We Need to Talk About The New York Giants
There is a general narrative around the NFL that Eli Manning can’t play - that he’s old or weak or it’s too much for him. Eli Manning is being blamed for the Giants’ dismal performance over the past several seasons - the claim being that a different, better quarterback would somehow have managed to drag this team, that is riddled with issues, to Super Bowl Glory. Now I’m no Eli Manning fan - I always thought he was good, not great, and it is clear that he is at the tail-end of his career - but surely these assertions can’t be true. Well, let’s take a look at some film - that will give us a reliable indication of his performance. Strong Opinion Sports on YouTube has a great video where he analyses Eli Manning‘s film and what we see is that Eli Manning is fine. Eli Manning can still play event this stage of his career. I recently wrote an article where I suggested that the Giants should acquire Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals - he is a gifted QB who would benefit from sitting behind someone like Eli Manning for a year. He is both highly talented and incredibly hard-working and would be, I think, a excellent fit for this team. Some will try to assert that Rosen can never be successful because he is too static and can’t escape trouble. And yes, mobility is one of the weaker components of his game but the Giants themselves have won two Super Bowls with the less-mobile Eli Manning, and New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has won six Super Bowls and is considered by many to be the Greatest of All Time despite being much less mobile than other QBs. All this is to say that Eli Manning is not the reason for the Giants’ awful performance. There is something else wrong.
For starters, the Giants’ defence is horrible. Genuinely awful to watch. In fact, last season the defence gave up the most points in their division and was ranked 24th in the NFL. They were also tied 30th in the league for number of sacks recorded with 30. There were problems on the offensive side of the ball too - the O-line is appalling, and there were lots of distractions created on/off the field by star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. OBJ is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the league, but his behaviour has a tendency to cause issues for him and the team - he is a passionate and emotional guy and tends to show that both on and off the field. At the beginning of the 2018 season, whilst recovering from a broken leg, Beckham signed a massive five-year deal with the Giants, seemingly guaranteeing his place there for the foreseeable future. But the relationship between the Giants and OBJ became more and more strained as the 2018 season progressed and Beckham’s frustrations began to show. He lashed out in the media and was visibly infuriated on the sidelines and on the field. And perhaps most confusingly, Eli Manning was worse when he was passing to OBJ - it was like he was cracking under the pressure.
‘Cracking under the pressure’ would also describe the Giants’ offensive line. Despite the notable signing of former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, Pro Football Focus ranked the Giants’ O-line 21st in the league and Manning was sacked 47 times throughout the season. These issues with the offensive line forced the Giants and Manning to adopt a different play style - Manning focused on short underneath throws to move the chains rather than attempting big downfield plays to OBJ. In my opinion, the offensive line is the most significant factor in Manning’s performance - he is not a young guy, and he’s not a mobile guy - you have to protect him, you have to give him the time to make the big plays. Arguably, Nate Solder is the biggest issue with the line - I’m not suggesting he was the worst player on that line, but he was signed from the dominant New England Patriots to a four year, $62 million contract. That is a lot of money for the Giants to pay and a big hit to the salary cap, so they need to see production worthy of that spend, and I’m afraid I didn’t see it. Admittedly, he played better in the second half of the season, but for that money I want him to dominate the game, and he simply didn’t. It is a bad contract - that is the simple truth.
Understandably, Giants fans are upset. Football fans are upset. The New York Giants are such a staple part of the NFL, such a well-known brand all over the world - the NFL needs the Giants, and it needs them to be good - a competitive Giants team is good for the NFL. This means the buck has to stop somewhere and seemingly that somewhere is GM Dave Gettleman. Gettleman signed Nate Solder to a ludicrous contract and paid him way over market value with huge salary cap implications. Gettleman chose to use the second overall pick to draft a running back rather than one of the several promising young QBs in that draft to build a team around. Gettleman allowed star, young safety Landon Collins to become a free agent and sign for a division rival. Gettleman traded away Odell Beckham - one of the best wide receivers in the league. It’s easy to argue that Gettleman is responsible for another poor season in New York, that Gettleman is tearing the team apart. It’s hard to believe that these seemingly negative moves are part of a grand plan to return the Giants to competitive play.
The Beckham trade is perhaps the deepest of the cuts Gettleman has caused. And certainly the freshest. Beckham is, as I’ve already established, a superstar and widely regarded as one of the league’s best players. There is a lot of people of the opinion that you should never trade a guy like that - that when a player has talent of that magnitude, any other issues can be overcome. But Gettleman and the Giants did trade him, and there is now an OBJ-sized hole in that Giants offence. Over in Pittsburgh, a similar story is unfolding. After a tumultuous season that saw the team narrowly miss the playoffs, star wide receiver Antonio Brown - one of the best players in the league - has been traded to the Raiders. Sounds familiar, right? Talented superstar wide receiver traded away. In Pittsburgh, the departure of Brown will allow JuJu Smith-Schuster - a capable wide receiver in his own right - to flourish and become WR1. Similarly, in New York, I believe Sterling Shepherd will be unleashed by the departure of OBJ and will have the best season of his career. Shepherd is a talented receiver even if he doesn't have the same superstar power as Odell Beckham or Antonio Brown.
The Giants also have another weapon. A guy that many in New York believe is THE guy. A player drafted second overall last year - Saquon Barkley. I was among the many in the NFL community who thought Gettleman had made a terrible mistake by choosing to use that 2018 pick on a running back despite it being a strong year for quarterbacks. But Saquon Barkley is a truly special player. In his rookie season, Barkley had over 1,300 rushing yards and over 700 receiving yards whilst scoring 15 touchdowns. He was elected to the Pro Bowl and named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year as well as breaking several league and franchise records. His play was game-changing, and if I were a Giants fan, I would be incredibly excited by the prospect of a future with a star of that calibre on my team.
Which brings us to now, draft week 2019 - one year after the Giants took their stud running back. In this year’s draft the Giants have twelve picks, which is tied for most in the league, including two in the first round. In my first-round mock draft, I have the Giants taking DE Rashan Gary with the sixth overall pick and OT Jonah Williams with the seventeenth. As I discussed earlier in this article, the Giants defence is not good. Rashan Gary is a big, talented, and versatile edge rusher with an even bigger personality who can bring so much to that Giants D and will be biggest NYG defensive star since the legendary Michael Strahan. Jonah Williams is a flexible player with the ability to play well as a tackle or a guard and will be a really key addition to a struggling offensive line. I also believe that the Giants will trade some of their remaining picks in order to acquire QB Josh Rosen from the Cardinals to eventually replace Eli Manning. The sheer number of picks available to the Giants provides an excellent opportunity to draft great players all over the field.
It is clear, then, that the real story of the New York Giants right now is not Eli Manning or Odell Beckham or Dave Gettleman or any other single person, the real story is the future. Last year, I believed the Giants should use their first-round pick to acquire Josh Rosen, and I was critical when Dave Gettleman instead chose to draft a running back. But Saquon Barkley is a generational talent and will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of the Giants’ future. And it looks increasingly like the Giants will have the opportunity to acquire Josh Rosen for a less price than they would’ve paid to draft him last year. Their bevvy of picks in this year’s draft allows them to add key players in positions all over the field and introduce a new generation of NYG stars to fans the world over. Though they lost a superlative talent, they are free from the unrelenting torrent of distractions both on and off the field that characterised a lot of OBJ’s time at New York. The story right now for the New York Giants is one of hope, of faith, of a team on the brink of a comeback. The story of a team with a rich history and, fans hope, an even richer future