At this writing, there is, mercifully, only one game left in this disaster of a season for the New York Giants. You’d like to think it can’t get much uglier than the week 17 game against the Chicago Bears, but if there’s one thing the Giants have proven not just this year, but every year since the dark age known as the Dave Gettleman era began, it’s that things can ALWAYS get worse.
With Gettleman seeming to be finally heading for the hills, many Giants fans are calling for a similar fate for head coach Joe Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones. With a highly consequential off-season looming, it’s worth looking at how the Giants should consider proceeding.
At this point, reports from East Rutherford indicate that the Giants ownership are inclined to hold on to both Judge and Jones as they hunt for a new general manager. But should they be making that decision without the input of their new GM, whomever that might end up being?
Starting with Jones, it seems clear enough that he has only occasionally had the opportunity to succeed in his first three seasons. The main reason for that is the offensive line. While some argue that injuries to the Giants’ playmakers should also be considered, I’d contend that those playmakers are overrated, and that there have been enough receivers active for most of Jones’ games that he should have been able to show more than he has.
No, it’s the line that has been consistently terrible. Behind that line, Jones has managed to flash signs of competence, although he has been very inconsistent. Jones has not, for the most part, seemed overwhelmed by the job or completely incapable of handling it, as Mike Glennon has looked, or as, to use a nearby example, young Jets quarterbacks like Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson have looked at various times in their brief careers.
On the other hand, Jones even at his best has not shown the potential for stardom. Think of Eli Manning in 2004. He came in and got brutalized by some of the best defenses in the league at the time. But in a week 15 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers –who would end up going 15-1 that year—Manning flashed some of the excellence and moxie that would define his success in the years to come. In three seasons, Jones has not done that. Even in his best games, he’s looked like a good, solid quarterback, not a budding star.
In Jones’ first start in 2019, the Giants put up 32 points. They have broken 30 behind Jones only twice since. That is surely not entirely Jones’ fault, but he must shoulder a great deal of the blame for it.
Does that mean the Giants should just dump Jones? Actually, no, it doesn’t, especially not right now.
While the Giants are likely to have two picks in the top 10 of the 2022 draft, this is not a good year for quarterbacks. The last thing they need to do is repeat the mistake Gettleman made when he reached at number 6 in 2019 to take Jones.
Other scenarios, such as the Giants trading for Seattle’s Russell Wilson, make even less sense. Big Blue’s offense is broken and it can’t be addressed with a quick fix mentality. Giving up the sort of draft capital Wilson or any star-level vet would cost is the wrong approach for the Giants. This team needs to draft and draft well, something they haven’t done in a very long time. There is no other way to fix an offense this bad.
And it is bad. Even aside from the offensive line, there is a lot more wrong with this offense. While there is a mantra floating around about the Giants having an impressive array of offensive weapons, the reality is vastly different. People can imagine that Saquon Barkley will once again be the electrifying running back he was in 2018, but that is a fantasy. Injuries have robbed him of his explosiveness, and he was never as good as people thought he was. While he was a highly dynamic playmaker, he was also extremely prone to negative plays, as he would dance around behind the line of scrimmage, often allowing the defense to converge on him. Yes, he was good for a huge play in nearly every game, but he also put the Giants in a lot of third and longs.
The injuries have robbed Barkley of his dynamism and it’s not coming back. He’s not an Adrian Peterson who can make up for losing a step with his ability to run between the tackles and push the pile. Barkley is a good running back, but his days as a great one were short, and they’re now in the past.
Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney have both shown that they can’t be relied on, and Golladay was not able to develop any chemistry with Jones even when he was on the field. Evan Engram presents a tough matchup for defensive coordinators, but if the defenders fail, Engram has proven beyond doubt that his hands will mean fumbles, tipped interceptions, and lots of plain old dropped passes. Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton are good pieces, but Shepard is largely extraneous if Toney is on the field, and Slayton is no better than a fourth receiver.
In all, this is not the arsenal it is made out to be. While the skill players are not the sort of horrible problem the offensive line is, they’re not a strength either.
With all of that, the Giants should not be desperate to replace Jones, who can competently manage the offense. Better to build the offense until there is an opportunity to get a quarterback who can lead this team to real contention for a long time to come. If the Giants decide there is someone who has that sort of potential in this year’s draft, fine. If not, there are other, more pressing matters that make it unnecessary to rush Jones out the door.
With Jones, the Giants need to decide whether they should guarantee his fifth year. It seems clear they shouldn’t, but also that they should keep the door open for him to step up and seize the job long term. But what of Joe Judge? He has apparently been assured that he will be the coach in 2022. This assurance is a lot more questionable.
When Judge stepped in for Pat Shurmur, he did seem to bring a greater sense of pride to the team. Despite all the losing, it’s clear to anyone watching that the Giants have not quit on Judge and continue to play hard for him. And that’s great; it means something.
But the inescapable fact is that Judge has won 10 games in two seasons. He has followed up a 6-10 campaign with one which will likely end with a 4-13 record, maybe 5-12. Judge can rant all he wants about internal and cultural progress, but that’s stepping backward, not forward.
Sure, the Giants have faced a lot of injuries. But so has very other NFL team. Yes, the Giants were hit especially hard, but there’s only so far that excuse can go. The game against Chicago illustrated the problem.
Mike Glennon may not be a good quarterback, but he is a veteran who, in his career, has thrown 47 touchdowns against 33 interceptions. He’s only won six games of the 30 he has started, but he did win those six. He shouldn’t be completely incapable of throwing a pass at all, as he was on Sunday. He went out there, as he has since Jones got hurt, and looked completely overwhelmed. That should not happen to an eight-year veteran.
When Glennon struggled, the Giants, who have nothing to lose, went into a shell and refused to pass, hobbling an already crippled offense. Judge is not just conservative, he has coached scared on many occasions. He has punted in situations that called for aggression (once even saying he wanted to get the punter “involved” early—and he wasn’t joking) and frequently called for third-down runs rather than trying more aggressively to move the football.
Judge comes from a special teams background. That’s unusual but not unprecedented. Yet it should mean that a disastrously stupid move like Pharoh Cooper allowing a kickoff to bounce around in the hope it would bounce into the end zone should not happen.
Yet it did. And when it did, the Giants called consecutive running plays up the middle sandwiched around a false start which all totaled a loss of five yards and cost them a safety, because Chicago, despite being poor defensively against the run, knew the Giants would not pass.
Judge’s performance in this game was not out of the ordinary. While Freddie Kitchens is technically calling the plays, we know it’s Judge that sets the tone; that’s especially clear since the Giants’ play-calling is so wildly different than what Kitchens employed in Cleveland, when he also had a sputtering offense.
Judge loves to lecture about culture, yet he’s also the guy who has routinely blamed everyone except himself for the team’s woes and last year had the gall to whine publicly because another team didn’t do enough to get his pathetic 6-10 squad into the playoffs.
So should Judge be fired?
As bad as the Giants organization has become, I am glad that John Mara at least remans reluctant to become the sort of owner who fires his coach every two years. Judge may yet turn this thing around and build on the promise he seemed to bring with him at the beginning of 2020.
But what should be of paramount importance right now to the Giants is their new general manager. This roster has been devastated by a GM who cannot judge talent, who doesn’t understand that the NFL of 2021 is very different from the NFL of 1986, and who has been incredibly resistant, from all accounts, to input from others.
After years of bad drafts from Jerry Reese, Gettleman made things much worse. He squandered the #2 overall pick on a running back, reached for a mediocre quarterback with the 6th pick, and took the worst of four available left tackles in his third draft (though, in fairness, Andrew Thomas has improved substantially since his poor rookie season, even if he is still clearly not as talented as the other tackles in that draft). In 2021 he passed on Micah Parsons—a player who is a throwback to the days when the Giants dominated the NFC East with their linebacking crew—and ended up taking the brittle Kadarius Toney instead. That decision is still open, since Gettleman did get a second first-round pick for trading back that day, so it may yet work out.
Bottom line, the roster is weak because of years of bad drafts and the free agents and trade acquisitions that have filled that gap have mostly either been inconsistent (Leonard Williams), too old to be on the next contending Giants team (Logan Ryan), or outright busts (Nate Solder). Big Blue absolutely cannot fail in their quest for a better GM.
That means they must not hamper their search by forcing any new GM to accept a coach who has a poor track record and a questionable temperament like Judge.
All things being equal, I’d give Judge one more year to show some results on the field and demonstrate that he’s capable of coaxing something more out of his players than the ability to lose a dozen or more games without punching one another. It’s concerning that this last result is something Judge apparently thinks is a point of pride.
But things are not equal. The clown show that is Dave Gettleman is finally about to end and the Giants must overcome the damage he’s done. Whoever they feel can do that must be hired and keeping Judge cannot be a factor in that decision at all. If a new GM wants him, fine. I can see someone feeling Judge has potential and, if that’s the view, there is value in consistency as well. But if the new GM wants his own guy, there should be no question that he will get him.
Giants ownership with John Mara has gone from the ridiculous to the pathetic. To say John is not the football man his father was is the understatement of the century. But there is no chance of change there, so Giants fans have to hope that his next decision is better than most of his previous ones. The new GM must be given free reign to decide on his coach, and the future of the entire roster, including the quarterback. The fact that Mara seems to want to pre-empt that decision is a real cause for concern.