Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Sorting through Giants' new puzzle pieces
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
In case you haven't been paying attention, the New York Giants are going to look a lot different in 2014. You can make the argument that's a good thing, given how bad they were in 2013, but I'm not sure the extent of the roster overhaul in East Rutherford is being sufficiently understood by outside observers.
The Giants and general manager Jerry Reese are in unfamiliar territory in terms of roster turnover.
The Giants project to have new starters at nine positions -- center, left guard, wide receiver, tight end, running back, cornerback, outside linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive end -- plus a new slot cornerback, a new kick returner and a new punt returner. At the present time, there are only 13 players on the Giants' roster who played in their Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Patriots 25 months ago.
That's serious turnover, folks, and while it was inevitable and warranted, it creates a level of uncertainty with which this continuity-based franchise has not been familiar over the past decade.
The Giants have relied in large part on their locker room culture to help them through tough times and elevate them to postseason greatness. But the locker room is going to have more new faces in it in 2014 than it's had in quite some time. Key leaders such as Justin Tuck, Terrell Thomas and David Diehl, have departed, leaving guys like Antrel Rolle, Jon Beason and of course Eli Manning to keep steering the ship in the right direction when it veers off course.
Now, many of the players the Giants have signed look to be upgrades over their predecessors at their individual positions. And from the group of new guys, it's likely a leader or two will emerge. But it's worth noting that the sheer volume of the turnover creates an unfamiliar situation for the people who run the team.
GM Jerry Reese doesn't like to build a roster through free agency. He prefers to use the draft to build and maintain a deep roster and develop players so they're ready to fill in when holes open up. But the past couple of years haven't worked that way, either because of poor drafts, insufficient development or both, and the roster Reese carried into this offseason was in need of widespread repair. He has had no choice but to stock up through free agency, even as he remains well aware of the pitfalls. And while he's maintained some key principles in an effort to minimize the inevitable risk (the only player of the 16 free agents they've signed who's over 30 is kicker Josh Brown), Reese surely knows not every move he's made will work out. His best hope is the majority of them do, and this time next year he's confronted with less than half as many holes.
Tom Coughlin is in for an unusual season as well. The Giants have tremendous faith in their head coach's ability to lead men and shape a team, and Coughlin's task once training camp opens in July will be to get all of the new pieces mixed in smoothly with the old pieces and make sure everyone's rowing in the same direction. This is what Coughlin gets paid to do, and he's very good at it, but some of the things that may have run on autopilot in recent years when the roster wasn't turning over at all aren't going to do that anymore. It's going to be a very different year for Coughlin and his coaching staff, a decent chunk of which is also new, by the way.
If you're a Giants fan, this is an exciting time, because your team is taking shape and you can imagine the great things the exciting new players who are being brought in can do together. It's an exciting time for the people who run the Giants, too. Things will feel fresh and new once this group gets together, and that's always fun. But a lot still rests on the ability of them to bring all of these pieces together and make it all work.