In professional baseball, it’s almost assumed that, at some point, you’re going to have to tear down your team and build from scratch. Even the Red Sox do it at times, between deep playoff runs, and a few teams do it every year at the trading deadline. “We don’t have the pieces this year, so let’s offload some contracts, bring in some prospects, and give it another go next year.” It works pretty well as long as, you know, you pick the right prospects and bring them along in the right way.
In the NFL, where you don’t have a farm system to stock, and where you can’t as easily lop your payroll in half and save it up to use in a future season, truly burning everything down and starting over is a lot harder to do. It’s especially hard to do in the middle of the season, when no one is giving up their promising prospects — rookie contracts are the single most valuable asset in this salary-capped league — and usually your only choice is to trade for draft picks.
Giants general manager Dave Gettelman is giving it a go, though.
- On Tuesday, New York traded cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints for a 2019 fourth-round draft pick and a 2020 seventh-rounder.
- On Wednesday, Gettelman off-loaded defensive tackle Snacks Harrison to the Lions for a 2019 fifth-rounder.
- A couple of weeks ago, Gettelman also waived former first-round offensive lineman Ereck Flowers.
At the very least, it appears cornerback Janoris Jenkins is also on the trading block, too. Quarterback Eli Manning probably isn’t, but Gettelman is doing is his best to build in some financial flexibility and add a few picks.
It may not be a full-fledged, Cubs- or Astros-style teardown, but it’s the right path to follow.
I have a major caveat to add to that in a moment.
The Giants are 1-6. They’re a pretty good 1-6, if there is such a thing — they’ve played two bad games, but their other four losses have come by a combined 17 points, and their win came against the first-place team in the AFC South (Houston).
Still, they’re 3.5 games behind first-place Washington in the NFC East, and while there isn’t a lot separating the two teams on paper ... 3.5 games is a lot. They probably have to go about 8-1 down the stretch to win the division. Safe to say, that is not going to happen. And “pretty good 1-6” or not, they’ve still got the sketchiest statistical résumé in the division.
NFC East stats
|Category||WAS (4-2)||DAL (3-4)||PHI (3-4)||NYG (1-6)|
|Category||WAS (4-2)||DAL (3-4)||PHI (3-4)||NYG (1-6)|
|Scoring margin (per game)||0.8||2.4||2.3||-6.9|
|marginal efficiency margin***||-1.9%||2.5%||1.7%||-4.2%|
|marginal explosiveness margin||-0.07||-0.01||-0.15||0.14|
* SRS (Simple Rating System) is the go-to team measurement at Pro Football Reference.
** DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and DAVE (which combines DVOA with preseason projections) are the go-to team measurements at Football Outsiders.
When you can convince yourself that your team isn’t that far from contention, it becomes doubly difficult to shift into rebuild mode. But for the Giants, getting a head start on 2019 makes a lot of sense.
For one thing, they needed to drop a bit of salary. Heading into the season, their top 10 contracts accounted for 54 percent of their salary cap, a nice, balanced number that is within the range of what most good teams put together. In fact, the other nine teams that were between 54 and 59 percent have thus far gone a combined 38-18-3.
When your contract balance suggests you should be a contender, and you very much are not, you probably need to shuffle some contracts around to make sure you’ve got cap space for a few new, big contracts. Gettelman is doing that.
Now, the caveat:
Don’t freak out and over-draft a QB with your (likely) high first-round pick.
A lot of the reaction to this mini-fire sale has re-litigated what many believe to have been a poor choice by Gettelman last April. Instead of selecting the aging Manning’s replacement with the No. 2 pick in his first draft as Giants GM, he picked Saquon Barkley.
Barkley is already one of the most exciting players in the league, but he also plays running back, a position that has been marginalized as the league has become more pass-happy.
Barkley leads a pretty good class of rookie backs with 905 combined rushing and receiving yards, and he’s on pace for more than 100 receptions, proving his worth in even pass-happy times.
Still, he’s not a quarterback. The Giants had a chance to select Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen and didn’t. There’s no taking that back.
Manning will be even older when the next draft rolls around, and barring something dramatically unforeseen, the Giants will have another pretty high pick. Selecting a QB because you didn’t last year seems like the proper option.
That’s all fine and good. But there has to be a QB worth the pick.
Right now, there’s only one QB with true top-five or top-10 potential — Oregon’s Justin Herbert — and he’s sending signals that he might return to Eugene in 2019. If Herbert’s available when it’s time to make a selection, great. Take him. But if he’s not, you’ve got other needs to address and a lot of potential ways to address them.
There’s the defensive front, for example. New York neither defends the run nor rushes the passer very well.
The 2019 draft is loaded — and I mean loaded — with defensive linemen. It’s the defining area of the draft.
Ohio State’s Nick Bosa is a hell of an edge rusher, and if you’re looking for run support, take your pick of any number of tackles or run-stuffing ends: Houston’s Ed Oliver ... Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence or Clelin Ferrell ... Michigan’s Rashan Gary ... Alabama’s Raekwon Davis ... Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones ... whoever strikes your fancy the most. You can’t really go wrong. If you feel your offensive line is a bigger need (and there’s certainly cause for thinking that), then hello, Alabama’s Jonah Williams.
While we’re at it, exciting defensive linemen are littering the list of potential 2019 free agents, too: Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh, DeMarcus Lawrence, etc. With a top pick and a good signing or two, you’ve transformed yourself in the trenches.
You’ve gotta read the room. There might be either zero or one top-five caliber QBs in the draft, and you can’t turn a guy into that just by drafting him in the top five. Missouri’s Drew Lock has the arm, NC State’s Ryan Finley has the stature, and WVU’s Will Grier has play-maker DNA, but there are plenty of justifiable questions with each of them. If Herbert’s not available, take a lineman and see which QBs are around in the second round.
Acknowledging reality should never be seen as a bad thing. GMs should do it more, in fact.
Thus far, that’s what Gettelman’s doing. His history shows he’s got a bit of a running backs fetish, but, well, he’s got his running back already. It’s a sunk cost.
Acknowledging reality is great, but it will only work if he keeps doing it. He probably knows as well as anyone how much he needs a quarterback, but this might not be the draft to collect one near the top. And besides, the Giants have more needs to settle than simply finding Manning’s eventual replacement.