With the right offseason moves, the New York Giants might just have another championship season in them.
I finally got around to cleaning up my desk this week, and I came across a piece of nostalgia that brought back some very warm memories.
Remember that season? Super Bowl championship, a top offensive line, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback, a functioning passing and running game and a defense like no other.
These days the Giants are a far cry from that 2007 team—or even the 2011 team that triumphed in Super Bowl XLVI, for that matter.
Gone are offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and running back Brandon Jacobs, two faces that were part of those two Super Bowl wins.
These days the Giants organization is facing a lot of questions, perhaps as many as they've ever faced during the Tom Coughlin era.
This week’s reader mailbag looks at just a few of those burning questions on the minds of you, the readers.
Who are some of the candidates to replace offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride?
Based on what I see on Twitter, former Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is the popular choice.
And why not? He has ties to the organization, and he was praised by co-owner John Mara who said, “We obviously think very highly of him.”
Does that mean Sullivan is the front-runner to return? I can think of a couple of reasons why he shouldn't be.
First, the offense he ran in Tampa is said to have been heavily influenced by his time spent working under Gilbride.
So if the Giants truly want to fix what Mara called a "broken" offense, does it really make sense to bring in a coordinator with the same philosophies?
Second, and perhaps more alarming, is that many of the results Sullivan had in Tampa this year were worse than what the injury-riddled Giants produced.
Here’s just a small sampling.
|Avg. Points / Game||8.4 (28th)||18.0 (30th)|
|Red Zone TDs / Game||47.2% (30th)||51.4% (23rd)|
|Yards / Game||307.5 (28th)||277 (32nd)|
|3rd Down Conversion %||33% (30th)||31% (31st)|
|Receiving Yards / Game||242.2 (20th)||198 (32nd)|
Sources: NFL.com and Team Rankings.com
If the Giants' goal is to shake things up, then they need a fresh perspective calling the plays. Also, it would not be surprising if the offensive coordinator draws double-duty as the quarterbacks coach, tasked with getting Eli Manning’s mechanics straightened out.
So who is the most appealing offensive-minded coach who can do all that and perhaps then some?
How about Hue Jackson?
Jackson is currently finishing his first season as the Cincinnati Bengals running backs coach; prior to 2013, he coached their secondary and assisted with special teams.
Jackson’s biggest success story of late was his work with Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the most recent Super Bowl MVP, whom he tutored in 2008 and 2009.
What is most appealing about Jackson is that he’s not only been an NFL offensive coordinator, he’s also coached the running backs and receivers at the pro level. This experience certainly can't hurt when it comes to identifying how to optimize the talent he's given for his offense.
Norv Turner, most recently with Cleveland, is another popular name making the rounds as a possible successor to Gilbride. However, his biggest success story has been Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, whom Turner tutored as part of an offense that went on to win multiple championships under Jimmy Johnson.
If you look at his recent body of work with Cleveland, it's not quite as solid. First-round pick Brandon Weeden struggled to progress, and that is certainly not a feather in Turner's cap.
Joe Lombardi, the quarterbacks coach for New Orleans, is mentioned by fans as being a favorite. However, he might not be an ideal fit for a couple of reasons.
One, Drew Brees was already an established quarterback when Lombardi took over as his position coach.
Two, the Giants offense is looking at a massive overhaul at every position except quarterback.
Putting all of the new pieces together—and bear in mind that it will be months before the coaches know for sure what players they'll have to work with in 2014—might be a lot to put on a young coach with no prior NFL experience as an offensive coordinator.
Certainly you can point to Steve Spagnuolo as a young defensive assistant who was ready to take the leap up to coordinator. However, the difference is that Spagnuolo had a veteran group with which to work while he was with the Giants.
When he moved on to the Rams, a team that seems to be in an annual rebuilding mode, he didn't have the same kind of success as a head coach.
Lombardi might very well make a good offensive coordinator someday, but if the Giants want to quickly get back into the playoff hunt, they would probably be better off with an experienced offensive coordinator.
Which free-agent running back do you see as a good fit for the Giants?
I really like Detroit's Joique Bell as a potential reinforcement to a running backs unit that lost Brandon Jacobs to retirement and that is not counting on having David Wilson as its starting running back in 2014, per ESPN.
Bell, who started his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles, finally started to get carries in 2012 when he played in 16 games.
In 2013, Bell advanced up the depth chart and was even given four starts this season. Although he'll turn 28 on his next birthday, Bell's limited touches—he’s run for 1,064 yards on 248 carries with 11 touchdowns—make him a desirable prospect.
If that's not reason enough to like Bell, how about his work as a receiver out of the backfield, in which he's posted 105 receptions for 1,032 yards.
Certainly Bell has had some ball security issues, losing five of the six fumbles in his career, but that should be something that Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram should be able to fix.
But isn't Bell a restricted free agent?
Yes he is, but let's look a little closer at the Lions' situation.
First, per Over the Cap, the Lions have $124,988,965 committed to their 2014 salary cap. If reports about the 2014 NFL salary cap being estimated at $126.3 million (per USA TODAY) turn out to be true, that leaves the Lions with approximately $1.311 million of cap space with which to work as of this writing.
Running back Mikel Leshoure is already under contract for 2014 at a base salary of $645,000. So too are Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick. Thus, would it make sense for the Lions to tender Bell, whom they signed as a free agent in 2011, at the original-round tender that will top last year's rate of $1.33 million?
Even if they did, because Bell was not a draft pick, any team that signs him would not be obligated to surrender a draft pick—unless, of course, Bell were tendered at a higher level warranting draft picks as compensation.
Detroit Lions insider Tim Twentyman believes that Detroit should do everything it can this offseason to retain Bell. However, that might be easier said than done given the money, as Bush counts for $4.5 million against the Lions' 2014 cap.
If they cut Bush, they would be charged $3 million in dead money, not a smart move for a team that as of right now doesn't have much room to work with.
Who is to blame for draft issues?
It would be too easy—and unfair—to blame one individual since no one outside of the Giants personnel department knows exactly where the breakdowns are happening.
(Side note: If you want to get some insight into how scouting reports are prepared, some suggested reading includes James Alder’s “Evaluating NFL Draft Prospects” and B/R’s own Edwin Weathersby’s “A Scout’s Take on How College Football Recruits Are Evaluated”)
With all due respect to John Mara’s opinion that, “If you look at it and look at each year and compare it with most other teams, I still think we have as good an evaluation system and group of people here as anybody,” I disagree.
Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger points out, the Giants’ results pale by comparison to Seattle’s if you consider that the Seahawks are currently fielding eight of 11 starters on defense who were third-round picks or later.
Still, Mara concedes that his team has “missed on some guys.” However, the most telling statement that the co-owner made was this: “There are a few cases where we took a chance, knowing that we were taking a chance, thinking that if we hit on this guy, maybe we’ll knock it out of the park.”
The entire drafting process is a big enough risk as is, and yes, teams are going to get burned. However, when you compound the standard risks with swinging for a pitch way outside of the strike zone, you're going to consistently put your team behind.