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Five Missteps That Have Stunted the Giants’ Rebuild

Why aren't the Giants further along in their rebuild? You can probably point to these five steps for starters.

As the losses continue to pile on for the Giants, the growing number of paying customers who continue to be let down by a franchise that thus far has flashed but has been unable to start putting it together continues to grow.

It’s probably unfair to this coaching staff to arrive at any judgment regarding the job they’ve done so far--not after seven games into the season and more twists and turns to head coach Joe Judge’s first season than one might find on San Francisco’s famed Lombard Street. 

But with that said, for three years we've been hearing about the progress being made only to see the results not show up in the win-loss column, which at the end of the day is all that matters. 

Where has it all gone wrong for the Giants? We can probably trace it back to these five decisions.

No. 1: Not Making a Clean Sweep When the Opportunity Was There

For those old enough to remember, after the Giants hit rock bottom in 1978 with the Fumble, there was a significant upheaval resulting in the proverbial housecleaning that changed the course of the franchise’s history.

Gone was head coach John McVay, replaced by Ray Perkins. Team co-owner Wellington Mara surrendered control of all football decisions to general manager George Young and the head coach, John McVay, did not renew his contract.

Meanwhile, that year’s starting quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, was kept around the following year as part of the transition despite the Giants drafting their franchise quarterback in Phil Simms.

After going 6-10 and then 4-12 in the first two seasons of that new regime, the Giants finished the 1981 campaign with a 9-7 record and their first playoff berth since 1963.

Fast forward to 2015, the Giants' third straight season without a winning record and their fourth consecutive campaign without a playoff berth.

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had grown increasingly frustrated with the franchise's direction, resigned his post. But team ownership, looking to maintain “stability” that, in retrospect, was never there given the club's misfortunes, retained general manager Jerry Reese and quarterback Eli Manning.

Why? There was a belief that Reese, whose poor drafts contributed to the decline of the franchise after they won the Super Bowl in 2011, could fix the franchise's personnel, and that Manning still had a lot of football left in him.

All that decision has done is to create multiple instances where the Giants have had to hit the reset button.

They have had three head coaches since 2016, each with a very different style and, in some cases, preferences for specific players.

They finally changed general managers in 2017 when they swept out Jerry Reese simultaneously as they did head coach Ben McAdoo, but they left Manning in place.

Pat Shurmur, who replaced McAdoo as the full-time head coach, went through a quarterback change after just two games (both losses), which he saw through for one season.

Now the Giants have a promising new head coach in Joe Judge, the same quarterback as last year (Daniel Jones) and the same general manager (Dave Gettleman) since 2018 in what continues to be a case of replacing parts of the bandage instead of the whole thing.

While there is no guarantee that a clean sweep conducted simultaneously would have guaranteed different results, could it have yielded any worse results than what we’ve seen since?

No. 2: “You Can Win While You Build a Roster”

Perhaps Gettleman, who spoke those words in 2019, was trying to avoid creating more agita for the masses by giving them something for which to hope.

AS it turned out, Gettleman wasn't honest with himself, as it became more apparent each passing day that the roster he inherited had so many holes in it that one could arguably compare it to an expansion team.

“This is where I’m culpable,” Gettleman eventually admitted at the end of another lost season. “I came into it, and I thought that we could do both at the same time. And I was wrong.”

Part of the approach appeared to be an attempt to build around Manning, who was nearing the end of his contract by that time. In retrospect, the Giants should have been more focused on the long-term and getting the franchise in a position to compete after a significant rebuild instead of trying to bleed every last drop out of the Manning era.

The teams with sustained success look more toward the long-term. While there were undoubtedly those who hoped Manning would challenge Tom Brady in terms of longevity, how much of a favor did the Giants do Manning given the supporting cast they put around him?

The answer is none, which is why Gettleman's belief they could rebuild and win was so majorly flawed.

No. 3: Hiring the Wrong Coaching Staff

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Having an adult in the room is fine, but as the Giants found out after having hired Pat Shurmur to replace Ben McAdoo as the head coach, it became apparent that not all adults are created equal.

The initial appeal regarding Shurmur made sense as he came into the Giants organization with a stellar reputation as a quarterback whisperer, something the Giants figured they would need for when they drafted their next franchise quarterback.

But early on, there were cracks in the armor. For one, some of Shurmur’s choices for assistant coaches were, shall we say, curious and, one might argue, probably not all his first choices.

He was reportedly interested in hiring Kevin Stefanski, now the head coach of the Browns, to be his offensive coordinator, but that didn’t pan out when the Vikings, for whom Stefanski was employed, wouldn't grant the Giants permission.

So Shurmur went with the recommendation of Mike Shula, someone he had never worked with before and someone who, despite holding the offensive coordinator title, didn’t call the plays.

Shurmur also hired offensive line coach Hal Hunter, who had been out of football in 2017 and a coach whose track record in developing young talent left something to be desired.

And let's not forget the decision to hire one-time Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, a man who had interviewed for the Cardinals head coaching job before it went to Steve Wilkes for one season.

Initially, the move to bring Bettcher on board was lauded given what he accomplished in Arizona. Still, cracks in that armor began to surface when the Giants began recruiting just about every former player of Bettcher’s from the Cardinals.

Initially, it was thought that these veterans would help the younger players with understanding Bettcher's scheme.

However, that didn't turn out to be the case as except for Markus Golden, none of Bettcher's former Cardinals made the impact the team hoped for.

Mistake No. 4: Ignoring the Creed, Part I

Gettleman has long cited three principles of winning football that has withstood the test of time: run the ball, stop the run, and rush the passer.

The problem with that first creed is it doesn’t matter if you have Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, or Saquon Barkley in your backfield if your offensive line can’t run-block with any consistency.

In his first draft as Giants general manager, Gettleman went with Barkley, a generational talent who can run the ball and operate in space if matched up against a linebacker or smaller defensive back.

The decision itself wasn’t horrible, as Barkley came as advertised, but the problem in making that decision is that Gettleman also seemed to gloss over his own creed of big men allowing you to compete up front.

To be fair, the Giants did try to address it through free agency, but this approach was no better than the one Gettleman’s predecessor deployed.

Given the Giants offensive line's state, it was unrealistic to expect the unit to be fixed in one off-season. Still, because the Giants chose to wait for the right guys, they now have a situation where their current offensive line is mostly comprised of young and inexperienced players who are going through some significant growing pains.

That’s why in retrospect, an argument could be made that adding Barkley was the equivalent to building a souped-up engine to place in a beat-up old jalopy and that if the Giants wanted to play it safe, they might have been better off with offensive lineman Quenton Nelson, whose play thus far with the Colts certainly offers hints of a gold jacket in his future.

Yes, Barkley is a dynamic player and a solid brand ambassador, but much like the quarterback, he can’t do it all on his own.

And think about how much better he might have been if he had the chance to run behind a more established offensive line, similar to what running back Ezekiel Elliott had for years in Dallas?

Mistake No. 5: Ignoring the Creed, Part II

Remember that three-pronged creed? Well, there was another one you might argue the Giants missed out on, and that is “rush the passer.”

In 2019 with the sixth overall pick in the draft, the Giants decided to by-pass Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen, now with the Jaguars and he of 12.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through 21 games, for Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, dubbed the heir apparent to Eli Manning’s throne.

Jones, who other than his turnover issue, has been solid, wasn’t a horrible pick, and to be fair, at the time, the Giants probably weren’t planning to pick in the top 10 of the draft for a long time.

Had they went with Allen instead and waited for Oregon’s Justin Herbert, they could have had their pass rusher and their quarterback while potentially still having a chance at an offensive tackle in the second round of the draft.

Again no one has a crystal ball to where they can anticipate where they’ll be drafting, and you can only make decisions based on the circumstances at the time. Still, you can’t help but wonder how much different the Giants rebuild process might have been had they made some other decisions over the years.