The Giants head into the new decade trying to catch up to the previous one, sprinting to embrace analytics and data under the guidance of a soon-to-be 69-year-old general manager who once publicly mocked the concept and on Tuesday bragged about having hired “four computer folks.”
It’s a spin on the cliché: They are trying to learn new tricks from the old dog.
As part of his 30-minute public flogging on Tuesday — aka his end of the season news conference — Dave Gettleman was grilled about everything from keeping Eli Manning around for what amounted to a two-game tether, to the in-season trade for free-agent-to-be Leonard Williams, to his decision to have not spoken publicly since the start of training camp in July.
In some ways, Pat Shurmur may have gotten off easy. He was fired. Gettleman had to stand there and explain the four-win season, the nine-game losing streak, the unbalanced roster, and all of the decisions that led to the misery of 2019 in one fell swoop.
Gettleman defended most of the moves as the person who makes them often does, by explaining his convictions and sticking to them rather than apologizing for them. But there was that one topic where Gettleman did seem to see the error of his ways and promised to change.
“I met recently with a big analytics guy,” he said. “I’m going to learn from our mistakes. I never stop asking myself the question: What could we have done differently? What could we have done better? I never stop asking that question. We evaluate, re-evaluate, go backwards and forwards over that. That’s what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to talk to other GMs inside and outside the industry and continue to grow.”
As one of science fiction’s most ominous computers once said: “Hello, Dave.”
It seems an odd pairing to have Gettleman, whose strength and background are in old-school scouting and film-grinding evaluation, usher the Giants into this new phase. Gettleman famously poked fun at number-crunchers the night he drafted Saquon Barkley when data suggested taking a running back with the second overall pick was not a smart investment. (He said he was “kidding around” about that and stood by his take that Barkley is “an outlier” who transcended such analytics.)
“We are committed to being forward-thinking, we are committed to being the best in every area, and we are making a determined effort to move that way,” Gettleman said. “We have regenerated, we have rebooted so to speak, and done a lot of things behind the scenes that needed to be done . . . We’ve been ramping up the analytics and technology piece. That’s where we’re going.”
On Monday, co-owner John Mara also pointed to the Giants’ new — and some would say late — adherence to a philosophy that many other NFL teams have employed with success. For an organization that has always been slow to embrace change, it’s a big step. A necessary one, too.
Most winning NFL teams and sports teams in general seem to find a balance between gut feelings and data projections, using each to support the other. Ideally, that will be how the Giants use their newfound toys.
“We’ve completely redone our scouting situation, how we look at college personnel, how we look at pro personnel,” Gettleman said. “We are completely redoing the back end of our college and pro scouting systems.”
When will it pay off for the Giants? Maybe one day we’ll look back and see that it already has, that the first two drafts under Gettleman that were headlined by instinct picks in Barkley and Daniel Jones also produced a core of young players in later rounds who will become the cornerstone of the roster’s next generation. Then Gettleman’s future news conferences will feel more like victory laps.
And if it doesn’t work out? Well, the news conferences will probably have someone else standing behind the lectern.
“I know that sometimes it’s difficult, the [need for] instant gratification, but that’s where we’re going,” Gettleman said. “I really feel good about the direction we’re in.”
Eventually, the only numbers that matter are wins.