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No one ever said that rebuilding the Giants was going to be easy or fast. They knew that when they hired Dave Gettleman four years ago. The franchise was a mess. It was lost in the past and its own history. Everyone knew it would take time.
But time’s up.
There is no way around it anymore. This is the moment the bill from the last few years comes due. They have shaken up the organization, flipped over the entire roster, entrusted their organization to a new head coach, a new franchise quarterback, and a small army of promising young players.
And all of that is great. But they’re still 15-33 in the Gettleman Era and 18-46 in the last four seasons. They’ve still had double-digit losses in four straight seasons and six of past seven. They’ve still finished over .500 once, made the playoffs just once, and not won a single postseason game since their last Super Bowl championship, 10 years ago.
“I really do believe we’re moving in the right direction here,” Giants co-owner John Mara said earlier this summer. “I think I just have to try to continue to have some patience.”
But, Mara added...
“It’s taken a little longer than I would like.”
Yeah, it has. And it’s hard to imagine Gettleman, quarterback Daniel Jones, and maybe even head coach Joe Judge will survive with their jobs intact if it takes much longer. It’s time for all those young players they’ve been acquiring to prove they can play. It’s time for the Giants’ promise and potential to finally be fulfilled. It’s time for the endless losing, the misery, and the frustrations of an increasingly angry fan base to finally stop.
Playoffs or bust? Maybe not. Contenders or bust? Probably. Mara won’t set a bar on what would stop him from blowing up his franchise again this offseason, but this season better be a heck of a lot better than it’s been in the recent past.
So, will it be? Here’s a look at the 2021 Giants …
The Giants loaded up on offensive weapons this offseason, convinced that Jones didn’t have nearly enough to work with. They gave WR Kenny Golladay a $72 million contract, signed speedy WR John Ross and sure-handed TE Kyle Rudolph. They even drafted Kadarius Toney, one of the quickest, shiftiest receivers in the draft. Also new, they hope, is a healthy Saquon Barkley, who has looked strong and fast this summer, nearly a year removed from a torn ACL. They are convinced that will transform an offense that ranked a dismal 31st in the NFL last season, and it will give Jones all the tools to prove they were right when they made him Eli Manning’s heir apparent.
The Giants also added a few key pieces on defense, most notably cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who could take some of the pressure off James Bradberry. And they hope the return of edge rushers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines will be a boost to their pass rush, too.
Most of the defense is intact from last year, which is a good thing considering Patrick Graham’s unit ranked 12th in the league and was basically the only reason the Giants were able to win six games. Leonard Williams is still the big dog … or “Big Cat” on the line, coming off a career season and is still their only proven pass rusher. They are convinced his 11 ½ sacks last season were just the start for him, and not a fluke.
Unfortunately, the Giants’ offensive line is also old. Well, it’s young, but it’s basically the same young group as last season, minus veteran guard Kevin Zeitler, who was arguably their best lineman last year. And judging by their preseason performance, the line issues and the angst that comes with it, are back, too. That angst is also getting kind of old.
There is no doubt it’s the defense, and more specifically, the secondary. They are loaded in the back four with Bradberry and Jackson as well as safeties Jabrill Peppers and Xavier McKinney, plus a lot of young depth. If they get any pass rush at all – and Graham certainly schemed his way into a lot of pressure on the quarterback last season – the defense figures to be stingier than it was last year.
That pressure will be key. The Giants are counting on Williams to repeat his outstanding season, and they really believe that Carter and Ximines will provide him some much-needed help from either behind him or the other side. They believe that if they can develop a second pass rusher, Williams could be among the league leaders in sacks. If he is, the defense alone could win the Giants a lot of games.
Stop me when you’ve heard this before: It’s the offensive line. It’s always the offensive line. Now, the Giants do believe in the young players they have up front – though that took a bit of a hit this summer when veteran Nate Solder returned from a year off to apparently beat out second-year pro Matt Peart at right tackle.
For what it’s worth, they think their line, and particularly left tackle Andrew Thomas, will put it all together this year. Of course, there’s no evidence to support that yet. Everyone is right to be skeptical since Gettleman has been trying to fix this line for four years and he appears to be basically nowhere. The line has been a thorn in the Giants’ side for a decade. If it’s bad again, it could really negate all the good they think they’ve done to fix their offensive problems.
What can put them over the top?
There is a belief that the return of Barkley and all the new weapons will turn their offense into a bit of a juggernaut (relatively, of course). There’s also a chance that they’re right. They certainly have a lot of options in the passing game, and no one anywhere questions what a healthy Barkley can do. He creates offense on his own, plus takes the pressure off Jones and everyone else. If they have him for all 16 games, and the offensive line doesn’t break him, they could easily end up in the top half of the league.
Of course, there are a lot of Ifs there – including “if” Jones is as good as the Giants think he is. But with their defense, if they can actually score points too? Then they’d make the expanded playoff field and be at threat to win the NFC East.
What would bury them early?
There are two things that should really frighten the Giants as they open the season: All their new offensive toys have spent most of training camp on the sidelines. And while they’re mostly trending healthy and all could be available for Week 1, they haven’t had any time to work together. They’ve been hinting for weeks at a slow offensive start.
“People have been in and out of the lineup,” Golladay said. “So we’re going to be a little probably slow to get off.”
Maybe that’s just a rope-a-dope to lull everyone to sleep, but it feels more like a somber warning. And if that slow start lingers because of Barkley’s knee and Golladay’s hamstring and Evan Engram’s calf and they can’t put all the offensive pieces together, that would be bad because the schedule only gets worse later in the year.
Also, if the defense collapses and last year was a fluke, they can all start making winter golf plans early. This offense has potential, but it can’t carry the team if the defense isn’t at least very good.
What’s at stake?
Everything. The future. A lot of jobs. Seriously, this is a big season for a lot of people, even though Mara did his best tap dance around the question of what he’d do if this season was a mess.
Here’s a hint: He’d lose his cool and toss his patience out the window along with his 70-year-old GM. He’d also strongly consider telling the new GM to use those two first-round draft picks next year to move up and draft a new quarterback. And that coach he loves? Judge would survive, but 2022 would suddenly become a win-or-else year.
In other words, if Mara doesn’t like what he sees from the Giants this season, he is likely to blow the whole thing up and start over. What’s his bar? He wouldn’t say. He’s not one to issue a playoff mandate and there probably isn’t one. But let’s just say the Giants better be in it until the very last day again. They probably better at least be .500. And they definitely better avoid double-digit losses for a fifth straight year.
There is no doubt this is a better team than the one that went 6-10 last year and nearly backed into the playoffs. They have flaws on their roster, but they really do have a lot of talented young players with a lot of potential. The only question is whether all of them – or at least most of them – can suddenly realize that potential this year.
It’s a lot to ask, especially with unknowns in key areas – like quarterback and along the offensive line – and a lot of lingering health questions, too. Plus, their schedule is a monster with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Los Angeles Chargers on the road.
They should be good enough to hang around the expanded playoff chase. They certainly better be. They might even show enough progress by the end of the season to please Mara. But with that schedule, that offensive line and their current health issues, it’s still likely that in the end they’ll fall a little bit short.
Final record: 8-9, third place in the NFC East, no playoffs