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There was no playoff mandate from John Mara, because there never is. He wouldn’t say how many wins the Giants need to have this season either. It’s not his style to set a bar like that, or to give a win-or-else mandate.
But it certainly sounded like Mara’s message to the Giants was clear: Win … or else.
“It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us,” Mara said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I’m tired of the losing and of having the postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong, why I think we’re making progress.
“It’s time for us to start winning some more.”
That may not be a Steinbrenner-esque threat, but it was still a clear mandate from the 66-year-old co-owner of the Giants. He has patiently watched his franchise slowly rebuild and restock over the last three years, and then he doled out more than $200 million in contracts over the last three weeks to jumpstart the process. The result can not be a fifth straight season of double-digit losses. It just can’t.
The Giants need to win. They need to be a playoff contender – and not just the kind that backs into a race in a terrible division, either. And whether Mara says it or not, there will be jobs and careers on the line if that doesn’t happen. At the very least, there’s almost no conceivable way GM Dave Gettleman could survive a fourth straight losing season added to his record of 15-33. He’ll be nudged into retirement if that happens, maybe even before the season ends.
And then there’s quarterback Daniel Jones, of whom Mara said, “We think the world of Daniel in this building.” But the Giants just got him a new No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay at the cost of $72 million, knowing he’s facing a critical season in which Mara wants to see him “win some more games.” A year from now the Giants will have to make the decision on Jones’ expensive fifth-year contract option – a decision that becomes much more difficult if those wins haven’t come.
Really, though, that may just be the start of it. Who knows what other changes are coming if the Giants are losers again? Because it’s really been much more than just four straight bad years for this franchise. They’ve made the playoffs once in the nine seasons since they won Super Bowl XLVI – a stretch that has included seven losing seasons, six seasons of double-digit losses, five coaches and two GMs.
It’s not hard to imagine Mara blowing everything up with a whole new front office and who knows what else if the Giants again finish, say, 7-10.
Mara doesn’t expect that, of course. He always seems to think he has a playoff team heading into training camp. But even he admitted that this year, those hopes and expectations have been raised a little higher than in the recent past.
“I have more confidence going into this season than I had in previous years,” Mara said. “Hopefully, given the money that we spent, given the draft we expect to have, we’ll have a better team on the field this year.”
The money wasn’t insignificant and will be a significant factor in the Giants’ evaluation. The Giants aren’t traditionally big spenders in free agency. The last time they were – in 2016 – they got a short-term boost before the hefty contracts blew up in their face. Mara said his philosophy on free agency is to “seize the opportunities when they present themselves to you” – that it has to be money spent on the right players at the right time.
With the Giants on the verge of returning to respectability and contention, he knew a spending boost could push the team over the edge. That’s why he believed this was the right time. He knew they needed to start winning now.
“That’s one of the reasons we spent the money we did,” Mara said. “I do think we’re making progress here. We’ve added more players. It’s definitely a better locker room than we’ve had in a while. And I think Joe (Judge) has done a terrific job instilling a certain culture. The players believe in him. Fans seem to believe in him too. So I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
And if they’re not … again, Mara won’t play that what-if game. Even when he was asked flat-out if Gettleman would be back if 2021 turned into another losing season, Mara said, “I’m not going to speculate that right now. Let’s just see how the season plays out.” That’s a pragmatic answer. After all, who knows what the circumstances would be? A mid-season injury to a key player – like Jones or Saquon Barkley – could change the equation. Not all losing seasons are the same.
But they all feel the same, and Mara is clearly tired of that feeling. Yes, he was tired of it last year and the year before. But two years ago he knew they were basically starting over from scratch. Last year they had just hired a new coach with a new culture and new systems.
This is the year when all the pieces are supposed to come together, along with the high-priced players he just added to the mix. This is the year he expects the Giants to arrive back on the scene as contenders. This is the year he expects all that rebuilding, all that potential, and all that promise to turn into actual wins.
And yes, whether he said it or not, that sentence should end with “or else.”
“Obviously it’s been brutal the last few years,” Mara said. “We’re looking forward to turning it around and not having any excuses for why we haven’t done it.”