PHOENIX -- The New York Giants insist they have a plan. They laughed and scoffed at the notion that they didn't have one this week at the NFL annual owners meetings. General manager Dave Gettleman even mentioned he gets occasional texts from his wife, Joanne, making jokes about the perceived lack of a plan.
Yes, it has reached that level, and it was evident this week that the perception of incompetence touches a nerve with this Giants brass.
"I love that question. What is the plan? The plan is to build the team and make it better!" co-owner John Mara said in an animated tone.
He later added: "I don't know why that is such an issue with you guys, or with fans, to be honest with you. That is the plan!"
The Giants surely have something planned. It is just hard for those outside their building to see where it's headed after it has constantly been altered over the past year and remains a work in progress this offseason.
There is no other way to explain signing Odell Beckham Jr. to a record deal last summer and trading him seven months later with serious financial penalties ($16 million in dead money). Something -- most notably the plan -- changed.
"It was business," coach Pat Shurmur said.
But it's bad business given the financial implications. So is not making a decision on safety Landon Collins' future before last year's trade deadline to maximize the return. The Giants then followed the trade of Beckham by paying a hefty price for Golden Tate, 30, as his replacement.
These kind of moves have left many wondering: What exactly is this plan the Giants keep referencing? They insist it's there somewhere in the mist of muddled transactions.
"We certainly talked a lot about it," Shurmur said. "I am on board. I really believe that we have a plan. We have a way that we want to make our team better and we feel like this trade is something that will help us do that."
The plans begins with a premise that many seem to philosophically reject. The Giants want to compete while building -- not rebuilding.
Gettleman and Shurmur have been careful not to utter that ugly R-word. The Beckham trade might indicate something else is going on, but the signings of Tate and 34-year-old safety Antoine Bethea while rolling it back again with 38-year-old quarterback Eli Manning speak volumes.
So building while still trying to win it is.
"We're building. The object of this is to win as many games as possible every year. We're building," Gettleman said recently. "We were 3-13 when I took over. We were 5-11 last year -- 12 of those games were by a touchdown or less. We're building. I don't understand why that's a question.
"Really and truly, you can win while you're building. ... You can win while you're building. They're not separate pieces."
Call it what you want. The Giants aren't ready to compete for anything serious this season. Go look at their defensive roster and it's obvious.
But the Giants' brass seems intent on proving the doubters wrong, particularly with their quarterback, whom they seem to view in a more favorable light than the rest of the league. More than a few executives have expressed surprise to me in recent weeks that they haven't cut the cord with Manning considering his recent play.
The Giants see it differently. Gettleman has called that narrative a "crock," and the organization is clinging to the belief that the second half of last season, when he played better with an improved offensive line, is an accurate indicator of the future. Forget the previous season or the season before that. The Giants keep referencing other quarterbacks older than Manning who are still having success, even if Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the outliers and seemingly awkward comparisons.
The underlying tone of it all seems to suggest the Giants believe Manning and the team will be better without Beckham as they try to eliminate distractions and push their team-first approach. Addition by subtraction. They like the idea of a village offense that spreads the ball around and believe it will lead to operating more efficiently.
The Giants also have put themselves in a healthy position financially after this season and have 12 picks in this year's draft.
"We obviously have a lot of holes to fill," Mara said. "We think we have the draft capital to at least start to address that. Whenever you're building a team, you've got to have the right combination of veterans and young players. You want the right veterans to teach the young players how to be professionals, how to be a Giant, what it takes to win in this league. You've got to have that right combination in the locker room if you're going to be successful.
"So, for me, it's not a conflict. I understand why you would ask that question and why some of you perceive it would be, but we never told [Gettleman] you've got to have these veterans in place. It's get the right mix in the locker room. That has been Dave's philosophy since Day 1 and that is what he's trying to accomplish."
Still, part of their plan as currently constituted involves finding Manning's successor, either in the first round of this year's draft or next. They would prefer for it to be this year to allow for what they've referred to as the Kansas City model. That entails having a rookie sit and learn behind Manning for a year like Patrick Mahomes did with Alex Smith for the Chiefs as a rookie two seasons ago.
It's still entirely possible the Giants defer that decision until 2020, or get their future franchise quarterback in April with pick No. 17 rather than No. 6.
In the meantime, they're going to concentrate on their lines. Shurmur noted earlier this week that last season only reiterated to them that it's a "big man's game." So they've already traded for right guard Kevin Zeitler, could still sign a right tackle and will attack the front seven of their defense in this draft that is rich with defensive linemen. It's entirely possible that both of the Giants' first-round picks are defense.
It might just be part of this mysterious plan.
"We know where we need to build certain positions," co-owner Steve Tisch said. "Dave has a plan. He discusses it with Pat. Pat has a plan. He discusses it with Dave. There is a plan.
"Over the next six weeks, pieces of that plan are going to start coming together."
Maybe then it will become clearer to those trying to make sense of it all right now.