EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants seem to have found their coach. The question is whether they have the right general manager paired with him to get the organization back to its winning ways.
The Giants retained Dave Gettleman last Dec. 30 when they fired coach Pat Shurmur and later hired Joe Judge, because they wanted to "give him a chance to finish what he started."
Essentially, Gettleman, who was hired as GM in December 2017, was put on notice.
At the time, Gettleman said, "I really feel good about the direction we're headed," adding that the Giants' success "depends on how quickly the puppies come along."
One year later, the Giants are a loss away from 5-11 and a win (and some help) from capturing the NFC East. Relationship status with Gettleman: It's complicated.
It leaves some serious uncertainty about how ownership will view this season. The Giants have made progress and played meaningful December games, something co-owner John Mara was hoping to see this season. But it's because of only the division's incompetence -- Washington and Dallas lead the NFC East at 6-9 -- and, if the past three weeks have proven anything, it's that the Giants are still a long way from being a real playoff contender.
When it comes to Gettleman's future, this is what Mara said would be the measuring stick before the season kicked off in September:
"I want to feel like when we walk off the field after the last game that we play, whenever that is, that we're moving in the right direction. That we have the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl, and that the combination of people that we have here is going to work going forward. That's what [co-owner] Steve [Tisch] and I need to feel like."
The tricky part is the Giants appear to be headed in the right direction but are light years away from having the talent to compete for a Super Bowl. Over the past three games -- all losses -- the roster Gettleman has assembled over three years was outclassed by playoff contenders in the Arizona Cardinals (26-7 loss in Week 14) and Cleveland Browns (20-6) and was not even in the same stratosphere to compete with the Baltimore Ravens (27-13).
It was blatantly obvious, and there are people within the Giants' building who are well aware the talent level is insufficient.
Judge and Gettleman have worked amicably together throughout this season. Still, it's impossible to ignore the latter was responsible for putting most of this incomplete roster together over the previous two years.
The perception outside the building seems to be that Gettleman's tenure has produced a mixed bag.
"In some ways, he's done a good job. When you look at the Carter Coughlins of the world, the Tae Crowders, those guys by and large have exceeded expectations," an ex-general manager said. "But the biggest challenge they are going to have is ownership is going to have to spend a massive amount of money, because where they need their biggest help is at the most expensive positions -- pass rush, corner, [wide receiver]."
Is that enough for this traditionally patient organization to make a move with its general manager -- whether it be to fire, reassign or retire Gettleman? The Giants fired GM Jerry Reese late in the 2017 season and hired Gettleman. But before that, George Young (1979-97) and his successor, Ernie Accorsi (1998-2007), retired in the role.
Though all of this has unfolded in a season played during the coronavirus pandemic, which altered offseason programs, training camps, fans in the stands and more, there seems to be a growing belief in league circles that a GM change could be on the horizon.
Mara and Tisch usually wait until after the season for the emotions to settle before making major decisions. That should hold true again this year given the Giants could still advance to the playoffs or hold a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Here are the most significant moves from Gettleman's three years on the job, which will help serve as criteria for what Mara and Tisch have to consider in their evaluation of him:
To date, the Giants are 14-33 in the three seasons since Gettleman was named the general manager. All three years, they suffered double-digit losses. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets are worse during that span, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Gettleman believes in winning in the trenches -- it was his top priority upon arrival to address the "hog mollies" -- but according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Giants rank 31st in pass block win rate (46%) and dead last in pass rush win rate (30%) this season.
Gettleman's top picks in his three drafts produced running back Saquon Barkley (No. 2 overall in 2018), quarterback Daniel Jones (No. 6 in 2019) and left tackle Andrew Thomas (No. 4 in 2020). Barkley is a tremendous talent, but two of his first three seasons have been marred by injury, and the jury is still out on Jones and Thomas, who have had their ups and downs.
Free agency was a disaster in 2018 and '19, with left tackle Nate Solder (2018) and wide receiver Golden Tate (2019) the prized acquisitions. Neither has panned out. But the early returns on this year are off-the-charts good, with cornerback James Bradberry (Pro Bowl), middle linebacker Blake Martinez and safety Logan Ryan transforming the defense from doormat to one that ranks No. 13 overall through 15 games.
Trades and acquisitions
The Giants signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a huge extension in August 2018 and then traded him seven months later after Gettleman insisted they didn't sign him to trade him. They ended up with starting safety Jabrill Peppers, starting defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and backup pass-rusher Oshane Ximines in return. They also incurred a significant financial penalty ($16 million in dead cap space in 2019) as a result.
Gettleman traded away Beckham, pass-rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, cornerback Eli Apple and linebacker B.J. Goodson. He never really found suitable replacements for the first three at their respective positions and received whatever he could in terms of draft capital for the rest.
He traded for linebacker Alec Ogletree, defensive lineman Leonard Williams, punter Riley Dixon, Peppers, guard Kevin Zeitler and cornerback Isaac Yiadom. Ogletree was a disaster and released in February, but Williams, Peppers and Zeitler are three of the team's best players.
Culture and salary cap
Gettleman cleaned out the locker room over his three years to reset the culture, and Judge has made it his primary mission to reset the culture this season. The Giants finally seem to have that right.
Gettleman's moves took some money off the books. It took a couple of years, but the Giants were in sound financial shape heading into this past offseason and are projected by Over The Cap to have more than $16 million in salary-cap space for 2021. They don't have a top-of-the market deal at any position, giving them plenty of upcoming flexibility.
A deeper dive into his drafts would show one Pro Bowl selection so far (Barkley) from his three classes, some promise on the offensive line (Thomas, Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux) and at quarterback (Jones). The back end of this year's draft has admirably filled voids, but five of his 10 picks from 2019 aren't on the current roster and none of his seven picks from 2018 will be in the starting lineup on Sunday.
It's not a terrible résumé, but the Giants have four consecutive seasons with at least 10 losses -- the longest streak in franchise history -- and Gettleman has been the GM for the past three. He admitted last year that what he had done was "not good enough" and promised "it will get better."
It seemingly has, but only incrementally.
Is it enough after three years in which Gettleman accrued five- or six-win talent? Considering Barkley was lost for the season (torn ACL) in Week 2, Judge probably maxed out the talent at his disposal to reach five wins entering Week 17.
All of it adds up to Gettleman having a mighty hot seat heading into the final week of the season.