There were hundreds of factors that went into a week that involved, among other things, trading Odell Beckham Jr. and signing Golden Tate. What it meant for Sterling Shepard was one of them.
General manager Dave Gettleman, who presses the button on roster moves, and coach Pat Shurmur, who calls the plays on offense, discussed it at length. On one hand, Shepard’s role would increase as he helps fill the void left by the franchise’s second-leading receiver of all time in terms of yards. On the other, they signed a veteran of his same height and weight with extensive experience playing in the slot, where Shepard has spent the majority – but not all -- of his career.
“That was part of it,” Gettleman said of the decision-making process in a radio interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa. “We sat down and talked about it at length, and Pat feels strongly the way we move our receivers around – Sterling played outside last year and did fine.”
“I really like Sterling's game,” Tate said. “That guy, he's a baller. He's a playmaker, he makes plays, and I can do the same. I think what makes both of us unique is that we can both play anywhere around the field. My first two to three years in Detroit, and most of my career in Seattle, I was an outside guy. I feel like I can run the comebacks, the hooks and any route on the route tree just fine. I feel the same way about him and a couple of other guys in the room.
“I'm looking to find a way to complement him and I hope he finds a way to complement me in this offense. We just kind of come together and make plays all over the place. I'm expecting Eli [Manning] to spread the ball around to a bunch of guys and a bunch of guys make plays. I'm just excited to hopefully come in. Starting with our group, help our group get better and be an asset to this team.”
Tate, a 100-game starter and Super Bowl champion, now leads Tyke Tolbert’s wide receiver room in experience and production. His 611 catches more than double the combined career totals of Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, who last year played 243 snaps inline, 169 in the slot, 57 wide and six in the backfield.
Engram will also be asked to step up in the post-Beckham era, something he did admirably while the three-time Pro Bowler was injured for stretches in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Gettleman said he had a “whoa” moment when someone told him Engram’s numbers in games that Beckham did not play. Of the 16 games Beckham missed in the past two seasons, Engram played in 15 of them, racking up 71 catches for 886 yards and six touchdowns. He did so on 117 targets. In the final four weeks of 2018, when Beckham was out with a quad injury, Engram averaged 80 yards per game. The Giants finished with the most points in the NFC East, another one of those “whoa” stats that flew in the face of a 5-11 record.
“I thought at the end of the season we did a great job working him into the offense,” Gettleman said, “and making him a big piece.”
That’s good news for the Giants, who will look to Shepard and Engram for even bigger performances in 2019.