It has been one of the most consequential weeks in New York football history, a seismic shift that featured the trade of a generational wide receiver, the acquisition of a transcendent running back, the defection of a Pro Bowl safety to a divisional rival and the arrival of one of the best linebackers in the game.
What an intense start to the league year for the Giants and Jets, whose moves will go a long way toward defining what lies ahead for the two teams that call MetLife Stadium home. By the time the games begin after the moves made by general managers Mike Maccagnan and Dave Gettleman, it could be the Jets who end up captivating a football town that for years has been dominated by the Giants.
There will be no pronouncements of a Super Bowl run by the Jets here, not with Tom Brady and the Patriots coming off a sixth championship and third straight appearance in the Super Bowl. But make no mistake: This is a much, much better team than the one that ended the 2018 season with a 5-11 record that led to Todd Bowles’ ouster.
Maccagnan’s potentially franchise-saving trade last year to move up and get in position for quarterback Sam Darnold has given the team its best chance to solve its most vexing challenge in the post-Joe Namath era. His aggressive early moves in free agency this year have significantly increased the team’s competitiveness moving forward.
Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract dispute with the Steelers, is unquestionably a massive upgrade for the offense and a welcome addition for Darnold, who didn’t have a consistently reliable running game as a rookie. Bell may not have gotten the financial windfall he expected, but his $52.5 million deal certainly is beyond what most running backs now get in a pass-dominated league. He adds an element of explosiveness that the Jets haven’t had since the days of Curtis Martin.
Maccagnan had to overpay for linebacker C.J. Mosley to convince him to leave Baltimore, but that five-year, $85 million deal will be worth the investment if the 26-year-old inside linebacker plays as well as he did during his first five seasons with the Ravens.
Jamison Crowder is an excellent slot receiver who will help Darnold down the middle of the field, where it’s so important to have reliable targets.
And the trade for Kelechi Osemele provides a significant upgrade on the offensive line. There is more work to be done at center and finding a long-term answer at left tackle, but the line is serviceable enough for now.
And, of course, there is more to come. The Jets have the third overall pick and Maccagnan will be in position to take an edge rusher such as Kentucky’s Josh Allen or a big-time defensive lineman such as Alabama’s Quinnen Williams. Maccagnan has sent signals that he’s interested in trading down and acquiring picks, which would keep him in range for a good defensive front seven player in a draft loaded with them and possibly a top offensive tackle prospect.
There still is much work to be done before the Jets can think about competing with the Patriots, and this still is a long-term reconstruction process. But they’re closer to where they need to be now than they’ve been for years.
And then there's the Giants.
Gettleman's trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns sent shock waves through the fan base, and not in a good way. While many Giants fans applaud the move, reasoning that the Giants are better off without a headstrong receiver who can be difficult to manage, the general feeling was that Gettleman wasted an opportunity to keep a potential Hall of Fame talent on the team.
Put me down for the latter.
If the Giants were so concerned about Beckham’s personality and wanted to move him to get him out of the locker room, they should have done so last year before signing him to a five-year, $95 million contract extension. Why give a player a $20 million signing bonus one year and trade him the next?
Quite simply, you don’t – especially after you repeatedly say, as Gettleman did, that the Giants didn’t sign Beckham to trade him.
Gettleman’s consolation prize was Golden Tate, a sure-handed receiver who is a solid producer but a puzzling choice for the Giants’ roster. After all, with the moves Gettleman made in trading Beckham, in letting Landon Collins walk before watching him sign with the Redskins, in trading defensive standout Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison before him, you’re obviously going in a younger, cheaper direction.
So why sign a soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver to a four-year, $37.5 million deal? And why bring in someone who plays a role similar to a player you already have? Sterling Shepard is a fine young receiver who excels from the slot. Perhaps Gettleman made the move with an eye toward trading Shepard, or else not signing him to a new deal after next year. Still, it’s an unusual move.
The biggest issue for Gettleman now is finding his next quarterback. Does he draft Dwayne Haskins or Kyler Murray next month? Does he trade for Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen? Or does he bide his time in the draft and select Duke’s Daniel Jones or North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley?
Or does he take a quarterback at all this year? Gettleman could look to the 2020 draft, which is expected to include Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
These are existential questions for any football team, and for the Giants, these are issues that speak to their long-term future.
In the short term, this is almost certainly going to be painful, and the angst Giants fans have felt this week might just be the start.
It certainly doesn’t help them to know that the Jets are trending in the better direction.
Unless something changes the balance of power in New York football, it is the Jets who will capture the imagination at MetLife Stadium in 2019.
And perhaps beyond.