Cover 3: A busy Week 1 of Free Agency

We’re not even a week into the 2019 league year, but there has been headline after headline coming from the Giants’ facility and the other 31 clubs. In this week’s edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we give our takeaways from the first wave of free agency.

JOHN SCHMEELK: A common refrain by a lot of people that cover the NFL about the moves Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman has made since he was hired needs to be addressed. “There’s no plan!” “They keep changing their plan!” “What are they doing?” “I don’t get it!” “There’s no direction!” Sure, there is a plan. All anyone has to do is listen to what Dave Gettleman and ownership have said over the past 15 months. There seems to be a desire for an unequivocal proclamation to the world that, “The Giants are building to win in the future and we’ll be terrible this year” or “The Giants are all-in to win now with Eli Manning and the future be-damned.” Not everything has to be so black and white. There are shades of gray in everything and what Gettleman is doing is no different.

There is no debate that the Giants are transforming their team. As of today, there are only 11 players left from the 2017 roster: Eli Manning, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Chad Wheeler, Wayne Gallman, Janoris Jenkins, B.J. Goodson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Zak DeOssie and Aldrick Rosas. Some have called it a rebuild. Rebuilding doesn’t mean the team is tanking or willing to accept a bad record, let alone trying to lose a lot of games in 2019. Dave Gettleman isn’t, nor would he ever intentionally tank a season. Giants ownership is not interested in putting that kind of product on the field for the team’s fans or season ticket holders.

The time and topic surrounding the question was different, but Giants president John Mara was as unequivocal as possible about tanking back in November of 2017. “We’re still going to try to win the games. I read something somewhere about, are we going to tank the rest of the season? That’s complete bull**. I would never allow that here. We’re going to try to win the games.”

More recently, here was what Gettleman said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I look at the NBA, and everybody says, ‘You’ve got to tank. We’re going to tank and we’re going to get this great player.’ What NBA team has tanked and it’s worked because they think they’re going to get (a player)? (Response: the Sixers) When they win a championship, we can have a discussion, but until that happens, it hasn’t worked.”

The Giants are going to try to be competitive while they build the roster to reflect what Gettleman wants to see on the field. It explains why the team has traded away veteran players like Jason Pierre-Paul and Odell Beckham Jr. for draft picks and salary cap relief in future years, even if there is some short term pain. It also explains why the team has retained Eli Manning at quarterback, and gone out and signed veteran players on the other side of 30 like Golden Tate and Antoine Bethea. Attempting to transform a roster while also competing can be a tough needle to thread, but that’s what the franchise is attempting to do. That’s what the plan is. It isn’t that complicated. They are going to try to win as many games as they can now while putting the franchise on a path of sustainable winning for future years. That’s done by acquiring draft assets and setting up the cap for the future.

The quest for finding the team’s next quarterback is no different. The Giants having Eli Manning on the roster to start at quarterback in 2019 doesn’t mean Gettleman hasn’t made it a priority to find the Giants’ next franchise quarterback. Both of those things can be true at the same time.

“What Ernie did for the Giants it would be a dream for me to do the same thing,” Gettleman said at the combine. I would love to drop a franchise quarterback in this place then watch him from Cape Cod and enjoy the hell out of him. That’s a gift and it’s what I would like to do that for the New York Giants.”

It also doesn’t mean the quarterback has to be taken this year if the talent of the player doesn’t match the asset cost to acquire him.

“You cannot reach,” Gettleman said in Indianapolis. “I will say it until the cows come home, you can’t reach. You evaluate the quarterbacks and you take the guy when you believe he’s the guy and it’s at the right spot.”

It’s a balancing act between the present and the future in every move the Giants make and Gettleman has his hand on the scale. He certainly isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to get it right. “No guts, no glory, kid.”

DAN SALOMONE: My biggest takeaway isn’t even about free agency. It’s about the draft because that’s ultimately the avenue for the Giants to get to where they want to go. In the NFL, free agency sets up the draft. While adding more stability to the right side of the offensive line with the trade for veteran guard Kevin Zeitler and re-signing centers Spencer Pulley and Jon Halapio and bringing in defensive playmakers in safeties Jabrill Peppers and Antoine Bethea, outside linebacker Markus Golden and defensive tackle Olsen Pierre, the Giants increased their draft capital to 12 picks. That package includes two in the first round and four in the top 95. You can do a lot with that, whether it’s moving up from No. 6 or coming back into the first round or whatever. The draft is what will dictate wins and losses years down the road. Free agency, for the most part, just takes care of a year – singular. See: 2016 Giants.

“I stood up here last year and Dave, too, was very new,” second-year Giants coach Pat Shurmur said last month at the combine. “Dave was with the organization for many years and then was away for a few, so we were very new in the process listening to what those that were at the Giants were telling us about the players, but we have a much better view in our eyes of what our team is all about. We took over a 3-13 team, I think we made strides this year. We certainly are not good enough in really any area, we know though specifically those areas that we need to get better and I think that’s what that first year can do for you.”

Now that they are pinpointed, expect those areas to be addressed April 25-27 in Nashville.

LANCE MEDOW: In 2018, the Giants underwent a number of changes. They hired a new head coach, who brought in a mostly new staff, highlighted by defensive coordinator James Bettcher. Under Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants ran a 4-3 alignment, but under Bettcher they moved to a 3-4. In order to help make the transition run smoothly, the Giants brought in a few of Bettcher’s former players, including Kareem Martin and Josh Mauro. This offseason, the Giants looked to add even more players familiar with Bettcher’s system as safety Antoine Bethea, linebacker Markus Golden and defensive lineman Olsen Pierre all joined the mix. 

It’s no secret the Giants are looking to bolster their depth chart on defense, especially with respect to the pass rush. Last season, the Giants managed just 30 sacks, tied for 30th in the league. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon traded in consecutive offseasons, the team now needs to find consistent playmakers who can get after the quarterback. Golden had a very productive breakout season under Bettcher in 2016 when he recorded 12.5 sacks before suffering a torn ACL in 2017. Pierre collected five and a half sacks during his rookie campaign in 2017. Both players have shown the ability to apply pressure, but the key for the Giants will be developing a group of seven to eight players to rotate in and out of the lineup so they don’t have to rely on one or two players logging 90-95 percent of the snaps. In the NFL, you don’t win because of one star player or one pass rusher. You need volume and that was no better displayed than by this very organization when it won its two most recent Super Bowls.

Based on recent moves, it appears Antoine Bethea and Jabrill Peppers are in line to claim safety spots. With Landon Collins and Curtis Riley both becoming free agents, the Giants needed to address those positions and Bethea and Peppers will provide a mix of experience and youth, versatility and in Bethea’s case, another player who is familiar with Bettcher’s system. You also shouldn’t overlook Peppers’ special teams contributions as he returned both kickoffs and punts for the Browns.

Speaking of Cleveland, in the wake of the Odell Beckham trade, the Giants created a need at receiver and signed veteran Golden Tate. Over the last two seasons, the Giants have experienced life without Beckham as he missed 16 games. The team fully understands the difficulty in replacing his skillset. No one player replaces Beckham, but Tate is a polished veteran who has posted over 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons, and the Giants still have Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley in the mix. The offense has several notable playmakers, but names on paper don’t win football games. Instead, it comes down to health, production and execution. That will determine how far the Giants offense goes.

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