EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - This has been an unprecedented offseason in the NFL because of the lockout, but in the Timex Performance Center it has been business as usual as the Giants prepare for next week's NFL Draft.
That was clear today, when general manager Jerry Reese held his annual pre-draft news conference. Always elusive and vague in that setting, Reese answered questions for 30 minutes, and only once uttered the name of a draft-eligible player (Cam Newton).
More significantly, Reese stressed that the Giants' longtime draft blueprint and philosophy are intact. Although they, like all teams, have been unable to fill specific position needs by signing veteran free agents, Reese said the Giants will not necessarily look to resolve those issues in the draft. Indeed, he used a variation of the phrase "we will pick the best available player" six times in his meeting with reporters.
"As far as the draft goes, we will do like we always do," Reese said. "We will try to pick the best players on the board."
The Giants own eight selections in the draft, which begins next Thursday and will continue on Friday and Saturday. They currently have the 19th pick in the first round, as well as single choices in the second, third, fourth and seventh rounds, plus three in the sixth round – their own, plus two compensatory picks. They do not have a fifth-round selection, having traded it to Minnesota last September for backup quarterback Sage Rosenfels and return specialist Darius Reynaud.
Each time the Giants are on the clock, Reese and his staff will look to add the best available football player and not one that will fill a specific hole. But what happens if the Giants are preparing to make the 19th pick and the player with the highest grade on their board is a defensive lineman, a position group generally perceived to be among the team's best and deepest? Not to mention the fact that the Giants' top two draft choices in 2010 – Jason Pierre-Paul and Linval Joseph – play on the defensive front.
"If a defensive lineman is there at 19, we'll be deeper in our defensive line," Reese said. "If a good player is there and he's the highest player on our board, we'll be even deeper in our defensive line. We're going to pick the best player.
"You always are cognizant of what your need is. But still, if we need a running back and there is high value at defensive tackle, we are not going to take a running back just because we need a running back. We are going to take that high value defensive tackle or any other position."
Does Reese think the Giants need a linebacker, as many members of the football media and public have speculated?
"If there is a good one available at the time we need to pick, sure," Reese said.
How about strengthening the offensive line, where every starter is at least 29 years old?
"We are trying to strengthen every position," Reese said. "Every position needs strengthening on our team. We are going to try to do that. It is just not linebacker – (it's) every position."
Last year at this time, the Giants had already improved an admittedly weak safety position with the additions of veteran free agents Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant. But as they enter this draft, the shortcomings Reese and Tom Coughlin indentified after the Giants concluded their 2010 season at 10-6 have not been addressed, because the current labor situation prohibits them from doing so.
"Nothing has happened, so it is still really the same," Reese said.
If they want to stock specific positions for the 2011 season, the only way to do so for the foreseeable future is through the draft.
But that won't be the Giants' focus when they're on the clock. They'll look to add the most talented players available, regardless of position, then address any remaining needs when the lockout ends and a free agency signing period begins.
"I think it is just flipped," Reese said. "We will go into the draft looking for the best players available. Then after the draft when free agency starts, we will probably say, 'Okay, let's fill some holes' where we think we need some help.
"When free agency comes around we'll see what is available, what the money is, what we are working with, what the transition period is like. So there will be some quick adjustments and we will just have to hit the ground running. And like everybody else will do, everybody is in the same boat. So it is a little strange, but we will make the adjustments."
Another factor that Reese said will not sway his decision-making is the health of some veteran players. For example, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Adam Koets – who all started games for the Giants at center last season – is each recovering from surgery. But that doesn't mean Reese believes he must come out of the draft with a center.
"The players can still visit the doctors and we get medical reports," Reese said. "But with the draft, we are just concentrating on getting the best player. It really doesn't matter what is going on that much with our current players. We pick the best players."
That has been the Giants' philosophy since the late, great George Young ran the team's drafts as general manager, beginning in 1979. It was an organizational core belief that Ernie Accorsi adhered to when he was general manager (1998-2006) and one that Reese, who learned under both Young and Accorsi, has maintained.
So what is different about this year? Without veteran free agents to evaluate and sign, Reese has focused solely on the draft, as he did when he was the Giants' Director of Player Personnel prior to becoming the G.M.
"I have been able to watch more players myself, because the free agency period is not here," Reese said. "So I have been able to concentrate more on watching a few more players than I usually do during this time."
Reese has a strong handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the players in this draft class. But like everyone else, he is uncertain what will happen after the draft. When will the lockout end? How will free agency work? Who will be eligible? Reese can only wait for the answers.
"All we can do right now is to draft," Reese said. "We are going to try to pick the best players in the draft and we will make adjustments after the draft. That's really all you can do. Because you really don't know what is going to happen. Right now we can control the draft. We are going to try to pick the best players we can in the draft. And we will make the adjustment after the draft."
Reese addressed several other issues in his news conference:
*As always, Reese will listen to all trade offers (though only draft choices, and not players, can be traded).
"We are willing to move up, we are willing to move down," Reese said. "If somebody loves our spot and we don't have our guy there, we will be more than happy to move down. If there is somebody up there that we really love and we think we can move up and not give away the farm, we are willing to move up as well. Every year the draft changes after every pick. So it is always high drama on draft day."
*On the health of players – he was asked specifically about Mathias Kiwanuka and Steve Smith – who underwent surgery.
"We really don't talk a lot about what our players' medical conditions are," Reese said. "But I can tell you that everybody is doing better. I will leave it at that. Everybody is doing better. But honestly I haven't had any contact with them (because the rules of the lockout prohibit it). Our doctors say that everybody is progressing. That is really all I can comment on."
*On the Giants' young linebackers:
"We have a couple of guys that we really don't know a lot about," Reese said. "Phillip Dillard didn't play a lot and Adrian Tracy dislocated his elbow. We want to see what those guys can do. And Clint Sintim is a guy that we want to see what he can do. He hasn't played a lot and he got injured. So that has hampered our evaluation of him. But we picked him in the second round. We expect this guy to be an impact player for us. And right now he hasn't been able to do that yet. He flashed a little bit as a rookie. But last year he didn't get to play a lot because he was injured. So we are hoping that he can come back from his injury and look like a second round pick."
*On wide receiver Ramses Barden, who is entering his third season:
"Ramses Barden is another guy that we think has a tremendous skill set that we want to come in and contribute to our team," Reese said. "Those guys – we expect to play – (tackle) Will Beatty – those kinds of guys. You spend high draft picks on guys, you expect them to play. And so we expect those kids to step up and play like the players we think they are."