When Dave Gettleman was hired at the end of the 2017 season, no one expected that his rebuilding project would last this long. But here the Giants are, entering Year Four, and the record under their general manager is 15–33.
It’s worse than that, really. They’ve had double-digit losses in six of the last seven seasons, making this the worst stretch of Giants football in nearly 50 years.
“It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us,” says Giants president/CEO John Mara. “I’m tired of the losing and of having the postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong and why. I think we’re moving in the right direction. But, obviously, it’s been brutal the last few years.”
Yes it has, and while their 6–10 performance — and 5–3 finish — under rookie head coach Joe Judge was promising in 2020, the time for more is now. The Giants were big spenders in free agency and have a roster full of promising young players. They are expecting dividends this season. They believe the rebuilding ends now.
There was a lot working against young quarterback Daniel Jones last year. He was hurt for most of the second half of the season. He lost Saquon Barkley to a torn ACL in Week 2. The offensive line crumbled in front of him. And the offensive talent he had around him wasn’t really that good.
All those excuses are gone now. This is the year Jones has to prove that the Giants were right to draft him sixth overall in 2019. And the Giants have certainly done all they can to make that happen.
Start with the signing of Kenny Golladay, the first true No. 1 receiver they’ve had since trading Odell Beckham Jr. At 6'4", Golladay is the big receiver every quarterback should have, and the Giants dream of him doing for Jones what Plaxico Burress did for Eli Manning in the mid-2000s. He will be the workhorse of the passing game, and 80 catches for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns might only be the start.
He’s surrounded by better talent, too. Sterling Shepard is a reliable possession receiver. Darius Slayton is a deep threat coming off a bad year, and he could be pushed by the speedy John Ross III, another free agent addition. Pro Bowl tight end Evan Engram is back, too, and he’s dangerous if he can fix his problem with drops. If he can’t, the reliable Kyle Rudolph is now on the roster as well.
And to make the passing game even more dangerous, the Giants drafted Kadarius Toney, one of the most explosive playmakers in the draft. The Giants can get really creative with him, getting him the ball on the inside, outside or even out of the backfield. He might be their most dangerous receiver after the catch.
All of that is pretty good, and that’s before getting to the return of Barkley, who is still the centerpiece of this offense. The key for him is staying healthy, which he hasn’t done since his rookie season. If he can, he might be the best, most versatile back in the NFL.
And if the Giants’ young, improving offensive line can block … well, the tools are certainly there for Jones to prove the Giants were right to put their franchise in his hands.
Coordinator Patrick Graham worked wonders with this defense last season, scheming it into one of the better units in the league while covering some of its many holes. He turned Leonard Williams into the dangerous pass rusher the Giants knew he could be when they acquired him from the Jets in 2019. Re-signing Williams, who had 11.5 sacks last season, was the Giants’ most important offseason move. They also added a big piece to their patchwork cornerback corps by signing Adoree’ Jackson, and they got a gift in the draft when edge rusher Azeez Ojulari fell to them in the second round.
Mostly, though, they’re comfortable with what they’re building — even after losing defensive tackle (and captain) Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency. Graham employed a heavy rotation of players who kept decent pressure on the quarterback and were good enough around star cornerback James Bradberry in the defensive backfield.
It’ll be more of the same this season, only better. Jackson gives the Giants a legitimate second cornerback. Ojulari could form a dangerous 1-2 punch with Williams, maybe even freeing up the “Big Cat” to add to his sack total. The Giants also think the best is yet to come from defensive end Dexter Lawrence II, who hasn’t really begun to show off his pass-rushing skills.
There are depth concerns in the front seven. They only replaced Tomlinson by re-signing Austin Johnson and adding the injury-prone Danny Shelton in free agency. And they have no idea what to expect from edge rushers Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines, both of whom have shown promise but are coming off of injuries. Anything they get out of them might be a bonus.
But the Giants were tough to run on last season and should be again. And with Ojulari and Jackson, they can disrupt the passing game more from both ends, too. That should help them become a legitimate top-10 defense and create a lot more turnovers than they have in a while.
One of the Giants’ best free agent signings last year was very under the radar — their late addition of veteran kicker Graham Gano. He approached perfection, connecting on 31-of-32 field goals and 21-of-23 extra points. With his long-snapper and holder back, there’s no reason to expect anything less. In fact, with a better offense behind him, he should end up a more prolific scorer.
Punter Riley Dixon had a career low in net yards per punt (38.8) and wasn’t nearly as reliable in big spots as he was the year before. The Giants avoided making him a salary cap casualty, though, which is a good indication of their faith.
Jabrill Peppers returns as the Giants’ leading punt returner, but he’s not the ideal choice for that job. If all goes well, Toney will take over as the punt and kickoff returner, which might be the best early way to showcase his skills. He is electric with the ball in his hands, possessing great speed and a knack for evading tackles in tight spaces. He averaged 22.1 yards per kickoff return and 12.6 yards per punt return at Florida last season. There’s no reason to believe he can’t duplicate that success in the NFL.
There are really only two ways to imagine this ending: either with the Giants holding a winning record and a playoff berth or Gettleman holding a pink slip. Gettleman has made a lot of good changes in recent years, and this should be the payoff. He has a lot of stars on offense and defense surrounded by a solid group of young players who should just be coming into their own. The key will be whether everyone can stay healthy — particularly Barkley — and whether Jones really is who the Giants think he can be. If they’re right about Jones, they’ve got the potential to light up the scoreboard, even if the protection isn’t perfect. With a defense on the fringe of the top 10, that makes them a contender in what should be an improved NFC East.
If they’re wrong about him, though, this will be a disaster, and they’ll have to start over next year. The truth figures to be somewhere in the middle, and that should be good enough for a spot in the expanded playoffs, even if they fall short in the division race.