EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The man who's signed more free agents than any other this NFL offseason didn't come out and thump his chest about it Thursday. New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese had a lot more to say in his news conference about all of the work that remains to be done than he did about the work he's done over the past two months.
"We had a lot of work to do in free agency, so we worked hard in free agency, and after that, I actually liked the couple of weeks' extra time to get ready for the draft," Reese said. "The draft stands alone. We try to take the best players we can in the draft. In free agency, you try to fill some holes."
The clear message was that next week's work is the real roster-building work. Free agency, in Reese's words, is about filling holes. The Giants went into the offseason with a large number of holes, and the free agents they signed fit several of them in ways the Giants liked. They tend to be between 27 and 29 years old. They play positions at which the Giants have recently lost key contributors or were in need of an upgrade. Square hole, square peg. Round hole, round peg. Free agency is puzzle-solving work, designed to make sure you can field a team.
The draft, however, is where the Giants (and nearly every other team) prefer to build the backbone of their roster. It is in the draft where the Giants hope to find the true, long-term, cornerstone solutions to their biggest problems. It is in the draft where they have, in too many recent years, failed to find enough such players.
"We try to get more right than we get wrong, but nobody's batting 1.000 in personnel," Reese said. "We always take it hard when guys don't make it that we think are going to be good picks for us. It's always hard, but it happens, we claim it, we move on and we try to pick better players as we move forward."
This was not a general manager gloating about how awesome his roster looks after signing 26 free agents. This was a general manager being honest with himself and his audience about a Giants roster that it still very much a work in progress. It's possible Reese will feel a lot better about the state of the Giants after next week's draft is over, but it doesn't seem likely that he'll feel he's got everything just right. There was more work to be done on this roster than could fit into a single offseason, and after listening to Reese on Thusday I think that's the way he sees it too.
He seemed uncertain about the state of the offensive line, mentioning it as a place where upgrades have been made but also as one where more might be necessary. He doesn't seem to think they're all the way set at center, and while everyone's optimistic about Chris Snee at right guard, Reese struck the proper we'll-see tone about an 11-year veteran coming off two hip surgeries.
Reese also talked about the defensive line, and the team's hope that young players such as Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore are ready to move into starting roles. He addressed tight end by saying they have young guys they hope are ready to step forward. He didn't address wide receiver, because he wasn't directly asked about it, but surely Rueben Randle could be viewed in the same light there in which Hankins and Moore are viewed on defense -- as a player they hope is ready for more. He talked about safety, and of the team's looming decision on Will Hill as he faces a third drug suspension in as many years, and said they wouldn't be afraid to draft a safety if one were there that they liked.
He seems confident about Eli Manning's chances for a bounce-back year at quarterback, and Manning obviously has enough track record to deserve such optimism. But Manning also is going to miss spring practices while recovering from ankle surgery, so he has to get thrown into the question-mark bin as well. If he doesn't get to practice as much in the offseason as he always has, will it take a while to get his season going in a new offense?
There are a ton of questions with this team, and I credit Reese for not acting otherwise. He's a man who has faith in himself and his process. He took last year's 7-9 season hard, and he's clearly disappointed with the results of his recent drafts. But while anything is possible in this league and especially this division -- and while the Giants' coach/quarterback combination is always likely to give them a fighting chance at playoff contention -- I think it's important for Giants fans to at least temper expectations for this coming season. This is a team in the middle of -- not at the end of -- a major roster rebuild. And this was a GM on Thursday who sounded as though he knows that.