When evaluating the 2008 edition of the New York Giants, one must do several things first.
Articles written by Giants beat writers—not columnists—are to be read thoroughly. These writers are usually on the money. They deal in facts and shy away from wanton speculation. Believe them. If they write anything that isn't true, they don't stay in the job very long.
Stay away from any cursory observations. The national media does not understand how this franchise operates. Do not believe them.
I have been watching and following the Giants for the past 40 years with the passion of a Deadhead. I have been to many games in many cities over the past four decades. I have seen some of the best football in NFL history. I have also seen some of the worst.
When I speak or write about the Giants, I would advise you to pay attention.
I have been reading some ridiculous articles and comments about how the Giants will not succeed because they "lost too many key players". Don't believe it. Giants' GM Jerry Reese and his staff have been dead-on when it comes to personnel moves.
Case-in-point, all seven draft-choices from 2007 are still on the roster, and many of them contributed to the team's postseason success.
Let me debunk the ill-researched comments and predictions made by the uninformed NFL "experts". First, the three players they lost in free agency—S Gibril Wilson, OLB Kawika Mitchell, and OLB Reggie Torbor—were not core players. They all will be easily replaced.
Wilson was an above-average player–not a Pro-Bowler—but pretty good. The Giants were not pleased with his inability to cover in space. Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and Chris Cooley all exposed him too often.
The Giants' pass rush made Wilson look better than he is. When he became a free agent, he was vastly overvalued by teams looking for secondary help. The Giants would have liked to have kept him, but felt he was replaceable.
When the Raiders came in with a $39 million offer, the Giants were out. That is an insane contract for this player.
The solution was to sign veteran Sammy Knight and draft a quality talent—Kenny Phillips. Knight is close to Wilson in production, and Phillips is wowing coaches at camp. These players will both make you forget Wilson quickly, if you haven't already.
OLB Kawika Mitchell played exactly one season for the Giants. When GM Jerry Reese signed him, many Giant fans had never heard of him. He led the Chiefs in tackles in 2006, but he struggled for the Giants for most of the regular season.
When he finally acclimated to the defensive scheme later in the year, Mitchell was very productive. Irreplaceable? Absolutely not.
The Buffalo Bills signed him to a lukewarm, five-year, $17.5 million deal. The Giants were not willing to match that, meaning Jerry Reese must know something...this was further illustrated when he let Miami sign Torbor away. Torbor had served mainly as a backup for the Giants. He never materialized into the player they had hoped he would. He was only starting due to the injury to Mathias Kiwanuka.
The solution wasn't hard. The Giants feel the Mitchell role in DC Steve Spagnoulo's defense can be filled by at least on of the faces they have in camp.
They signed a veteran—Danny Clark (a former Jaguar under Coughlin)—to compete with in-house candidates (Gerris Wilkerson, Zak DeOssie, Chase Blackburn) and draft choices (Bryan Kehl, Jonathan Goff). The Giants are excited about their LB corps, even if Kiwanuka returns full-time to the DE rotation.
Michael Strahan's retirement will change the dynamic of the Giants' locker room. I'd be lying if he said he won't be missed. He did the team a huge favor by announcing his retirement well before the team hit camp.
His leadership role will be assumed by Antonio Pierce and Osi Umenyiora—two very able veterans. Strahan's spot at DE will be filled primarily by Justin Tuck, with relief coming from Kiwanuka, Renaldo Wynn, Dave Tolleson, and Robert Henderson—a seventh-round find by Reese. The Giants will be fine without Strahan.
Jeremy Shockey will also be missed, but what part of him? The Goofus or the Gallant? I personally think they should have kept him for 2008, especially since they still have to pay him. But thinking through this move, I can see why he's gone and why the Giants are really better off without him.
First, Kevin Boss has emerged as a quality TE. Boss is a fine receiver, as demonstrated by his postseason play. The only knock on him was his lack of heft. That's been solved. He was a skinny 260 last year. He's put on 20-lbs. of muscle in the offseason, so physically, he looks more Shockey-ish.
Add that to the fact that Eli Manning has a good rapport with him, and you can see why Shockey was expendable. I just wish the Giants would have made the deal before this year's draft, but as one source close to the team told me: The team had seven selections and didn't have the roster room for two additional rookies...so it works out.
Second, Shockey is a selfish player. He never put the team first. He was a traditional no show at OTAs and minicamps. He was a constant huddle disruption for the Giants' offense, and he belittled and berated Manning, Coughlin, Reese and the ownership in public. You want a ticket out of NY? Embarrass the Maras and Tisches, and you'll get your ticket punched in a hurry.
My personal assessment of Shockey on the field is that he is overrated. He drops too many passes and does not get the yards after the catch to make him a true weapon. His constant "me, me, me" attitude was a distraction for Eli Manning, who thrived after Shockey's injury, so that tells you the team can prosper without him—as we have seen.
Shockey had also showed his true colors after the Super Bowl. He saw how the team won without him, so instead of working hard to get back into the fold, he began to throw fits like a child.
This may have been fueled by his controversy-hungry agent, Drew Rosenhaus, but it is Shockey that came away looking immature and selfish.
Most Giant fans know this is a team game and they also know the Giants are better off without him.
When Tiki Barber left after the 2006 season, pundits predicted the Giants were about to go downhill. Sure, they missed Tiki, but they still rushed for 2,150 yards as a team in 2007. The Giants management is a well-oiled machine right now. They are experts at contingency planning, and I don't see how they can miss the playoffs this season.
Take it from me...don't believe for one second that this team is weaker than last year.