The Giants were once models of consistency and patience and masters at sticking to a long-term plan. But that seems like a bygone era. They are now on their fifth head coach and third general manager in the last eight years.
That is not only stunning, but it's also a flashing red light signaling a franchise in trouble. And that's really what they've become, with one playoff berth in the last decade and five straight seasons of double-digit losses (seven in the past eight years).
Which is why it's good that for the first time in more than 40 years, the Giants looked outside their organization for help, bringing in the Buffalo duo of new GM Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll. They recognized that they needed a fresh set of eyes and definitely some new ideas.
This is a long-term project, though. Schoen and Daboll inherited a team with a salary cap mess, an injury-plagued roster and big questions about their franchise quarterback. Winning this year would be a bonus, but they're really hoping to set the franchise up for success starting in 2023.
Giants co-owner John Mara was exactly right when he said of quarterback Daniel Jones, "We've done everything possible to screw this kid up." For three years, they've surrounded him with questionable talent, no depth and an awful offensive line.
Schoen and Daboll recognized that if they wanted to really know what they had in Jones, they had to fix the line first so he could have time to operate. They did that by bringing in a group of stop-gap veterans — center Jon Feliciano and guards Mark Glowinski and Max Garcia — and using one of their two top-7 draft picks on Alabama's Evan Neal. They added depth too, and for the first time in more than five years, there should be at least a competent line in front of Jones, which is a huge step up.
The rest of what's around him really depends on health. He has some dangerous-looking weapons in running back Saquon Barkley and receivers Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney, but keeping them on the field has been an adventure the last few years. They have dynamic potential if they don't break down. And that's good because there's still a gaping hole at tight end, where they signed Ricky Seals-Jones, who doesn't figure to be a big part of the scheme.
The scheme is what the Giants are really counting on, though. Daboll's offense in Buffalo ranked fifth in total offense last season, and he got his offensive coordinator, Mike Kafka, from the Chiefs, whose offense ranked third. With mixtures of both schemes, they think they can really be wide open and dynamic.
Of course, the Bills and Chiefs had Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes running their offenses. For the Giants, it all comes down to Jones. If he's the real deal, they might actually score some points and look professional. If he's not, someone else will be running the offense next year.
Thanks to a lack of cap room, the Giants really didn't add much to a defense that fell apart last season after a promising 2020. The biggest addition came in the draft, where they got Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5. That's huge, though, because the Giants haven't had a dominant pass rusher since they traded Jason Pierre-Paul away five years ago. They think Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, who had eight sacks as a rookie last season, can be a real force and maybe open things up for eight-year veteran Leonard Williams, who regressed a bit in his pass rushing last year.
To make the pass rush even more dangerous, Daboll hired Don "Wink" Martindale as his defensive coordinator, stealing him from the Ravens, where for years his defenses thrived. His scheme is aggressive and features lots of blitzing from everywhere, which also should help the big pass rushers he now believes he has up front.
His scheme does put a strain on the secondary, though, and that could be an issue for the Giants. They are very thin at safety, especially after cutting veteran Logan Ryan, though they are very high on the future of Xavier McKinney. And cornerback is a huge question mark. The Giants cut James Bradberry in the midst of a contract dispute. So what's left? Adoree' Jackson, who dealt with a myriad of injuries last season, and a group of untested young corners like Rodarius Williams, Aaron Robinson and rookie Cor'Dale Flott.
They might have to grow up quickly because, on a blitz-happy team, they could find themselves very often stuck in coverage alone. And that could be a problem for the Giants this season in a division loaded with talented receivers.
Maybe the best and most consistent player on the Giants is kicker Graham Gano, who has been virtually automatic in his two years with the Giants. In fact, given how decrepit their offense has been, he's really been their offensive MVP.
The rest of their special teams haven't been bad. In fact, their coverage teams have generally been strong under Thomas McGaughey, a rising star in the coaching ranks whom Daboll wisely kept on staff. Unfortunately for him, injuries have decimated his return men in recent years, and his punter, Riley Dixon, started to regress.
The Giants hope they have fixed the punting problem by cutting Dixon and signing "The Scottish Hammer" — Jamie Gillan, a strong-legged ex-rugby player who last kicked for the Cleveland Browns and spent a couple of weeks on the Bills' practice squad last year. The Giants obviously like his leg strength, but they think he can be very consistent, too.
As for the return game, it is wide open. They did bring back C.J. Board, who started to look like a solid kickoff returner before he got hurt last season. If he's healthy, he should get his job back. The punt returner, though, could be just about anyone in what might be an open competition all season long. Their best one, though, could be Toney, who has the shifty moves and quick burst to be dangerous in that role.
As bad as the Giants were last season, they think their talent base is a lot better than people on the outside do. They are convinced that if Jones can get protection, he can be a very good quarterback, and they are very sure that the new-look offensive line will be the strongest one they've had in years. He also has talented receivers and a potential all-pro running back. They absolutely expect to score a heck of a lot more points than the pathetic 15.2 per game they averaged last year.
And they should. But they are still quite a ways from becoming the type of dynamic offense that wins consistently in the NFL these days. And though they should have a very aggressive defense that produces more sacks, they have too many holes in the secondary to stop dynamic offenses all season long.
Just to be competitive, they are counting on a lot of things to suddenly go right that just haven't of late. They need Jones to stay healthy and show some consistency. They need oft-injured players like Barkley, Shepard and Golladay to stay on the field. And they really need those veterans they signed on the offensive line to play well, though it's worth remembering there's a reason they were available. They're decent players, but there is a risk.
If it all goes according to plan, everyone stays healthy and Jones finally looks like a franchise quarterback, then sure, the Giants could compete for a playoff spot. But those are a lot of ifs. And truth be told, even Schoen and Daboll know their plan is focused much more on next year.