INDIANAPOLIS -- Welcome to the Underwear Olympics. It’s roster-building season.
The 2019 NFL Combine is officially underway at Lucas Oil Stadium. While you won’t hear from players until Thursday and not see them on the field until Friday, Wednesday was all about the general managers and head coaches around the league. Like many of their colleagues, Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur addressed the media today. Here is what you need to know:
1. Eli is back. Quarterback Eli Manning, who turned 38 in January, is fully expected to be back for a 16th season with the Giants. After speaking with the two-time Super Bowl MVP at the end of the season, Gettleman left things open-ended when he last addressed the media early last month. Eight weeks later, the plans are firming up.
“I think Eli can help us win games, and he proved, when the players around him started playing better, that he can play at a very high level and help us win games,” Shurmur said. “So, yeah, at this point I want Eli back.”
At this time last year, Shurmur and Gettleman said they believed Manning had “years” left heading into a draft where they held the second overall pick, which they used on running back Saquon Barkley in a class with high-profile quarterbacks. Now they hold the sixth pick after a 5-11 season. Again, the topic of “years” came up when Shurmur met with reporters. The head coach reiterated that belief without putting a number on how many.
“I do,” he said. “Again, I don’t know what that means, ‘years.’ The one thing I know in the last half of the season – let’s just talk on offense – when the guys around him were playing better, really that allowed us to see more of what Eli could do because I don’t think any one player can carry a team. They all have to be able to do their jobs well, and we found a way to block more efficiently and allow him to do the things he needed to. By blocking better, we ran the ball better. It’s really a coordinated effort. So that’s why I still think the ‘years’ thing is true.”
2. The Giants took note of the Kansas City model. The Giants aren’t in denial. They know Manning has more years behind him than ahead, and there needs to be a plan to pass the torch. Like this year’s quarterbacks class, those come in all shapes and sizes. One plan that has worked well is what the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes, the 10th pick in the 2017 who sat for a year behind veteran Alex Smith and became league MVP the next. That’s the best-case scenario.
“I think a young player would greatly benefit from that,” Shurmur said of a young player learning behind Manning. “We all want to learn from somebody that’s done it – players, coaches – and he’s done it at a very high level. So being in a room with him, I think, would only help that player.”
Shurmur added: “You’re still looking to play the best guy. I’ve been in situations where Sam Bradford started the first game. I was in another situation where Donovan McNabb didn’t start until Week 8; Doug Pederson was the starter. And you’ve seen in Kansas City where Mahomes really didn’t play the first year. So there’s a lot of different models for that.”
3. Gettleman didn’t rule out bringing in a veteran QB. While citing the Kansas City model, Gettleman wouldn’t rule anything out, including bringing in a veteran to replace Manning. “I can’t say anything like that,” Gettleman said. He added: “Well, it’s a never-ending process. We haven’t even hit free agency yet, so like I told you, I had my conversation with Eli back right after the season ended and we are where we are. Like Pat said, there’s a million different models, there’s a million different ways to do this and you could cite a number of models where they had a veteran guy and they drafted a young guy, and at some point in time, the torch got passed and away everybody went, and it was a happy away everybody went. So, there’s still a lot of time to make these decisions.”
4. Giants to look at quarterbacks’ bodies of work, not just size. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray headline the 2019 quarterbacks class at the combine. While teams have yet to take their official measurements, you don’t need a ruler or scale to see that Haskins is much larger than Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner.
“They’ve got to have the traits you’re looking for to play the position,” Shurmur said. “Times have changed. Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes. … Russell Wilson won a Super Bowl, so I think you’ve got to look at the total player, you’ve got to look at his productivity, and you’ve got to look at whether he fits. And I think we as coaches then will use their skillsets to the best of their ability to get the most out of them and win games.”
Shurmur had not met the prospects in person as of Wednesday morning, but he sees similarities in that the two were productive in their lone seasons at top-tier programs.
“We haven’t seen Kyler be measured yet, but when you watch him on tape, he’s an outstanding player,” Shurmur said. “For a sub-6-foot player, he only had five balls batted down. So that’s why I say you’ve got to really look at the player and how he competed or how he helped his team win games, how he moved his feet – you’ve got to look at all of it and factor it in and decide if that player is for you.”
5. Shurmur broke down the three new coaches on his staff. Heading into his second year as head coach of the Giants, Shurmur had to replace three assistants who left for promotions around the league. Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo left to become the Bengals’ defensive coordinator; assistant defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend was named the Bears’ primary defensive backs coach; and assistant linebackers coach Rob Leonard became the Dolphins’ linebackers coach. Shurmur spoke about their replacements on Wednesday.
On Mike Dawson, outside linebackers coach: “I was very deliberate this time when I was trying to add three new coaches to the staff. I felt early in the process I wanted to add a guy that could coach the outside backers, and I worked with Mike Dawson in Philadelphia. (He’s) an outstanding teacher, he’s a tough guy, a presence, and I admire him. I’m looking for career coaches that are open-minded that understand staff mechanics and do their very best to do their job and get the players better. And Mike brings that to the table.”
On Henry Baker, assistant defensive backs coach: “When Deshea left for his promotion, then I wanted to find a No. 2 and that’s where Henry Baker came in. Henry’s got some pro experience with the intern stuff. When we interviewed him, as you might expect, I spent a lot of time on (the interview process), I feel like I’m a defensive back coach now. You interview these guys, you call people that you know that recommend them. He came highly recommended. He has a little bit of a track record with the Giants, and when you sit in a room and watch him teach, you say, ‘OK, this guy is going to have an impact on our players.’ So we’re happy about that.”
On Everett Withers, defensive backs coach: “He’s been a head coach. He’s got a great presence in the room, a defensive coordinator, coached in the NFL, and when you sit and visit with these guys, as a head coach, sometimes I’m not in the meeting when they’re doing their thing. I walked away and said, ‘hey, I’ve got confidence that these guys are going to inspire our players to be great.’ And that’s why we hired them.”
6. There have been conversations with Landon Collins, a pending free agent. Three-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who is coming off his second consecutive season-ending injury, has “been in the building rehabbing and working out,” Shurmur said. The deadline for clubs to use franchise or transition tags is March 5, the day after the combine ends.
“We’re still evaluating,” Gettleman said. “You’ve got 53 players on your club and you’ve got a salary cap, right? You don’t have 53 silos. Decisions like this cannot be made in a vacuum. You can’t do it. So, it’s a process.”
7. Gettleman reiterated the Giants didn’t sign Odell to trade him. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. signed a lucrative deal with the Giants last offseason, but trade rumors have been swirling around one of the most talked-about players in sports.
“It’s a repeat of what I said at my post-season presser: We didn’t sign Odell to trade him,” Gettleman said. “So I know that’s all over the place. So understand that, and that’s all I need to say about that.”
8. Gettleman’s “dream” is to find the next Eli. At this time in 2004, Ernie Accorsi, then-general manager and longtime mentor to Gettleman, was gaining a conviction on a quarterback from Ole Miss who would become one of the best players in franchise history. All these years later, Gettleman wants to do the same for the organization.
“I would love to drop a franchise quarterback on this place and then watch him from Cape Cod and then enjoy the hell out of it,” Gettleman said. “That’s a gift, and that’s what I’d like to do for the New York Giants.”
Whether or not that player is in this class remains to be seen. If he is, Gettleman wouldn’t blink at giving up draft picks to get him, like Accorsi did. “No guts,” he said, “no glory, kid.”
9. Pass rusher is deep in draft, free agency. The 2019 class of free agents and draft prospects lines up well for the Giants, who are searching for more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Pass rushers in particular are all over the board.
“It’s kind of interesting, isn’t it? It’s funny the way it happened,” Gettleman said. “What’s the over-under on how many of those guys get franchised? (A lot.) This is a really strong draft for hogs, on both sides of the ball. It’s obviously a very important need because you guys sat and watched our inability to close out games. You turn around and think about it, we had just three games in the second half of the year, we make stops, we finish the season 7-1 – a stop.”
10. Offensive line still a major focus in the draft. Before Shurmur took over the Giants, he coached against them. And the best Big Blue teams he faced had one common denominator: the offensive line.
“In the years when the Giants were really good, you could point to the offensive line being really good. Oh, by the way, you have a quarterback named Eli Manning. So I don’t know why that’s any different.”
While they look for improvements in Indianapolis, there are plenty of options for the Giants still in East Rutherford.
“I believe you have a chance to win it all when you can say the strength of your team is the offensive line,” Shurmur said. “And so there’s a couple ways we can do that. We can continue to develop the players we have. Will Hernandez, that was a great year of development for him. Spencer Pulley came in and played center. Jon Halapio was playing really well. Nate Solder was fighting his tail off, and as Will got better, that left side really looked good. And then you include the center. Then Jamon Brown added some stability to the right side, which really helped Wheeler.”
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah released the second edition of his top 50 prospect rankings ahead of the NFL Combine.