Dave Gettleman was one of the Giants' own, a man with whom the organization had familiarity but who, after Ernie Accorsi had decided to retire, the team passed over for the vacant general manager spot in favor of Jerry Reese.
Gettleman then went on to the Carolina Panthers where between 2013-17, that team amassed a 59-21-1 record that included finishing in first place three years in a row and a Super Bowl berth.
All of that was intriguing enough for Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch to bring Gettleman home to the Giants, the team where the soon-to-be 70-year-old had spent the bulk of his career as a football administrator.
But since bringing Gettleman home, he and the Giants haven't quite been able to generate the results that anyone expected and have manifested into three straight losing seasons for a combined 14-33 (with one game remaining in the 2020 season).
The specific moves—the successes and the missteps—have been chronicled by some over the last several days. And yes, some of those specific moves—trading for linebacker Alec Ogletree, signing an out-of-gas running back Jonathan Stewart, or an ill-equipped Patrick Omameh—are headscratchers.
But let’s take more of a big picture look at Gettleman’s body of work.
I mentioned Gettleman’s record in Carolina, but this needs some additional context.
With the Panthers, Gettleman inherited a salary cap that was a mess that he ultimately straightened out. But in terms of personnel, he had an established head coach in Ron Rivera, a future Hall of Fame middle linebacker in Luke Kuechly, and an established quarterback in Cam Newton.
When Gettleman returned to the Giants, he had a team that lacked a fearsome name on defense, whose franchise quarterback (Eli Manning) was in decline and an unsettled situation at head coach.
Undeterred, Gettleman, who has always taken a collaborative approach in working with head coaches, proceeded to get Shurmur and his assistants the players they asked for (within reason). Who could ever forget that big run on former Arizona Cardinals defenders in 2019, moves that were without a doubt driven by then defensive coordinator James Bettcher?
When Shurmur was fired, Gettleman had to start from scratch again with a new coaching staff, this one led by Joe Judge.
Only time will tell if Judge turns out to be a Bill Belichick clone or flops as Matt Patricia did in Detroit. Still, there’s no denying that Judge and his staff have a strong grasp on what they want and how to optimize the talent.
One of Gettleman’s biggest mistakes was believing the team could be competitive while rebuilding. As such, his whole approach to rebuilding was flawed right from the start and set the process back.
You look at the Cleveland Browns, a team that is finally on the right track after years of suffering and mockery. Why? Because despite some past swings and misses, they accumulated draft picks and built a solid foundation on both sides of the ball.
Gettleman? For an old-school general manager, the decision not to trade down when he had the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft remains debatable.
Yes, Barkley is a tremendous talent, but what good was adding a stud running back when the offensive line was still transforming, a process which three years later still isn’t complete?
Gettleman’s intentions were honorable. He probably wanted a running back who could take some of the onus off Manning and eventually Daniel Jones. But acquiring assets to beef up the offensive line would have been a much better way of taking the onus off those quarterbacks.
Tying into this, let’s look at quarterbacks. In 2019, it was widely believed that the Giants were bullish on Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Unfortunately, Herbert decided to return to school, and with Manning’s contract set to end after 2019, the Giants wanted to take advantage of having Manning around for one final season by having him be the example for the next quarterback.
They selected Daniel Jones out of Duke with the sixth overall pick, perhaps believing Jones possessed a lot of the same quarterbacking DNA as Manning. After two seasons, the jury is still out on Jones, who has progressed in some areas but who has yet to quiet the critics with his play.
Meanwhile, imagine if the Giants had had draft assets that would have put them in a position to select Herbert, who’s lighting things up for the Chargers.
Yeah, just imagine.
Remember the days when trades by the Giants were as rare as rainbow sightings?
Gettleman has changed that and has shown himself not afraid to make trades. But when you make a trade, you better have a replacement in mind, otherwise, the trade can’t fully be deemed a success.
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That’s what happened when the Giants traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants are still looking for a pass rusher who warrants double coverage, their draft picks (Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines) yet to deliver that firepower consistently.
Carter and Ximines, both currently on injured reserve, have shown some sparks, but neither thus far have warranted the kind of attention that rookie Chase Young is drawing these days in Washington.
Beckham? When he was traded to the Browns, the Giants signed Golden Tate and drafted Darius Slayton in the fifth round. This year, they added three undrafted free agents, but none of those players have come close to replacing what they traded away in Beckham.
To be fair, one doesn't fix everything in one off-season. But as a rule, good teams don’t trade away talent unless they have a replacement waiting in the wings, and it’s certainly fair to say that in these cases, the Giants were likely crossing their fingers in hopes that they had viable replacements lined up.
Newsflash: Free agency is a hit and miss proposition. Sometimes a player looks good in one system only to flop in another. Case in point: Cornerback Isaac Yiadom showed some promise in the Broncos defensive system that deployed more man coverage, but when they switched to more of a zone-based defense, Yiadom suddenly didn’t look like such a hot prospect after all.
The key with free agency is not to overspend. Unfortunately, Gettleman has done this on a few occasions. He bid against himself for running back Jonathan Stewart, a player he had in Carolina who, much like Manning with the Giants, Gettleman thought had more left in the tank than he did.
He also pushed a grotesque contract in front of left tackle Nate Solder, a solid offensive lineman for the Patriots and a champion of a human being. But that move was made more out of desperation when first-round bust Ereck Flowers didn’t work out, leaving the Giants as a desperate buyer in a seller’s market in which they had to scramble to find a solution.
The good news is Gettleman changed his approach with free agency this year. Rather than shop the bargain bins for talent or spend on potential, he spent on guys with strong production histories like linebacker Blake Martinez, cornerback James Bradberry, safety Logan Ryan, and kicker Graham Gano.
As general manager, Gettleman oversees the salary cap, even though it’s managed daily by Kevin Abrams, the assistant general manager. And one of the first things Gettleman recognized is that the way the Giants were set up with so many hefty contracts that in retrospect were held by guys who didn’t’ come close to being worth what they were earning, that was a recipe for disaster.
With little choice, Gettleman began to weed out those players and contracts, but at the same time, that created a gross amount of dead money that hamstrung the Giants during the 2019 off-season.
By the time it was all said and done, the Giants had a whopping $55.156 million tied up in dead cap space to go along with $14.358 million in contracts sitting on injured reserve. Those two figures combined represented 35.4% of the Giants’ total cap in 2019, making it virtually impossible for the team to get the talent necessary to be competitive.
While a legitimate argument can be made that Gettleman created the dead money fiasco—the $16 million the team had to eat when it traded Beckham and the $8 million that resulted from the Olivier Vernon trade resulted in nearly 30% of that dead cap space.
With the cap projected to fall as low as $176 million, the Giants right now have an estimated $16.8 million to start. That total does not include some additional anticipated relief from removing the contracts of offensive tackle Nate Solder, Tate, tight end Levine Toilolo, guard Kevin Zeitler, and inside linebacker David Mayo from the books.
Ideally, one should wait three years before reaching any kind of conclusion on a draft class, But ever since changing how the team evaluates talent, the Giants draft has been looking up. The 2020 class has produced current or future starters—tackle Andrew Thomas, safety Xavier McKinney, offensive tackle Matt Peart, cornerback Darnay Holmes and guard Shane Lemieux.
Linebackers Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, and Tae Crowder have also shown promise as depth role players while of the 10-member class, the jury is still out on what T.J. Brunson brings to the table while cornerback Chris Williamson is no longer with the team.
But there have been whiffs, the most embarrassing of which include cornerback DeAndre Baker, whose work ethic was a huge question mark when he was drafted. That the Giants traded up to get Baker didn’t help matters, but at the time, the gamble seemed worth the risk.
Baker wasn’t the first player to come through the doors with a questionable work ethic, and it was hoped that the veterans around him might help him. That didn't play out, given how Baker's rookie season unfolded.
Certainly, among the criteria that Mara and Tisch will use in their decision is whether the franchise is better now than when Gettleman first was hired.
The answer is yes, despite the won-loss record. Again, things haven’t been perfect, but the team is set up to be competitive, thanks in part to the new coaching staff who has a clear cut idea of what they want on this team.
While I believe Gettleman is safe, I also believe that sometimes an organization needs to shake up its structure if it wants to grow.
That’s why I can see a scenario where perhaps Gettleman is bumped up to a senior advisor role and a new general manager (and someone who has worked with Judge in a past tenure) is brought in to ensure the Giants don’t go backward.
What Do You Think?