EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Maybe Dave Gettleman really isn’t on the hot seat, as Giants co-owner John Mara sort of said on Tuesday. Maybe small steps and continued progress will be enough to bring him back in 2022. And maybe Mara is even telling the truth that there’s no playoff mandate for his organization this season.
But there should be. Because if the Giants don’t look and play like a real, legitimate playoff contender this season — and not just the product of an awful division — then it will be clear that there’s something terribly wrong with this franchise.
And then he’ll have to rethink everything — from the GM to the coach to the quarterback on down – whether he really wants to or not.
“I gave the same answer last year, I think, but when I walk off the field after the last game, whenever that is, I want to feel like ‘Does this group give us a chance to win the Super Bowl? Are we moving in that direction?’” Mara said. “If the answer to that is yes, then we’re not going to consider making big changes. If I feel like we’re going backwards, that’s another discussion.”
This is the part where the impatient portion of the Giants’ fan base – i.e. most of it – usually asks “Aren’t we past this point already?” The Giants went 6-10 last season in a hideous division. They were 4-12 the year before, 5-11 the year before that, and 3-13 back in 2017 when Mara got so fed up he fired his GM and his coach with a month left in the season. The Giants may not be going backwards, but if they’re going forward the increments feel painfully small.
To be fair, Mara doesn’t completely disagree and shares the fans’ frustrations in the 18-46 record since their last playoff berth in 2016 – which happens to be their only playoff berth in the past nine years. “We’ve given them too many losing seasons,” he said. “It’s time for us to start winning.”
Yes it is. And he didn’t necessarily have to say that last year or the year before because, like it or not, the past three seasons -- after Gettleman abandoned his ill-fated attempt to simultaneously try to win and rebuild at the same time — have been a slow, methodical rebuilding project. Their whole mission statement was to acquire as much young, promising talent as possible, then augment it with a few key free agents.
They’ve done that. They’ve drafted well recently, so it seems, and spent a lot of money on free agents this offseason, just like they planned. But here’s the important thing: If you’re rebuilding, you have to be rebuilding towards … something. It can’t be an endless construction project like that hideous, unfinished mall across the road from MetLife Stadium.
At some point there has to be a payoff — like the playoffs.
Isn’t that time supposed to be now?
“I’ll look at that at the end of the season and see whether I think we’re continuing to make progress and moving in the right direction, but I’m not issuing a playoff mandate,” Mara said. “I don’t think those ever do any good. I don’t think I need to say or do anything to motivate the people in this building any more than they’re already motivated. They all want to win.”
Wanting to win is nice. Heading in the right direction is nice. And Mara’s faith in Gettleman, his conviction that he’s got the right head coach in Joe Judge, and his faith in quarterback Daniel Jones are all nice, too. But if this is another 6-10 season, if they’re out of the race by early December, could he really stand here at the end of the season and say the same while endorsing another year of the status quo?
No way. He’ll have no choice but to reevaluate everything. He might have to nudge his GM into retirement. He’ll certainly have to think about using one of this two first-round picks next year on a new quarterback. And while he is almost certain not to fire a third straight coach after only two seasons, it’ll become clear that Judge’s seat will be getting warm.
That’s all a worst-case scenario, though — something Mara obviously doesn’t want to consider, publicly or privately. He wants to rise what he sees as a surprising sense of optimism from an oft-angry group of fans.
“In my recent memory, this is the most positive this fan base has been about our team,” Mara said. “I’ve gotten very few negative letters or emails about where we are as a team right now.
“If we do not have a good season that will obviously change.”
He’s right about that. And the fuse of the fans in that case will be lit by nearly a decade of failure, including a disastrous record under Gettleman so far. As far as they’re concerned, the seat under everyone in this once-proud organization is already burning. They need – and will demand – more than just more “progress” to put those fires out.
As for Mara, he said the decision on whether to blow up what they’ve been building is “never an easy question.” He also said “I really do believe we’re moving in the right direction here.”
“I think I just have to try to continue to have some patience,” he added, “which is not easy for me given the last four seasons we’ve had.”
It’s hard to imagine he can patiently endure a fifth and still suppress his rage. Nor should he. His patience was a virtue while Gettleman went about rebuilding a franchise that had rotted more than anyone admitted when he first took over. He was right to give his unpopular GM the time to make the necessary internal changes, restock the talent, find a franchise quarterback and a new head coach.
But that time is up. For everyone in every corner of the locker room and building. It may not be playoffs or bust, but it should be playoff contention or bust. The Giants have to re-establish themselves as winning organization or Mara has to bring in someone else to do it. Different management. Different coaches. New players. Whatever it takes.
Baby steps and progress can’t be good enough anymore. It’s time for the rebuilding to end.