New York Giants' Offseason State of the Union
The tackling dummies have been put away for now, but don’t get too used to the lull in the activity coming out of East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the New York Giants train year-round.
The 90-man training camp roster is mostly set—there might still be a tweak here and there before head coach Tom Coughlin, his coaching staff and the players report back to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center for the start of summer training camp on July 21.
Before we go into the specifics of where the Giants currently stand, the biggest thing that needs emphasis is the sweeping number of changes made in the football program.
The offensive coaching staff has become significantly younger thanks to the departures of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, tight ends coach Mike Pope and running backs coach Jerald Ingram.
Younger doesn’t always translate to better, but given that the system the Giants offense ran since the end of 2006 had become stale and outdated, some fresh ideas from these Gen X coaches who helped offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo put the playbook together, such as Kevin M. Gilbride, Craig Johnson, Danny Langsdorf and Sean Ryan, should be exciting to watch.
Then there is the roster itself.
Based on the 2013 Week 1 game book in which the opening day lineup is listed, the Giants could be looking at as many as eight new starters on offense and seven on defense when they take the field on September 8 in Detroit.
There’s been a lot of change, and with it, many questions have been stirred up. So let’s look at where the Giants are right now and where they need to be by opening night.
The Goals (by the Numbers)
Statistics can sometimes be misleading when used in analysis, but there was no misrepresentation of what the following numbers—numbers that the Giants are looking to improve in 2014—meant:
That’s the total number of wins the team had last season, the second-lowest regular-season total in head coach Tom Coughlin’s era since 2004, his first season, in which his team only won six games.
The Giants, of course, sealed their own fate by starting out 0-6, creating a hole so deep that a crane couldn’t rescue them.
Coughlin and company will be looking to get back to double-digit wins, last accomplished in 2010 when they went 10-6 but didn’t qualify for the postseason.
That’s the number of playoff appearances the Giants have had in the last five years. That lone playoff appearance came in 2011, when the Giants became Super Bowl champions.
Prior to that, the Giants qualified for the playoffs in four of Coughlin’s first five years, so New York will be looking to get back to being annual postseason participants starting this year.
That’s where the Giants offense finished in 2013, and it’s a big reason why there was such a significant turnover in the coaching staff on that side of the ball.
The team is hoping that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s faster-paced West Coast offense revitalizes a Giants team whose 294 points last season was its lowest total since 2001, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Moreover, the Giants’ 2013 scoring represented a significant drop from the 429 points scored in 2012, a total that was the second-highest in franchise history.
That would be as in 40 percent, which is what success rate opponents had against the Giants defense on third down.
The Giants defense, which tied for the sixth-worst third-down percentage with the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, is hoping that a vastly improved secondary that includes cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond and a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul at defensive end will make a difference.
It wouldn’t be an offseason without some questions regarding the health of key players.
Such is the case for the Giants, who are looking at potentially having four starters from last year not available for the start of training camp, let alone for the season.
The four are as follows:
Left Tackle Will Beatty
Beatty is recovering from what the team classified as a broken leg suffered in the final regular-season game, an injury that Beatty later clarified for reporters happened to his tibia (the weight-bearing bone in the lower leg).
Beatty was sidelined for the entire spring, and there is a very realistic possibility that he could start training camp on the PUP list, as the timing would put him about six months out from the surgery he had to help expedite repairing of the limb.
What’s interesting about Beatty’s situation is that every time head coach Tom Coughlin is asked about him, he speaks with an uncertain tone.
On June 12, after the team’s ninth OTA, Coughlin, when asked about Beatty, said, “He seems like he’s making progress.”
Before that, on May 29, the team’s second OTA, Coughlin said of Beatty and receiver Mario Manningham (knee), “Supposedly, they’ll be ready for the fall.”
Those quotes, to me, don’t sound like a coach who is convinced that he’ll have his starting left tackle for the start of camp.
So we’ll see what happens with Beatty and if the team really believes that it can get by with Charles Brown at left tackle in the interim.
Middle Linebacker Jon Beason
Jon Beason became the third Giant in as many years to suffer a freak injury during OTAs, following on the heels of former receiver Hakeem Nicks in 2012 and fullback Henry Hynoski last year.
The good news is that the broken foot and ligament tear that Beason suffered does not require surgery, and there is a chance he could be ready for opening day on September 8.
My guess is that the time line the team and Beason are hoping for is a little aggressive and that a more realistic scenario for Beason’s 2014 debut might be in Week 3 or Week 4.
Right Guard Chris Snee
Chris Snee is an interesting situation for the Giants. He’s trying to come back from dual hip surgeries and an elbow operation, the latter of which gave him enough trouble to force him to shut it down for the final OTAs and for all of minicamp.
Then there was general manager Jerry Reese telling WFAN radio’s Joe and Evan on June 23 that “the jury is still out” on Snee.
“He was still not doing great this spring, but we’ll see in the next few weeks if he’s going to be able to help us or not,” Reese said. “I think he’ll make a decision one way or another, so we’ll see how that goes.”
With all due respect to Snee, who was a true warrior and role model for this team, it’s ridiculous to hedge any bets on him given what he’s been through physically.
The Giants, remember, parted with Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert, both good linemen when they were in their respective primes and who were coming off significant injuries/surgeries in 2011.
That the Giants are hanging on to Snee in hopes that he suddenly finds the fountain of youth is just as foolish as their hoping that last year’s offensive line would hold up through a 16-game season.
As Reese said, “We’ll see.”
Running Back David Wilson
It’s easy to understand the Giants’ approach with running back David Wilson, who’s recovering from spinal fusion surgery he had in mid-January.
With each day that Wilson moves away from the surgery, he’s going to be making progress, and that’s exactly how the team has been classifying his status every time it’s asked about it.
However, the only progress that counts where Wilson is concerned is whether he’s been cleared to resume full-contact activities, which of course he hasn’t.
A safe bet, despite all of the optimism surrounding Wilson’s healing process, is that the running back is going to start training camp on the PUP list.
Whether he stays there into the start of the season or comes off is another question, but if he does start on the PUP list, the more time he loses, the more likely he is to fall behind on this new offense, which can’t be a good thing.
Wilson didn’t want to talk about his neck situation during the final day of the minicamp, but he did note that he was looking forward to being cleared on July 21, the day the players take their training camp physicals.
Besides those four, the Giants are also holding their collective breath that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is indeed good to go this year.
Last season, Pierre-Paul wasn’t quite the same, as he tried to come back from offseason back surgery. A shoulder injury put a further damper on his performance, the result being season lows in total tackles (27) and sacks (2.0) in what was the first time he didn’t play a full 16-game schedule.
During last week’s minicamp, Pierre-Paul admitted to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger that he still feels “a little something” in his surgically repaired back, but he quickly added, “It’s nothing that is going to bother me while I’m playing.”
With the Giants having lost Justin Tuck to free agency, they need a healthy and effective Pierre-Paul to resemble the 2011 version in which he posted career highs in tackles (86) and sacks (16.5) in what many people regard as his breakout season.
Key Roster Battles
Want a little competition to watch this summer?
Well, you’re in luck, as the Giants will have competition at several positions, including two starting jobs, that as of right now are literally dead even.
Here’s a quick rundown of the top three battles—two starting jobs and one backup—to keep an eye on.
For the first time since the summer of 2007, the identity of the Giants’ starting fullback is unclear.
That situation came about when Henry Hynoski, the starter since 2011, suffered two significant injuries last year, a chip fracture and MCL injury in his left knee and then a season-ending fractured shoulder.
Rather than bring someone in on a “rental” basis, the team signed John Conner, originally drafted by the Jets in 2010, to a two-year deal.
While Conner did not disappoint last year, he will square off against Hynoski to see who ends up as the best fit in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
As of the end of the spring workouts, neither man had jumped ahead of the other largely because of the non-contact nature of the practices, which mean that the fullbacks weren’t allowed to throw blocks.
From a pass-reception and running standpoint, both received chances to show what they have (though it does look as though the fullback in McAdoo’s offense isn’t going to be used as much as it was in Kevin Gilbride’s offense).
Both have also alternated with the starting unit as well.
Much like fullback, no one from a group that consists of Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, Daniel Fells, Xavier Grimble and Kellen Davis has stepped up and taken the lead in the race.
Unlike the fullback, the tight end position figures to be more prominently used in this offense, which could be a problem for Ben McAdoo if someone doesn’t step forward and show that he can do everything that McAdoo wants from the position.
That’s probably why general manager Jerry Reese, in an interview with WFAN radio on Monday, indicated that the Giants might have to go with a “tight end by committee” approach, although he also added, “We’re always looking to upgrade as we go through the offseason and into the season.”
Backup Middle Linebacker
Mark Herzlich, who was re-signed to a one-year contract worth $1 million prior to the start of free agency, has been nothing short of inspirational thanks to his successful battle back from a rare form of bone cancer that nearly cost him his life.
The same can’t be said of his play as an NFL linebacker. He’s twice now failed to make the starting middle linebacker job his, and now he’s facing a challenge from fifth-round pick Devon Kennard and undrafted free agent Dan Fox for a roster spot.
Once Jon Beason, who, remember, is only signed for three years, returns from his broken foot, the depth chart at middle linebacker projects to be McClain and Kennard. (Fox figures to go to the practice squad if he has a solid summer.)
As for Herzlich, the contract he signed this winter makes it very easy for the Giants to cut him and not take any kind of significant cap hit in the process.
Per Over the Cap, Herzlich’s contract contains a $775,000 base salary and up to $200,000 in roster bonuses, which he’d earn if he’s on the active game-day roster.
If Herzlich is cut, the Giants’ cap charge would be just $25,000, which was paid to Herzlich in the form of a workout bonus.
Questions for the Short-Term Future
The Giants appear to be at a bit of a crossroads this season.
Let’s look at some of the big issues that, depending on how they progress, could trigger even more change moving forward.
Head Coach Tom Coughlin
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why head coach Tom Coughlin, who turns 68 years old in August, did not walk away after last season’s dismal showing was because he wasn’t about to leave the franchise on a sour note.
So what happens this year if the Giants miss the playoffs again, especially after replacing the majority of the roster and half of the coaching staff? Can management continue to carry Coughlin indefinitely if the results aren’t there?
Similarly, what happens if the Giants do bounce back and get in the playoffs? If the goal was to get the franchise back on track, then Coughlin certainly would have accomplished that if that were the case. Would he then feel better about walking away, or will he continue to hang on indefinitely?
Quarterback Eli Manning
For the first time in his pro career, Manning is going to have to learn a new offense that will be asking him to do things he hasn’t really done too much of before, such as rolling out and throwing shorter passes.
What if those things aren’t a fit for Manning’s abilities, and his numbers don’t improve from last year? Can the Giants afford to continue to carry Manning, whose current contract, by the way, expires after the 2015 season?
Moreover, if Tom Coughlin moves on, will the new head coach be willing to be as attached to the hip as Coughlin has been with Manning?
In February, I wrote an analysis about why I didn’t think the Giants should extend Manning’s contract in 2014. While that piece sparked a great deal of debate, Giants management decided to refrain from extending Manning this year, as I anticipated would be the case.
The move made sense given that Manning, like the rest of the offense, is starting from scratch. How many times have we seen the Giants in the past rush to hand out a hefty contract only to end up not getting the best return on investment possible? (David Baas, anyone?)
To be clear, I think Manning will at the very least finish out his contract. I also think he’ll get an extension, but the length of that extension will largely depend on how he performs this year.
Safety Antrel Rolle
Speaking of hefty contracts, safety Antrel Rolle is entering the final year of his contract, a deal that will pay him a $7 million base salary. Last year, Rolle was probably the only player who was worth every penny he earned.
Recently, he drew high praise from his position coach, David Merritt, who told reporters that he thought Rolle could easily play another four years if he wanted to.
“Antrel is now starting to understand and develop as a safety,” said Merritt. “He was a corner, as we all know, coming out of [the University of] Miami. Now all of a sudden, he’s starting to understand the position more than ever.
“Before, when I first got him, as far as formations go, he really didn’t see them. As far as route concepts, he really didn’t see them. The last two years, it’s all coming together for him and he’s starting to feel more comfortable.”
If Rolle has yet to hit his ceiling, as Merritt suggested, might he want to continue to see his base salary rise should he re-sign with the Giants?
Or will the Giants move on after this season, turning to youth such as Cooper Taylor or Nat Berhe?
It’s very difficult to predict a final win-loss record with any degree of certainty because so much can and will happen.
However, if there’s one reason to be optimistic about the coming season, it’s because of New York’s head coach.
Tom Coughlin has proven throughout the years to be adaptable, even if he doesn’t fully embrace the circumstances behind the change.
Who could ever forget how after the 2006 season, Coughlin famously changed his stern ways and became a kinder and gentler coach who went from being disliked in general to adored?
It won’t be easy for the Giants. There are a lot of new faces on both sides of the ball, and 12 offseason practices aren’t nearly enough for those new faces to come together as a cohesive unit, even though Coughlin told reporters last week that he was encouraged by what he saw.
Then there is the mater of the offense, which has such a heavy West Coast flavor, thus varying from what Coughlin, himself once an offensive coordinator, has always run.
That offense isn’t going to come together overnight, but when it does, it certainly has the potential to be something special.
Until that happens, Coughlin, who has steered his team through rocky waters before, has shown that he has the creativity and patience to hold a locker room together, no matter what’s going on.
With each year, he seems to be getting stronger in that regard, last year’s 0-6 start being a perfect example of how he was the Super glue that held the team together.
In less than a month, we’ll begin to get the answers to our questions, and we’ll be treated to several surprises, both good and bad, along the way.
Regardless of what happens, it’s a good time to be a Giants fan, as there’s nowhere to go but up after last year, and this team has been proactive in addressing the majority of the issues that held it down last year.