It’s a good thing Jerry Reese had all that salary-cap cash on hand, because if he hadn’t, what happened Thursday night would have stung much, much worse.
The Giants’ general manager came out of the gate spending like crazy, doling out $200 million within the first two hours of the signing period and coming away with four key defensive players, including free-agent pass rusher Olivier Vernon and the Giants’ own Jason Pierre-Paul on a one-year deal. Reese is fortunate to have beefed up the pass rush, because the one that got away in the first round would have been a good one.
All pre-draft signs pointed toward the Giants taking Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, and the Giants seemed to be in position to get their man at No. 10 overall. With the Bucs slotted at No. 9 and interested in Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the Giants were just minutes away from a chance to get Floyd, one of the most highly touted pass rushers in this year’s draft.
And then the Bears, in need of a dynamic pass rusher themselves, swooped in and leap-frogged past the Giants, moving up two slots from No. 11 for just a fourth-round pick.
Floyd certainly would have been a great fit on defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s ever-improving unit, and Spags would have had another great resource to attack quarterbacks. But that’s why getting Vernon and re-signing Pierre-Paul was so important, because at least it gave Reese an option once Floyd fell through. He could have taken another pass rusher like Shaq Lawson of Clemson, who went to the Bills at No. 19, or Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, who went to the Jets at 20.
But Reese is a firm believer in taking the best available athlete when a direct need can’t be met, and cornerback Eli Apple was the best player on the board. This despite the fact that Reese already spent big to get free-agent cornerback Janoris Jenkins two years after plunking down a ton of cash for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“When you have two corners in this league, you’re one short,” Reese said after drafting Apple.
The Ohio State cornerback was the subject of some rather curious controversy in the days leading up to the draft, with an anonymous scout questioning his character by claiming that Apple couldn’t even cook for himself. That has got to be a first in a business that has seen plenty of unusual critiques over the years. Apple responded the day before the draft that he can indeed cook — with eggs, waffles and bacon among the dishes he could rustle up.
He can’t cook. Seriously?
All the Giants really care about is whether he can play cornerback, and that’s not an issue with Apple, who was part of an Ohio State program that placed five players among the top 20 picks. He is a reliable cover guy, and with most teams using three- and four-receiver sets, he’ll be a valuable asset to the defense even with Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie occupying the first two spots.
You can never have enough quality corners in this game. Of course, it would have been good for the Giants to see whether Floyd might add the kind of game-changing production that Giants linebackers have been known for through the years. But they won’t get that chance after the Bears smartly moved up to get him.
It’s a potentially big loss for Reese, who is clearly on the spot after his team failed to make the playoffs the last four years. Tom Coughlin was shown the door after last season in the hope that a change of direction at head coach with Ben McAdoo might reinvigorate the team. Reese certainly gave McAdoo ammunition with his free-agent splurge, and Apple will provide even more help on the side of the ball that needs it most.
Time will tell whether Reese’s missed opportunity with Floyd will hurt the team, or whether Apple’s emergence will turn out to be a smart play, especially with Rodgers-Cromartie now 30 years old. It will take a few years to find out the answers, but Reese least has to be wondering “what if?” after losing out on Floyd.