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The New York Giants currently sit at the bottom of the NFC East at 5-9, a division they haven’t won since the second miracle Super Bowl run they made in 2011. This is the same division that hasn’t had one repeat champion since the 2003-2004 and the 2004-2005 Eagles. It’s become one of the most entertaining, rugged divisions in football.
Over the past six years, being a Giants fan has been particularly tough. They’ve continuously neglected to address their glaring need at quarterback in the last handful of years, whiffed on draft picks, have not taken risks as a franchise, and have not adapted to today’s style of NFL play.
Entering the season, the Giants were viewed as one of the NFL’s top tier teams in terms of talent, with Odell Beckham Jr. and 2nd overall pick Saquon Barkley leading the charge on offense with quarterback Eli Manning at the helm for his 15th NFL season, and the defense being anchored by All-Pro safety Landon Collins and newly-acquired linebacker Alec Ogletree, who came over from the Rams via trade.
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However, those predictions haven’t panned out. With this past weekend’s embarrassing shutout loss to the Tennessee Titans (the first time the Titans have shut out a team since 2000), the Giants have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. With that, they have now missed the playoffs every year but once – 2016 – since their Super Bowl win against Tom Brady in 2011, and find themselves with plenty of big decisions looming this upcoming offseason. A statement that’s been said each of the past few seasons it seems.
In the past handful of seasons, lots of events have transpired and decisions have been made – both good and bad – that have led the Giants to their current situation. Let’s take a look at what’s surrounded the New York Giants organization in recent years.
When losing culture hits a team, fingers begin to point in a lot of different directions to blame for such poor results. In the humongous New York spotlight, all of this gets magnified a little extra. Since they missed the playoffs in 2012, former head coach Tom Coughlin, former GM Jerry Reese, owner John Mara and horrendously bad defenses have all been accused culprits for the team’s poor performance. In more recent years, it’s become the offense, beginning with Eli Manning and poor offensive line play (don’t even get me started on Ereck Flowers), along with Ben McAdoo, new GM Dave Gettleman, Odell Beckham and John Mara – still.
A substantial amount of the blame for the Giants situation in recent years can validly be put on Jerry Reese. The team’s former GM from 2007-2017 continuously whiffed on draft picks and ignored holes on the roster during his disappointing tenure, which can largely account for the talent deficiencies and lack of depth the Giants roster has had for a large part of this decade. Nobody the team drafted in the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts remain on the Giants roster, and only one pick from the 2014 and 2015 drafts remain (OBJ & Landon Collins).
Whiffing on draft picks has put the franchise in a sticky situation because it’s forced them to overpay in free agency to make up for roster holes. The Giants and Jerry Reese did this following the 2015 season by signing Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, and Olivier Vernon to lucrative contracts to bolster their defensive presence to make up for Reese’s draft mistakes. Each of them have loads of talent, but ultimately have not worth the price they paid outside of the 2016 season. Harrison recently was traded to the Lions for a late-round draft pick as a salary dump, and Jenkins and Vernon have struggled throughout this season.
One of the lone consistent bright spots of talent this team has had. Beckham is likely Reese’s most successful draft pick aside from Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010. He has brought his high energy, drama, flashy personality and consistent high level of play to New York, which has been like crack to the media. After missing the first four weeks of his rookie season, he came out and scored a touchdown against the Falcons in his first career game and hit the whip as he celebrated. This was a telling moment for what could come in the future.
Then, a few weeks later, Beckham made arguably the best catch in NFL history against the Dallas Cowboys in a losing effort (shocker) in just his fourth career game. The catch broke the internet and immediately affected his status as an NFL player and a celebrity. His jersey from that game now stands in Canton, OH among the legends. That singular play made him a force to be reckoned with in the NFL.
Since he entered the league in 2014, Beckham has broken tons of records, lived up to the Randy Moss comparisons he’s gotten, and has undoubtedly been a top five receiver each season. Most recently, he became the fastest wide receiver since the merger to reach 5,000 career receiving yards, doing it in just 54 games. For context, he missed 11 games in 2017 with a broken leg.
In Odell Beckham’s five years in the NFL, he’s also become arguably the biggest celebrity in football. And with celebrities, sometimes comes drama – especially in that New York spotlight. Public interviews calling out Eli’s play, matchup drama with Josh Norman, his relationship with the kicking net, the hotel room drug videos, questionable emotional maturity and the seemingly endless trade rumors that surrounded him early this year all brought attention to not only Beckham, but the organization.
Having a celebrity on the team with a more vocal personality that opposes the quietness of Eli Manning has not sat particularly well with owner John Mara. Mara was even forced to make comments about how Beckham should “talk less and play more” during an owner’s meeting earlier this year.
Despite the drama that comes with Beckham, however, he has given this team a spark and fans a reason to smile when watching games. His talent level and effort are second-to-none and he will ultimately go down as one of the NFL’s best receivers of all time despite the lack of team success. There’s no sugarcoating it though, he has to be more of a leader in order for this team to succeed.
Oh, Eli. The Giants’ forever-quarterback. He has reiterated to the media and the team that he believes he can still play at a high level, however, the tape and numbers speak for themselves. The beginning end of the Eli Era can be pinpointed to 2013, when he threw an eye-popping 27 interceptions. But even after the team revamped its receiving corps, Manning’s level of play has continued to deteriorate with age. His pure pocket-passing style of play has become increasingly outdated, as the NFL requires its quarterbacks to have mobility in order to succeed.
Manning has undoubtedly had a memorable career with the Giants and should be up for a first-ballot HOF induction eventually. He led the team to the biggest upset in NFL history, ranks in the top 10 in most important categories statistically, and has become New York’s sweetheart of sports. However, Manning has lost his touch, and has begun to take more blame for the Giants’ woes in recent years from fans. The team and coaches however continue to defend him.
At this point in time, the longer Manning plays, the more he is tarnishing the legacy he built as the Giants’ forever-quarterback, and in a way is innocently holding the team hostage. Those two Super Bowls were 11 and seven years ago, and he hasn’t had a good season statistically since 2015. He is due for a $23 million cap hit for the 2019 season, so a big decision for the Giants is coming very, very soon. Based off observation, most fans would agree though that it is in fact time to move in a fresher direction.
Tom Coughlin coached the Giants for 12 seasons, leading the team to a 102-90 record in his tenure. When he stepped down on January 4, 2016, following his third straight losing season, he told a crying Eli Manning that “it’s not your fault.” The way the Coughlin era ended in New York was certainly not ideal, but the Giants began their first head-coaching search in over a decade after it happened. Fans were heartbroken, happy, and everything in between regarding Coughlin’s decision. Nevertheless, it wasn’t short of emotional.
After he stepped down, the Giants knew something had to change in order to get back to their winning ways. This was a golden opportunity to start from scratch and overhaul the roster (including Eli Manning) and create a new identity. Ultimately, however, the Giants decided to promote from within by making the then offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo the 18th New York Giants coach in history. A decision that reflects their desire to maintain their class, but fueled their non-risk taking image. A decision that most Giant fans looking back would agree that they wish they didn’t make.
After two seasons with McAdoo, the Giants quickly moved on and decided to hire Pat Shurmur, former OC for the Minnesota Vikings and head coach for the Cleveland Browns. If you’ve watched this year, it’s certainly been a mess, but Shurmur’s abilities as a coach are there and the team can succeed with him with the right pieces beside him.
During McAdoo’s first year as head coach, the New York Giants went an impressive 11-5. Ironically with an offensive head coach, the team’s success was anchored by its defense. They ranked 1st in touchdowns allowed (25) and red zone defense, 2nd in scoring defense (17.8 ppg) and third down conversion percentage (35%). It was the most fun watching a Giants defense since the 2007 Super Bowl unit led by Michael Strahan.
Simultaneously, their offense was poor/abysmal. They ranked 26th in total points and points per game (19.4), 29th in rushing yards per game (88.3) and 25th in total yards and yards per game (330.7). The offense was equally as despicable to watch as the defense was fun to watch.
If that regular season could be summed up in one game, it would be the 10-7 victory against the Cowboys in week 14. They swept their division rivals that week during Dak Prescott’s historic rookie year when he led the Cowboys to a dazzling 13-3 record. Janoris Jenkins shutdown Dez Bryant in the midst of Jenkins’ career year, and the offense relied on the big play ability of Odell Beckham Jr. as he scampered for a 60-yard touchdown that put the Giants ahead late in the third quarter in an otherwise boring slug fest.
Despite the regular season success, the inexperience of the Giants showed in the playoffs as they got routed by the Packers at Lambeau 38-13. Odell dropped passes, the offense couldn’t find a hint of rhythm and the defense was out of gas.
Despite the ugly ending, it looked like good fortunes were in the works for the Giants.
A big year for the franchise, and not in a particularly pleasant way. Coming off of a fairly successful year, expectations were high internally and externally for the Giants. Instead, it proved 2016 to be nothing but a smoke screen.
The Giants were plagued by Murphy’s Law in 2017: Whatever can go wrong, did go wrong. Injuries to OBJ and newly-added Brandon Marshall depleted the receiving corps, offensive line play can be defined by how bad Ereck Flowers was, and the defense lost their swagger from the previous season.
It quickly became a lost cause of a season, almost as lost as Ben McAdoo’s permanently stumped face on the sidelines. McAdoo lost the team’s respect midway through the season after a 1-8 start (the team’s worst since 1980) and players quit on him. It was evident on the field and in the media. Mostly evident through Eli Apple, the team’s 2016 first-round pick became cancerous to the locker room, and after another bad start this year, they traded him to the Saints to avoid any further possibility of it.
The Giants ended the year 3-13 and fired Jerry Reese (finally) and McAdoo with a few games in the season remaining. On top of it all, McAdoo and Reese decided to bench Eli Manning and turned to Geno Smith for a game late in the season, snapping his consecutive-games-started streak at 210 games. The nice cherry on top to a disastrous year. However, they notched the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 draft that had a quarterback class as good as it gets.
Following 2017’s disaster, the Giants’ front office hired former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman as Jerry Reese’s replacement. To no one’s surprise, Gettleman was apart of the Giants organization prior to being hired as GM. Another example of Mara and the Giants keeping their tails between their legs and making a decision based on familiarity.
In his first offseason as GM, Gettleman made it known he wanted to beef up the offensive line by calling the guys he was going to bring in “hog mollies.” He followed that by making Nate Solder the highest paid left tackle in NFL history to make up for neglecting their offensive line deficiencies, but decided to let Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg – the only two consistent pieces the Giants had on their o-line – walk in free agency. Gettleman also traded for linebacker Alec Ogletree’s cringey salary, who has shown major weaknesses in coverage, and brought over veteran running back Jonathan Stewart from the Panthers on a horrendous $9 million deal, who has done a whole lot of nothing.
In that quarterback-heavy draft, the Giants chose to take Saquon Barkley with the 2nd overall pick, making him the highest drafted running back since Ezekiel Elliott a few years prior. This wasn’t a bad decision per se, considering how good Saquon has proved to be just as a rookie. However, they neglected their best opportunity to date to get Eli’s successor and curate a winning culture for the future.
It’s a pick we can’t fully deduce until Saquon, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen & Josh Allen reach their fullest potential, and for how long it lasts. For running backs, it usually proves to be about a decade at best. For now though, it’s panned out nicely. Most experts didn’t even predict Saquon to be this good this early on.
All of these moves have contributed to the abysmal season they’re having. The blame cannot be simply put on one person. In fact, it’s never been just one person. The Giants’ woes are collective, and the only way out of them, is collectively.
The misdirection the Giants have taken in the past few seasons has certainly cost them success. However, in a league like the NFL, turning a team around from a bottom feeder to a playoff contender is not as far-fetched as it used to be.
If the Giants can address the areas of glaring concern correctly and carefully, they can flip the switch. It begins with figuring out what to do with Eli Manning and his $23 million that he’s owed this upcoming season. Some would say get rid of him and draft a quarterback (Justin Herbert, Will Grier, or Dwayne Haskins) and some would say it’s best to ride out his contract until he retires or is no longer pursued by the team. The offensive line also needs more work, as they’ve allowed 46 sacks this year, the most of any season in Manning’s career.
On defense, it starts with either resigning or franchise-tagging star safety Landon Collins to start the rebuild of the defense, which could use about seven to nine new starters. Collins has made three consecutive Pro Bowls and has become a well respected captain on the team.
Whatever happens this offseason for the Giants, it will certainly be interesting to watch. The fate of the franchise’s next decade lies in a very select amount of decisions that will be made in the near future. Let’s hope they know that.
*cover image credit: Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Junior at Ball State University studying photojournalism.
Lover of music, travel, and photography.