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Cover 3: Offseason storylines to follow

Cover3-Saquon-Barkley

In this edition of “Cover 3” on Giants.com, we discuss the biggest storylines heading into the offseason.

JOHN SCHMEELK: This offseason’s biggest storyline for the Giants is going to be the NFL Draft. It remains the best way for a team to continue to improve and sustain success over a long period of time. The Giants added important parts of the future last year when they drafted Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez, Lorenzo Carter and B.J. Hill in the first three rounds, with hopes that Sam Beal, RJ McIntosh and Kyle Lauletta will develop as well.

The Giants are missing a third-round pick this year because of the selection of Beal in the supplemental draft, but will select sixth overall in the first round and 38th overall in the second round. They have their own fourth-round pick as well as the Saints’ from the Eli Apple trade. They also own the Lions’ fifth-round pick along with their own. They might also land a compensatory pick or two. Day 3 is going to be BUSY.

The Giants turned over approximately 70 percent of their roster this season, and continuing to add talented players though the draft will be essential to improve the team in future seasons. It is a heavy draft for defensive linemen and pass rushers, fitting the Giants’ need to find defensive playmakers. Perhaps they might also like one of the quarterbacks coming out? It is too early for those predictions, but what happens in the draft will have a bigger impact on the future of the franchise than any other decision they make this offseason, even at quarterback.

DAN SALOMONE: Free agency opens March 13. The draft begins April 25. A quote from Dave Gettleman’s end-of-season press conference to keep in mind as we approach all of the offseason checkpoints is this: “It’s not easy to win games when you don’t have playmakers. We need to improve the defense, guys. Just like I looked you right in the eye last year and told you we’ve got to fix this O-line, we’ve got to get better on the defensive side.” That was the general manager’s blunt response to a point-blank question about why the 2018 Giants went 5-11. It was roughly the same thing he said about the offensive line a year ago when talking about why the 2017 Giants went 3-13. Gettleman doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

If you asked average NFL fans – heck, even casual Giants fans – which team led the NFC East in scoring this season, they might get Big Blue if you gave them four guesses. “I almost fell down,” Gettleman said when someone told him it was in fact the Giants. While that might be surprising, the defensive side of the point differential is not. The Giants allowed 412 points, 68 more than the average of the other three teams in the division (or 4.25 points per game). The Giants, who lost six games by five points or fewer, gave up a league-high 169 points in the fourth quarter. They were also tied for 30th in the NFL in sacks, tied for 28th in opponent fumbles lost, 31st in 20-yard passes allowed, and 32nd in opponent fourth-down conversions by a wide margin. Seventy-three games were decided by three points or fewer, the most in a season in NFL history. The difference between postseason and a top-10 pick is getting one more stop.

LANCE MEDOW: The biggest takeaway from Dave Gettleman’s press conference was the unknown regarding Eli Manning’s status as the starting quarterback in 2019. So as it stands right now, that’s the biggest storyline heading into the offseason. Despite a 5-11 campaign and some offensive struggles, Manning put together a solid season. He set a career-high in completion percentage while throwing for over 4,000 yards for the fourth time in the last five seasons. He also finished with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, his second-lowest total in a season when he’s played all 16 games. When asked about Manning’s 2018 campaign, Gettleman said, “If you’re going to look at stats, it wasn’t too shabby what Eli did.” But at the same time, with respect to looking ahead to 2019, he added, “I’m committed to making the best decision in the interest of the New York Football Giants. … So, my commitment is to make this team the best team it can be and if that happens to have Eli playing quarterback, it does.”

Since November 21, 2004, when Eli Manning made his first career start as a Giant, the franchise has had the luxury of having the same signal-caller under center for all but one game. When you compare that to the rest of the league and take into consideration the NFL’s injury rate, that’s remarkable. That’s why the unknown is uncharted territory, especially for the fan base. For the last 15 seasons, it’s just been assumed Manning will be the starter. While at this point there’s no indication a 16th season isn’t realistic, it’s also fair to say the NFL is a fluid league where things change day to day, week to week, and month to month. 

Case in point: in March 2016, the Eagles signed Sam Bradford to a lucrative two-year contract extension and added veteran Chase Daniel as his backup. A month later, Philadelphia moved up in the first round of the draft to select Carson Wentz. Although Bradford still appeared to be in line as the starter, right before the season, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury during practice and the Eagles shipped Bradford to Minnesota. I’m not bringing this up to say something similar will take place with the Giants. Instead, it’s an example of how you can enter the offseason with a plan and things can drastically change. As Gettleman indicated, he and Eli had “a very honest and up front conversation” the day after the season ended. If you were to ask me to read into that statement, I think both sides have some things to think about in the upcoming weeks. Will the Giants explore all their options this offseason? Yes, but that’s not unique to the quarterback position. You can say the same thing about the entire roster. Gettleman made it very clear: “We’re going to look at film, we’re going to evaluate everything. Everything’s on the table for us.” That’s the only way you maximize your chances to field the best group of 53 players.

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