Does he really deserve the chance he is getting?
The New York Giants have announced that they will be retaining general manager Dave Gettleman after firing Pat Shurmur. That decision to retain Gettleman rather than making a clean break and a fresh start has proven to be polarizing among fans.
Though we have heard reports of a split between ownership on the subject of Gettleman, John Mara and Steve Tisch voiced their support in a statement released Monday morning.
Gettleman’s impact on the Giants’ roster over the last two years simply can not be overstated. He inherited a roster which went 11-5, sweeping the NFC-best Dallas Cowboys less than a year before he was hired. Of the players who made up that playoff roster, only Sterling Shepard remains.
The 9-23 record has frequently been cited in the reason for Pat Shurmur’s dismissal, but that is Gettleman’s record as well. That stands in stark contrast to the duo’s mandate to “Win Now” and get the Giants back to a winning record and into the play-offs in 2018.
Assuming Gettleman doesn’t announce his retirement in Tuesday’s press conference, this will be his third offseason as the Giants’ general manager. So let’s take a look at some of his biggest decisions from the previous two seasons.
Gettleman’s did not hire Pat Shurmur as the Giants’ head coach — ownership makes that call. He was, however, in agreement with it. Shurmur was hired to be the “Adult in the room” (a not-so-subtle dig at Ben McAdoo) and maximize the “years left” in Eli Manning. As we’ve seen in the last two years, that hiring was a bust. Shurmur is a good man and a perfectly capable offensive coordinator at the NFL level. But he is not a head coach at the NFL level.
There really is nothing wrong with not being an NFL head coach — it is a difficult job and there are some fantastic coaches who are just better suited to being coordinators.
But all too often we saw the Giants’ players look unprepared, play without urgency, repeatedly make mistakes, and largely fail to show growth. That is all on the head coach, and while Pat Shurmur did not prove equal to the demands of the head coaching position.
One of the rules of leadership is that you are responsible for your subordinates actions. One of the things that always made Eli Manning a great leader is that he refused to throw his teammates under the bus. If a receiver dropped a pass, Eli would say that he needed to throw a better ball, if a player ran a wrong route, Eli would say that he had to do a better job of helping them prepare during the week, and if the Defense stuffs a running play, Eli would say that he has to do a better job of getting the Giants out of bad looks.
That is true for the front office as well. If Pat Shurmur made mistakes and failed as a coach, the general manager who recommended him is at least partially responsible for that.
Free agency and trades
Gettleman’s work in free agency was supposed to be his calling card when he was hired — largely based on his work adding role players as the Giants’ Director of Pro Personnel.
However, this has been the biggest black mark on Gettleman’s record.
His first big moves were to trade a fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams for linebacker Alec Ogletree, trade Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third-round pick, and to sign offensive tackle Nate Solder.
Ogletree has emerged as a leader in the locker room on the Giants’ defense, but he has been a liability on the field. He has been inconsistent in his angles and tackling as a run defender and a liability in pass coverage when not being lead to the target by a back-up quarterback. His contract, meanwhile, has been something of an albatross for the Giants’ salary cap.
The trade of Jason Pierre-Paul was largely done to free up cap space to sign Solder in free agency.
(There is the argument that JPP wouldn’t be a fit in James Bettcher’s defense, but that falls flat when we consider that the Arizona Cardinals offered him a big multi-year contract to play in that same defense and the Giants played a 4-2-5 nickel on more than two-thirds of their snaps set under Bettcher.)
Since then JPP has had 21 sacks, 25 tackles for a loss, and 36 quarterback hits for the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, players Solder has been responsible for blocking have had 22 sacks, and he has given up more pressure than any other tackle, per Pro Football Focus. This level of play from Solder is simply not acceptable — from any player, not just from a player receiving a record-setting contract — and the loss of Pierre-Paul’s pass rush and run defense has been felt by the defense.
His free agent classes featured a number of missteps, such as Patrick Omameh, Jonathan Stewart, Kareem Martin, Connor Barwin.
Whether or not the signing of Golden Tate III was a complete missstep remains to be seen, but he was not a big enough part of the Giants’ offense to justify a contract that pays him in the top-20 of guaranteed money for a receiver.
This past year Gettleman did do a good job in acquiring EDGE Markus Golden who finished the season with 10.5 sacks. He did not apply consistent pressure despite being one of the least-often double-teamed EDGE rushers in the NFL, but when he did get pressure, he frequently finished at the quarterback. Likewise, Mike Remmers played relatively well at right tackle, particularly for the $2.5 million contract he signed. Gettleman should also get credit for signing Michael Thomas and trading for Riley Dixon, both of whom have been assets to the Giants over the last two years.
2019 has also seen two of the biggest moves in Giants’ history, with the trade of Olivier Vernon and Odell Beckham Jr. and the trade for Leonard Williams.
The Odell Beckham trade
There was, and still is, a lot to unpack with the Beckham trade. Looking at the injuries suffered by the Giants’ receiving corps and the play of the offense this year, it is difficult to say that Beckham wasn’t missed. The Giants’ receivers struggled to create separation all year long, which made fielding a consistent offense difficult. Making matters worse, the lack of a dangerous receiving threat to command double teams gave defensive coordinators much more flexibility in calling coverages and scheming free defenders to rally to the football in the run game.
Of course the other side of the equation is the return for Beckham. It is a knock against Jabrill Peppers that when he was lost to back injury and Julian Love stepped in, we didn’t really see a dropoff in play. But it’s also probably more fair to Peppers to say that the Giants’ defense has been so dysfunctional (between coaching mistakes and poor play from young players) that no one player was going to make a big enough impact to matter.
The other big chip in that trade was RG Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler did solidify the right guard spot, but he was also another player who’s absence wasn’t really noticed. If Nick Gates could play the same spot with a minimal dropoff, did the Giants have to make such a dramatic move for a guard?
The Leonard Williams rade
It was widely expected for the GIants to be active at the 2019 trade deadline, but it was a shock for them to be buyers, not sellers, while carrying a 2-6 record.
It was even more shocking to see them ship a 2020 3rd round pick and a 2021 (conditional) 5th round pick to the New York Jets for a defensive tackle — the one position at which the Giants could be said to be both deep and talented. The move to trade for Leonard Williams has been both questioned and ridiculed over the last two months, and it has not looked any better in hindsight.
Williams was traded because was not producing for the Jets, and he continued to not produce for the Giants. Williams did help improve the Giants’ run defense, but the primary goal of a modern defense is to impact the passing game. Williams only tallied half a sack on the season and 11 quarterback hits for the Giants. Now the team will have to decide whether or not to extend him, replacing a third-round rookie’s contract with a free agent’s deal as well as elevating the 2021 fifth-round pick to a fourth-round selection. It is too soon to say whether the Giants can come out winners — or even break even — on this deal, but that would involve signing Williams at a team-friendly price and then have him finally live up to his draft pedigree on his second contract. As it stands now, a third-round defensive tackle (ie: B.J. Hill) could reasonably be expected to produce at a similar level as Williams for a much smaller price tag.
If there is an argument that Gettleman deserves his continued employment, it is in his drafting. The rule of thumb is that you can’t fairly judge a draft class until they have been in the NFL for three years. I’m going to stick to that, but I do want to look at the five players Gettleman has selected in the first two rounds of the 2018 and 2019 drafts. These are the players that are expected to form the nucleus of the Giants’ roster for the next half-decade (or more).
- Saquon Barkley
With two years of perspective, Barkley becomes an interesting case study. On the one hand, he has been one of the best running backs in the NFL since the moment he was drafted. He is a rare playmaker with the ability to create game-breaking plays as a runner or receiver.
The problem is that he is a running back — a position even Ed’s Rules For Draft Success say to avoid like the plague in the first round.
In general, plays to running backs are inherently inefficient. Even in the passing game, tight ends and receivers are simply more effective and create more value. And part of the issue with Pat Shurmur was that for all of Barkley’s upside and production, he actually wasn’t used very well. Meanwhile, fifth-round pick Philip Lindsey has produced at nearly the same rate, and former sixth-round pick Boston Scott has had a bigger impact in the two games against Philadelphia this year.
We also saw the downside of the running backs is their shelf life. Running backs have, on average, the shortest careers of any position. Part of it is how replaceable they are, but another is their injury rate. We saw Barkley suffer a high ankle sprain this year and his job isn’t going to get any safer, while he remains one of the highest-paid runners in the NFL.
So on one hand the Giants have an excellent player with game-breaking potential. But on the other hand, they could have gotten similar (or at least adequate) production with much less investment.
Was Barkley a good pick, or could they have done more to maximize the second overall pick, such as draft a quarterback or trade down (like the Indianapolis Colts did)?
- Will Hernandez
Hernandez was widely regarded as a steal at the top of the second round. Almost every scouting report of the UTEP product graded him as a Top-25 prospect and a virtual lock to go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. So it was a no-brainer to add a steal of a prospect at a position of need.
The early returns on Hernandez bore that out. Despite the Giants’ offensive line being a disappointment in 2018, Hernandez looked to be on his way to being one of the best guards in the NFL. Unfortunately, he never took the expected step in 2019 and, if anything, regressed slightly. He is still powerful and has impressive competitive toughness, but some issues cropped up with his game. There were instances of him looking confused when faced with stunts or twists, as well as getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage. Hernandez is coming up on that crucial third year and finding a good offensive line coach could be key not only for Hernandez but the line (and offense) as a whole.
- Daniel Jones
Jones was an incredibly divisive pick, and will likely remain so for a while — in that regard he is at least starting his career on the same note as Eli Manning.
A big reason for the division on Jones is that he provides ample evidence to confirm whichever bias you brought with you. Those who want to see a prototypical quarterback can see a 6-foot-5, 230-pound passer who is willing to hang in the pocket and take hits while throwing a pretty deep ball.
But those who prize down-to-down consistency, precision, and efficiency from quarterbacks will see plenty of which to be skeptical.
I’m not ready yet to put down my final evaluation of Jones, but this piece by Pro Football Focus is remarkably fair (and I am saying this as someone who is routinely skeptical of PFF’s grading system).
Jones will be the Giants’ starting quarterback for at least another season and he is capable of impressive plays but he also has a lot of work to do over the coming offseason.
He will need to improve his down-to-down consistency, improve his processing on multi-read progressions, and get much better about not putting the ball in jeopardy. And not just cutting down on fumbles and interceptable passes (of which I have him at 22 or 24 on the season), but also not throwing the ball into traffic. Jones finished the season throwing into coverage the third-most among all quarterbacks at 22.4 percent. Fellow rookies Kyler Murray, Drew Lock, and Gardner Minshew finished at 14, 14.1, and 15.5 percent, respectively.
- Dexter Lawrence
Dave Gettleman’s “Giants” roots were on full display with this pick. The Giants have always loved defensive tackles. George Young talked about his “Planet” theory and that there are only a few men of rare size and athleticism walking the planet and they should be drafted when available. Jerry Reese regularly drafted massive and athletic DTs in the second round, and the Giants have always been great at scouting them.
Lawrence seems to have the tools to be a good interior defensive lineman, though despite his size he is better suited to playing the under-tackle or defensive end position based on the defensive alignment.
He did flash in the backfield throughout the season, but only rarely had a direct impact on the play, finishing the season with 2.5 sacks and 3 tackles for a loss. Lawrence could become more of a factor in the coming years with coaching and development to unlock his athletic upside. But one of the problems with the Giants’ defense this year is that as good as their line was, Dalvin Tomlinson was their most effective pass rusher as the only lineman to finish with an above-average win rate (this despite being the Giants’ most double-teamed defender).
- DeAndre Baker
The glass half full evaluation of Baker is that he will have plenty of room for improvement and any improvement will be readily evident.
While Baker did take steps forward over the course of the season, those steps forward always seemed to be followed by steps backward. He made plays and prevented points, but there were also far too many breakdowns in coverage and communication (particularly in zone coverage), as well as unnecessary penalties. More concerning are reported frustrations over Baker’s competitive toughness, coachability, and work ethic off the field. Ed mentioned a couple weeks ago that the trade up for Baker looks like a mistake based on early returns.
So, does Gettleman deserve the chance to continue trying to do what he was originally hired to do — return the Giants to a competitive position?
Frankly, it doesn’t matter what I, Ed, or anyone else thinks. The Giants’ ownership has spoken and (barring a surprise retirement or his presence severely hamstringing their coaching search) Gettleman will get at least one more year.
Gettleman has made some good decisions, he has also made a number of missteps, and quite a few decisions on which the jury is still out.
But one thing is for sure: The state of the 2019 Giants is on Gettleman, and the 2020 season even more so. Not many general managers get to hire two head coaches in their tenure. Even fewer get to do so after winning a combined 9 games in two years and presiding over a nine-game losing streak. Gettleman needs to do whatever he has to in order to get 2020 right. The Giants will be playing the two best divisions in football and he can’t afford another season like the last two.