Odell Beckham's mouth and Eli Manning's decline get blame, but John Mara is architect of this Giants mess

Senior NFL writer
Yahoo Sports

The emotion was raw and boiling out of control.

John Mara, dressed in a crisp suit, dress shirt and red tie, stood up from his seat and tossed his chair in a fit of disgust. The New York Giants owner’s emotions had bubbled to the surface, culminating in a public display of uncontrolled anger and frustration.

Mara’s press box theatrics are no secret around New York, though they’ve never warranted much attention. He’s a passionate man who cares about winning and stews when his franchise falters. But the image of Mara acting out in a short, undated video clip didn’t go viral because of a media member’s eagerness to manufacture a story. No, it was Odell Beckham Jr.’s father who reposted the footage in an effort to highlight Mara’s apparent hypocrisy.

That social-media salvo — directed at the man who gave his son $65 million guaranteed as part of a five-year contract extension only two months ago — was another sideshow in the ongoing saga between the organization and its most recognizable star. 

Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley look to turn the Giants around from a 1-5 start as they face the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. (Getty Images)
Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley look to turn the Giants around from a 1-5 start as they face the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. (Getty Images)

Each week, there is a new twist to their subplot of dysfunction. And Beckham’s recent admission that he dislikes drinking water was the latest in a string of head-scratching headlines to flow from their East Rutherford, New Jersey, facility.

The Giants have now become a circus. And at the epicenter of this carnival show is Mara.

Last week at the annual fall league owners meetings, he told reporters that Beckham “needs to do a little more playing and a little less talking.” That is true. But whatever Beckham says in the aftermath of his now-infamous ESPN interview matters little in the grand scheme of things. The only thing that needs to be said now is the one thing Mara will never admit: “I screwed this up.”

The cast of characters around him has changed, with Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, Steve Spagnuolo and Jerry Reese, among others, being dismissed in an effort to right the ship. But Mara remains, and so do the Giants’ glaring issues. 

Poor front-office hires, bad coaching, worse contracts and weak drafts have kept New York mired in mediocrity. The Giants are 14-18 over the previous two seasons with only one playoff appearance since their 2011 team won Super Bowl XLVI. And now they’re stuck trying to salvage a 1-5 season with a below-average offensive line, an inconsistent defense, an aging quarterback and no heir apparent waiting in the wings.

In December 2013, Mara declared that their offense — ranked 29th in rushing and 28th in points and yards per game — was “broken.” At the time, he stressed that their makeshift offensive line, which contributed to Eli Manning’s career-high 39 sacks and 27 interceptions, was his biggest concern heading into the offseason.

Well, guess what? The Giants’ offense is still in shambles. And Manning is now 37.

Giants owner John Mara gave a stern assessment of his team last week at the NFL’s fall owners meetings. (AP)
Giants owner John Mara gave a stern assessment of his team last week at the NFL’s fall owners meetings. (AP)

Beckham created a firestorm when he called out his starting quarterback and the schemes of new head coach Pat Shurmur, proving once again that he has no concept of how to consistently be a true leader or team player. But Beckham’s words shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Mara. The owner had a front-row seat to the steady decline of a former No. 1 pick and two-time Super Bowl MVP. He has watched as Manning, a classic pocket passer who was never particularly mobile, has become less and less capable of protecting himself when the pocket breaks down. And then Mara chose to give millions to a polarizing playmaker who clearly doesn’t want to be handcuffed to Manning much longer.

McAdoo wasn’t ready to be a head coach, but the Giants hired him anyway. And when internal talk intensified last season over the need for a succession plan, Mara let emotions get the better of him. Despite being in favor of backups Geno Smith and Davis Webb seeing action with the Giants already eliminated from playoff contention, the owner buckled under the weight of public scorn. It wasn’t long before McAdoo and Reese were shown the door and the Giants, armed with a new coach and an old-school general manager in Dave Gettleman, were publicly reaffirming their faith in Manning.

But not only did the front office misread its quarterback situation, it made no attempt to put Manning in a winnable situation.

Not since 1981, when they selected Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, have the Giants had a draft selection as high as No. 2 overall. (Their most recent top-five pick was in 2004, when they selected Philip Rivers, whom they traded to the Chargers in exchange for Manning.) 

But while other teams, like the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and most recently, the New York Jets, were trading away picks to better position themselves to draft a franchise-altering quarterback, the Giants were content to stand pat with Manning at the helm. Believing they could squeeze a few more productive years out of the veteran — and seeing no real upside in taking Sam Darnold — they instead drafted a running back.

The decision to select Saquon Barkley would have made more sense had the powers that be done more to shore up the offensive line, instead of simply making Nate Solder — who was a perfect fit protecting Tom Brady in the Patriots’ short and quick passing attack — the top-paid offensive lineman.

The decision to take Barkley would have made more sense had the powers that be signed a veteran quarterback to help groom their fourth-round pick, who isn’t yet ready to be an NFL starter. At the very least, the Giants could have made a cursory call to the Jets about Teddy Bridgewater.

But they did none of that. 

They thought Manning would be enough. They thought pairing Beckham and Barkley would provide electricity to an offense on life support. And yet heading into Week 7, the unit was 27th in points and rushing yards per game and 24th in yards.

Putting Manning behind this offensive line is negligent at best. 

Thinking he can survive each week on sheer athleticism while under duress is dumbfounding. 

Believing there was no need to devise a legitimate succession plan was downright foolish.

The Giants were supposed to be contenders in 2018, but they instead look like a team in rebuild mode. This season has been an epic fail. 

But not because of Beckham’s big mouth. And not solely because of Manning’s shortcomings. A collection of poor decisions, dating back several years, have resulted in the mess we see now. 

And that falls on Mara. And Mara alone.

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