Eli Apple was once the symbol of a fresh start. In 2016 he was the first first-round draft pick for the team’s first new head coach in more than a decade, a 10th overall selection around whom the Giants hoped they could build a secondary and maybe even a defense.
Now Apple is once again the personification of a new era, only it’s one that remains down the road a bit. And he won’t be around to see it.
The Giants traded their starting cornerback to the Saints on Tuesday, just a few hours after their 23-20 loss to the Falcons on Monday night sank them to 1-6 and, at 0-5 in the conference and 0-2 in the division, virtually eliminated from any chance at a postseason opportunity. It is the latest move in what has been a roster purge by general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur – only two first-round picks made by former GM Jerry Reese remain on the roster – but the first time the team has acquired assets for the future at the expense of a starter. The Giants received a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh-rounder in 2020 in the deal.
It is, in other words, the first concrete confirmation that the Giants are undeniably in a rebuilding mode.
“Listen, we’re trying to win every game we play and we’re doing what we can right now to win football games,” Shurmur said, “but we’re also always looking at the roster on a short-term and long-term basis. We felt like we got good value.”
Shurmur has exhorted his players to keep fighting, not pay attention to the math in the standings, and aim to win games. As for how he plans to message this trade when he meets with them Wednesday, he said the narrative won’t be “throwing in the towel” on the 2018 season. He was quick to point out that the one game the Giants did win this season, against the Texans, was one in which Apple was sidelined by an injury.
“This will give a chance for some young players and some newer players to have an opportunity to play,” he said. “Plus, as we look at this thing moving forward, we’ll have two draft picks.”
Apple’s tenure with the Giants had more downs than ups. A year ago he was benched, suspended and called a “cancer” on the team by safety Landon Collins. The new regime gave him and many other players a “clean slate” at the start of this season and seemed impressed by the personal growth Apple showed.
The Apple trade is the latest decision that jettisons one of the team’s first-round picks. Since Gettleman was hired in late December, he has traded Jason Pierre-Paul (2010), not signed free agent Justin Pugh (2013) and waived Ereck Flowers (2015). He also parted ways with second- and third-rounders such as Weston Richburg, Jay Bromley, Darian Thompson and Davis Webb.
The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday, so it is possible the Giants are not done selling off players for assets. Shurmur did say he believes Eli Manning will remain his starting quarterback on the other side of the deadline when the Giants come back from the bye in Week 9.
Asked about plans to trade Manning, Shurmur said, “That would be news to me,” Tuesday on WFAN.
As for the vacancy in the starting lineup left by Apple, Shurmur touted B.W. Webb’s play but suggested he might want to keep him inside at slot cornerback, where he has played in recent weeks. The Giants also have Antonio Hamilton, Mike Jordan and rookie Grant Haley at the position.
All of which leaves Shurmur and the Giants balancing between trying to win games in 2018 and trying to win them beyond.
“I’m worried about the team today and what we need to do to get ready to play Washington,” he said. “But I’m always part of the discussion as we work to get the roster the way it’s gonna be this week and certainly thinking about the future.”
On Tuesday, that balance tilted toward the latter.