New York Giants: State of the Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
Last week, President of the United States Barrack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address to the American people.
This week, I will provide New York Giants fans with an equally important update: The State of the Franchise.
The Super Bowl is now in the rearview mirror, so the Giants are back to sharing MetLife Stadium with only the crosstown rival New York Jets. As the championship fanfare slowly dissipates in the city of New York, a heavy dose of reality will fall upon the Giants heading into 2014.
After a 7-9 season in which New York finished third in the NFC East, the Giants will attempt to restore both divisional dominance and future playoff hopes.
This article will highlight the changes the team has already made this offseason, in addition to the upcoming moves Big Blue must make in free agency and the draft.
2013 in Review
The Giants' 2013 season was a forgettable one.
After an 0-6 start, New York's playoff hopes were all but lost. This signaled that a tricky offseason was approaching, as the chance of a Giants' postseason berth was slim to none. It was clearly below the standards General Manager Jerry Reese set for the team before the season began.
A painful loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 6 spurred a four-game winning streak in which the Giants took advantage of several subpar quarterbacks. They beat a Josh Freeman-led Minnesota Vikings team, a Matt Barkley-led Philadelphia Eagles team and a Scott Tolzien-led Green Bay Packers team.
Surging at 4-6 in a weak division, the prospect of making the playoffs was still somehow a reality. Those odds were quickly crushed, as an overly talkative Giants team fell to a rival Dallas Cowboys squad, 24-21, on a last-minute field goal in Week 12.
The loss to the Cowboys, New York's seventh of the season, all but sealed the Giants' fate. The team was sunk and promptly dropped two of its next three contests, which included embarrassing thrashings at the hands of the San Diego Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.
Still, 5-9 and well out of the playoff hunt, the Giants somehow summoned enough motivation to claim victories in the final two contests of the year. First, Big Blue snagged an unexpected overtime victory over the Detroit Lions and, then, dominated the Washington Redskins with a cast of mostly reserves in the season finale.
The 7-9 Giants overcame a miserable start to finish the season in the middle of the pack, thanks to a 7-3 run over the final 10 contests of the year. Quarterback Eli Manning had probably his worst season as a professional, though, as his career-high 27 interceptions clearly marked the end of New York's offensive effectiveness.
The defense was stable enough, ranking eighth in the league in terms of total yardage allowed. The offense, on the other hand, was deemed "broken" by team co-owner John Mara, according to The Star-Ledger. Most of the changes this offseason are expected to occur on the offensive side of the ball.
As expected, New York's defensive coaches stayed intact. As soon as it was clear that head coach Tom Coughlin was not in danger of losing his job, the duties of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and his assistants were secured for at least another year.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride wasn't as safe. Opting to retire at the age of 62 rather than face the axe that was sure to come, the Giants were without the man who had conducted the team's offensive show since before Super Bowl XLII. A new offensive era was on the horizon for New York.
The man chosen to replace Gilbride was former Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. Stepping aside from his grooming of elite Packers passer Aaron Rodgers, McAdoo was chosen over former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinators Mike Sullivan and Dowell Loggains, respectively, for the Giants job.
McAdoo is expected to blend his offensive philosophy with that of Coach Coughlin's, birthing a new offensive scheme with an aim to revive Eli Manning and his slumping platoon. McAdoo's background is ripe with West Coast offense experience, so he is expected to bring along some fresh ideas from that school of thought.
Supplanting Gilbride with McAdoo was hardly the only ripple New York made in its offensive coaching staff this offseason. Tight ends coach Mike Pope, who was with the team for all four Super Bowl victories, and running backs coach Jerald Ingram, who was with the Giants since Coughlin's arrival in 2004, were both fired.
Gilbride, Pope and Ingram were all longtime assistants of Coughlin's, so their sudden departures from the organization shows that the team means business when it comes to curing the Giants' ailing offense.
Kevin M. Gilbride, son of the recently departed coordinator, will coach tight ends after coaching wide receivers a season ago. Sean Ryan will move from quarterbacks coach to receivers coach, a position he previously held.
Craig Johnson, who last coached quarterbacks with the Minnesota Vikings, is the Giants' new running backs coach, while former Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will serve as the team's quarterbacks coach in 2014.
A lot will be expected of these new coaches, as they attempt to pioneer an offensive turnaround.
The Giants have several holes to fill in free agency; a few vacancies, however, are also expected to arise.
New York's first order of business should be to take care of its own players slated to become free agents, as detailed by Spotrac.
High-profile free agents, such as defensive tackle Linval Joseph and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, may not be with the team in 2014. Both Joseph and Nicks just concluded the final year of their rookie deals, so the pull of a big payday is particularly strong with these two players. Their value will be optimized on the open market, not with a hometown discount.
There's also 30-year-old defensive end Justin Tuck, the captain of New York's defense. After a couple of subpar seasons, Tuck exploded for 11 sacks in 2014. The team would almost certainly love to have their defensive leader return for a 10th season, but Tuck says he will test the market this spring, according to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post.
Other players, such as linebacker Jon Beason, cornerback Terrell Thomas, running back Andre Brown and guard Kevin Boothe, could potentially be retained by the Giants, but neither interest from the team nor the aforementioned players has been reported upon in recent weeks.
NJ.com's Jordan Raanan anticipates the re-signing of safety Stevie Brown, who missed all of 2013 with an ACL injury. Kicker Josh Brown and the Giants are also reportedly close to agreeing upon the terms of a new deal, according to NJ.com.
When the Giants lock up all their desired players currently under contract, the focus will then shift to the open market. Full-fledged free agency opens up at 4 p.m. EST on March 11, and at that point the Giants will enter into a bidding war with the NFL's 31 other teams.
Offensively, the Giants could use a starting lineman. They could also afford to bring in talent at either tight end or wide receiver. Come to think of it, a running back wouldn't be a bad addition either.
The Giants will need to use free agency to bolster all aspects of the offense, but the team's top targets should be guard Matt Slauson (Chicago Bears), tight end Jermichael Finley (Green Bay), wide receiver James Jones (Green Bay) and running back Ben Tate (Houston Texans).
New York's defensive direction in free agency will be determined by which of the current players the team decides to retain. A proven linebacker, however, would almost certainly be a welcomed addition.
The Giants need to nail the upcoming draft, more so than past drafts.
In need of immediate contributors, the focus of Big Blue's 2014 draft should be to acquire NFL-ready talent. In the past, the team has feasted upon athletically raw draft projects. In some cases, like that of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the pick has paid off. In other cases, like those of second-rounders Clint Sintim and Marvin Austin, the pick has blown up in the team's face.
By selecting cleaner prospects, New York may miss out on the desirable high upside of Pierre-Paul-type picks, but it should provide a smoother transition for their upcoming rebuild. If a couple of starters, or even major contributors, can be plucked from this year's draft, the Giants will have a fighting chance to complete a successful turnaround.
The Giants' biggest draft need lies along the offensive line. Some will argue that a unique talent at tight end, like North Carolina's Eric Ebron, who has the potential to squeak into New York's first-round draft plans. However, offensive linemen Greg Robinson of Auburn and Jake Matthews of Texas A&M are both much more valuable first-round options.
In the middle rounds, the Giants should look to bolster their depth on the defensive side of the ball.
The selection of a difference-making defensive back could prove to be valuable for a unit that tends to sustain several injuries per year. New York could bring in yet another pass-rusher in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft; Oregon defensive end Taylor Hart (6'6", 292 lbs) possesses some intriguing size, if that's the route Big Blue opts to travel.
The later rounds of the draft rarely yield starting talent, yet the Giants may be able to locate a sleeper pick. They've done so in the past with players like seventh-round running back Ahmad Bradshaw (2007) and sixth-round linebacker Jacquian Williams (2011), who still wields unique athleticism, despite some injury-slowed progression at the professional ranks.
Some ideal sleeper candidates are Alabama State running back Isaiah Crowell, who once starred for the Georgia Bulldogs, and three-time FCS champion left tackle Billy Turner of North Dakota State.
Even with coaching changes, frugality in free agency and precision in the draft, New York is not guaranteed a successful turnaround.
Putting the proper pieces in place is only half the battle. From that point, the Giants must get those many pieces—old and new—to work in perfect synchronization.
That, of course, begins in organized team activities. The most basic terminology and earliest wrinkles will be divulged at these premature practices, as the foundation for a winning season will be built brick by brick, play by play. After OTAs, the Giants will engage in the most essential practice period built into the NFL calendar: training camp.
At training camp, the Giants coaching staff, including those who were recently added or re-assigned, will evaluate an overinflated roster, which should boast several young, promising draftees, as well as some battle-tested free agents. Some young draft picks may even compete for starting positions, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
It is during training camp that a team is molded, for the most part, into the unit we witness on Sundays during the regular season.
The original 90-man roster that enters camp must first be pared down to 75 men before it reaches its finalized, 53-man form. Sometimes, due to injuries and unexpected developments, the team that enters training camp in July is very different than the one that exits in August.
Just like a lot can change in a month of training camp, the future is still very much in the air for these Giants. We are still more than a month away from unrestricted free agency; the draft will not occur for another three months and training camps won't open up across the league for another five months.
It would be presumptuous of me to offer a full 2014 preview before the Giants acquire a single free agent or make a single draft selection, but we can certainly expect things to be different than the 2013 season.
The Giants are determined to make a change, as evidenced by Big Blue's early-offseason coaching carousel. If, under McAdoo's guidance, the Giants can raise their offensive performance to at least meet their level of performance on defense, New York will field a much more balanced squad.
An improvement upon last season's 7-9 mark should be expected, as long as General Manager Jerry Reese can assemble the necessary personnel this offseason.