With just their fourth general manager hire since 1979, the Giants had the opportunity to dramatically shift the makeup of a franchise that has been both successful and fraternal over the past four decades. Given the long line of executives who would theoretically be interested in one of the few plum jobs the league still has to offer, it would seem owner John Mara was in an enviable position, able to wait until the end of the regular season before picking the brains of executives from other clubs. Instead, he took the path that most expected him to by hiring Dave Gettleman.
Gettleman was a long-time disciple of former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi and served as Jerry Reese’s pro personnel director before building a Super Bowl contender in Carolina. His ties to the organization made him a heavy favorite—but perhaps also made him a tainted candidate for a fan base that is ready for a dramatic shift from the old guard.
Make no mistake, though. As unpopular as this hire seems to some at the outset, bringing in Gettleman was something the Giants needed to do. The 66-year-old Bostonian is perfectly suited for a franchise approaching a massive transitional phase, just like the Panthers were in 2013 when they were coming off three straight losing seasons.
Why is his arrival so essential to a turnaround in East Rutherford? Let us count the ways:
1. He can clean up, and rebuild locker rooms. The Panthers’ most successful team in franchise history hinged on Cam Newton from a physical standpoint, but not necessarily from an emotional standpoint. Gettleman has a keen eye for locker room construction and was able to surround the unpredictable Newton with some of the NFL’s most steadying veteran presences. Names like Jared Allen, Jerricho Cotchery and Charles Tillman come to mind. At the moment, the Giants’ locker room is a mess. Former first-round pick Eli Apple is bottoming out, and All-Pro safety Landon Collins recently called him a “cancer” during a radio interview. A fistful of highly paid defensive free agents are stewing. A crop of promising young talent is blossoming without much guidance. This is something Gettleman can fix right away. Reese, the Giants’ former general manager, was so tied to his current roster that making such dramatic changes felt impossible. Gettleman can play non-partial consultant and rip the band-aid straight off. A good portion of the roster when the regular season ends will not be here come August.
2. He is the perfect age to groom a long-term successor. At 66, there’s no telling how long Gettleman will want to be the Giants’ general manager, but whenever that day comes he’ll have the chance to keep his bosses happy and hand the gig off to someone in the family. Interim general manager Kevin Abrams is popular within the organization and could spend the next few seasons under Gettleman’s wing. Other popular names, like Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf, could see this as an escalator to one of the best jobs in sports and might draw interest.
3. He is experienced in contractual stare downs with star players. Outside of their handling of Eli Manning, the decision to sign Odell Beckham Jr. to a long-term contract may be one of the most important ones the franchise makes over the next five years. Signing Beckham will not be easy. He’s coming off an injury. He can be mercurial. He wants to be the highest-paid player in football. Gettleman fell out of favor in Carolina after unpopular stances he took with stars like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis. He cut Steve Smith. He most notably rescinded the franchise tag from Josh Norman. And while that may terrify some who feel Beckham is the team’s biggest star since Lawrence Taylor, it should be comforting to know that Gettleman is not going to be pushed around in what will be monumental contract talks.
4. He hits in the draft. Gettleman hit on a combination of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short in an otherwise dismal 2013 draft. His 2017 first-rounder, Christian McCaffrey, has more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and has added a new dimension to the Panthers’ offense. The supplemental pieces he provided star linebacker Luke Kuechly were essential during Carolina’s Super Bowl run in 2015. His track record is not flawless. Gettleman struggled to keep a healthy and productive offensive line in front of Cam Newton. He struggled to replace Norman initially, as a rookie-laden secondary struggled in 2016. The Giants are headed toward their most important draft since 2004, and Gettleman needs to hit on his picks.
5. He has some finesse with the media and players. While Gettleman isn’t a behind-the-scenes politician, he is affable and honest in group settings. Reese struggled in this realm, especially once the mystique of his personnel department wore off post-Super Bowl XLII. Gettleman has a way of confronting less-than-appetizing situations (in Carolina he had limited draft capital and free agency spending money to start) with humor and is part of the league’s old call it like I see it guard—a group that has had a renaissance of late (think Bruce Arians). Also, it’s easy to forget that during Michael Oher’s bounceback season in 2015, Gettleman was credited as a calming influence and mentor.
There are going to be star evaluators that come out of this year’s class. As our Albert Breer has noted, a long list from George Paton to Brian Gaine to Brian Gutekunst will lead NFL franchises at some point. The Giants will eventually have to sever their Tom Coughlin/Ernie Accorsi ties, but at a crucial time in franchise history, they had to go with what they knew best.
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