EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For a man who has taken more arrows over the past month than King Leonidas at the end of “300,” New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman was as genial as ever during his pre-draft news conference on Thursday.
For nearly half an hour, Gettleman — who has been widely skewered for his recent decisions to trade Odell Beckham Jr. and let Landon Collins walk for nothing — cracked jokes and talked in circles about what he might do in next week’s NFL draft.
Will you try to move up in the draft?
“You may,” Gettleman said with a playful smirk. “Anything is possible.”
Could you draft a quarterback you like at No. 17?
“It could be,” Gettleman said with another grin. “It could be a corner, a wide receiver. It could be a sports writer.”
When it comes to defending yourself, this was the equivalent of bringing a water gun to a knife fight. But that has always been Gettleman’s reputation — kill ’em with kindness — and he made it clear in an interview with Yahoo Sports afterward that he isn’t about to let a few tough weeks of criticism change who he is.
“Why should it?” Gettleman said with a hearty chuckle. “I’ve got a thick rhino hide.”
Don’t take Gettleman’s geniality as a lack of self-awareness. After going 5-11 last season in one of the nation’s largest (and most critical) markets, he knows he can’t afford to blow the upcoming draft, in which he has a robust 12 picks to work with. But the stakes are even higher for Gettleman.
When asked later if he thinks the moves he makes this offseason will end up defining his legacy as a general manager one way or another, the 68-year-old turned serious and nodded his head.
“It could,” he said, with a shrug.
So with his back against the proverbial wall — at least in the eye of public opinion — Gettleman is leaning on what he has learned during his 30-plus seasons as a scout and front-office executive to chart his path forward.
Long understood as a man who prefers to build his teams up front, he remains resolute in that line of thinking — despite the increasingly pass-happy nature of the NFL — citing the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots’ recent playoff run as proof.
“The recent Super Bowl should tell you that it’s the way to go … we’re in a time right now where people are throwing the ball 60 percent of the time, but no matter what, there are three truths that will never change: you have to run the ball, you have to stop the run and you’ve got to rush the passer,” Gettleman told Yahoo Sports. “If you can’t do all three of those things, it makes it much more difficult to win. That’s just the way it is — big men allow you to compete. I’ve been to seven Super Bowls, OK? And not one of those teams had a bad line.”
So for those seeking hints about what the Giants plan to do with their multitude of picks this year, perhaps that’s as good a place to start as any. Not only does the Giants’ o-line remain one of the worst in the NFL, their defense — long a calling card of “Giants Football” — finished with a mere 30 sacks last year, tied for 30th in the league.
And if Gettleman gives his offensive and defensive lines a much-needed makeover in this draft, the Beckham trade — in which the Giants received a first-rounder (No. 17 overall), a third-rounder and Jabrill Peppers for a wideout who was well-liked in the locker room but also a combustible attention magnet off it — will be a big reason why.
“It was a business decision,” Gettleman told Yahoo Sports. “Back in the day when you franchise-tagged a player, if someone came and signed them, that gave you two first-round picks. That’s only happened once in the history of the NFL, and that was Sean Gilbert.
“So basically I had a team call me up that offered me not only two No. 1 picks [Peppers was a first-round draft pick in 2017], but a third-round pick as well. And it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
And while Gettleman was roundly criticized for passing on a quarterback at No. 2 overall last year, the Beckham trade may have also set the GM up to (finally) nab a successor for 38-year-old starter Eli Manning. If that comes to pass, you can bet that quarterback will have one specific trait.
“Just take a look at all your Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks ... you have to make plays from the pocket — you have to,” Gettleman told Yahoo Sports. “If your quarterback cannot operate comfortably in the pocket, you’re not going to win. Because at the end of the day, it’s about winning the Super Bowl. That’s what it’s all about.”
Gettleman is OK being judged by that standard, characterizing the moves he made this offseason as “a bet on our organization.” But if Gettleman is being completely honest, he also has to admit those moves are a bet on himself, though he hopes his football legacy will be defined by his entire career, which included a Super Bowl run as GM of the Carolina Panthers, and not just the end.
Even if he is remembered for whether the Beckham trade works out, Gettleman appears to be good with it. Because when asked what he’d do if everything goes poorly — like Beckham leading a football revival in Cleveland and this draft yielding marginal returns for the Giants — Gettleman let the question breathe for a few seconds before settling his eyes on the reporter.
“It’s not gonna go poorly,” he said, with one last smirk.
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