Within the next 24-72 hours, team co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch and their respective families will determine the fates of New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Tom Coughlin and those who work underneath each man.
While it would be a stretch to assume ownership will keep the status quo—doing so would be unthinkable given four straight playoff-less years topped by three straight losing seasons—there are any number of scenarios that could potentially play out.
One possibility is Coughlin walking away, as Fox Sports’ Mike Garafolo, speaking on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and then Jay Glazer speculated might be the case. Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain, and that is the despite the franchise being a mess at the moment, ownership will carefully contemplate the decisions made going forward.
Until it is known what direction the Maras and Tisches decide to pursue, anything that has been reported up until now is nothing but speculation.
While Giants nation awaits the puff of white smoke from the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, here are steps that, upon further contemplation, could be taken to get the Giants franchise back to its winning ways.
Keep Head Coach Tom Coughlin
Although Coughlin has had his faults, many of which have become more noticeable this year, such as clock management and simple in-game things like not knowing how many personal-foul penalties receiver Odell Beckham Jr. racked up against the Panthers three weeks ago, logically speaking, there are more reasons to keep a coach who’s about to turn 70 years old on his next birthday than to start over.
The Giants ownership usually prefers stability and continuity. If Coughlin goes, there’s a pretty good chance the rest of the assistant coaches go as well.
Considering the progress quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the offense have made under Ben McAdoo, does it really make sense to throw the baby out with the bath water?
And what about Steve Spagnuolo on the defensive side of the ball?
Yes, the numbers and rankings for his defense are damning, but it’s fair to question just how much of an effect losing all three starting linebackers, the Giants' best defensive tackle (Johnathan Hankins), not having a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul for most of the season, not having a healthy Prince Amukamara for most of the season and not having any safeties worth their weight in salt (other than perhaps Landon Collins) had on what Spagnuolo planned to do versus what he actually could do.
It would be a stunning development if the front office were to part with Coughlin yet insist to the new head coach that he retain McAdoo and/or Spagnuolo. That’s just not how the Giants have done business.
What about promoting either McAdoo or Spagnuolo to the head coach position? Spagnuolo, you might recall, was promoted to head coach two years after moving up to coordinator rank, but failed miserably in St. Louis.
While every person is different, McAdoo probably needs another year or so before he's ready for that next leap, while Spagnuolo is still trying to repair a reputation that took a hit when he failed in St. Louis and then in New Orleans. A solid season should help fix that.
Getting back to Coughlin, if he desires to continue coaching, let him coach out the final year of his contract, but insist that there be some more compromises regarding how he manages the game (maybe get an assistant coach or team assistant involved in keeping him up to snuff with what’s going on) and with his assistant coaches, the latter of which ties in nicely with the next step.
Replace Strength and Conditioning Coach Jerry Palmieri
For three straight years, the Giants have been at or near the top in the injury department. While part of it is luck, this problem runs much deeper.
Last Thursday, Coughlin spoke about the changes the team has made since its streak of bad luck began.
“We’ve changed pretty much everything in the whole program designed to become more scientific and to have more information and more knowledge and to do a better job of adjusting our practices, if that’s the way we need to do it,” Coughlin said.
There’s one change that they haven’t made, and that really needs to be considered: replacing strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri.
Whatever type of program Palmieri has designed for the players, it’s just not working as well as it needs to be.
A strength and conditioning program needs to prepare players for the best and worst possible scenarios. Think back over the years to the number of times members of the defense might have looked gassed by the second half. Yes, football is a physically draining game, but an athlete at this level should be conditioned enough to where he’s not tiring out long before the final buzzer.
And then there are the injuries. According to data I’ve kept this season, Giants starters have missed 81 games—and that doesn’t include the eight missed by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with his hand issue since he technically wasn’t under contract (the data does count OT Will Beatty).
Here is a breakdown of the most common injuries starters suffered this season, according to my data, and how many games the injuries have cost the team their starters:
Contrary to belief, the missed games, missed practices and the 22 players on season-ending injured reserve, temporary injured reserve and the PUP list are not necessarily due to any ineptness by the medical staff.
The medical staff’s job is to treat the injuries once they occur. Thus it’s important to have a separation of the medical staff versus the training staff and the roles each holds.
With that said, let’s hope when the Giants do their year-end evaluations, they take a long, hard look at the strength and conditioning program because that’s been the one constant throughout the last few seasons.
Replace Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross
Last month I did an analysis breaking down the tenure of general manager Jerry Reese, who oversees the personnel acquisition and evaluation efforts.
Within that analysis, I created a table breaking down the production the Giants have gotten from their last six draft classes, with six being the average number of seasons of a NFL player’s career.
The figures are shocking and unacceptable.
Of 42 draft picks made, they got 11 starters and 12 backups, with 19 either being out of the league or on other teams and 13 not even making it to the end of their rookie deal.
Want more damning evidence? Of the 2012 draft class, a class assembled just four short years ago that should be hitting its stride right about now, only receiver Rueben Randle and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn remain—and both are unlikely to be on the roster in 2016.
That’s inexcusable and a huge reason why the Giants are constantly forced to spend money in free agency (another problem onto itself).
The bottom line is that the 2010-2012 drafts set this franchise back several years, and the man who sets up that draft board for the Giants is Marc Ross, the vice president of player evaluation.
Although Ross and the personnel department have done a little better with the drafts in recent years, the team is still probably another solid class or two away from wiping out the deficit all the gambles created.
Even so, there are still questions regarding key positions, particularly on defense.
For example, linebacker Devon Kennard, a very promising player who had an injury history in college, has unfortunately continued that trend in his first two seasons as a pro.
The safeties? Landon Collins looks as though he’ll be steady, but in retrospect, to trade up to get a guy whose strength is playing in the box might not have been the wisest decision, especially since the spring and summer would later show the Giants lacked a true free safety among the group they assembled.
Want more evidence to support replacing Ross? While the Giants have mostly hit in the first round—it’s challenging to miss in that round—the second and third rounds, which should theoretically have more hits than misses, have been weak.
Rueben Randle, Marvin Austin and Clint Sintim are second-rounders who didn’t quite make the impact the team was hoping for; in the third round, busts such as cornerback Jayron Hosley, receivers Jerrel Jernigan and Ramses Barden, tight end Travis Beckum, and defensive end Damontre Moore all come to mind while the jury remains out on defensive tackle Jay Bromley (who couldn’t beat out Markus Kuhn for playing time this year) and defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (another player with an injury history who continued that trend at the NFL level).
As the man who assembles the draft board and runs the draft, Ross, who deserves credit for ranking receiver Odell Beckham Jr. ahead of offensive lineman Zack Martin two years ago, has done a terrible job since assuming control of the draft board in 2008.
The Conundrum: What About General Manager Jerry Reese?
The popular opinion of many is that general manager Jerry Reese deserves to be sent packing. However, it’s also believed the Giants ownership, which doesn’t fire general managers as a rule, craves stability.
With all due respect, if that’s the case, then ownership best look at things again because right now, the state of this franchise isn’t exactly stable.
Certainly Reese is not blameless in the fiasco of the last few years—personnel is his area of responsibility, and there is little doubt that the bargain hunting Reese has done to fill in some of the roster holes has been the equivalent of slapping a gauze bandage onto a gaping wound.
Still when team ownership sits down to evaluate Reese’s performance in this mess, there is enough evidence to support that he, too, should be replaced.
The biggest issue with Reese, plain and simple, is he continues to take too many risks without having contingency plans regarding the roster.
The best example this year was the decision to roll the dice at safety and not bring in a veteran player to serve as a stopgap while the kids developed.
As things turned out, the kids—Bennett Jackson, Mykkele Thompson, Justin Currie and Nat Berhe—all ended up on injured reserve, never getting a chance to develop, thus putting the Giants back at square one as far as still needing a veteran safety.
Why, after failing to sign Devin McCourty and being spurned by Chiefs safety Ron Parker, did the Giants back off?
Instead Reese seemed content to let the inexperienced players step up; when injuries struck, he was then forced to pick up Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl, two guys who are on the back end of their respective careers and who were not exactly in high demand by other teams.
The same argument could also be said on the offensive line. When Will Beatty went down with a long-term injury, the coaches were forced to go with Marshall Newhouse, who had failed in two previous stops with Green Bay and Cincinnati, yet who was signed to a two-year contract, per Over the Cap.
Although Newhouse started out OK, in retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have been the season-term answer at right tackle.
Per Pro Football Focus, Newhouse has allowed 51 total quarterback pressures, second-most among the offensive linemen behind rookie Ereck Flowers.
Newhouse is also tied with Geoff Schwartz for having surrendered the most number of sacks by an offensive lineman (five) this season, according to PFF. Flowers, meanwhile, has allowed three sacks all year.
Now let’s talk salary cap.
According to Spotrac, the Giants have spent $128.381 million of the 2015 maximum $143,411,883 cap space.
Of that, $15.294 million is tied up in dead cap space, while $25.977 million is tied up on players who are on injured reserve. That’s 32.1 percent of the Giants’ cap tied up in players who are not contributing.
Let’s break the numbers down further, though note that of the numbers about to be presented, it’s not known if they include current (active) players or all players.
The results are mixed. The Giants have $26,452,322 tied up in their offensive players this year—the 27th-most in the NFL.
Defense? The Giants have spent $37,992,996 on their defense—the 28th-most in the NFL.
In this case, they got what they paid for: the worst-ranked defense (yards allowed per game); the worst-ranked pass defense; the 25th-ranked run defense; and the 30th-ranked defense in terms of average points given up per game.
OK, so should Reese get a pass because he’s managed the cap so well?
No, because although he’s left the team with about $15 million in money that’s expected to be carried over to 2016, the following chart shows how poorly the cap space has been delegated on questionable personnel choices.
You’ll note the cap space declined, falling into the red starting in 2012, right around the time when the poor drafts started to catch up with the team.
The dead money, meanwhile steadily increased from $3.689 million in 2011 to a whopping $15.294 million.
Simply put, the cap has not been managed as ideally as initially thought based on the rapid increase of the dead money (signifying that personnel decisions have not worked out, leading to player contracts being terminated prior to their completion).
What’s more, you’ll note that the salary cap was at its worst for the Giants right around the time the string of poor drafts started taking their toll on this franchise.
Looking ahead to 2016, Spotrac has the Giants down for $1,325,631 in dead money, the 13th-highest total in the NFL as of right now.
That number is expected to swell to as much as $9.7 million if the Giants trim the contracts belonging to Jon Beason, Geoff Schwartz, Beatty and others from the roster. (On the plus side, the savings from those contracts will boost the available cap space the Giants will have from a projected.)
Given the Giants’ lack of cap space during the lean years, an argument could be made that Reese had no choice but to bargain shop; however, you get what you pay for, and when a team has to plug leaks in the foundation with toilet paper instead of caulk, the franchise crumbles, as the Giants have done.
The bottom line is that as the man in charge of the draft and in charge of acquiring veteran personnel, Reese—who was solid as a talent evaluator when he held Ross’ job under former general manager Ernie Accorsi—hasn’t done a solid job.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.
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