The Definitive Blueprint to the New York Giants' Perfect Offseason
The people in the New York Giants front office aren’t wasting any time in putting their heads together to sift through the rubble of the 2013 season.
Given the amount of work they have to do, it’s a little surprising that they didn’t start these meetings several weeks ago, after the team was assured of finishing below .500 for the first time since 2004.
One of the first decisions that will need to be made concerns head coach Tom Coughlin. He has said that he wants to continue to coach. Team COO John Mara has said he wants Coughlin to continue as the team’s head coach.
The question, though, is how much longer will the soon-to-be 68-year-old Coughlin remain on the job? The Giants have always tried to avoid having a situation where a coach is in the final year of his contract, but realistically, how much longer can they extend him?
Beyond the coach's expected return for an 11th season, the Giants brain trust will attempt to resolve numerous issues. These include but are not limited to extending Coughlin beyond this coming season, the last of his contract; overhauling the assistant coaching staff; and evaluating the current roster.
Mara and general manager Jerry Reese have both indicated that they have ideas and opinions about these and other pressing topics. Those decisions could start to trickle out as soon as next week.
Until we learn what the brass decides, here is a look at some potential areas that the Giants need to address in order to ensure a perfect offseason.
Replace Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride
Sometimes a change is necessary, especially if an individual is unwilling to change with the times.
That conundrum is what head coach Tom Coughlin will be staring at when he evaluates his staff and has to answer to John Mara about the performance of each coach whom Coughlin said he had "great confidence in."
The top target in Mara's cross-hairs appears to be offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Although Mara didn't mention Gilbride by name, he fired several verbal salvos at the 62-year-old coordinator.
“I think our offense is broken right now and we need to fix that," Mara said. "We’ve got to improve there and we can’t go into next season with the same personnel.”
If Gilbride, whom Coughlin has openly supported during the lean times, is indeed one of the personnel that Mara believes can't be part of this team moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the head coach—who is known for his loyalty to his assistants—puts up a fight.
Gary Myers of the New York Daily News seems to think that Coughlin’s return to the Giants next season could fall apart if he, Reese and Mara can’t come to an agreement regarding the coordinator's future with the team.
If Coughlin wants to retain Gilbride, he'll no doubt argue that he wasn’t equipped with the best personnel by the front office.
While injuries played a factor this season, the fact remains that the offense has not been effective dating back to the second half of 2012, when the Giants finished 3-5 despite having a healthier unit on offense than they did this year.
Within that lousy finish, the offense scored less than 20 points in four of the five losses. New York also suffered two embarrassing losses, including a 34-0 blowout to the Atlanta Falcons—which was the first of three shutouts for the team in the last 18 games—and a 33-14 smackdown by the Baltimore Ravens.
Once upon a time, Gilbride’s offense was all the rage. However, times have changed.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Gilbride's offense, which worked so well for this team when he first took over the play-calling duties in in the last game of the 2006 season, has become as outdated as the floppy disk.
Tweak the Assistant Coaching Staff
When Coughlin was asked earlier this week if he anticipated making any changes to his staff, he allowed, “That certainly will all be discussed throughout the course of this week. Everything will be evaluated.”
But then he quickly added, “I have great confidence in this group of men that we've had here as a coaching staff and I believe in them very strongly.”
Naturally, that’s what you’d expect a coach to say publicly about his staff. Given the implosion of the offense, Coughlin needs to look at the facts.
First, after his embattled offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride gushed about the progress made by Rueben Randle, that particular receiver frequently looked confused when running routes.
Considering that Randle was present for the OTAs, it is inexplicable as to why he was the target on eight of Eli Manning’s interceptions, the most among himself, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
There is also the alarming regression of Manning, who had one of the worst seasons in his career.
A look into his statistical history shows that his completion percentage and touchdown passes have declined in each of the last two seasons, while his interceptions have risen.
If you watch him on tape from 2011—his last truly good season—and from this year, you’ll see a quarterback whose mechanics have regressed.
One of the most notable differences is that he isn’t shifting his weight when making his throws.
If the Giants are going to surround Manning with less experienced quarterbacks—figure that Curtis Painter won't be back, which will leave Ryan Nassib, who has never played a down in the NFL, as Manning's understudy—the Giants need to make hiring a seasoned quarterbacks coach a priority.
Take Better Care of the Salary Cap
Memo to all NFL salary cap managers: Mom and dad aren’t allowed to bail you out if you mismanage your salary cap.
After unofficially finishing each of the last two seasons with $1 million in cap space, this year the Giants found themselves struggling to make ends meet.
They put themselves $5.6 million in the hole right out of the chute following the contract terminations of Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley.
According to Over the Cap, the Giants’ dead money total swelled to $9.202 million by season's end. That's a rather hefty figure for players who are no longer on the roster.
Enter the injury bug. By the end of the season, the Giants had a whopping $25.822 of salary tied up on injured players who were unable to finish the season.
The five biggest cap-eaters on injured reserve were Chris Snee ($8.5 million), Corey Webster ($5.095 million), David Baas ($4.725 million), Stevie Brown ($2.023 million) and David Wilson ($1.519 million).
That’s roughly $35.024 million—approximately 28 percent—of their 2013 cap not being put to good use. That's also a big reason why this team finished the season with just $41,888 of cap space, per the NFLPA’s public cap report.
Apparently, New York might have learned its lesson. Per Over the Cap, the team currently has $389,298 of dead money for 2014, with the largest amount being $311,509 from the Marvin Austin transaction.
In that analysis, I looked at some potential cap moves for the Giants to create even more space, which—if they do decide to make those moves—would explain why John Mara thinks that the team doesn’t need to redo Manning’s contract.
Rebuild the Offensive Line
One of the biggest decisions of 2013 was the failure to improve the depth of the offensive line, considering that the Giants knew that three of their starters—Chris Snee, David Baas and David Diehl—were all scheduled for surgeries and on the wrong side of 30.
The strategy obviously stumped John Mara as well: "My biggest concern coming into the year was would our offensive line stay healthy because I was concerned about the depth that we had there and, of course, we get the center (David Baas) and Chris Snee hurt right off the bat and then the backup center (Jim Cordle) gets hurt and we just never seemed to be able to protect Eli well enough or get a ground game going well enough."
The Giants, for those wondering, have drafted just four offensive linemen in the first three rounds since 2000, with three becoming starters:
- Justin Pugh (round 1, 2013)
- William Beatty (Round 2, 2009)
- Chris Snee (Round 2, 2004)
- Jeff Hatch (Round 3, 2002)
As for Rounds 4-7, the draft picks have included:
- David Diehl (Round 5, 2003)
- Wayne Lucier (Round 7, 2003)
- Adam Koets (Round 6, 2007)
- Mitch Petrus (Round 5, 2010)
- James Brewer (Round 4, 2011)
- Brandon Mosley (Round 4, 2012)
- Matt McCants (Round 6, 2012)
- Eric Herman (Round 7, 2013)
The Giants have gotten their money’s worth out of Diehl, while McCants went on to become a starter for Oakland after New York gave up on him this summer.
The others barely made a peep, with Herman not even making the final 53-man roster coming out of camp last year. Simply stated, the Giants didn’t do enough to ensure that they had suitable depth to eventually replace their one-time super line of Diehl, Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, Snee and Kareem McKenzie.
Instead, they seemed to take a piecemeal approach, hoping that Snee, Baas and Diehl could hold up.
They now face a massive rebuilding project on perhaps their most important unit on the team—a project that should have been a higher priority two or three years ago.
Take Fewer Gambles in the Draft
Ask a few NFL personnel directors, and they’ll probably all agree that the NFL draft is a crapshoot.
Certainly there are times when a college prospect looks like the next big thing—guys like Ryan Leaf, Dan McGwire, Tim Couch, and Tony Mandarich all come to mind.
However, for every big name coming out of college, a lot of little ones go on to become mainstays on their teams. Some examples include quarterback Tom Brady (sixth round, New England) and cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round, Seattle).
So yes, there is a certain degree of gambling involved with drafting. However, when you know that you're taking too many risks that don't work out, you can potentially set your organization back for several years.
Before the 2013 draft, I wrote an analysis on the booms, busts and in-betweens of the Giants' recent draft classes. Meanwhile, Grantland’s Bill Barnwell examined the longevity (or lack thereof) of the contributions made by New York's rookie classes.
The point that both articles make is that the Giants' draft classes are not yielding enough productive players, a fact that hasn’t been lost on John Mara.
He said, "We may have taken some calculated risks on players in the past, knowing that they were risks thinking that maybe we’d hit big and we didn’t, but that’s not necessarily a function of the scouts. That’s as much on me as anything else.
"I knew what the risks were in certain cases and we took them and they didn’t work out, but we’ve had a lot of guys that have worked out, too, as lower round picks.
"So you take the good with the bad, but to be successful in this league, you have to do a good job in the draft, especially on those middle round picks. There’s no question over the last few years we’ve missed on a few of them for whatever reason."
Does this mean that Mara might be included to take fewer risks in the draft moving forward?
"Possibly, depending," he said. "Certainly you want guys coming in there healthy and don’t have any off-field issues, but that’s not necessarily what you get. Sometimes you have to take those risks."
An occasional risk is fine, but whether it’s been the coaching of the player selection itself, the team needs to start getting at least three to four solid contributors out of each rookie class as early as the players' first season.
That’s something that the Giants haven’t done since 2007, when seven of their eight picks ended up contributing on a consistent basis in their first season.
It's also a big reason why New York has had glaring depth issues at certain spots almost annually.