Eight teams are gearing up for playoff games this weekend. Eight other teams are in the midst of coaching searches. Success and stability on one end, failure and turbulence on the other.
The Giants are not involved in either endeavor as they lick their wounds and move past the 5-11 record that cemented their sixth losing season in the last seven years. The first year for general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur produced more of the same, accompanied by vows that things are different. The only certainty is that the Giants are not good enough. Not close to being good enough.
There are no easy fixes. Here are some suggestions as the offseason kicks off with the Giants, once again, on the outside, looking in, as it comes time for the most meaningful football to be played:
No, the guy does not have a lifetime appointment as the starting quarterback and yes, despite the arm strength he’s retained and the movement he shows rolling out of the pocket, Eli Manning’s physical skills have regressed when it comes to reaction time and his ability to ignore the mess around him and get the ball down the field. He is 38. It happens. Manning is not shot, though, and the options if the Giants move away from him are not appealing. Nick Foles will cost a ton — perhaps $20 million a year — and going the veteran quarterback route in free agency is always risky business, just ask the Vikings (Kirk Cousins) and Broncos (Case Keenum). Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill could be available. Interested? Didn’t think so.
Bringing Manning back comes with a caveat: He must restructure his contract to at least slice his salary-cap cost of $23.2 million in half. This can come in the form of a two-year extension that pushes the salary cap hit down the road and makes it realistic for the Giants to cut him if the 2019 season does not go well.
Take steps to find Eli’s replacement
The time has come to end the parade of faceless backups. As Gettleman said, you cannot force things in the draft, especially at quarterback, but every rule has an exception. Taking Ohio State sophomore Dwayne Haskins with the No. 6 pick is not wise — unless Giants scouts see a huge upside in him that others do not. There is some noise the Giants are intrigued with Ryan Finley of North Carolina State. If so, take him in the third round, if he lasts that long, for a year of sitting and learning behind Manning. If they prefer Daniel Jones out of Duke, so be it, take him in the second round. These are not awe-inspiring prospects, but the time for rinky-dink backups is over. The 2020 draft will be all about Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm is probably better than anyone in this year’s class. To get them, though, a team has to really stink in 2019 and the Giants have endured enough of that.
Or else, if Shurmur is a believer in Teddy Bridgewater from their time together with the Vikings, see if he will sign for a moderate deal, the selling point being he gets first crack at the job after Manning struggles or leaves. Bridgewater is young enough (26) to take it if he cannot find a wide-open starting assignment elsewhere — there could be openings in Jacksonville, Denver, Miami and Washington — unless he wants to wait out Drew Brees in New Orleans.
The talent level in the Giants quarterback room must rise. Manning-Bridgewater-Kyle Lauletta as a depth chart is a start. Manning-2019 draft prospect-Lauletta is less desirable, but at least a step in the right direction.
Solve safety mess
Landon Collins cannot do everything at strong safety, but he does enough and should be re-signed. The team that traded up to get him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft has done him a disservice with the has-beens and never-weres paired with him at free safety. Collins never had a backfield mate he could fully trust and rely on, forcing him to overextend and peek backward when he should have been attacking forward, as he is at his best the closer he is to the line of scrimmage.
Sticking the franchise tag on Collins will cost about $11 million on the 2019 salary cap and a multi-year deal would ease that financial hit this season. If Collins wants to be the highest-paid safety in the league — Kansas City’s Eric Berry averages $13 million a year — it is not going to work. If the Giants can get him for between what the Dolphins gave Reshad Jones (five years, $60 million) and the Vikings gave Harrison Smith (five years, $51 million) it makes sense.
Figure out defensive dollars
The two highest 2019 salary-cap hits on defense belong to Olivier Vernon ($19.5 million) and Janoris Jenkins ($14.75 million). Cutting Vernon would save $11 million on the cap and count $8.5 million in dead money. Cutting Jenkins would save $7.25 million on the cap and count $7 million in dead money. Here’s a hunch Shurmur is more appreciative of the way Jenkins operates than he is a fan of Vernon’s work on the field and in the locker room.
Still, the greatest and most glaring deficiency on the roster is a dearth of pass-rushers and, like it or not, Vernon is the best they have. Perhaps the Giants determine Vernon was not fully healthy until late in the season and keep him. Or, more likely, they cut their losses and let him go, hoping Lorenzo Carter is a rising star capable of generating sacks. As for Jenkins, a team needs three quality cornerbacks, at the very least, and without Jenkins the Giants have none.
Be smart in free agency
It is easy to scroll down a list of the top players available, attach needs to positions and players and shout, “Sign him! And him! And him!’’ It does not work that way — or should not work that way. All a ton of money to spend means a team is going to overpay again and again. That is the way free agency works. Buyer beware, as players hit the open market for a reason.
Could the Giants use Demarcus Lawrence or Dee Ford to fortify their pass rush? Of course. They will garner mega-deals, though, most likely too rich for the Giants, who have between $27 million and $32 million of cap space, based on estimates. Those figures will rise by $10 million-$12 million when the league releases its salary-cap increase in March and will also get inflated by any savings (Manning? Vernon?) as a result of restructuring or releases.
The Giants in 2016 overpaid for Vernon and Jenkins, and last year overpaid for Nate Solder. It is the way it goes in free agency, which is why building through the draft and augmenting through free agency is the way to go. Money needs to get spent to fortify the roster but should be done prudently. So, to help the pass rush, perhaps Preston Smith (Redskins) is a less-expensive option than Lawrence or Ford, or maybe Brandon Graham (Eagles). At offensive tackle, Daryl Williams is only 27 and Gettleman drafted him for the Panthers, so there could be a match there. Here is an intriguing one: Sign Tyrann Mathieu to finally give Collins a stud at free safety. The Honey Badger after five years with the Cardinals played for $7 million with the Texans this season and started all 16 games. He is only 26 years old.
Improve from within
There are 14 of their own players set to become unrestricted free agents and most will not return. Jamon Brown was signed off waivers at midseason and his insertion at right guard made a difference. Only 25, the former Rams starter should be re-signed as long as it if for very reasonable dollars, as he should not be confused with a Pro Bowl-caliber player. As for receivers Russell Shepard, Cody Latimer and Bennie Fowler, it seems Latimer makes the most sense to bring back. Kerry Wynn is more than useful on the defensive line. B.W. Webb was serviceable when moved into the lineup after Eli Apple was traded, but he is a No. 3 corner, at best. Money can be saved by going with a younger long snapper, so it depends on what value Shurmur puts on 34-year-old Zak DeOssie, a 12-year veteran who can still get the job done.
It is too early to figure it all out, but here is a good starting point for the Giants: Take the best available big guy, on the offensive or defensive line. With the lack of top-tier quarterback prospects, there will be an early run on interior defense and edge rushers. That means Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Ed Oliver (Houston) and Josh Allen (Kentucky) could be off the board at No. 6. If one of them is there, the Giants need to grab him. If not, pivot to offense and go with Jonah Williams of Alabama, who could immediately slide in at right tackle and, in time, possibly replace Nate Solder at left tackle. When he moved in at right tackle early in the season, second-year lineman Chad Wheeler was an upgrade from woeful Ereck Flowers, but another stud on the line is needed. LSU cornerback Greedy Williams is certainly worth being the sixth-overall pick, but the main reason the Giants have regressed is their weakness across their lines.
Gettleman’s first draft began but did not end with Saquon Barkley, and looks as if it is a keeper class. Barkley, Will Hernandez and B.J. Hill were all starters and will continue to be, and Carter will have a much-expanded role in 2019. There are plans for cornerback Sam Beal, selected in the supplemental draft. Another haul this year will help.
“We feel like we’re turned that corner, especially with this draft class,’’ Gettleman said. “But this is all part of the process. We’ll continue to vet guys out, we’re only going to bring quality people in there that hate to lose. That will stay the same.’’
That is fine, as long as the results do not stay the same for the Giants.