Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Five lingering questions: Team chemistry
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:
How will the locker room come together with so many new faces?
It's going to fall on coach Tom Coughlin to keep the chemistry and professionalism alive in the Giants' locker room.
One of the acknowledged strengths of the Giants in recent years has been their team chemistry -- the extent to which their players buy into the whole idea of being a Giant, and what that all means. It has served them well in good times and in bad. Their ability to hang together helped elevate them from a 7-7 morass in late December of 2011 to Super Bowl champions a little more than a month later. It helped them right the ship after last year's 0-6 start to win seven of their final 10 games and salvage some respectability. A lot of that generates from the tone set by ownership and of course head coach Tom Coughlin, but for a long time there has been a core group of players in the locker room who could be counted on to buy into the "Giant way" of doing things.
Is that still the case? Here is a partial list of significant departures this offseason:
Those eight players take with them a combined total of 52 seasons played as Giants and 11 Super Bowl rings won as Giants. Now, other than Joseph and maybe Tuck, it's tough to make a strong argument that any of them should have been brought back, but that's not the point we're discussing here. The point is that, whatever these guys were by the end of 2013, they were longtime Giants who didn't have to be educated about the coaches' or the organization's expectations of what that meant. Webster was no locker room leader, but he was no troublemaker either. Nicks was horrible last year, but even at his worst he was no boat-rocker. He just didn't play as hard as they wanted him to play. Even at 0-6 and with guys like that playing their worst, there was never any locker-room turmoil with the 2013 Giants, because the room was built around professionals and champions who knew how to pull together for the greater good.
So because of the extent of the change, this is a question that needs asking. The Giants believe they retained some of last year's strong leadership with returning captain Antrel Rolle and middle linebacker Jon Beason on defense. Eli Manning remains a strong locker room presence, and the return of offensive lineman Chris Snee is a benefit from a leadership standpoint. The retention of Coughlin, who sets the tone for the locker room as head coach, is the most important key to keeping this all together, and he himself admits that it's his mission to make sure the new pieces all mesh as effectively as the old ones did.
But until we see that happen, there's no way to know for sure. What if guys like Rashad Jennings and Geoff Schwartz and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie don't like the way the Giants operate? If the team gets wiped out in September again, can this new group be counted on to handle it as professionally as last year's did? If the team finishes 9-7 or 10-6 and gets into the playoffs, can this new group be counted on to turn up its play to a championship level the way the 2011 group did?
It's a mystery, as it must be when a team engages in this level of turnover. And it's really not a question to which we're likely to have a concrete answer any time soon. The free-agent frenzy has changed the look of the Giants and by necessity will alter the vibe in the locker room. Some of the new players will be obvious assets. Some will not. Time will tell which will be which, and the manner in which the players and the coaches manage the good and the bad will determine how it all comes together. It's a big project, and not an easy one. There remains a strong chance this is only the first offseason in a larger rebuilding project, and that parts of this question will have to be addressed again next spring.