When Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur went about the task of rebuilding the Giants' roster a year ago, they were more concerned about the locker room than the playing field. Sure, they wanted to bring in guys who could play, even a little. But their priority was to spend whatever resources they had on the culture of the team. A sour, despondent taste had been left behind and the team’s palate needed cleaning.
So they brought in veterans they knew they could trust. Jonathan Stewart, Michael Thomas, Connor Barwin, Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree and Patrick Omameh were added, all of them passing the good citizenship test that the new front office required. Not all of those acquisitions worked out in a football sense. In fact, only very few of them did. But the mission to which they were assigned was completed. The 2018 Giants won just two more games than the season before, but the stability and maturity for which the franchise always has strived appeared to have returned.
Gettleman, who has said that one of his main priorities as general manager is to eliminate distractions so coaches and players can perform at their best, seems to have settled things down in terms of team temperament.
Now, though, it’s time to find some guys who can play.
No more Mister Nice Guys!
As free agency approaches — NFL teams can officially begin discussions with pending free agents on other teams starting Monday and can sign them beginning with the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. on Wednesday — the Giants need to embark on the next step in their growth under the still relatively new regime. They have what seems to be a lot of answers on offense, including this week’s addition of guard Kevin Zeitler from the Browns in a trade that cost linebacker Olivier Vernon, and appear unlikely to bring in a veteran quarterback to challenge or replace Eli Manning. But the defense looks like a pockmarked moonscape filled with craters and deep chasms.
When Wednesday rolls around the Giants will have no NFL-proven safety, no NFL-proven pass rusher, and just one NFL-proven cornerback on their roster. This isn’t a defense that needs spackle to fill some cracks.
While the draft in April should provide a lot of talent for that project, the Giants might not have the capital to fill all those voids in free agency. They’ll have about $24 million in salary cap space. That probably will keep them on the bench during the first frenzied hours of the process and require them to be smarter with the money they do spend. They’ll have to find the second-tier free agents who they think can be first-tier players.
It also means they have to focus on production and not personality. While Gettleman said he’s not going to completely abandon his philosophy of avoiding squeaky wheels no matter how fast they seem to spin — he said there is a quotient that the worse a player acts off the field, the better he has to be on it to compensate for himself — Gettleman might————— not have to be as discerning as he was a year ago.
The biggest victory for the 2018 Giants was in the culture change and the somewhat sedate locker room. The next step is to maintain that calm while adding players who can be disruptive to opponents and not the precarious balance that has been built.
If the Giants can do that, they might have a chance to take big strides in the win column in 2019. If they can’t, well, at least they’ll probably be gracious losers.
Here are five free agents the Giants could be targeting for when the new league year begins on Wednesday:
Pierre Desir, CB
The Giants like their youngsters Grant Haley and Sam Beal, but Janoris Jenkins is the only NFL-proven starting cornerback on the roster (B.W. Webb, who finished the season as a starter, is a free agent). Desir is not only a solid player but known as a hard worker and a solid citizen, something that hasn’t always been ascribed to Giants corners of the recent past. He’s been in the league for six seasons and only had a breakout year in 2018, which is a bit of a gamble. But not any bigger than counting on Haley or Beal.
Daryl Williams, RT
The big right tackle already has caught Dave Gettleman’s eye once before. The Panthers drafted him in 2015 when Gettleman was their general manager. So he’s a hog mollie. He had a breakout year in 2017, but he’s coming off a missed season because of a serious knee injury so he doesn’t figure to be at the top of the market. If the medicals clear, the Giants and Gettleman might have an inside track on him and complete their rebuilt offensive line before the draft.
Markus Golden, LB
The Giants finished next-to-last in the NFL in sacks in 2018 and finding pass rushers is a priority. Spending money on them? Not so much. So while the premier guys will bring in the big bucks, someone like Golden could intrigue the Giants. He had 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2016 playing in Arizona under James Bettcher. He tore his ACL in 2017 and was miscast in a 4-3 scheme in 2018 (2.5 sacks), but could have a career rebirth if he returns to the right system.
Deone Bucannon, LB
The Giants defense never really found someone in 2018 who could fill what they call the “moneybacker” role, which for them is the middle linebacker who plays beside Alec Ogletree. Well, the guy who originated the position with the Cardinals when Bettcher was the defensive coordinator there is now available. He could help their coverage and also help replace some of the production they won’t have with Landon Collins gone.
Adrian Amos, S
Someone has to play safety for the Giants, right? After they decided to let Landon Collins walk, a reunion with Tyrann Mathieu and Bettcher -- both of whom excelled with each other in Arizona – could provide the Giants with the playmaker in the secondary they need. But if the price tag is too high at the top of a very deep and very expensive class of free-agent safeties, Amos could be the second-tier answer for them. He started 16 games and had nine pass defenses with two interceptions last year for the Bears' playoff team.