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Analysis: Give Dave Gettleman credit for calling an audible and focusing on rebuild

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the

Giants general manager Dave Gettleman speaks to the media during a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Dave Gettleman’s words have a way of being parsed right down to the syllable.

That hasn’t always been fair, but it has become a reality. Whether it’s his insisting that Eli Manning had years remaining in his career, his “didn’t sign him to trade him” stance on Odell Beckham Jr. or his meme-worthy dismissal of analytics when he drafted Saquon Barkley, there have been plenty of times in his short but impactful tenure as general manager of the Giants when the biggest obstacle to making his case has been trying to step over the case he made previously.

But there were three words spoken by Gettleman in early January this year that slipped right past a lot of observers and their etymological microscopes. In a radio interview shortly after the 2019 season ended, he said something that carried its impact from then all the way to this week and the start of free agency in the NFL:

“I was wrong.”

That’s what Gettleman admitted — a rare act among leadership in sports and otherwise — when reflecting on his oft-stated plan for the Giants a year ago at this time.

Back then he had unloaded Beckham to the Browns, was sticking with Manning and was in the process of adding high-priced veterans such as Golden Tate and Antoine Bethea.

The plan, he said, was to rebuild and win at the same time — to do both simultaneously.

Then the 2019 season taught him it couldn’t be done. “I made a miscalculation,” he said.

At the time he admitted to such, Gettleman was barely hanging on to his job, and publicly falling on his sword could have been seen as one way to assuage the public’s clamoring for change at the top of the organization. But Gettleman wasn’t just paying lip service at that time. As this past week has illustrated, he did indeed learn some hard lessons.

After two years of wheel-spinning that sent mud flying all over the franchise, the rebuild that Gettleman initially was hired to oversee when he joined the Giants in December 2017 appears to be commencing. The Giants seem to have come to grips with the reality that they are not a “win now” team . . . and doing so has put them in much better position to win later. Maybe even sooner.

A look at the two big free- agent contracts the Giants agreed to this week illustrates this new philosophy, not only in terms of the players but the structures of the deals. Cornerback James Bradberry and linebacker Blake Martinez are in their mid-20s, established NFL starters and projected leaders for a defense that has been without a voice for some time. They essentially replace Janoris Jenkins and Alec Ogletree on the field.

Both of them agreed to three-year contracts, which means the Giants have only one player currently under contract for the 2023 season: Sterling Shepard, who signed a long-term extension last offseason. More importantly, both will have contracts that pay a lot of the money up front in salary and roster bonuses rather than prorated signing bonuses.

This affords the Giants the possibility to cut either of them after their second of three years on the deals without any dead money counting against the 2022 salary cap if they don’t work out. More importantly, it opens up more space under the cap when 2022 arrives if they do.

At that point, the Giants likely will have made or will be making long-term decisions on Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones, the league’s salary cap could be flush with new TV money and — ideally — the Giants will be in a position to add the one or two missing pieces to make them a championship team.

It’s like the difference between a 15- and 30-year mortgage. It costs a little more now, but being flush later should be worth it.

Say what you will about Gettleman. He’s made plenty of mistakes with the Giants, signed plenty of players who were busts. But give him credit for admitting to them and, more importantly, learning from them. At a time when he could have been tossing around the Giants’ available funds in a save-his-job spree (much the way predecessor Jerry Reese did in 2016), he’s instead instituted a direction that he might not even be able to see fulfilled. The lack of immediate results could cost him his job, but it also could add to the Giants’ trophy case at some point.

Gettleman’s actions speak louder than his words. And they may be remembered more than any of his utterances.

The Giants are investing in their future. They are designing their roster so young players can develop into leadership roles, so they won’t have to hire mercenary free agents at astronomical prices at key spots, and so when the time comes, they will have the resources to make the jump to the next level of competitiveness.

They are rebuilding. And this time, that’s the only focus.

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