New York Giants: Growing pains of a competitive ‘rebuild’

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images) /

When the New York Giants brought in general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur, it was decided that the team didn’t need a gut rehab.

Instead, there were enough existing pieces on the New York Giants, like cornerback Janoris Jenkins, interior defender Damon Harrison and edge rusher Olivier Vernon, to make a playoff run in 2018. Factoring into that decision was quarterback Eli Manning, who was given a vote of confidence by the new administration.

In order to augment this “competitive rebuild”, the team would have to draft pro-ready players to tighten up areas on the offense. There may not have been two more ready prospects than running back Saquon Barkley and offensive lineman Will Hernandez in the 2018 NFL Draft.

So where does Big Blue stand after three games in the preseason?

To be fair, anyone who thought it would be “mission accomplished” at this point wears some serious rose-colored glasses. We could slap the work-in-progress tag on the team, but that would be the equivalent of saying water is wet.

In reality, all NFL teams are a work-in-progress.

It should be simpler to evaluate these New York Giants coming off last season’s 3-13 debacle than it currently is. Because of the nature of this rebuild, which by the way is fully endorsed by ownership, winning results matter right now. This team cannot go 6-10 and claim we got valuable experience for the young guys.

There’s also the specter of the 11-5 playoff team from 2016 that hovers over the current landscape. Is this team closer to the 3-13 version or the 11-5 playoff team? It’s a question that has no answer.

The Holdovers

The reason teams fire coaches emanates from the fact that it is impossible to fire 53 players. Based upon last season, there are probably 35 players who should have been fired off of the results of a pathetic 3-13 campaign. On the other hand, if you want to blame Ben McAdoo completely, go ahead.

The fact of the matter is that the team won one of four games under Steve Spagnuolo. If you want to blame injuries, now you’re sounding like Jerry Reese. Heck, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl with their back-up quarterback.

With that in mind, the competitive rebuild has to utilize underperforming players as part of its core strategy. One player in the category happens to be quarterback Eli Manning, and so far, he hasn’t been an issue. But few of us suspected he would be. Realistically, his skills are decreasing every day. At this point in his career, he’ll have to morph into a game manager. With assets like Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley at his disposal, that can be achieved.

But what about tackle Ereck Flowers and cornerback Eli Apple, two high first-round selections?

Both were unimpressive again against the New York Jets. For a mammoth person, it’s shocking how Flowers can be continually bull rushed. It’s also ironic because the far easier path to the Giants quarterback is to get Flowers backpedalling.

It’s always great when the television analyst tells us that the game plan is to throw opposite Janoris Jenkins. Opinionated color analysts actually indicate that teams are looking to exploit Apple.

No kidding!

Anointing Apple a starter, and shifting Flowers to the right side hasn’t been a magic elixir. Not for one minute do we blame Shurmur or Gettleman for this strategy. But we also think that they will find out that it isn’t a matter of coaching these guys up. Hopefully, they come to that conclusion sooner rather than later, because quite frankly, it’s inevitable.

There are other guys who fall into this category, but those players have a bit more of a positive track record. We’re talking about linebacker B.J. Goodson, interior defender Dalvin Tomlinson and our favorite – Landon Collins. All are valuable players on this team, and would be valuable contributors on almost every other NFL team.

The Reinforcements

This is where the competitive rebuild becomes trickey. With guaranteed contracts, there’s no escape hatch to get rid of players like Apple or Flowers. If you cut them, you eat their salaries. In my world, I’d keep both Flowers and Apple because they are better or at least equal to back-ups around the league.

New York Giants
New York Giants /

New York Giants

In terms of reinforcement, this is where team brass invested money and/or draft picks into players for a specific purpose. A few guys quickly come into mind: Kareem Martin, Alec Ogletree, Patrick Omameh, Nate Solder, Jonathan Stewart and wideout Cody Latimer.

Latimer and Solder appear to be trending in the right direction. The others on this list range from inconsistent to concerning. First, based upon his coverage skills, it’s unlikely that Ogletree can be a three-down linebacker. Can’t be a leader if you’re not on the field. Let’s see how Ogletree evolves before we call him a success or failure.

With Odell Beckham on the shelf, there should have been more of an emphasis to see what Latimer could do. Let him develop chemistry with Manning. Instead, we have to watch Hunter Sharp and Jerell Adams drop passes. Right now, it seems like Latimer could be an important cog in the Giants offense, especially if Evan Engram has to miss any time with his concussion.

Martin will be okay, and he has the built-in advantage of knowing James Bettcher’s defense. Whether or not he becomes a solid to great defensive presence is anyone’s guess. But remember the team has bigger fish to fry than to pick apart Martin’s production right now.

As for Patrick Omenah and Jonathan Stewart, one word comes to mind – yikes! Right now, it appears that Omenah isn’t even an upgrade from John Jerry. Think about that for a second.

And shame on Dave Gettleman for bringing in Jonathan Stewart. It’s an old trick from the GM 101 class. Bring in a veteran player that will help the transition to a new administration. Okay, fair enough. But the self-avowed film junkie, Gettleman, obviously didn’t do his homework on Wayne Gallman, who has been solid to very good this preseason.

In addition to his poor play, Stewart is a salary cap albatross, where money could have been used more effectively at cornerback or the offensive line. And to completely beat this dead horse, the veteran solution was right in front of them – Orleans Darkwa! Younger, faster and cheaper than Stewart.


The Young Guns

There is only one way NFL teams get younger, that’s by stripping it down to the studs. Sure, injecting Will Hernandez, Saquon Barkley and B.J. Hill into the starting line-up helps, but I’m not sure that Big Blue will be any younger this season than last.

The difference means when in doubt, play the younger guy. In a complete rebuild, the team sinks or swims with cornerback Grant Haley, Wayne Gallman behind Barkley at running back and Chad Wheeler at right tackle.

It also starts Lorenzo Carter opposite Olivier Vernon at linebacker.

None of this could be done now because the New York Giants traded for Ogletree and signed Stewart, Martin and William Gay.

Overall, the biggest problem with the competitive rebuild comes from the fact that veterans have to play themselves out of the starting line-up. The best example of that dynamic can be demonstrated in the Stewart – Gallman competition. We found out on Friday, if not earlier, that the guy already on the roster was better than the imported veteran.

In addition to stifling the young players, bringing in veterans eats up valuable salary cap space. And more than anything the salary cap crunch necessitated the trade of center-guard Brett Jones. By any measure, Jones’ $2.9 million remains less than Stewart’s $3.45 million, but Stewart’s money is guaranteed, so he won’t be cut. The point being that accumulating veterans for a competitive rebuild comes at a cost.

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All of these factors demonstrate that the competitive rebuild may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Keep in mind, that every NFL team has its fair share of great players. What separates the playoff teams from the non-contenders is depth. The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl without their two most important position players.  Keep that in mind when in 2020, the team tries to figure out if Davis Webb is truly a starting NFL signal-caller.