The angry mob has long ago passed judgement on Dave Gettleman, and the 1-6 start to this season hasn’t calmed them down. His critics can recite a litany of bad trades and questionable draft picks, and they’d be right about all of them.
Those failures just don’t guarantee that he’ll soon be out of a job.
While that decision in the end will be up to co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, there is a feeling among some in the organization that the Giants are beginning to show some signs of the progress the owners want to see, even though it’s not yet evident in their record. It’s unclear if that’ll be enough to convince them to stick with the 69-year-old general manager when this season is over, but some believe it could be -- especially if they can squeeze out a few wins in the second half.
And that could happen because, as one NFL scout told SNY, “The Giants are a team you don’t want to play right now. They are well-coached. They play tough defense. And they have more good pieces than most people think.
“They feel like they’re on the verge of putting something together,” another scout said. “It may not be imminent. They’re not a year away from a Super Bowl. But this is really the first time in years they’ve looked like they’re headed in the right direction.”
That, after all, is what Mara said he wants to see out of his organization in the 2020 season. He has refused multiple times to put a win requirement on Gettleman’s future. The bar he set in September, in fact, was that “I want to feel like, when we walk off the field after the last game that we play, whenever that is, that we’re moving in the right direction, that we have the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl.”
It was a purposely vague threshold that will give him plenty of wiggle room in the end. And since Mara hasn’t spoken publicly since before the season started, it’s unclear where he stands on the Giants’ “direction” now.
But many around the NFL – including some who are convinced Gettleman will either be fired or retire after the season – see that direction as heading up, even if it’s not yet clear if the Giants really do have the “pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl” as Mara wanted to see.
“Look, they’re still a few years away from that,” said an NFL executive. “But maybe they do have a few of those pieces. They probably have a franchise quarterback. They’ve got Saquon. They’ve got good receivers. (James Bradberry) might be the best corner in the NFL right now. (Blake) Martinez and (Kyler) Fackrell are the best linebackers they’ve had in years. I don’t know if they’ll keep Leonard Williams, but right now, with him, that (defensive) front is hard to run on. And they’ve got a coach who has them believing they can win every game.
“I could see them looking at it and thinking, ‘You know, we might have something here.’”
A lot of the evaluation, though, does depend on what happens over the next 10 games. Getting the franchise quarterback, for example, would be a big plus on Gettleman’s resume, but it won’t be if Jones continues to struggle. And that’s a problem considering the offense is struggling in general with Barkley lost for the season and with the continuing issues along the offensive line.
And the 23-year-old Jones is likely a big component in any evaluation of Gettleman by his bosses. They are aware he was hired, in December 2017, at a time the Giants were nearing the end of the Eli Manning Era, with no replacement ready to go. Gettleman made a bold move by passing on potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2018 draft in favor of Barkley, and then drafting Jones sixth overall the following year.
Finding the next Manning was everything to Gettleman. Two months before drafting Jones, Gettleman said “I told you, and I'm very serious about what I said: I would love to drop a franchise quarterback in this place, and then watch him from Cape Cod and enjoy the hell out of it, OK? That's a gift. That's what I'd like to do for the New York Giants.”
He believes, by drafting Jones, he has.
And that actually brings up another possibility, given Gettleman’s age. If he feels like the Giants are in good shape with Jones and Barkley and a bevy of young talent, he could also voluntarily step aside – as many around the NFL thought he was going to do at the end of last year. The question then, if he retires, would be: Are the Giants in good enough shape that Mara chooses to continue the status quo by promoting assistant general manager Kevin Abrams or scouting director Chris Pettit? Or do they go outside the organization, perhaps to a Patriots executive (like player personnel director Nick Caserio) or former Patriots executive (like Titans pro personnel director Monti Ossenfort) who has a relationship with head coach Joe Judge?
Those questions are unanswerable at the moment, at least until Gettleman’s fate is determined, which most likely won’t come until the end of the season. And remember that the scales are tipped in Gettleman’s favor. He clearly has Mara’s support, since he was brought back this season despite an awful 9-23 record in his first two years (10-29 now). And Mara has said many times how he is resistant to firing a general manager anyway because of the upheaval it brings to every corner of the franchise.
But he also understands that his franchise is floundering, and that at 1-6 heading into the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday night, status quo would be a tough sell. As he said back in January when he retained Gettleman and again refused to say how many games his GM needed to win, “We need to be able to put a better product on the field, that’s all.”
So have they? And is that enough to overcome Gettleman’s bad moves, like trading for the washed-up Alec Ogletree in 2018, the controversial Leonard Williams deal last October, or the drafting of troubled cornerback DeAndre Baker last year?
“There have been some head-scratchers, but if you look at the end result, this looks like the best team he’s had,” one of the scouts said. “I know the results aren’t there. But that defense has some players on it. They don’t have a pass-rusher, and that’s a huge problem. But if he’s able to find one this offseason, that would change everything for them.”
“If it were me, it would come down to the quarterback and that offensive line,” the NFL executive said. “That line has never been good. Do I believe it will be? And do I think Jones will be good when he gets some blocking? If I do, then you figure next year with Barkley back and maybe you find a pass rusher somewhere, then suddenly yes, you could make the argument that you’re on the right track.”
If that’s the criteria, then that’s why the final nine games of this season are so important. There are positive signs, to be sure, but the record is damning. Still, the NFC East is so bad that even a little improvement by the Giants could lead to those meaningful December games that Mara has openly craved.
Would having the playoffs in reach, even though it’s in a historically bad division, be enough? Would a second-half surge matter after a 1-6 start? All that is to be determined.
And despite the public outcry and plenty of league-wide speculation that his days are already numbered, that’s why Gettleman’s fate is “to be determined,” too.