3. Jerry Reese
Serving as a general manager in the NFL is similar to being the President of the United States. Pundits are quick to attribute a team’s successes to your predecessor, while laying failures squarely at your feet. The truth typically lies somewhere in the middle, as it is difficult to find immediate success in either position without a solid foundation before taking over, but failure can be immediate without the right people in place.
The two Super Bowl victories that the NY Giants were able to achieve, with Jerry Reese serving as the general manager, are often credited to the groundwork laid by his predecessor Ernie Accorsi. However, the truth is that while Accorsi certainly left Reese in an enviable situation with a solid roster, Reese was able to have immediate success via the draft and free agency in his first couple seasons, allowing the Giants to win two Super Bowls in his first five years.
Many also conveniently forget that Reese was the GM in training/waiting for years before taking over for Accorsi.
The idea of giving Accorsi the credit for Reese’s Super Bowl championships is likely due to the fact that the career of Reese plays out in two parts. The first part includes his first six seasons that resulted in the Giants going .500 or better, with three playoff appearances and two Super Bowl championships.
However, part two saw the Giants finish with a losing record four out of five seasons, with them only reaching the playoffs one time. During his final five seasons as general manager of the Giants, the team averaged just over six wins per season. That number is skewed by the 11-5 record of the 2016 season.
Much of the frustration with Reese centered around his inability to put together quality drafts. While Reese hit on players such as Ahmad Bradshaw, Jason Pierre-Paul, Odell Beckham Jr., and Landon Collins, he frequently missed on players early in the draft with picks such as Ereck Flowers and Aaron Ross in the first round and Marvin Austin and Clint Sintim in the second round.
Missing frequently on players in the first through fourth rounds led to a Giants team that lacked appropriate depth to be a legitimate contender. When Reese was fired in 2017, only one player remained on the Giants roster from the draft classes spanning from 2011-2013, in the form of Justin Pugh.
When Reese did hit on players in the draft, he hit big, such as the case with Odell Beckham Jr., who was drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft. However, Reese failed to hit more often than not. In fact, only 11 of the 42 players drafted from 2010-2015 became starters for the team. By 2018, when Dave Gettleman took over as general manager for Reese, only 10 players on the 53 man roster were drafted by Reese. By 2019, two years after Reese was let go, only four players on their roster were drafted by Reese.
As a result of poor drafting, the Giants were forced to fill massive roster holes with big free-agent signings. Following a 6-10 finish in 2015 that saw the Giants defense flounder, Reese spent $200 million in the offseason to upgrade the defense by signing free agents like Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins.
While it would pay immediate dividends with an 11-5 finish in 2016, it was not sustainable due to the streaky inconsistent play of Vernon and Jenkins and the continued lack of overall depth on defense. Following the 2016 season where the newly upgraded defense finished among the top in the league, they finished last in total defense in 2017, with the team finishing 3-13.
If his inability to develop a competitive roster during the second half of his tenure as general manager with the Giants wasn’t damning enough for Reese, his personnel moves were equally inept. Following the 2015 season, head coach Tom Coughlin was made the fall guy for the Giants falling to make the playoffs for four straight years, despite not being provided with a talented roster to compete.
Reese would decide to make then Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo the new head coach of the Giants. While the newly upgraded defense would allow McAdoo to find success in his first year with the team, finishing 11-5 and going to the playoffs, he would quickly lose the locker room and the team would implode in 2017.
The implosion would come to a head with the mishandling of the benching of Eli Manning. Inexplicably, the duo of McAdoo and Reese determined the best course of action for the team would be to bench Eli Manning, effectively ending his consecutive games started streak at 210 games, in favor of career backup Geno Smith.
The backlash from Giants fans and the reaction from the locker room would spell the demise for both Reese and McAdoo. Reese would be replaced by Kevin Abrams in the interim, while defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo would serve as the interim head coach.
The fact that Jerry Reese left the Giants roster in shambles through poor drafting and overpaid free agent signings, coupled with the damage done to the culture of the team by the coaching blunders of Ben McAdoo and the doubt the handling of the Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin situations cast over whether the franchise had any sense of direction moving forward, makes Reese squarely accountable for much of the Giants issues over the past decade.