Whatever the New York Giants did last year on defense, it didn’t work. They imploded, finishing 31st in the league in total defense and having three cornerbacks suspended because of their conduct.
New general manager Dave Gettleman’s answers to last year’s problems began with a trade for middle linebacker Alec Ogletree. He was the captain for the Los Angeles Rams' defense, and he's going to be asked to do much of the same for the Giants.
“We’re very excited to have made the trade for Alec,” Gettleman said in a statement after the trade became official. “He gives us our defensive quarterback. He was a two-time captain with the Rams, voted on by his teammates. He’s a leader, and that’s very important to us. Just as important, he’s a quality three-down Mike linebacker. We’re just thrilled to have him.”
The way it was explained to Ogletree is that he will be asked to do a lot of what he did with the Rams. They played in a 3-4 defense last season and he was allowed to roam sideline to sideline to make plays.
It wasn’t always flawless -- the thought was that the Rams traded him, in part, because he wasn’t a natural fit in their defense -- but Ogletree remained a respected figure among teammates. Several of them, including star running back Todd Gurley, expressed their displeasure with the move on social media. It showed where Ogletree stood in that locker room.
“I’m more of a lead-by-example guy,” he said. “Your actions speak louder than words do. But at the same time, if something needs to be said, I don’t have a problem saying it and getting guys to do the right thing.”
The Giants needed that. B.J. Goodson, a second-year player at the time, started last season at middle linebacker. He struggled to remain healthy. Defensive captain Jonathan Casillas was a respected voice on the field and in the locker room, but he also didn’t make it through the season and was constantly banged up. The Giants were left short on linebackers and leaders.
Ogletree, 26, will try to fill the void that Gettleman believes existed. The common thread among most of the Giants' signings and acquisitions this offseason is that they’re considered quality locker room influences.
It doesn’t come cheaply, though. Ogletree is the third-highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL, averaging $10 million per season. By being on the roster Friday, his $6 million roster bonus for 2019 becomes guaranteed. That will almost certainly make him a Giant for at least these next two seasons.
Ogletree doesn’t think it will be a problem fitting into the new locker room. It should help that his brother-in-law is Giants safety Andrew Adams and his on-field scuffle with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is a thing of the past.
“No, that happened three, four years ago and we’ve seen each other since then and there’s never been any bad blood,” Ogletree said. “It’s football and it happened. We were playing against each other and we wish it didn’t happen the way it did, and it did and honestly he was one of the first guys to call me to welcome me to the team. I didn’t know who it was and I was like, ‘Who is this?’
“He actually sent me a video of the fight [laughs] and he was like, ‘We’re going after it every day at practice.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ So it was all good. Like I said, I’m excited to be here and it’s going to be a good thing, for sure.”
It hasn’t taken long but already Ogletree is working for the Giants. His first job with the team has been recruiting. He’s been trying to lure free-agent defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to New York.
Mathieu is a coveted free agent who has played for Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher in Arizona.
“I think he would have a big impact,” Ogletree said. “Of course, being in the division with him and just seeing his body of work, playing with him in college -- well, not playing with him, but I know the type of football player he is and I definitely think he brings a lot to the table, for sure.”
Already Ogletree is paying dividends, and not with his play.