EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants disbanded last week after a 5-11 season that ended with three straight losses. It was an improvement, however slight, on their 3-13 campaign from the previous year, when they didn’t have star running back Saquon Barkley or — for the most part — Odell Beckham Jr.
The lack of tangible success didn’t seem to matter much, as general manager Dave Gettleman barely finished with the pleasantries at his postseason news conference before he declared that the team is “headed in the right direction.” He surely wasn’t alone. That was the overarching feeling when this last-place team departed for the offseason. There was a collective belief that the Giants are “close” to being a good team, one that could compete for the playoffs and — dare we say it for a team with the second-fewest wins the past two seasons — compete for a Super Bowl.
Delusional or not, this is how the Giants were able to sell things internally throughout a disappointing campaign in which they lost eight games by seven or fewer points. It is perhaps the biggest accomplishment for coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman in their first season together. They have created a room full of believers.
“Honestly, we’re building. We’re taking steps closer and closer each and every time, every game and loss. Like Mr. Gettleman said, every game within the last 12 games was lost by less than a touchdown, besides the Eagles. Stuff like that, we’re just a touchdown away from being in the playoffs,” safety Landon Collins said before leaving for the offseason. “We’re growing, and we’re a better team than we were last year. And we showcased that. I’m glad for the opportunity to show that.”
A 4-4 second half of the season (with all four wins coming against backup quarterbacks) and some peripheral growth made this possible.
More wins than the previous year, check.
A revamped locker room, no doubt.
A team that didn’t quit and lost some tight games, you got it.
That was apparently all the Giants needed to convince themselves and their players that they are on the verge of being serious contenders.
“Yeah, I think we are, and I think that’s sort of where our conversation is going today is we are very close,” Shurmur said late in the season. “But right is right — you’ve got to win. And I think as we start building and as the players get better, as we improve, as we understand situations and how to play each situation better, then eventually this thing pushes over the top.”
There are reasons for the Giants to be optimistic. They made sweeping changes following the debacle of 2017 that cost Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese their jobs. The Giants had just 15 players (even though they keep saying 13) on the active roster in Week 17 who were part of the organization the previous year.
This was somewhat expected, though not to this degree. That’s a heckuva lot of turnover in the span of a year. But in came Gettleman and Shurmur last offseason with new ideas and systems, and they needed players to fit their desires. So they overhauled the roster (some good moves, some bad) and still admittedly have work to do. They built a culture and laid the foundation that they believe has them set for future success.
It will take time. This was never a one-year fix. And they deserve some time to implement their plan for the rebuild, even if they publicly refuse to admit it is that.
“I just hate the word rebuild. You just keep going, you just keep building. It’s really what we’re doing here,” Gettleman said. “We’re doing our best to accumulate the talent that fits our schemes and that understands how to play the game and hates to flippin’ lose. That’s what it’s really all about, and we’re going to continue to do this and get it right. We’re going to fix it.”
The Giants undoubtedly need to figure out their quarterback position for the present and future. That will be vital to their long-term success. But all the close losses do portend a better 2019.
The Giants lost their last two games by a point each. They were the first team in NFL history to accomplish that inglorious feat. They lost eight games by seven or fewer points, the most of any team this season. Even though three of those games (first half of the season losses to the Cowboys, Falcons and Redskins) were only cosmetically close because of last-minute scores, recent history indicates that all those close defeats are a bit of an anomaly. The following year is rarely as rough.
Eight of the past 10 teams to lose at least eight games by seven or fewer points saw their win totals increase by at least four games the following the season. That includes the 2015 Giants, who were 3-8 in close games. They flipped that the following season (8-3), won 11 games and reached the playoffs for the only time since 2011.
Of course, when considering just how “close” the Giants are to being serious contenders, the market correction can account for only so much. Yes, the Giants should improve. They have the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, can build off some of the gains from this past season and have salary cap space (projected in the $40 million range, depending on cuts) at their disposal.
But they also need to be honest with themselves when looking at the roster. A team on the precipice of contention rarely has an aging quarterback or a bridge QB behind an offensive line that remains a work in progress and a barren defense desperately in need of a massive talent infusion.
Close to competing for the playoffs? Maybe. Close to competing for a Super Bowl? At this point of the process, the Giants might want to rethink that assessment.