2016 was a season with a lot of positives for the New York Giants. A new head coach in Ben McAdoo, an 11-5 record, a sweep of the Dallas Cowboys. What wasn’t to love? While they didn’t go as far in the playoffs as they would have wanted, there seemed to be plenty to build on, from Odell Beckham Jr’s talents to the #2 defense in the NFL.
And then the page turned to 2017, and everything has fallen apart.
The Giants ranked #2 in DVOA last season, before they took the field in Week 5 they were ranked #28. What happened? Well, the loss of Johnathan Hankins has had a big impact on their run defense. While Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison is a beast of a run-stuffing defensive tackle, with offensive lines able to slide his way it has exposed the rest of the interior of the defense.
In five games the Giants have allowed 695 yards on the ground (29th), their 4.5 yards per carry allowed is 23rd in the league, and 0.9 yards more than last season.
An inability to stop the run forces the Giants to keep a linebacker on the field over a defensive back, it forces the front to play the run and get exposed by play action, and that lack of a foundation has made it very tough for them to get off the field, allowing conversions 62.5% of the time on 3rd & < 5.
Of course, the other thing that doesn’t help the defenses performance is that the Giants are 30th in time of possession at just 27:35.
Last year’s offense was built on Odell Beckham making big plays and very little else. They finished 25th in yards per game (330.7) and 26th in points per game (19.4). This year the are putting up 326.4 yards a game (19th) but just 16.4 points a game (28th). With Beckham now out for the year, along with every other receiver of note, they have almost no way of improving their production.
The ground game is once again non-existant and even before all the injuries on Sunday the passing game was in shambles. Some of that has to do with the continued offensive line problems but there is also no doubt that Eli Manning is declining as a player.
With the face of the franchise seemingly crumbling, and a 0-5 start you would be forgiven for thinking that the Giants need to blow things up and try to start over. Except it gets a little more complicated than that.
Hitting the reset button
The New York Football Giants have $2.9 million in cap space at the moment. Next season that figure will be $20 million, and probably $25 million when you factor in the inevitable increase in the salary cap beyond just the $1 million projected.
The problem is that among the list of their impending free agents are the likes of Weston Richburg and Justin Pugh, the two pieces of the offensive line that actually function, while in 2019 Odell Beckham and Landon Collins, easily their two best players, hit free agency too.
Meanwhile Eli Manning’s cap hit will balloon to $22.2 million next season, and while the Giants could save $9.8 million by cutting him, that is pretty much the going rate for a starting quarterback these days, so it doesn’t help them financially to cut him. They can move on before 2019 for a much more useful $17 million saving, but even if they were to end up with the #1 pick next year they have an incumbent in Eli that will be there next year regardless.
So if they can’t move on from Manning until after next season, and they can’t lock down their best players without crippling their cap for things like improving the offensive line or adding better depth at linebacker, how exactly can the Giants reset?
Well, come 2018 there is a lot of money to be saved around the team. Brandon Marshall has been a complete failure, and the Giants can get $5.5 million back by moving on from him. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a very useful player, but they can save $6.5 million by releasing him after this season.
However, a lot of money is tied up in their 2016 free agent signings. Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison will account for $39.6 million in 2018, which when you add in Eli’s $22.2 million and Jason Pierre-Paul’s $17.5 million accounts for 47% of the Giants projected $168 million salary cap next year.
That’s one reason why the Giants find themselves in the terrible situation they currently inhabit. Much like the Marty Hurney Panthers, they have been saddled with a lot of very expensive contracts and some poor draft picks (cough, Ereck Flowers, cough) that are now handcuffing the team moving forward.
Much like that pre-Cam Newton Panthers, the Giants have to start cutting as much bad money as they can. The likes of Dwayne Harris do not need to be on your roster at $4 million. John Jerry is not good enough to eat up $4 million either. Hell, even Janoris Jenkins might have to go to save $7 million and allow investment more evenly across the roster.
The Giants spent last summer like they were on the cusp of serious, continuous, contention. Instead, they find themselves in the basement of the NFL sharing space with the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, two teams who are fully used to their position and actively striving to better themselves.
The Giants have no light at the end of the tunnel right now, and only hammering the reset button and moving on from Jerry Reese, Ben McAdoo, and Eli Manning is going to create the environment where they can pull themselves back into the light.
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