Ed Oliver has shown he can be a handful for opposing offensive linemen. That’s why he’ll be one of the early first-round picks in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
But he’s also shown that he can be a handful for his own coaches. And that’s one of the things that could concern the Giants. To the point that they would pass up on one of the top defensive linemen were he available to them with the sixth overall pick? Maybe.
The Giants just parted ways with Odell Beckham Jr., with co-owner John Mara admitting that his off-the-field dramas and on-field behaviors were “factors” in the decision to trade one of the most talented players in franchise history. This is the draft in which they get to spend the draft picks they acquired from Cleveland for Beckham, and there is no way they want to use them for another player who will bring them headaches.
“Building a roster is not just about collecting talent,” general manager Dave Gettleman said last week. “It is not just about how fast, strong or talented a player is, but does he fit athletically, intellectually and culturally into what you are trying to accomplish?”
Beckham, based on his current address, did not. And his Twitter storm Monday night, in which he threatened to spill on some Giants secrets and suggested he is a cancer only to a team that is “ok wit losing,” may have been cathartic for him but was just the kind of thing his former team wants to avoid. So why should the Giants add someone else to take his place as the team’s unofficial lightning rod?
Oliver already has experience with that kind of attention. Last season, when he was hurt, he got into a shouting match with Houston coach Major Applewhite while the team was leaving the field. The argument stemmed from Oliver wearing a jacket that was designated for active players only.
“You don’t have to be extraordinary to be a leader,” head coach Pat Shurmur has said in the past. “You just have to do the right things for the right reasons at the right time all the time and then you can lead.”
If you have any doubt about what the Giants are looking for, pay attention not to the wide receiver they shipped off but to the one they signed to a four-year extension.
“Obviously, we feel Sterling [Shepard] is a very important part of who we want to be moving forward,” Gettleman said. “He earned this contract and we are thrilled to have had the ability to get him extended.”
Tight end Evan Engram said the Shepard extension “sends a message to our locker room that we need more guys like that. We need more guys with that mentality, that work ethic, and the ability to do whatever we need and whatever we can on the football field to win. And that’s Sterling Shepard.”
The message goes beyond the locker room for those who pay attention.
Oliver isn’t the only player who could be affected by Gettleman’s culture building direction. Another pass-rusher, Montez Sweat of Mississippi State, left Michigan State under some murky circumstances that could scare off the Giants. Quarterback Will Grier of West Virginia and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence both had issues with banned substances that resulted in suspensions and, in Grier’s case, an eventual transfer. Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons of Mississippi State was not allowed to participate at the Combine because of legal issues.
That’s not to say Oliver or Beckham or anyone of the players who come into the draft with a red flag are bad people. Beckham certainly was not. But he did show that it is possible to be an amazing athlete, a dynamic playmaker, a terrific teammate, a great person and a bad employee all at the same time.
When it comes to the Giants’ rubric for acquiring and keeping players, it helps to have high scores in that last category to go along with a solid 40-yard dash time. In fact, these days it may even be more important.
The front office used to go into drafts hoping to land another Beckham. Now, in at least one regard, they will be actively trying to avoid it.