HOUSTON -- The art of building a championship team lies in vision.
It’s the ability to see what you have in the present, project what you might get in the future, and put the right pieces in place. That goes for players and coaches.
The great architects of sports franchises can correctly assemble the right mix of talent and intellect, finding the right blend of star players and role players, and smart coaches who are able to orchestrate the team into a champion.
Ron Wolf and Bill Polian are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the jobs they did in Green Bay, Buffalo and Indianapolis. George Young should be in the Hall of Fame for the job he did with the Giants. Red Auerbach was a Celtics legend. Bill Torrey built the Islanders into four-time Stanley Cup champions.
It is too soon to know if Dave Gettleman can join those legendary general managers, and it may take another three or four years to get a more definitive read on his pace in Giants history. But it is not too early to question the wisdom of his initial read on the direction in which he placed his team and how he went about his initial roster construction.
With the Giants looking more like last year’s debacle of a team through the first two games of Pat Shurmur’s tenure as head coach, Gettleman’s decision to adopt a win-now mentality based largely on his conviction that Eli Manning still has good years left may be a fatally flawed plan.
Manning still might have something left in his arm, and the offensive woes of the first two weeks aren’t solely on him. But playing behind an offensive line that is no better than the one the Giants trotted out last year left Manning an easy target for the Jaguars and Cowboys the first two weeks.
Making running back Saquon Barkley the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft may have seemed like an easy decision for Gettleman, who said his mother could have figured out that Barkley was a no-brainer. But Barkley has found little running room, and the dump-off passes he caught against the Cowboys did little to move the chains and put points on the board.
Manning clearly is not the quarterback he once was, and Gettleman’s contention that he still is of championship quality now seems misguided. The general manager pointed to Manning’s 434-yard passing performance against the Eagles in a 34-29 loss last December as proof that he still had it. But that game was more anomaly than trend, and making a decision on the team’s most important player based on that game may have been a fool’s errand.
Yes, Manning is capable of coming up big on occasion, as that game and a 27-24 early-season loss to the Eagles showed. Manning put 24 points on the board in the fourth quarter against the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Gettleman didn’t seem to have a conviction on any of the quarterbacks in the 2018 draft – at least not the kind he had with Barkley – and passed up the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen after the Browns took Baker Mayfield at No. 1. He built this year’s roster as if Manning were ready for another Super Bowl run, but the problems plaguing the team, especially on offense, make thoughts of a trip to Atlanta in February a pipe dream.
If the Giants don’t get their act together soon, their season may end more like it did last year – with a miserable record and another high draft pick. If that’s the case, Gettleman will have no choice but to look for his next quarterback among prospects such as Drew Lock of Missouri, Justin Herbert of Oregon, Ryan Finley of North Carolina State and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. Other prospects include Will Grier of West Virginia, Shea Patterson of Michigan and Tyree Jackson of Buffalo.
That we’re even thinking about quarterbacks next year is crazy, given the Giants' high expectations. While Shurmur never mentioned a thing about a playoff run during training camp, the notion that the Giants might make a playoff run didn’t seem all that far-fetched.
With Odell Beckham Jr. signed to a new contract and with Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram also among the Giants' impressive skill-position players, even Beckham talked about the Giants’ offense in terms like “almost unstoppable.” He still thinks the Giants can get back to scoring 30 points a game. But after two games in which they couldn’t score 30 points combined, it seems crazy to think this offense suddenly will turn into a point-scoring machine.
Maybe this thing turns around and the Giants become the kind of team that is worthy of attention. Maybe the offensive line overcomes the loss of injured center Jon Halapio and comes together to give Manning the protection he needs to play winning football from inside the pocket the way he used to.
If not, then a year of promise will have turned into a lost year and lead to another soul-searching debate about which direction to take in 2019.
At 0-2, there’s obviously still plenty of time left. Even the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl team got off to a similarly horrid start.
But unless and until this year’s team shows it can become something other than what it has shown so far, this will not end well.