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Dave Gettleman must be better to turn around the Giants

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the media during a news conference on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It took nearly 30 awkward, uncomfortable and confrontational minutes for Dave Gettleman to come out with the only assessment that truly mattered. In his first media availability since before the start of the Giants’ 4-12 season, the general manager was asked how he’d grade himself in his two-plus years on the job.

“Not good enough,” Gettleman responded. “It hasn’t been good enough. It will get better.”

Three sentences, two offering a mea culpa for the team’s 9-23 record on his watch, following by the promise that better times are ahead.

Gettleman was spared the fate of coach Pat Shurmur, who was fired less than 24 hours after a humiliating, 34-17,  home loss to the Eagles. But the 68-year-old general manager is now very much in the line of fire as he seeks to rebuild the team — first, with the hiring of a new coach and then with a roster re-tooling that will include a healthy dose of free agency investments and another draft class featuring the fourth overall pick.

Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch agreed to keep Gettleman in charge of the football operation, a decision that has met with plenty of skepticism among fans who believe that the GM is out of touch with today’s NFL. Gettleman has thumbed his nose at analytics. This despite the pervasive use of the numbers-based approach throughout the league, although Gettleman now says he will embrace the concepts moving forward.

Gettleman purposely has kept himself out of public view throughout the season, leaving Shurmur to explain the team’s continued failures during his five-times-a-week media sessions. Many teams use the one-team, one-voice motto to shield the general manager from commenting on his respective team, giving the coach full control over his messaging. And while that may sound good in theory, the net result on this occasion was one of the most uncomfortable and combative news conferences you will ever see at the Giants’ training facility.

Gettleman is actually quite good at addressing a variety of topics, accepting blame with a dash of self-deprecating humor. But his disappearing act during the season came off as him hiding from responsibility for the product on the field, and the buildup of questions on his accountability made for a testy series of interactions during his half-hour media session. Gettleman acknowledged he will rethink that strategy, because it certainly didn’t do him any good on this occasion.

As unseemly as his media no-show made him look, Gettleman has bigger issues to deal with, namely putting together a team that can begin to compete for the playoffs — and ultimately a championship. Right now, the Giants are far, far away from that goal, coming off a season that included a franchise record-tying nine-game losing streak and a defense that was among the least effective in the NFL. Great defense has been one of the hallmarks of the Giants, but this year’s group was an embarrassment.

His trade for Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams is still a head-scratcher. Giving up third- and fifth-round picks for an underachieving player in the final year of his contract? Why? The fact that Williams produced just half a sack in eight games with the Giants only underscores that investment loss. And if Williams walks in free agency, then Gettleman will have squandered two valuable picks.

His trade of Odell Beckham Jr. may turn out to be a prudent one, after the Giants got a competent free safety in Jabrill Peppers and turned a first-round pick into promising defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. And his acquisition of guard Kevin Zeitler as part of the deal was a good one.

But what may end up saving Gettleman’s reputation is the drafting of Saquon Barkley in 2018 and Daniel Jones last April. Barkley is a bona fide star and possibly the best playmaker on offense the Giants have ever had. Jones showed plenty of promise in his 12 starts, finishing with 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions — a more than respectable 2-to-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. But he lost 11 fumbles, a turnover problem that must be corrected if Jones is to turn into the long-term answer at the most important position on the team.

“When I came here, I had two major goals,” Gettleman said. “No. 1 was to find the quarterback, and I really believe we’ve done that. Daniel had a terrific year and did some great things, and we see great things for him in the future. The second accomplishment I had was to set the team up for sustained success.”

That second part remains to be seen, and only until we see the results in the coming years will we know if Gettleman laid the foundation for long-term winning.

“It all depends on how quickly the puppies come along,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids. A big part of it is how far they come.”

For now, Gettleman must get it right with the coach. He tried and failed with Shurmur, who couldn’t get more out of his roster in two losing seasons. Another miss, and Gettleman’s legacy will be completely shot.

As will the Giants’ chances of becoming relevant again any time soon.

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