It’s been almost a month since the Giants poured nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into their defense at the start of free agency, and Steve Spagnuolo still is smiling.
The defensive coordinator who last year had to rely on a thin and battered roster to limp through a 6-10 season and finish near the bottom in nearly every statistical ranking in the NFL should be grinning.
“It was like Christmas,” he said of the steady stream of players the Giants added or retained in the first hours of free agency. He got a pass-rushing defensive end in Olivier Vernon, a play-making cornerback in Janoris Jenkins, a run-stuffing tackle in Damon Harrison, not to mention Jason Pierre-Paul’s return.
“I think we did a really good job [in free agency], and I’m not just saying that because of the guys that we got,” Spagnuolo said on Friday. “I think the way we went about it and the way it turned out, I think we did exactly what we needed to do.”
Now his mission is to figure out what to do with them all.
“I don’t know it’ll change all that much,” he said of the basic schemes and philosophies. “There will be some tweaks here and there. And even though we have identified these guys who are coming in who are new, and we think we know what they are, it’s going to take a little while in the offseason to figure out exactly how we can intertwine them with the guys we had a year ago. So we keep some things, you get rid of things. All of that is going on right now.”
He’s also got several new faces on his defensive staff. Dave Merritt and Tim Walton, the two secondary coaches, are the only holdovers from last season. Patrick Graham is the defensive line coach, Bill McGovern the new linebackers coach.
Spagnuolo said having fresh voices to ask questions and add insight to the defense he has employed for nearly two decades helps invigorate the entire system.
The players don’t arrive for the start of the offseason program until April 11, so until then, all of the coaching is hypothetical. Even something as simple as where Vernon and Pierre-Paul will line up can’t be finalized because there have been no conversations with the players about their preferences. Spags may have gotten a lot of Christmas presents, but he’s had to keep them in the box for a while.
“It’s kind of hard to fully dive into what you are going to be and what you are going to install until you know what you have,” he said. “That’s starting to take shape now.”
The offseason hasn’t been all giggles for Spagnuolo. He was interviewed for the Giants head coaching vacancy that eventually went to Ben McAdoo. Then McAdoo retained Spagnuolo as the coordinator.
“I was disappointed that I wasn’t the guy,” Spagnuolo said. “It was two-fold. It didn’t happen so there is disappointment, but it’s always nice to be wanted. I’m excited about that . . . I’m not giving up on my dream of being a head coach again, but I certainly am comfortable working with Ben.”
And if the Giants’ defense plays to its pricetag, Spagnuolo could once again find himself on the interview circuit next year.
“I’m hoping that we can put a better product on the field than we did a year ago,” he said. “I think that we will. All of the pieces coming together, whether it’s players or coaches, is something we’re excited about.”
And it should keep him smiling at least up to the opener in September.