Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the New York Giants.
No team had more locker room troubles than the Giants did in 2017. They suspended three different players for different reasons during the season, and the upheaval among the team was a big factor in the firing of Ben McAdoo around midseason.
The other reason? Benching Eli Manning, which was met with harsh criticism from pundits and fans of the team. Manning has been in noticeable decline for the past couple of seasons, but considering the length of his tenure with the Giants (it will reach 15 seasons if he remains with them in 2018), it was an incredibly short-sighted move.
Injuries did the Giants in more than anything. 23 players were on injured reserve by the end of the year, and the wide receiver position was hit the hardest; both Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall were lost for the season in the same game. No wonder why Manning’s stats took a big hit. By the middle of the season, they were dead in the water.
The Giants need a firm direction for the future from whoever their new head coach will be (rumored to be Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur), and they have to establish control of the locker room as well. But there’s a lot of talent on the team already, especially on the defensive line.
On the other hand, the team was expected to contend heavily in 2017 and didn’t start competing in games until all hope was lost. They’ve spent a lot of money in free agency the last two years, and as a consequence will have to be wise with their spending for here on out. New general manager David Gettleman has been good in this department at his previous positions though.
What he hasn’t been consistent at is filling obvious weaknesses on the roster. The Carolina Panthers had issues with their offensive line for years, yet Gettleman never did much to alleviate those problems. The Giants also have an underperforming blocking unit in addition to their linebacking corps. Fixing those groups should be a major priority.
First things first though: decide what to do with Manning. If Shurmur is hired, he may be able to lure Case Keenum to New Jersey. Or they can just select one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Once that’s settled, the Giants can get back to work. As long as they’re healthy.
Current number of draft picks: 8 (#2 in the first round)
Cap space: $19-22 million
Notable free agents
Justin Pugh, G: For the first four years of his career, Pugh was one of the more underrated guards in the league, but he took a turn for the worse in 2017. He had an average Pro Football Focus grade of 80.7 from 2013 to 2016 before dropping all the way down to 52.4 this season. Injuries may have played a factor though, and he had to play out of position a few times when other linemen got hurt.
Still, he was one of the only bright spots on the Giants offensive line for a while, and it’d hurt for the team to lose him now. At 27, Pugh has plenty of solid years of football left in him.
Weston Richburg, C: The other decent interior offensive lineman that the Giants have, Richburg has taken a step back in his level of play after a fantastic 2015. He had an 86.5 from PFF that year and has since dropped to 75.5 and 71.3 during the last two years. He went on injured reserve with a concussion back in November.
Richburg is a year younger than Pugh and has just as much potential left, if not more. However, the Giants may be forced to choose between one of them and let the other walk.
Ross Cockrell, CB: In a season where every other corner on the roster was either injured, ineffective or suspended, Cockrell was the one consistent presence in the secondary. He led the team with 3 interceptions and 11 pass deflections. With Eli Apple falling out with the rest of the team and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie getting older, keeping Cockrell around would be a decent short-term fix for their pass coverage.
Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa, RB: Try as they might, Vereen and Darkwa didn’t do enough to bolster the team’s ground game in 2017. Vereen is a solid third-down back but is limited as a full-time starter. Darkwa, meanwhile, led the team in rushing with 750 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Giants have other options on the roster, however.
Geno Smith, QB: Smith got a lot of heat for being elevated to starting QB over Manning, for all of one week before returning to his backup role. In his defense, Smith wasn’t terrible, though he was facing a weak Oakland Raiders secondary. With Davis Webb on the roster, he isn’t a priority to bring back unless it’s a super cheap contract.
QB: Manning may stay on for the rest of his contract (two years), or the Giants may exercise a potential out clause in the deal. In any case, they’ll need a QB of the future eventually. Luckily for them, there are a number of potentially great prospects at the top of this year’s draft.
LB: The Giants have failed to address the issues with their linebackers for a number of years now, and they need to fix the problem sooner or later. Both the middle and outside positions could use upgrades, especially the latter; they have 5 unrestricted free agents hitting the market.
T: The other gaping hole on the roster. They’ve already cut ties with right tackle Bobby Hart, which could allow the anemic Ereck Flowers to move over from left tackle. The blindside needs to filled so the QB stays upright, whoever that ends up being.
RB: It’s been a four-headed monster in the backfield for the Giants for the past few seasons, and that’s frankly not working out. Darkwa, Vereen, Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins are all okay players, but they’re not lead backs.
G/C: One or both of Richburg and Pugh could be leaving in free agency, and the Giants will be desperate to find replacements if that happens.
Best player/building block
Landon Collins, S: The only Giant to make the Pro Bowl this season, Collins led the team in tackles with a total of 99, grabbing 2 interceptions as well. He was also tied for 6th in PFF’s safety rankings with a grade of 88.5. His rookie deal lasts for two more seasons, so the Giants will have to pony up some money to Collins before 2020.
Damon Harrison, DT: A player like Harrison is slowly becoming obsolete in the NFL. He’s a run-stopping specialist in a league that’s moved toward passing above all else. But “Snacks” is REALLY good at what he does.
He had 76 total tackles this season, leading the league in run stop percentage according to PFF, making him the top run-stopping interior defender. They also ranked him as 6th overall among interior defenders as well. Sure, he had only 1.5 sacks. But there’s still room for a guy like Harrison in football. He just has to be used the right way.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns