The Giants 2016 season came to an end in the bitter cold of Green Bay. And as much of a disappointment as to the way the season ended, the 2016 Giants were a success.
In my mind, at the start of the season, I saw the Giants as an 8-8 team, who with the right breaks could be a 9 or 10 win team and get into the playoffs. Well, if you could go back in time one year ago, when McAdoo took over and were told the Giants would go 11-5, sweep Dallas, beat Washington to knock them out of the playoffs, and go to Lambeau Field with the score 14-13 in the 3rd quarter, we would all sign up.
I also felt that the Giants needed to fix the defense in the 2016 season (which they did). Along the way, they found a new leadership core with Snacks, Vernon, Jenkins, and a breakout season by Collins. They put together the best secondary in the NFL. They allowed the 2nd fewest points in the NFL, which is the true measure of a defense's performance statistically, according to 2 nobodies named Parcells and Belichick.
But this is a flawed team, and you can only fix so much in an offseason. Coming off a historically bad defense in 2015, the Giants get high marks for what they did, particularly the front office in paying out big money and getting production. But the 2nd part of my prediction is that the Giants will be a Super Bowl contender for the next 2-3 years as Eli finishes up his run. For that to happen, they need to address the offense. The Giants have something in the neighborhood of $30 million in cap room, with some big free agents in JPP and Hankins to look to bring back (my guess is Hankins returns, JPP does not). They also can clear about $20 million more with restructures or outright releases of guys like Cruz, Vereen, and JT Thomas. So, here is my guess for what the Giants will do in order to become one of the teams who will play deep into January next year:
- Sign Hankins: The Giants don't have the depth at DT that they have at DE. Hankins was healthy last year, and teamed with Snacks helped stonewall the running game. It's no fluke the Giants beat Dallas twice because physically they were able to stand up to the Cowboys OL. Jay Bromley has progressed pretty well, and the Giants have a habit of letting DTs go after their rookie deal is done (Cofield and Joseph are prime examples). Hankins also was able to play some DE in rush situations. He turns 25 in March. Pay the man.
- Tag JPP: Coming off hernia surgery, and JPP said he would have played in Dallas if the Giants won (how convienent), JPP also said he won't sign a Franchise Tender. Well, the last time we had this impass, he blew half his hand off. JPP showed that he still has got it, and at age 28 remains in his prime. He was able to adjust to playing with his hand and by mid season had been close to his previous Pro Bowl form, enough to win Defensive Player of the Week. His injury in Pittsburgh opened the door for Romeo Okwara to show what he can do, and the Giants might have a future star on their hands. They still have Double O in the wings and Wynn is a solid DE. But for the Spags defense to work, you really want 3 pass rushers. They got good production out of Kennard in that regard, but ultimately, the Giants are a better team with JPP. So he won't like it, and he might not sign, but Reese should slap the Franchise Tag on him.
- Restructure/Cut players: Victor Cruz was a great Giant. His 2011 season will forever keep him in Giants lore (and get a game review on this very site). He earned his Pro Bowl spot and Super Bowl ring. But he also is now 30 years old who is a guy who isn't that tall and his game is based on quickness. when you go down with a knee injury in 2013, another knee injury in 2014, and miss the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, that isn't a good sign. By the time he came back in 2016, Cruz was asked to play on the outside as the slot position (where he made his mark) was given to Sterling Sheperd. Odell has now taken over as the star attraction. So Cruz finished with 39 catches, 586 yards, and 1 TD (to win the opener in Dallas). By the playoff game, he was on the bench watching Tavarres King catch 3 passes for 73 yards and a TD. Cruz is due to make $9.4 million next year. That's not going to happen. So does he take a big paycut (which he did before 2016) or does he force the Giants to cut him so he can continue his career elsewhere (New England??) The Giants will find room from him either way. And same will go for Shane Vereen and JT Thomas, among others. There is an outside shot they will do it with DRC, but I hope not since you need 3 good corners. The Giants will likely have somewhere between $40-$50 million before all is said and done.
- Sign Ron Leary from Dallas: This move makes too much sense for all involved. Dallas has the best offensive line in the NFL. Leary, a 6'3", 331 pound guard was a starter, lost his job to La'el Collins who was a rookie free agent signing (even though he was a first/second round grade and fell due to off field concerns to put it mildly). Leary got his job back this year when Collins got hurt and the Cowboys slotted him in the lineup and they didn't miss a beat. Well, they will miss several beats in 2017, because 'Murrica's team is almost $17 million over the cap. So that means they will have no choice but to start restructuring and cutting players, and Romo's contract become an albatross. That also means they have no hope of keeping Leary. They signed Jonathan Cooper to get ready for that eventuality. The Giants did well when they signed Ron Stone away from the Cowboys in the 1990s. Similarly they couldn't keep him and he became a Pro Bowl Guard with the Giants. At age 28 in April, and not as much tread on his tires, Leary would be a great fit for the Giants to slot in at guard and move John Jerry to depth on the bench.
- Get a Left Tackle: Erick Flowers is not a Left Tackle. Period. Experiment over. We don't need to see anymore of Eli getting hit while Flowers doesn't get a hand on a rusher. Move Flowers to right tackle where his mauler style will be assisted by a TE (more on that later). The Giants should look for a veteran who might shake loose. Keep in mind, the Giants have a 2-3 year window with Eli, plan accordingly. That means a trade for Joe Thomas, or look at a veteran to perhaps hit the waiver wire as a cap casualty- Andrew Whitworth (Bengals) or Duane Brown (Texans), Riley Reiff (Detriot). While I'm ok with drafting one if the fit is there, I'd prefer a veteran, almost a Lomas Brown type to hold the fort. But upgrade the talent on the offensive line is a must. Pugh and Richburg should be the only guys to stay in their spots. They need a new LT, RG, and RT (Flowers).
- Draft a TE: This is a deep draft class at TE. The Giants have a huge need there. Donnell needs to go. Tye is a nice player, but nothing more. Adams showed flashes. But the Giants would look great with a guy like OJ Howard from Alabama as a two way TE who can stretch the field.
- Get a big WR: I don't care if it's draft or free agency. But the Giants have gone back to the 1980s and brought back the smurfs from the Redskins. They have a great WR in Odell who can do it all, headaches not withstanding. But they need a physical mismatch, a Plaxico type on the other side. If Larry Fitzgerald gets released, I hope the Giants go hard after him. He'd be perfect. I don't know who is in the draft that fits this bill, but this is what the team needs.
- Running back: Rashad Jennings is a solid NFL starter. He won't make mistakes. And he won't make anyone miss. Paul Perkins took the job from him late in the season and he should get the job going into 2017. However, the Giants should look to get another back in here in 2017, particularly if Jennings is shown the door. Orleans Darkwa is not the guy you keep. Vereen is a specialist (who is looking at a paycut). And after his performance in Green Bay, Bobby Rainey shouldn't be on the team. Bring in a complementary back to Perkins.
- Fullback: This was a hidden mess for the Giants and helped change things. The Giants had a competition in camp at fullback between Nikita Whitlock and Will Johnson. Well, both got hurt, both went on IR. No fullback. Short yardage became shotgun formations for the Giants. Yuck. Hopefully both can come back next year and one of them can win the job.
- Get a new punt returner: We know that Odell can do it, but he shouldn't unless you are looking for a big play. Dwayne Harris might be a great coverman, which got him a Pro Bowl nod as a special teamer, but he regressed as a return man in 2016. He was good in 2015, but this past year, he seemed to not only ignore the edict to never field the ball inside the 5 as a punt returner, he would be doing over the shoulder lunging catches to do so, coming periously close to fumbling the ball. He muffed a punt in Minnesota which sent the Giants on a downward spiral. While I'd love a Dave Meggett type, I'll settle for a Phil McConkey. This is a defensive team now with the Giants, a field position team. Part of that is a punter, a cover man, and a returner who won't let the ball go past him and won't fumble. Harris has become a liability. And his replacement, Rainey, showed us all we needed to see when he fielded the kickoff at the 3 in Green Bay.
So there you have it, upgrade the OL, get a TE, a big WR, and re-sign key pieces of the defense and this is a Super Bowl contender in 2017.
In the meantime, as always, for the offseason, I plan on cranking up more game reviews than I did last year. I already have one more or less ready to go and have started on another. But all in all, this site is about Giants memories, and it was looking bleak the past few years, however after an 11-5 season, things are looking up to make new memories of Giants wins and Championships. I think they will win at least one more before Eli retires. Go Giants.