With the Giants 1-5 and the biggest disappointment in the NFL so far, there is plenty of blame to go around for their season. General manager Jerry Reese certainly is a part of what’s gone wrong, and he’ll be the first to accept his share of responsibility for a team that not only hasn’t lived up to expectations but has been an unmitigated failure to this point.
Plenty of Giants fans, and a significant segment of the media, are calling for the Giants to part ways with Reese after the season and find someone else to run the personnel department. After all, the Giants have been to the playoffs only once since winning the Super Bowl after the 2011 season, and some of Reese’s picks haven’t panned out over time.
Even team president and co-owner John Mara drew a line in the sand with Reese two years ago, saying in no uncertain terms that to keep his job, Reese needed to make his team competitive again.
But while the knee-jerk reaction of simply firing him might be a convenient take — a generally popular one, too — Mara’s determination about Reese is more complicated and nuanced and requires a much more expansive look beneath the surface.
There will be no quick decisions, either. Mara is one of the most patient owners in pro sports, and there is almost zero chance that he will part ways with his general manager in the near term.
The Giants haven’t fired a general manager in nearly 40 years, and Mara isn’t anxious to make a change now. Andy Robustelli, the Giants’ legendary defensive end, was the last GM to be ousted, and that came only after a series of calamitous seasons, ending with the debacle of 1978.
That season will be remembered for “The Fumble,” when Joe Pisarcik’s handoff to Larry Csonka fell to the ground and was scooped up by Herman Edwards for the winning touchdown in the final seconds of a gut-wrenching home loss to the Eagles. It will be remembered for the plane that flew overhead during the final home game of the season, carrying the banner “15 Years of Lousy Football. We’ve Had Enough.”
Robustelli was out after the season, and the hiring of George Young on Feb. 14, 1979, signaled the beginning of what has turned into an unprecedented run of front-office stability. In fact, it may be the longest uninterrupted succession plan in pro sports today.
Young helped build the team’s first two Super Bowl championships before handing off to Ernie Accorsi, his hand-picked successor, in 1998. Accorsi presided over the team’s 2000 Super Bowl appearance and drafted Eli Manning in 2004, a decision that ultimately benefited Reese, who took over in 2007 and won a Super Bowl that year and again in 2011.
Reese, who was hired as a scout in 1997, was the last personnel executive hired by Young before his retirement. Incidentally, he has more Super Bowl wins since 2007 than any other general manager.
So while Mara certainly is willing to take a hard look at the operation of a team that has woefully underachieved and is realistically out of playoff contention less than halfway through the season, he will need to be convinced that Reese isn’t his long-term answer.
It says here that it is not time for him to go.
When you look at what has happened to this team, it is much more a failure of coaching than personnel. In fact, second-year coach Ben McAdoo has been at the epicenter of what has gone wrong.
After doing fine work his first year in getting the Giants to 11-5 and into the playoffs for the first time since Tom Coughlin’s second Super Bowl run, McAdoo has done a woeful job this season. His team was simply not prepared to play the first two weeks in losses to the Cowboys and Lions, and three more losses to the Eagles, Buccaneers and Chargers were further evidence that he couldn’t get his offense in gear. It was only after he gave up play-calling duties to Mike Sullivan that the Giants put together a credible performance in a 23-10 road win over the Broncos last Sunday.
If you want to make the argument that there’s a fundamental personnel problem that lies at Reese’s feet, then how do you explain the fact that the Giants won last week despite the absence of their top three receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, all out injured), their best defensive player (Olivier Vernon, injured), and their nickel cornerback (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, suspended)?
That was an excellent coaching job last week in Denver, one of the most unforgiving places for any visiting team. The offensive line, which has been blistered with criticism — much of it deserved — did a fine job against one of the best defenses in the game. Ereck Flowers has settled down after a rough start the first two weeks, having given up only one sack in the last four games. Replacing right tackle Bobby Hart with Justin Pugh, inserting bruising right guard D.J. Fluker, moving John Jerry to left guard and going with versatile center Brett Jones, a smart signing by Reese in 2015, proved to be an expert combination after weeks of struggle.
That’s not an issue of personnel, that’s an issue of deployment of personnel. And that’s on the coaches, not the GM.
Flowers is only 23 years old and still can improve, and Pugh will have to be a priority to re-sign when his contract runs out after the season. Jones may well be a more affordable alternative than Weston Richburg, whose contract also is up after the season, although the Giants would like to have him back next year. It’s uncertain whether recent concussion problems will complicate that decision.
Reese admittedly had some down years drafting in 2011-12, when he missed on several players and had bad luck with first-round running back David Wilson, who was forced to retire prematurely because of a neck injury. But his last four drafts have been solid, highlighted by Beckham, Landon Collins, Shepard and 2017 first-round tight end Evan Engram. And if 2016 first-round cornerback Eli Apple can continue to produce the kind of shutdown performance he put forth last week in Denver, he will have been worth the investment, too.
No one can argue that Reese re-made the defense last year by signing Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins, three major contributors to last year’s playoff run.
What happens along the offensive line certainly will be an issue moving forward, and how the Giants deal with 36-year-old quarterback Eli Manning also will be central to the long-term future of the team.
But last week’s win in Denver was as clear an indication as any that the overall failures of 2017 rest with the guy coaching the players, not the guy choosing them.