this much for Giants general manager Dave Gettleman: He’s a man who lives by the courage of his convictions, no matter the consequences.

He came (back) to the Giants with a plan that leans heavily in the direction of old-school football — run the football, throw from the pocket, stop the run and rush the passer — and nothing he did in the NFL Draft strayed from that strategy. In fact, Gettleman stayed remarkably true to the script with his top picks:

He took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall selection, got highly-touted UTEP guard Will Hernandez in the second round, then Georgia outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter and North Carolina State defensive tackle B.J. Hill in the third round. He also added quarterback depth in the fourth round with Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta.

One by one, he checked off the boxes, adding to a roster he already had begun to retool through free agency with the signing of left tackle Nate Solder, the trade for linebacker Alec Ogletree and a handful of other potentially significant acquisitions.

Gettleman is well aware of the potential risks in not going with a quarterback early on, especially in a draft that featured four passers who wound up going in the first 10 picks. And there are sure to be head-to-head comparisons in the years ahead between Barkley and Sam Darnold, whom the Jets chose as their hoped-for savior one pick after Barkley.

Gettleman’s reaction?

“You guys have got to understand me,” he said after making the Barkley pick. “I don’t care. All I care about is the New York Football Giants, and every decision will be made in the best interest of the New York Football Giants. I don’t care about the other stuff. I don’t care about that stuff. It doesn’t bother me.”

Now there’s a man who is willing to stand up for himself, even in the face of criticism, and even if there is a chance that Darnold will wind up being a star in this town after Eli Manning is long gone. But it was obvious that Gettleman wasn’t sold on any of this year’s quarterbacks as the perfect prospect. He made a telling observation, in fact, during last week’s pre-draft briefing with reporters and likened the selection of this year’s quarterbacks to “sitting at Ben & Jerry’s, and I’ve got a lot of flavors to look at and they’re all different.”

I asked Gettleman if that meant that, by saying they all had their own virtues but one didn’t stand out above the rest, he wasn’t completely sold on any of them, he said that wasn’t necessarily the case. As far as I’m concerned, it was absolutely the case, and that’s why he opted not to get “too cute” and go with Barkley, one of the cleanest prospects in this — or any — draft.

By not taking a quarterback, he also backed up his public proclamation that there is still enough left in the tank for Manning that the Giants can count on him for at least the near term. If he’s right and the addition of Barkley, as well as the myriad other moves he made in the draft, free agency and trades, then time will have borne out his beliefs.

My feeling coming into the draft was that Gettleman should have taken a quarterback, especially if Darnold and Josh Rosen were available. But I also respect that if Gettleman truly didn’t hold any of these quarterbacks with the kind of regard that you simply must have to stake your reputation on one — and that was obviously the case — then there’s no reason to force the pick.

If it turns out that any of this year’s highly-touted quarterbacks — especially Darnold, since he plays in the same stadium as the Giants — becomes a star, then Gettleman will have to answer for his actions and be held accountable. But the long-time Giants’ executive, who came back after a four-year run as the Panthers’ GM, doesn’t care if he’s second-guessed. He has thought this plan out very carefully, and his every move has been made with an eye toward building a team capable of winning a championship.

If not now, then sometime in the not-too-distant future.

“I got hired [last December] and four days later, I know we have the second pick in the draft,” Gettleman said. “I’ve been thinking about it since then. I’ve got to evaluate our team, then go through all the draft processes. When I watched a player on the defensive side playing Penn State, I was like a 3-year-old. I was watching Saquon.”

He could have traded out of the spot and acquired picks, settling for a running back of lesser ability — there was a run on tailbacks in the second round. But if you believe you can get a player you believe is Hall of Fame caliber, you take him — even if it goes against some analytics chart that suggests there is greater value in trading down.

If Barkley turns out to be as good as advertised, then he’ll make Manning better — perhaps the way Terrell Davis made John Elway better when the Broncos’ quarterback was Manning’s age. With a re-made offensive line that is already miles ahead of last year’s group, with a receiving corps that includes wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, as well as tight end Evan Engram, this can be an offense finally worth respecting, unlike the group the Giants had the last two seasons.

There is still more building to be done, and the turnaround may not be immediate. But with Gettleman and new coach Pat Shurmur in lockstep about the path forward, there is at least reason for hope.

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