2019 NFL preview: Dave Gettleman and Giants have a plan, but what is it?

Yahoo Sports is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, complete with our initial 2019 power rankings.

(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)
(Yahoo Sports graphics by Paul Rosales)

When you have to express to the media that yes, you actually do have a plan to build your football team, it’s not a good sign for your offseason.

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“Trust me, we’ve got a plan,” New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said, according to the team’s transcripts. “Over time, you've got to be patient. Everybody wants answers now in this instant-gratification society, instant-gratification world, and everybody wants answers now. Over time, you'll see it. You've got to trust it.”

That was in March, after trading Odell Beckham Jr. Before the draft.

You probably remember the Giants draft. They overshadowed everything else that happened in the first round by taking Duke quarterback Daniel Jones sixth overall. That was a shocking pick and based on the way everyone reacted, Jones is already a bust months before ever taking an NFL snap.

If Gettleman has a plan, it’s hard to figure out.

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Gettleman famously passed on Sam Darnold and other quarterbacks last year to draft running back Saquon Barkley, saying it wasn’t smart to take a quarterback you aren’t in love with. Then he took Jones, who very few people would rank ahead of Darnold as a prospect.

Gettleman said about Beckham in February, “We didn’t sign him to trade him,” then traded Beckham to Cleveland in March for safety Jabrill Peppers and a first- and third-round pick.

“We didn’t sign him to trade him but obviously things changed,” Gettleman said, according to the New York Post. “Frankly, what changed is another team made an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

The Giants surprisingly didn’t use the franchise tag on safety Landon Collins, then saw him go to the division rival Washington Redskins for a six-year, $84 million deal.

The Giants look to be in a rebuild, but just gave receiver Golden Tate a four-year, $37.5 million deal. Tate will be 31 years old this season. They also paid Sterling Shepard, who has not posted a 1,000-yard season, a four-year, $41 million extension.

New York probably would be wise to stock up draft picks, yet traded a second-, fourth- and fifth-round pick for the No. 30 overall pick and selected cornerback Deandre Baker. Many thought Baker was a reach at No. 30.

It was a strange offseason, and Gettleman’s gamble on Jones looms over everything.

New York made a mistake last year not addressing quarterback. The franchise was too concerned about Eli Manning’s feelings after a one-game benching in 2017, and they botched last offseason as they made it up to him. Then they might have compounded the problem by reaching on Jones.

So much of the focus has been on the Giants taking Jones at No. 6 instead of waiting for their second first-round pick at No. 17. That’s justifiable though. Clearly Gettleman thinks Jones can be a long-term starter. Once he fell in love with Jones, there was no need to risk losing the quarterback he coveted. Maybe Jones wasn’t ranked highly by draft experts, but Gettleman and the Giants couldn’t know for sure what would have happened between picks No. 7 and 16.

Taking Jones at No. 6, once they were sold on him, was fine. But should they have been sold on Jones?

Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm had Jones as his 56th ranked prospect in this year’s class. He pointed out Jones is smart, well-coached, a good athlete and an accurate passer on short and intermediate throws. But Jones was also upstaged by Missouri’s Drew Lock (who went in the second round) at Senior Bowl practices and Edholm had questions about Jones’ arm and downfield passing.

“Jones’ composure and mechanical refinement make him a high-floor template as a prospect, and he likely wouldn’t embarrass himself if thrust into the lineup early in his career,” Edholm wrote. “There are enough limitations in his game to ever imagine him becoming great.”

That’s not what you want to hear about the sixth pick of the draft.

As for what happens this season, it will be awkward. If you’ve read these previews in past years, you’ve seen this stat: Since 2006 (the year after the Green Bay Packers took Aaron Rodgers) Jake Locker and Brady Quinn are the only two first-round quarterbacks to not start at least one game as a rookie. All five first-round quarterbacks last year started, making it 32 of the past 34 first-round quarterbacks that have started at least once as a rookie. Unless the Giants buck a 94 percent trend, Jones is going to start at some point this year.

Manning is aging and fading but beloved. But time moves on and the sixth pick likely isn’t going to sit on a bad team. There will be a transition. And it will be difficult to navigate.

Jones didn’t ask for the pressure he finds himself under. He had no control over how high he went in the draft. He didn’t ask to go to a rabid market and replace a legend. But he’s under an intense spotlight before he ever takes a snap.

Gettleman should feel the same pressure. His plan, whatever it is, better reveal itself pretty soon.

New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has been one of the most talked-about men in the NFL this offseason. (Getty Images)
New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has been one of the most talked-about men in the NFL this offseason. (Getty Images)

Ask Jon Gruden: Trading a generational talent can create a lot of regret. Odell Beckham Jr. had baggage, but his talent is undeniable. It hurts to trade him to Cleveland. The Giants did get Jabrill Peppers and guard Kevin Zeitler from Cleveland, while also shipping pass rusher Olivier Vernon to Cleveland. Zeitler is a very good guard and Peppers is a former first-round pick who was misused. They should do well in New York. Golden Tate got a big contract but the Giants needed pass catchers and had to pay. Veteran right tackle Mike Remmers helps the line, and free safety Antoine Bethea is a good short-term add as well. Safety Landon Collins leaving via free agency could have been avoided. The Giants did add three first-round picks but each of them — Daniel Jones, defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker — appeared to be reaches.

Grade: D

While the vibe around the Giants is mostly negative, they weren’t quite as bad as their 5-11 record last season according to many metrics. They were No. 15 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA per-play metric, and projected as a 7.9-win team. Their Pythagorean expectation, based on points scored and allowed, said they should have had 6.9 wins. The Giants finished 11th or better in stats like yards per pass play, yards and yards allowed per run play and passer rating allowed. New York actually scored more points than any other NFC East team last season. The Giants lost 11 games and eight were by a touchdown or less, and their 4-8 record in those games was unlucky. They also started 1-7 against a rough schedule and went 4-4 the rest of the way. Is it possible the Giants are actually underrated?

Among all NFL teams, only the Oakland Raiders had fewer sacks than the Giants, who posted 30. Then the Giants traded their top pass rusher, Olivier Vernon, and didn’t do much to add to the pass rush. Markus Golden had 12.5 sacks for Arizona in 2016 and was a good gamble in free agency, but he has 2.5 sacks the past two seasons. A lot will be asked of 2018 third-round pick Lorenzo Carter, who had four sacks as a rookie. The Giants might have a pretty good secondary this season, but it won’t matter if they can’t rush the passer.

Eli Manning had a bounce-back in 2018, at age 37. He improved from 2017 in completion percentage, yards, touchdowns, interceptions, yards per attempt and passer rating. Manning wasn’t bad in 2018. He likely can’t hold off Daniel Jones all season — as previously stated, rookie first-round quarterbacks don’t sit anymore — but perhaps Manning can hold him off longer than expected.

Imagine the Giants offense without Saquon Barkley. Pretty scary, isn’t it? While we had visions of Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. playing beside each other for years, Barkley has to do it alone now. The main question for Barkley, after 352 touches (and more than 2,000 yards) as a rookie, is how many touches can he handle this season?

“I don’t think any number is too high for me personally,” Barkley said, via NJ.com. “At the end of the day, I know I sound like a broken record, but you will hear this for as long as I am in the NFL, as long as I take care of my body, my body will take care of me.”

Defenses keyed on Barkley last season and it didn’t matter. He’s a phenomenal talent, perhaps the best back in football already, and we’ll see how far he can carry the Giants offense.

Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: “Evan Engram showed improvement in his second NFL season, it was just obscured by injury issues. He jumped his YPC by 1.5 yards and he spiked his catch rate by almost 15 percent; when you raise both of those numbers, you’re doing something right. But Engram also missed five games, and his touchdowns dropped from six to three. His year-end grade dropped eight spots, even with the jump in efficiency. So much of life is merely showing up.

“Engram’s still considerably ahead of the curve for a young tight end, however. So many at the position look lost or overmatched in their early seasons, and that has never been the case with Engram. His game really kicked into gear in the final four games of 2018, when Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t on the field. Engram totaled 320 yards over that span, with a minimum of 75 yards in every start. You love a tight end who moves like a wideout.

“The third-year tight end won’t be cheap at any table this summer — his Yahoo ADP is 61, the sixth-highest at the position. And obviously the Giants have uncertainty at quarterback, and even the wideout group is in flux (goodbye, OBJ; hello, Golden Tate). We also have to monitor Engram’s health; a hamstring injury held him back this spring. But in the pocket where you’ll be considering Engram, upside is probably more important than floor. When you get into the fifth or sixth round, Engram deserves a long look.”

[Yahoo fantasy preview: New York Giants]

Odell Beckham Jr. had 622 targets in his 59 Giants games, including 124 in 12 games last season. The Giants will have to shift those 10-plus targets per game around to others. Golden Tate will get his share, of course. But it’s also a big opportunity for Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram. Shepard and Engram have talent, and now they should have an opportunity to break out.

WHICH POSITION GROUP HAS IMPROVED THE MOST?

Thanks to two trades with the Browns, the Giants might have improved two units (though obviously at a big cost to receiver and edge rusher). Getting Kevin Zeitler from Cleveland, and also signing Mike Remmers to help at tackle, should complete a long build on the offensive line. Assuming left tackle Nate Solder is fine after minor ankle surgery in May to remove bone spurs, the Giants line has transformed from a weakness to a potential strength.

Surprisingly, the Giants secondary might be better too, despite losing Landon Collins. Peppers could replace most or all of what Collins did. Janoris Jenkins didn’t have a great 2018 but he still has No. 1 cornerback ability. He’s joined by first-round pick Deandre Baker. And if Antoine Bethea has another solid season left at age 35, the Giants could be strong in the defensive backfield.

If Eli Manning plays at his 2018 level and not like he did in 2016-17, maybe the Giants won’t be so bad. There’s talent on offense, especially if someone can emerge as a big-play threat now that Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. The defense needs a pass rusher, but if Lorenzo Carter and Markus Golden play well, the rest of the defense looks good. If the Giants have an overcorrection in their luck in close games, could they be in the playoff race?

The Giants quarterback situation could be bad. Eli Manning is 38. Daniel Jones might have been severely over-drafted — it’s possible not all the experts are wrong on him. And good luck finding patience for Jones’ development in that market. It’s a Giants team that was 5–11 last season, traded one of the most talented receivers we have ever seen, and could get much worse quarterback play than last season.

Maybe this ranking is too low. But the two most important positions on an NFL team are quarterback and pass rusher, and it’s possible the Giants will be among the NFL’s worst at both spots. There are reasonable, rosy scenarios for the 2019 Giants, but it seems more likely they’re in for another losing season and another high draft pick as Gettleman implements his plan.

32. Arizona Cardinals

31. Miami Dolphins

30. Oakland Raiders

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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