Giants president and co-owner John Mara’s stinging rebuke of Odell Beckham Jr. was the biggest takeaway from his remarks at the NFL owners’ meetings earlier this month in New York. But along with his demand that Beckham make more news on the field than off it, Mara delivered an important message.
With the Giants off to a miserable start for a second consecutive season, Mara offered strong support for the team’s two most important football men — general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur.
“The one thing I will say about this season is I’m very confident we have the right guys in the building to turn this around,” Mara said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be a quick fix, but I’m confident in Dave and Pat that they’ll get the job done.”
At 1-6, there is much work to be done, and Mara’s warning about no quick fix had an ominous tone. This has been a dreadfully disappointing season for the Giants, and despite Mara’s confidence in Gettleman and Shurmur, their collective performance through nearly half of their first season together has been shockingly bad.
Their vision for this year’s team was far more optimistic than the results have borne out, and their win-now forecast quickly has devolved into a nightmare scenario that could set the team back for years.
Gettleman and Shurmur believed that Eli Manning had plenty of good football left — even at age 37 — and that assessment formed the basis for many of their roster-building moves in the draft and free agency.
Gettleman realized the need to rebuild an offensive line that — with underperforming tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart — was abysmal last year. So the general manager, who famously likes to call the gritty offensive linemen he prefers “hog mollies,” set about improving the line by signing Patriots free-agent left tackle Nate Solder, 30, as the centerpiece addition. Gettleman gave Solder the highest contract ever given an NFL lineman, but he has been overmatched through most of the season and hardly looks worth the $65-million investment.
Rookie guard Will Hernandez may develop into a fine player, but he has been beaten regularly in his first season. Injuries have gutted the interior of the line, and Chad Wheeler, the replacement for Flowers — who was released after a failed trial at right tackle — has been average at best.
Manning has been under siege, and with his already limited mobility even further reduced by the poor blocking, he has been a sitting duck for most of the season.
Gettleman clearly has major work ahead in shoring up an offensive line that has been at the heart of the team’s offensive struggles.
The price for believing that Manning still had years left on his career might be a steep one. Gettleman declined to dip into what had been considered a deep draft for quarterbacks and instead took Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. Barkley is having a terrific year and figures to be an outstanding player, but his talents might be wasted until the Giants can figure out who will succeed Manning, likely is in his final year as the Giants’ quarterback.
The Giants are so bad that they might be lucky enough to get a quarterback in the 2019 draft. But there’s obvious uncertainty there; if they go on a run in the second half of the season, their draft standing will be hurt. And with Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, clearly the top quarterback prospect in the nation, unsure he will enter the draft after his junior season, the stakes are even greater.
The Giants could make a run at pending free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was a favorite of Shurmur’s when the two worked together in Minnesota. But Bridgewater would need a major commitment to join the Giants because he already has seen what can happen when a veteran quarterback signs with a team that also takes a QB high in the draft. Bridgewater signed a one-year deal with the Jets in March and did well in training camp and the preseason, but he was traded to the Saints after Darnold did enough to win the starting job.
And who knows? Maybe a college quarterback will emerge late in the season and become a target for the Giants in 2019. It happens often, as it did in 2016, when Jared Goff and Carson Wentz became the consensus 1-2 picks, but only after scouts had a chance to examine their skill sets after the 2015 college season.
With the Giants in last place in the NFC East, Gettleman clearly is looking down the road, and his trades of Eli Apple and Damon “Snacks” Harrison this past week were a clear indication that the rebuild is on in earnest.
There is a long, long way to go. And with a roster that includes the highest-paid receiver in Beckham and the highest-paid offensive tackle in Solder, the Giants are in no-man’s land. With several high-priced players on both sides of the ball, a dreadful offensive line and major weaknesses on defense, Gettleman has left himself with a complicated situation moving forward.
It’s one thing to build a team from the ground up in Year 1; it’s another to have a patchwork roster that includes expensive players whose shelf life might not last until the rest of the roster catches up.
And Shurmur? He hardly has distinguished himself. And while he can’t be blamed entirely for the problems on offense, he hasn’t been the quarterback whisperer to help the two-time Super Bowl MVP resurrect his career after Ben McAdoo left Manning in limbo with last year’s late-season benching.
Shurmur hasn’t coached to the strengths of his team, and many of his decisions, especially in Monday night’s 23-20 loss to the Falcons, have been open to second-guessing. Passing up a field goal on fourth-and-goal (Manning threw an incomplete pass) and going for two points after a fourth-quarter touchdown (the ball fell incomplete as Beckham dropped it) certainly were aggressive moves. But Shurmur doesn’t have a team good enough to capitalize on that type of play-calling. Sometimes it’s OK to be conservative, especially when you have a team that isn’t very good.
Shurmur deserves the time to fight his way through the early-season adversity, and he’d do himself some favors by not being concerned about the public scrutiny of his performance. In this town, you can’t afford to be defensive. Just take it, move on and get to the next week.
At 1-6, it’s a mess, with little hope of an immediate or sustained turnaround.
Mara insists he has the right guys to get the job done, but even if he’s correct, Gettleman and Shurmur have plenty of work ahead.