An upheaval is tough to deal with, for those new on the scene and also for the holdovers seeing so much change around them. The Giants knew there would be growing pains associated with jettisoning so many players and importing so many newcomers. What they did not anticipate is losing nearly every game as the new and old acclimated to one another.
The roster the Giants take into Sunday’s game against the Titans at MetLife Stadium includes just 13 players who were on the team in Week 15 last season. That is the highest turnover in the NFL. The Browns and Raiders, with 16 holdovers, are tied for second.
Anyone appreciating what they are seeing from the Giants the past month will be pleased to know the revolving door will not spin nearly as swiftly once 2018 moves into 2019. Sure, there will be movement, and the Giants have enormous decisions to make on some of their marquee and highest-paid players — Eli Manning, Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins — but the core of what the Giants are now is what they will be next season.
“I’m just doing the math,” coach Pat Shurmur said Wednesday. “It’s a unique situation when you’re here in the first part of December and only 13 guys are on the roster who had a Giants helmet last year. That’s unique. We like our team and we like what our team is doing, and so yes, the bulk of our team will be here, I can say that with some certainty.”
The 13 holdovers on the active roster do not include Collins — who is on injured reserve — nor Jenkins nor Odell Beckham Jr., who were on injured reserve at this time last year.
“It’s different,” said linebacker B.J. Goodson, one of the 13 returnees. “That’s about all I can say. It’s different.”
The Giants are 5-8 and a debate can be waged as to how much of this team is worth retaining. They were 1-7 in the first half of the season and 4-1 since their bye week. The turnaround can be viewed as improvement based on greater familiarity and understanding of each other or winning once the red-hot pressure inherent in more meaningful games waned.
Manning opts for the former take: The Giants now know who and what they are.
“Any time you have a lot of new guys, new coaches, new schemes, it takes a little bit for everybody to get comfortable,” Manning said. “For the coaches to kind of figure out what’s our best personnel, what’s our best plays, what routes do we run the best, what run plays are the best? It takes a little while for everybody to get a feel, for me to get a feel how the coaches are going to call certain things, what’s gonna be in each week. There’s a lot of just getting comfortable and figuring things out.
“You kind of hope to win a few close ones as you’re figuring things out. We weren’t able to win those tight ones early on, but now it seems to kind of be clicking and having great understanding of what we’re looking for.”
Shurmur did not at all appreciate the theory that his team is playing better ever since the 1-7 record removed the Giants from any serious playoff contention. He bristled when it was suggested winning late in a season can be fool’s gold.
“What does that mean? What is fool’s gold, by the way?” Shurmur said.
Fool’s gold can be construed as over-evaluating your team based on late-season results.
“You can’t fake football,” Shurmur said. “There’s no fool’s gold in my mind. When you put a ball down in front of all those people and you’re on the field with 10 other guys and you’ve got a job to do, you can’t fake that. There’s no fooling, there’s no golding, there’s nothing. You cannot fake football.
“I don’t care when you’re playing it — whether it’s the first game of the year, the middle of the year, the end of the year — I think we all want to go out and perform well.”
Shurmur knows the messages he sends with his words and sharing his desire for continuity was heard in the locker room.
“I feel like we have a great team here, talent was never the issue,” linebacker Kareem Martin said. “We just had to fix a few things and we seem to have gotten those fixed.”
This does not mean the Giants’ front office believes it can make a run with this exact team. It does mean the new decision-makers believe more pieces are in place this year than last.
“We all know this, no team is ever exactly the same,” Shurmur said. “Guys leave in free agency, you get free agents, you draft, We’re gonna get new players. The important thing is we focus on the excitement of playing these games and we’ll worry about that stuff later.”