As Giants co-owner John Mara retains GM Dave Gettleman, here's why he won't be judged for his past misses

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Ralph Vacchiano
·6 min read
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Dave Gettleman looks right at 2020 NFL Scouting Combin
Dave Gettleman looks right at 2020 NFL Scouting Combin

Dave Gettleman's critics are never going to let him off the hook for his mistakes of the past. They won't get over it, and maybe they can't. They're still riled by the bad contracts he threw around in 2018 to the likes of running back Jonathan Stewart and guard Patrick Omameh. They're still hurt by the way he overpaid for tackle Nate Solder, and his bad trade for linebacker Alec Ogletree.

But it's time for everyone to move past it, because, like it or not, John Mara already has. The Giants co-owner long ago absolved Gettleman of those sins and chose to focus on what his 69-year-old GM has built now, and what he'll do next.

And when it comes to Gettleman, that's exactly where everyone’s focus should be.

"Listen, we made some miscalculations in 2018 with some of our personnel decisions," Mara said on Wednesday. "But I think the last two years, particularly this past year, we've seen significant improvement. I just felt like to break that up now and bring in somebody new from the outside was not going to be beneficial for us. I think Dave and Joe (Judge) work very well together. Our personnel decisions I think were very sound.

"And I have every reason to think that will be the case going forward."

He does have reason to believe that after a somewhat encouraging season, which of course doesn't excuse what Gettleman has done, nor does it suggest his reign has been perfect -- or even good. His 15-33 record is simply unacceptable. And no matter how much it’s explained that he only gave $3 million to Stewart or that the four-year, $62 million contract he gave to Solder was considered a necessary, aggressive move at the time, there's no sugar-coating the reality that many of his early moves were remarkably bad.

As Gettleman has admitted, he had a misguided strategy that he could win and rebuild at the same time. And he underestimated just how far the Giants organization had fallen into a state of disrepair before he arrived.

But the moment Mara decided to bring him back for the 2020 season, while declaring that his "batting average has got to increase," it was clear that Gettleman wasn't being judged on that anymore. He was being judged on the product that's on the field now and the future he was building.

And look at the pieces that he's put in place: Four new defensive players – cornerback James Bradberry, linebacker Blake Martinez, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and safety Logan Ryan – who could've easily made the Pro Bowl. More young, promising talent along the offensive line than the Giants have had in years. Two good, young safeties (Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney), a strong defensive tackle (Dexter Lawrence).

And eight of his 10 draft picks this year, and five of his 10 from 2019 made significant contributions to the team this year.

There's also the coach that Gettleman helped hire -- an out-of-the-box, out-of-nowhere choice that everyone agrees has worked out brilliantly. There's the much-improved culture in the locker room that was falling apart in the final seasons under the previous regime. And there's the managing of the salary cap, getting out of some of the onerous contracts he inherited, while putting the Giants in position to spend the money they need to spend to really compete.

Yes, the jury is still out on quarterback Daniel Jones, his legacy-defining draft pick, but for what it's worth there is no doubt inside the Giants organization that Gettleman got that one right. There were also misses, to be sure, such as trading back into the first round in 2019 for cornerback DeAndre Baker or trying to replace Odell Beckham by giving $22.9 million in guaranteed money to Golden Tate.

But overall, since he really started rebuilding this mess in the 2019 offseason, hasn't Gettleman done more good than bad? At worst, isn't his grade since then an "incomplete?"

"I thought in 2019, things got a little bit better," Mara said. "Certainly, this past offseason, I thought the personnel decisions that we made, both in the draft and in free agency, were significantly better."

The record, of course, wasn't significantly better, which is the source of most of the discontent. And both Mara and Gettleman made it clear that 6-10 isn't nearly good enough, no matter what the circumstances were. But focusing on the record is missing the point of the 2020 season. With a new coach, a new system and an incredibly young team, they were hurt more than most by the pandemic-erased offseason and the loss of preseason games. The 0-5 and 1-7 start is a clear product of that.

The 5-3 finish and the fight to the bitter end in the NFC East was a clear sign of progress. To Mara, that mattered more.

"Obviously, I'm not pleased with the number of games we won," Mara said. "I'm disappointed that we couldn't do better than 6-10. But I do see progress in the building here. I think that the quality of people that we have in the locker room has improved a great deal. I think we have some great leaders down there. I think we've established a basis for a foundation that can have continued success going forward. I'm excited about the future of this team."

Gettleman isn't finished, of course, and this offseason will be important. He acknowledged, "We need to find playmakers. That's all there is to it. I'm not sugar-coating it."

He still has to re-sign Williams, too, to completely justify the controversial deal he made with the Jets at the trading deadline in 2019. And the progress of Jones will really be what defines Gettleman's tenure. If he proves to be a worthy franchise quarterback then this franchise is set up well for the future. If he's not, Gettleman won't be around to see which quarterback comes next.

So judge him on that. Judge him on what's on the field now, what he does this offseason, and whether Mara sees "that we've taken a significant step forward" by the end of next year. Because it doesn't do anyone any good to be stuck in the past, to keep whining about moves made three years ago.

If Mara hadn't gotten over that, if he hadn't forgiven Gettleman for those, he would've hired a new general manager a year ago. But he didn't. He put the past where it belongs.

Now it's time for everyone else to do that, too.