Kevin Zeitler Recalls Wild First Year as a Giant
While birthdays are typically spent celebrating, guard Kevin Zeitler, and his family received the unex[pected news that the Cleveland Browns, the team he had played for from 2017-18, were sending him to the New York Giants in exchange for defensive end Olivier Vernon.
The trade, which took place on March 8, 2019, didn't make quite the splash as the one that followed four days later when New York moved receiver Odell Beckham Jr to Cleveland for safety Jabrill Peppers and two draft picks. Still, for the Giants, it was a significant move to beef up their offensive line with a man whom Pro Football Focus had rated its top offensive guard the year prior.
Zeitler recalled that he learned of the trade on social media, which had the news before someone with the Browns could reach him by phone.
“It was my birthday and a Friday. I was in the middle of my workout and grabbed my phone, and saw a bunch of Instagram comments. Real quick after that, I got the call. It was a quick changeup and very unexpected,” Zeitler said.
“Word gets out fast and spreads before players find out. That’s just how it works now.”
Making things even more awkward was that the Browns had just sent Zeitler birthday wishes from their main Twitter account.
Zeitler, who takes things as they come, took his trade in stride once the initial surprise wore off, saying that he understands how the NFL works and realizes you cannot be overly comfortable about where you are given the nature of the business.
“In the history of the league, you never know how long you’ll be somewhere after signing a big deal with the cap, etc. Guys get traded and cut every year as cap casualties etc. It’s just part of the game,” he said.
While a trade can be upsetting since it requires suddenly uprooting one's family to settle in a new city, Zeitler credited his wife Sara for making the transition as smooth as possible.
“I had to separate myself right away," he said. "God bless my wife, who focused on selling the house immediately. Everything you cared about in your situation no longer matters (once you get traded). You have new teammates and a whole new area.
“I didn’t know much about New York and thought it was going to be loud, busy streets with nowhere to park. Once we got here, we were able to settle in the suburbs of New Jersey, and we really liked it.”
The Zeitlers probably would have liked it more had the Giants won a few more games. Instead, New York limped to a 4-12 finish, which led to the firing of head coach Pat Shurmur and his staff.
“Obviously, my first year here was frustrating," Zeitler said. "There is talent on the Giants, but it was a very disappointing season overall."
That disappointment also included the play of the Giants offensive line, which allowed 43 sacks and were ranked in the bottom half of the league.
“We had a bunch of smart football guys with experience on the line, but we were inconsistent in the running game and with our pass protection," Zeitler noted.
"We have to figure out how to take the next step because last year was no fun, and we know we have to get it turned around fast.”
The good news is that Zeitler thinks the Giants have the necessary pieces to get the ship turned around and pointed in the right direction.
“I like all the guys on the offensive line and think we can do great things together, but I don’t know what the plans are. That’s up to the general manager and coaches,” he said.
Speaking of coaches, Zeitler said he's looking forward to working with new Giants offensive line coach Marc Colombo, himself a former NFL offensive lineman and the coach who helped keep the Cowboys offensive line as one of the top units in the league.
Zeitler said that the Giants, who begin their off-season program April 6, are determined to get things back on the winning track.
“The guys on this team are sick of losing the last three years. All we want to do is win," he said. "We need to attack and get after it right away because we don’t have any time to waste anymore. We need to win right away. You’re only given so much patience in this league. New York wants a good team.”
While there will be a few new faces added to the locker room, Zeitler believes that all the youth that took its lumps last year will be that much better in Year 2.
We had a lot of rookies this year who were able to get the job done,” he said.
That includes quarterback Daniel Jones, who has already been hard at work down at Duke University to clean up some of his performance deficiencies under the watchful eye of his former college head coach David Cutcliffe.
"Daniel has a lot of talent. He took his lumps in his first year, but I know he’s going to work hard this off-season and come back stronger," Zeitler said.
"He’s super tough and got through this season, staying mentally and physically focused. He definitely has the attitude and pedigree for this market.”