Maybe he was just trying to dampen expectations. Perhaps he just wanted to alleviate a little pressure. Could be that, for a quick moment, he had some buyer’s remorse.
But back in March, just after the Giants doled out almost $200 million to rebuild the defense with three key free agents — end Olivier Vernon, tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins — co-owner Steve Tisch told Newsday he was not expecting an immediate return on the outlay.
“This is going to be a real work in progress,” he said of the rebuilt roster. “I think it will be sort of a slow, steady, progressive, positive return on investment.”
That’s usually the best case in these scenarios. It’s why many were cautious, if not outright skeptical, because this type of overhaul rarely pays off right away.
This one, though, seems to be doing just that. And the Giants are receiving the dividends.
Their defense has established itself as one of the best in the NFL and is the main reason — some might say the only reason — the Giants have 10 wins and are on the brink of returning to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Since Week 7, the Giants have allowed 14.9 points per game, and since Week 5, their opposing passer rating is 70.0. The NFL Network says those are the best numbers in the NFL during those spans.
And those big acquisitions — the Three D-migos — have been at the center of it all.
“I think we did what was necessary to correct the last-ranked defense in the league last year, and I think we did a good job,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said after Sunday’s 17-6 win over the Lions. “It’s been happening throughout the year. I think the only real step back we had was Pittsburgh, but besides that, I feel like we’ve been progressing. It’s been a step forward, a step forward every week. It’s just all coming together now, and our defense is really solid.”
And the new pieces? Was Casillas concerned about adding so many of them? No, but it helped to be convinced during the season.
“The implications of some of these guys on these games, making big plays,” he said of the big three additions. “Janoris Jenkins all year long. Damon Harrison is probably the most dominant force in the NFL right now. Olivier Vernon, one of the premier pass rushers in the league, and he’s showing it. He was hurt the first half of the season and now he’s almost unblockable.”
Other teams have tried to buy their way out of the hole as the Giants have done. Last year’s Jets. The Eagles in 2011. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the pieces on that Philadelphia “Dream Team” that turned into a nightmare. He said the difference with the Giants has been the chemistry.
“We jell better, as far as everybody coming together, hanging on and off the field and being accountable,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “It’s just a loving atmosphere, and any time you can truly feel like your brother has your back, it makes you want to play that much better for him.”
Another difference is that the Giants paid free agents getting their second contracts, not their third or fourth. They brought in young up-and-comers with something to prove. Perhaps, then, it was not a coincidence that none of the three had ever reached the playoffs.
“We just really wanted to come in and contribute,” Harrison said. “Bring to the team what we talked about doing. Each one of us had our own individual meeting with the coaches, GM and owners. We were told what they think we can bring to the team and what was asked of us. We just wanted to do our job to the best of our ability. We knew if that was the case, then everything else will fall in place.”
Sooner or later was the plan.
Sooner has become the reality.