It wasn’t the injuries. It wasn’t the coaching. It wasn’t even the personnel decisions.
No. If you ask second-year wide receiver Sterling Shepard why things went awry for the 2017 Giants, he points to the locker room and the decayed bonds within that sacred space.
“The camaraderie of the team was already there [coming into the season] but I feel like it can be a lot stronger than what it was,” Shepard said on Monday as the Giants cleaned out their lockers following a disappointing 3-13 season. “I feel like we had a lot of off-the-field stuff going on that didn’t need to be there and it created some kind of, I don’t know, it just wasn’t a together team like it was two years ago.”
That was 2016 when the Giants won 11 games and went to the playoffs.
“My first season here guys were like brothers, everything was running pretty smooth, especially in the locker room,” Shepard said. “This year it seemed a little bit different. We have to get back to that . . . You can put [the record] on a lot of stuff, but I feel like we have to get back to that if we want to be a team that is going to compete for a championship.”
Shepard did not cite any specific incidents.
“Everybody knows all the stuff that was going on in the locker room,” he said. “You can’t put your finger on one thing as to why a lot of stuff went bad, but it’s just the way seasons go sometimes.”
Among the known dramas were the suspensions of cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins, the benching of Eli Apple and his eventual suspension, the firing of head coach Ben McAdoo, and a mid-season report that McAdoo had lost the locker room which relied on anonymous sources and was refuted angrily by several prominent and on-the-record players.
As running back Shane Vereen said: “This team had to deal with a lot of stuff that nobody really knew how to deal with, had never gone through, but I think we did it the best we could.”
Interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo said he does not look at the big dysfunctional picture, but instead saw each chapter of discipline and frustration as its own entity.
“I don’t clump them all together,” Spagnuolo said.
Still, they added up.
“None of us want to go through that,” Spagnuolo said. “I think we work through it. Everything is not going to be perfect. So you expect that. And as professionals, when there’s a bump in the road or hiccup, you’re supposed to react to it and do it professionally and move forward. I thought we did that for the most part.”
They need to do more of it moving forward. That’s what new general manager Dave Gettleman spoke last week about improving the culture and finding “professional football players” as opposed to people who play professional football.
The Giants have already started the weeding out process, but there will be more garden tending to do this offseason if they want to bloom in 2018.