“What the heck happened to the New York Giants?”
Of all the questions New York Giants fans submit for reader mailbags, this one is the most common received from angry and confused fans who were expecting a team coming off an 11-5 season to take a step forward—not backward—this year.
With an eye toward adding a fifth Lombardi trophy to the team’s lobby, the Giants have instead morphed into a battered, bruised, and disorganized mess that, while technically not eliminated from playoff consideration, even after a dismal 1-6 start, has dug a hole so deep that it’s going to take a miracle for them to salvage this disastrous season.
The reality of the situation is that despite the self-scouting the coaches and players have done, there is only so much they can change. The real changes probably won’t take place until after the season comes to an end.
The question for team co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch is, what degree of changes need to be made? Do they tear the entire operation down and rebuild it from scratch as the New York Jets have done? Do they chalk this season up to a string of bad luck and ill-timed injuries?
The next nine weeks should provide clarity regarding the players who really want to be here versus those who have mentally packed it in.
As for general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo, let’s look at where things stand with each and arrive at a conclusion regarding what direction makes the most logical sense for ownership to take by removing any emption from the thinking and working with the known facts.
General Manager Jerry Reese
Reese is completing his 10th season as the team’s general manager, a tenure that has seen the Giants win two Super Bowls, the first in 2007 (Reese’s first year on the job, after inheriting the team from his predecessor, Ernie Accorsi) and the second in 2011.
Since he was promoted to his current spot, the Giants are 89-78, but have also had just four seasons in which their won-loss record was better than .500 (2007, 2008, 2010 and 2016).
Along the way, this franchise has fallen into a vicious cycle under Reese’s watch that has slowly but surely eaten away at the very foundation upon which this team should be built.
Let’s start with the draft, beginning in 2010, since that class is still represented. Of the 54 draft picks chosen by the Giants since 2010, only defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has signed multiple contracts with the team.
Only 13 members from those same classes are starters on this year’s team (24.1 percent); eight are backups (14.8 percent), five are with other teams (9.3 percent) and 28 (51.9 percent) are out of the league altogether.
Let’s break down those numbers according to rounds. (Draft picks on the practice squad are counted as being out of the league.)
Giants Drafts 2010-2017
Out of League
(To be fair, some of the draft picks haven’t panned out due to injury, such as running back David Wilson and safety Chad Jones. We have included those players in the “out of the league” category.)
Let’s dig deeper into the failed draft picks, we get the following totals at each position that the Giants have failed miserably to address over the years:
This data shows that the biggest whiffs by the Giants in the draft have been in the defensive secondary and in the pit (offensive and defensive lines). This is significant, as you will see in a moment.
Free Agency and the Cap Management
This leads to the next point: free agency and the tendency to overspend. It’s rare that a team—any team—gets a “bargain” on a young player who’s just entering his prime. This is why you see these grossly inflated contracts being thrown around in free agency.
According to Spotrac, the allocation of the 2017 cap space is as follows:
|Unit||Amount||% of Cap|
The Giants’ shortcomings in the draft on the defensive line resulted in the team overspending on free-agent mulligans like Olivier Vernon (for Damontre Moore) and Damon Harrison (for Marvin Austin).
They also had to take Mulligans at cornerback for their failures, signing guys like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins (for Prince Amukamara) to huge contracts.
While the aforementioned free agents have been solid in their time with the Giants, because the Giants whiffed on defensive line and defensive backs, they overspent to fill those holes.
That money they had to throw at free agents might have otherwise be spent elsewhere, such as to fix the offensive line and linebackers, for example, or to retain some of the draft picks that did work out for them, such as defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins, but who went to other teams who were able to afford their services.
It’s this vicious cycle in which the Giants have found themselves trapped that has contributed, in part, to their struggles for consistency. Free agency is meant to supplement the occasional hole on a roster; when you use it to build because you’ve missed badly in the draft, that’s a problem!
While it’s true that a team won’t hit on every draft pick and that it won’t always be able to fill every need, because of the Giants’ failure to draft at certain positions, they have left themselves with no choice but to either cut corners or overspend to fill holes, both undesirable ways to build a roster.
Reese might be able to limit his exposure to the media, but his record is out there for everyone to see. It’s not a very good one and it’s one that has greatly contributed to where the Giants are today.
It’s also worth noting that between 2013 and 2015–all fruitless years–the Giants have changed the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator and the head coach. Reese has been a constant.
It’s time for the Giants to go in another direction at general manager—and that includes not promoting from within, as the Giants have done every time since George Young, their last general manager who was brought in from the outside.
It’s not ideal to expect a new general manager to have a head coach “forced” upon him—or a franchise quarterback, for that matter—but it can be done–Reese inherited both Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning.
Unless the Giants want to continue struggling with this unproductive cycle they seem to be stuck in, ownership will have to do some serious soul searching regarding tho they have in charge of sourcing the football talent.
Head Coach Ben McAdoo
The Giants took a big leap of faith when they named Ben McAdoo as the franchise’s 17th head coach in its history last year (in place of Tom Coughlin).
McAdoo, remember, is a man who was coming off two successful years as the team’s offensive coordinator, with this year as his first such venture with calling plays.
While the numbers were impressive—in 2015, the Giants’ offense was 8th overall in average yards per game (372); 6th in scoring (26.2 points per game) and 7th in passing (271.4 yards per game)—it also needs to be remembered that McAdoo had head coach Tom Coughlin, himself a former offensive coordinator and an offensive mind coach, as a safety net.
When McAdoo was promoted to replace Coughlin, the then-39-year-old rookie head coach already had a vision for how he wanted to build his football program: “Sound, smart and tough, committed to discipline and poise.”
It sounded good, and sure looked good on the T-shirts players and coaches received and the signage found throughout the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.
While McAdoo’s vision is solid, as any project manager knows, things rarely go according to plan. When the unexpected pops up, you need to have the ability to adjust, something McAdoo—at least so far—has not shown consistently.
For example, we have seen quite often with the offensive game plan, if something wasn’t working, the approach was to keep at it in hopes that things would eventually click.
Therein lies the first issue with McAdoo: lack of experience. While last year’s expectations were low and the team was able to sneak up on people, this year, that hasn’t been the case, as McAdoo has struggled with keeping the collective egos of those same players who recorded an impressive 11-5 record in check.
The root of McAdoo’s problems in his sophomore season as head coach boils down to the following:
The play calling has probably been McAdoo’s biggest misjudgment football-wise and is born of the rush he gets in knowing that his decisions have such a huge influence over how a game plays out.
What McAdoo soon found out—the hard way, no less—is that when things started to go south with the offense, he, as the play caller and principal architect of the system, now had to throw extra resources and time into fixing the mess.
That, in turn, left the defense and special teams to fend for themselves, a problem further magnified when cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had his blowup that led to a one-week suspension, and when Eli Apple hinted there was a cultural issue looming behind closed doors.
Eventually, McAdoo delegated the play-calling duties to Sullivan in what he insisted was his decision. Co-owner Steve Tisch said McAdoo made the “right decision,” but hinted that ownership had communication with McAdoo about the issue.
With the offense still struggling, it will be interesting to see if McAdoo resists the itch to take back the play-calling duties from Sullivan at any point this year. Doing so would be a mistake, no matter how much they struggle.
Perhaps one of the most important tangibles in any leadership role is the ability to communicate with your team beyond the basics.
Last year, as a new head coach, McAdoo seemed to push all the right buttons by selecting inspirational videos and such to motivate his team. The winning certainly didn’t hurt the efforts.
This year, however, McAdoo appears to have lost his touch a few times.
Let’s go back to the first day of training camp, when it was revealed that McAdoo wanted to present his team with lessons about empathy and perseverance.
Rather than go with anecdotes that might better resonate with his audience, he instead presented a poem, “If,” to his 25-and-under crowd, and an obscure pop culture tale of Frasier the Lion to his 26-and-older group.
There were two shortcomings with this approach. The first is that McAdoo should have presented both lessons to all the players.
The second shortcoming was the approach in itself. Perhaps a look at recent NFL Comeback Player of the Year winners might have driven the message home about not giving up no matter what, or a history lesson on the tireless work community service work done by the late Walter Payton, for whom the “Walter Payton Man of the Year” award is named after might have been a better example regarding empathy and caring for others?
Based on the small sample size of players whom the media interviewed regarding what they got out of the lessons after they were presented, neither seemed to be a resounding hit.
Consistently being inconsistent
Let’s be realistic. Some athletes are going to get preferential treatment ahead of others due to various circumstances.
However, the trick is to do so in such a way that it’s not so obvious, which is something McAdoo failed to do when he openly spoke about “consistency being inconsistent.”
It’s a slippery slope, but it can be done. For example, Odell Beckham Jr. had an ankle injury that limited him in practice, yet it was obvious that, given his credentials, Beckham is a player who’s going to play if he’s deemed ready to do so by the medical staff, practice or no practice, whereas a young undrafted free agent receiver who goes through the same plight probably won’t get on the field.
McAdoo’s intention is good, but where he came up short in judgment is in his selective criticism—e.g., when he more critically criticized Eli Manning, but used his “kid gloves” in handling Ereck Flowers.
Again, you can see where he was trying to go here—McAdoo realizes that nothing much bothers Manning and that maybe if the rest of the team sees the longest tenured Giant taking heat, they’ll realize that they’re not immune to it as well.
However, the soft handling of Flowers by McAdoo and the organization for that matter suggests that the left tackle is a bit more sensitive to criticism, which directly flies in the face of Reese’s statement made at his press conference that, “If you can’t take criticism, you should quit.”
Getting back to McAdoo, this is all about optics. When you hear the head coach criticizing the franchise quarterback, yet you see him giving a pass to others who are struggling either because they can’t get it done or aren’t working as hard to get it done, you are risking moving away from the “win as a team, lose as a team” concept that McAdoo has tried to preach.
A Muted Tongue
Several times in his young head coaching career, McAdoo has had a chance to stand up and take a stand about an issue, only to fumble the opportunity.
Actually to be more accurate, McAdoo has clearly shown his sweat when put in a position of having to comment on something that borderlines on controversy.
The most recent example occurred when McAdoo struggled with himself in wanting to express any displeasure about receiver Odell Beckham Jr’s tasteless act of simulating a urinating dog after scoring.
McAdoo’s postgame response after that Eagles game? “I’m going to have to see what they will place there.”
When asked about the action again, he said, “We don’t want to be kicking off from the 20 yard line. That’s not smart football and we aren’t playing smart football.”
Eventually McAdoo did address Beckham’s poor judgement a bit more directly, but not until team co-owner John Mara took the lead.
While McAdoo was 100 percent right in keeping the follow-up discipline internal, a simple statement condoning the act would have sent a strong message to the rest of the team that such nonsense flies directly in the face of the team’s “smart, tough, sound, committed to discipline and poise” mantra.
“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”
Going back to the training camp poetry lesson in which McAdoo tried to get his players to understand the concept of “empathy” and caring about one another, how bad did it look when Beckham suffered his season-ending ankle injury and the head coach just stood there on the sideline, his face in his play-calling card?
If the head coach is going to expect his players to fight for him and for the program, shouldn’t he then, in times like those, stop whatever he’s doing and—even if it’s for a moment or two—go out to the field to his injured player to offer words of encouragement or consolation?
Even as recently as last week, when linebacker B.J. Goodson suffered an ankle injury, McAdoo walked down the sideline and stood there like an onlooker.
Now, maybe he thinks he’d get in the way of the medical staff if he goes on the field, but again, a little compassion goes a long way, especially in such situations.
The next nine games are going to be important for McAdoo. If he can somehow come back more mature in his role as a head coach and more comfortable in communicating, he’ll stand a good chance at keeping the locker room together and keeping his job for the long-term.
Again, McAdoo is a young coach; as he gains callouses from the ups and downs of overseeing such a large program, he’ll learn to work and interact smarter.