What is the New York Giants plan to improve their defense?

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

At his year-end press conference New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman gushed that his offense scored the most points in the NFC East.

Great accomplishment? Consolation prize? More likely, something for the New York Giants beat writers to chew on at the presser. After all, we can’t blame Gettleman for trying to put a happy spin on the team’s 5-11 record.

Pointing out the warts, that’s a job for the critics, and these pages, after all. But Big Blue Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously said: “You are what your record says you are.” Let’s not lose site of that fact that the New York Giants record was an sightly 5-11.

In order to refresh everyone’s memory, Gettleman also acknowledged that his defense gave up the most points in the NFC East, so that mitigates (or should) his offensive euphoria. At his press conference, Gettleman did at least address the conundrum.

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Per the team’s official website:

"“We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.”"

As far as the offensive line goes, many analysts understand that left tackle Nate Solder was brought in to stabilize the position. Those who want to nitpick, argue his salary and the wisdom of the signing.

They don’t want to understand that Solder was absolutely critical piece to an otherwise lousy puzzle. He did not perform as badly as he was portrayed in some circles. Bringing in rookie guard Will Hernandez was a good move also.

But part of the plan also included signing journeyman guard Patrick Omameh, and moving tackle Ereck Flowers from the left side to the right side. Both moves certainly blew up on the New York Giants, and these two missteps were largely predictable, based upon past performance.

The reason to mention this is because a similar rebuild dynamic applies to the defense this offseason. History has shown us, that this overhaul has to be thoughtful and comprehensive, otherwise defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme won’t work.

Remember the New York Giants didn’t draft a defensive player until the third-round last season. And truthfully, the G-Men didn’t acquire anyone in the draft who moved the defensive needle too much.

Sure lineman B.J. Hill and linebacker Lorenzo Carter have potential, but face facts, Big Blue didn’t snag a Darius Leonard (Indianapolis Colts), Donte Jackson (Carolina Panthers) or Da’Shawn Hand (Detroit Lions).

All three players were first-team rookies, but not first-round draft picks. Leonard and Jackson were snagged in Round 2, while Hand was a steal in Round 4 (see Lauletta, Kyle).

According to Pro Football Reference, six of the past seven New York Giants first-round draft picks have been spent on offensive players. In that mix, unfortunately, the one defensive player happens to be cornerback Eli Apple.

In actuality, that means the defense doesn’t have an existing first-round defensive pick on the squad. And you can’t expect to build a defense by continually ignoring defensive needs at draft time. In that case, the general manager has to rely on the open market.

Hence what Jerry Reese did in 2016 in signing defenders Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. Reese’s only option was to overpay these very good players, and to an extent it provided a temporary fix.

But you can’t keep on whiffing on draft picks in building two separate 11-man units.

Normally, wholly transformational players are not available on the open market via free agency or trade. In fact, only a few come to mind over the past 30 years or so: Reggie White (Green Bay Packers), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints), Marshall Faulk (St. Louis Rams), Curtis Martin (New York Jets), Jerome Bettis (Pittsburgh Steelers), Eric Dickerson (Indianapolis Colts) and Charles Woodson (Green Bay Packers).

You could slide Deion Sanders into the mix, although he did become somewhat of a vagabond toward the end of his NFL career.

Add Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack to that list, as the Chicago Bears snagged a good one last September. On the other hand, getting Mack would have represented a fool’s errand for the New York Giants. The franchise was in no position to add the former Oakland Raiders star due to salary cap considerations, as well as the number assets needed to obtain Mack.

Fast forward to right now. Many mock drafts have the New York Giants selecting Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins at No. 6, even though the strength of this draft is clearly on the defensive side of the ball. Can Gettleman really ignore several defenders who will be available for the New York Giants to select?

Unfortunately for Big Blue, free agency comes first, even though for rebuilding franchises like the New York Giants, that’s putting the cart before the horse.

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Heading into free agency requires planning, so the New York Giants could try to hone in on quarterback Nick Foles, so that the team’s draft picks can be spent on defense. Otherwise, they are going to have to throw buckets of cash at Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas Caowboys), Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles) or Trey Flowers (New England Patriots), and hope for the best with Haskins.

Note – Expect the Houston Texans to slap the franchise tag on Jadeveon Clowney.