People around the NFL agree: Stuck-in-the-past Giants can’t draft, coach or play, so they need another housecleaning


BANG!

A loud crashing sound echoed through the MetLife Stadium press box minutes after 4 p.m. on Sunday. Just outside John Mara’s suite, two metal trash cans had been knocked over. It was unclear if Mara, the Giants’ co-owner, had delivered the knockout punch or kick, but he has a history of slamming tables and throwing objects after a loss.

Not long after the final whistle, Mara wore a scowl and he walked alone through the bowels of the stadium, headed for the exits. He couldn’t get there fast enough. When asked by NJ Advance Media if he had a comment on Sunday’s loss, he stared straight ahead and kept walking.

“No,” he said flatly, without averting his eyes from the long, mostly empty hallway in front of him.

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The road ahead for the Giants looks like that, too — long, empty and full of despair. After an embarrassing 17-14 loss to the lowly Atlanta Falcons, a team that allowed 80 points through its first two games, the Giants are 0-3. It’s yet another bumbling start after nine years of disappointment, dismay and chaos.

The Giants already are irrelevant, and it’s still September.

All around the NFL, the Giants, once a respected organization with four Super Bowl championships, are now seen as a dumpster fire. ESPN’s Louis Riddick, who once interviewed to be the general manager, has mocked the Giants for their draft picks and inability to build an offensive line.

Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive, has painted Mara as a clueless owner who is searching for a light switch in the present-day NFL. Mara, he said, “can’t have an honest conversation about his organization or evaluate himself. ... They’re stuck in time. They can’t get out of it.”

Draft experts, salary-cap authorities and analytics disciples are laughing at the Giants, who are lousy at playing, coaching and drafting talent — while also terrible at finding the right free agents.

One by one, people are lining up to rip the organization’s failing leadership. And on Sunday, the paying customers didn’t bother calling customer service to vent. They dialed Mara directly.

Sunday was supposed to be a celebration for one of the most beloved Giants: Eli Manning, who delivered two Super Bowl championships, in 2007 and 2011. But when Manning was honored at halftime, Mara was showered with boos as he spoke. Manning, standing behind him, motioned to the crowd, begging for quiet.

“I just feel sorry for Giants fans who want the team to do well and win games,” said ex-Giants star Harry Carson, a Hall of Fame linebacker. “I hear the line often: ‘You need to get dressed and go back out there and play.’ I understand where the fans are coming from. They’re going through a painful period.”

The Giants have a lot of problems — an overpriced, mediocre roster built by a 70-year-old, out-of-touch general manager; an inexperienced head coach whose old-school methods are failing miserably; an unimaginative offensive coordinator; and a fan base, growing more apathetic with each loss, that might not show up when the Giants return to MetLife on Oct. 17. By then, after stops in New Orleans and Dallas, the Giants could be 0-5.

The problems start at the top. Even Mara admitted that, after years of losing, the boos are warranted.

The Giants are 18-49 since last making the playoffs in 2016 — the worst record in the NFL — and 15-36 since Mara brought Dave Gettleman back to the Giants and named him general manager in 2018. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2011, and have missed the playoffs in 10 of the last 12 seasons. Only six teams in NFL history have come back from an 0-3 record to make the playoffs, and only one in the last 22 years.

“I think they’re kind of stuck in the past,” said Geoff Schwartz, a former Giants offensive lineman in 2014-15. “Especially the general manager. ... The way Dave Gettleman has laughed at analytics: There are definitely ways to run your team in an efficient manner, and they don’t appear to be doing that very often.”

Jeff Feagles, a former Giants punter, has been an analyst on the Giants’ pregame and postgame radio show since retiring in 2009. Taking calls from fans is taking its toll: “It’s not enjoyable,” Feagles said. “I’m tired of talking about the same stuff over and over and over.”

NJ Advance Media interviewed 15 people around the NFL, including former Giants players, coaches and league sources — and the consensus is the same: The Giants are a mess. They point fingers at Gettleman, head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. And they wonder if Mara will make changes — now, not later — and, given his recent failures picking coaches and the current GM, whether he’s even the guy to fix this.

Knocking over trash cans isn’t enough.

“He’s got to be cognizant of how people are viewing the franchise,” former Giants running back Tiki Barber said. “But he’s old school. His family has always been patient. He’s patient. I know he expresses frustration, but he’s still very patient. And he’s loyal, sometimes to a fault.

“That can get you in trouble.”

Is the out-of-touch GM out of time?

Gettleman can’t really run anymore on his aging knees. But on a sunny afternoon in late July, on the Giants’ first day of training camp, he moved quickly, the bucket hat flying off his head. He was trailing Kelvin Benjamin into the locker room after the wide receiver had stormed off following an argument with Judge.

Benjamin had been relaxing on a Florida beach, easing his way into retirement, when Gettleman called. Benjamin was overweight and out of football shape, but Gettleman, who had drafted Benjamin as a first-round pick with the Panthers in 2014, wanted him on the roster. Benjamin converted to tight end, signed with the Giants after a tryout, and then showed up overweight.

He argued with Judge on the first day of training camp and was cut that afternoon. He roasted Judge and the Giants to NJ Advance Media, and insisted that Judge didn’t want him there.

That image of Gettleman chasing Benjamin — both on the phone and on the field — feels fitting: A GM, out of touch with the realities of the modern NFL, chasing something that hasn’t worked in a long time.

When Gettleman was hired, he promised to fix the Giants by first rebuilding their offensive line. He drafted running back Saquon Barkley second overall — using a pick that could’ve upgraded the line or another position — then mocked the analytics experts, who, along with many others, questioned the pick. It wasn’t the only head-scratcher by Gettleman.

He traded Odell Beckham one year after signing him to a lucrative extension. He made ill-advised trades and confusing draft picks, and paid too much for free agents who mostly haven’t worked out. With all of his mistakes — and there have been many — the most egregious has been his failure to built a competent offensive line, which is worse now than when he arrived. Last year, Pro Football Focus graded it as the worst pass-blocking group in the NFL.

All the while, Gettleman has wasted the early years of quarterback Daniel Jones, who this season looks like a promising player stuck on a winless team without much promise. Good teams capitalize on the four- or five-year window when a starting quarterback — often the highest-paid player on the roster — is still on a rookie contract. With that clock ticking, Jones is withering behind an offensive line that can’t protect him.

Feagles says “it’s like there’s blood in the water” for defenses when they see the Giants’ offensive linemen.

Riddick, the ESPN analyst, has been especially critical of the Giants’ offensive line and recently called left tackle Andrew Thomas “clearly” the worst of the tackles picked early in the first round last year. He adds that the Giants’ blocking issues extend beyond Thomas, who has played well through three games after struggling as a rookie.

“It’s not like they haven’t invested in the offensive line,” Riddick said. “They have, it just hasn’t worked out. Riddick ticked off expensive offensive line failures — Nate Solder, Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler. The Giants have tried, he said, but “it just hasn’t worked.”

Schwartz has a theory: confusing messages.

“The Giants have four offensive line coaches in the building,” he said, pointing to offensive line coach Rob Sale, consultant Pat Flaherty, assistant Ben Wilkerson and senior assistant Freddie Kitchens. “That’s a huge problem. Let’s say Andrew Thomas has a bad game. Who does he talk to? You need to have one voice in that room. There’s a lot of noise there.”

The Giants didn’t draft any offensive linemen this past spring, instead picking wide receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round, then two cornerbacks, two edge rushers and another running back, Gary Brightwell. Two of those picks (Aaron Robinson, Elerson Smith) haven’t even played yet due to injury. Toney has four catches for 14 yards through three games, and he’s made more noise on social media than contributions on the field.

“I don’t understand the Kadarius Toney thing at all,” Football Outsiders co-founder Aaron Schatz said. “You don’t take gadget players in the first round.”

There were rumblings around the league before the season that front office changes were coming, multiple league sources told NJ Advance Media, and it seems inevitable that Gettleman is fired at some point during or after this season.

“I’ve heard about how they may be looking to change things up,” one agent told NJ Advance Media, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The agent has multiple clients that have signed contracts with the Giants. “It’s going to shake up or reshape itself in the near future.”

But that also begs the question: If Gettleman is a lame-duck GM, why did Mara give him leeway to spend $186 million on contracts for defensive tackle Leonard Williams, wide receiver Kenny Golladay, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and tight end Kyle Rudolph? The Giants have one of the worst salary-cap situations in the NFL, according to PFF cap expert Brad Spielberger.

Over the Cap estimates the Giants have less than $2 million in cap space, and only $5 million in 2022 — without many players who can be cut for significant savings.

“The team around Daniel Jones is not good when he’s cheap,” Spielberger said. “So then it becomes: Is this roster good enough with an expensive Daniel Jones to win when they’re not even good enough with a cheap Daniel Jones to win?”

The verdict on Judge: Guilty of a lot

When Judge gave his season-ending press conference via Zoom last year, he didn’t plan to rant about the Eagles, who tanked their final game for better draft positioning, keeping the Giants out of the playoffs. If the Eagles had beaten Washington, the Giants would’ve been 6-10 division winners and played Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, at home, in the first round of the playoffs.

Judge and others in the Giants organization, multiple people told NJ Advance Media, believed they could’ve beaten the Bucs, who eventually won the Super Bowl. Earlier in the season, the Giants had scared the Bucs in a 25-23 loss.

Fans and Giants players appreciated Judge’s message. Most loved his approach, even as he was mocked nationally for making his players run laps in practice after making mistakes. Fans, convinced Judge would be their team’s savior, honored him before a training camp practice at MetLife by running an honorary lap around the parking lot.

That love is fading.

The Giants have been an undisciplined team this season — even though Judge preaches about discipline and attention to detail. The Giants aren’t losing on purpose like the Eagles — but that doesn’t make their losses less embarrassing.

“Being a hard ass is not forcing players to run after mistakes,” Schwartz said. “Andy Reid, he runs a tough training camp. It’s hitting. He has no vet off days. He is a tough coach. But yelling and screaming and making guys run laps and sprints, that’s not being tough. I don’t think that’s old school, in my opinion. I just don’t think that really builds camaraderie like he thinks it does. The running stuff just kind of rubs me wrong.

“Giants fans are going to kill me and call me soft, but the results so far on the field have spoken for themselves.”

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The on-field issues start with Judge, who had zero head-coaching or play-calling experience (at any level) before being hired. He threw a challenge flag in Week 1 on a play that wasn’t challengeable, and that cost the Giants a timeout. In Week 2, the Giants were penalized 11 times — including an offsides penalty on a missed field goal attempt that ultimately cost them the game. In Week 3, Judge burned two timeouts within the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and the Giants committed eight penalties.

“I do think that when you brand yourself as a discipline coach and your team plays with a lack of discipline, that’s a problem,” Schwartz said.

And then there’s Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator many believe was foisted upon Judge at Mara’s direction. Judge tried interviewing Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, but was denied the request by Buffalo.

Last week, Golladay — frustrated at not being utilized — yelled at Garrett on the sideline, like wide receiver Golden Tate did last year. Toney pouted on the sideline and complained on social media for similar reasons. The Giants were the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL last season, and Jones threw only 11 touchdown passes in 14 games. They scored 14 points against the Falcons defense on Sunday, which had allowed the most points in the NFL.

Judge could’ve moved on from Garrett after the season, but he stuck with him. Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner went into detail recently about how Garrett has hamstrung the offense with his bland play-calling.

“It’s hard to judge what the Giants’ offense could be because they’re held back by the play-caller,” Schwartz said. Added Palazzo: “There’s definitely more (Garrett) can do to open things up.”

But Garrett might be a victim of the offensive line, too. Judge, who has been hands-on with the unit, fired coach Marc Colombo at midseason last year, replaced him with Dave DeGuglielmo, and then hired Sale from the college ranks. Judge likely played a role in the decision not to make any moves to improve the line.

“It’s almost like (Garrett) has got one hand tied behind his back as he play-calls,” Barber said. “There’s no time to let anything develop. (A bad offensive line) hamstrings everything.”

Giants fans fell in love with Judge during his introductory press conference in January 2020, when he sounded like cross between Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin.

“I don’t really know Joe. I’ve spoken with him a couple of times and that’s about it,” Parcells said, “But it’s a tough business he’s in.”

And a tough market.

“A lot of people have mentioned the honeymoon period is over, and I hate that term, but it’s true,” Feagles said. “You’ve got to start winning some games.”

Loyal to a fault

After the 2010 season, Mara declared that he was “unhappy with everyone” and “as disappointed as I’ve ever been in my life at this team.” He insisted “status quo is unacceptable.” The Giants went 8-8 that year, and won the Super Bowl the next season.

In April of this year, after a 6-10 season and an offseason spending spree, Mara said he’s “tired of losing.” How will he handle his latest disappointment? After criticizing his father for often being too loyal, Mara has been guilty of the same fault. The front office is full of homegrown faces and Mara’s own family members.

“It seems to me like they struggled evaluating their own people,” said Randy Mueller, a former GM of the Saints. “The good teams are honest with themselves and evaluate their own people better than anybody.”

Gettleman’s firing feels inevitable. And it’s fair to wonder if it makes sense to pull the plug on Judge, too, if the Giants’ season continues on this disastrous path — a sobering possibility with a difficult upcoming schedule. Mara holds all the cards — and a lot of the blame.

“He’s the owner, and he’s the face of the franchise,” former Jets quarterback Boomer Esasion said. “There’s no question they’ve had issues and problems over the years.”

Esasion believes the Giants have reached a Jets-level of mediocrity.

“The luster of the Giant Way — that was so at its height in 2011 — has worn off significantly,” Esasion said. “I would say they’re in Jets territory. The Jets have been a laughingstock for years. Even when they were winning under (former coach) Rex Ryan, there was something a little greasy about it. With the Giants, you can always look back on that legacy and history of winning Super Bowls. That’s why it’s hard to weed your way out of this.”

Barber think the “Giants brand is always going to shine” because of the franchise’s rich history, but that goodwill built up over many years is running out.

“At some point, all of that is moot and you have to win,” Barber said. “You have to reprove it every single year. One of my running back coaches once said: ‘We should put a sign out front that says — hiring all positions, including coaches.’ And he’s right. If you’re not thinking that – if I don’t do my job better, I’m going to be replaced — you’re not getting better.”

After Sunday’s game, Judge walked off the podium after his postgame press conference. He stopped, turned around and waved his hand, as if he was telling the media to calm down.

“We’re gonna be all right, guys,” he said. “Okay? We’ll be all right.”

Many are skeptical.

(NJ Advance Media’s Mike Kaye and Chris Franklin contributed to this report.)

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Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at [email protected].

Darryl Slater may be reached at [email protected].