New York Giants: odell beckham
"When a guy has a big injury like Victor had, you can't put all your eggs in his basket," Reese said. "Our doctors say he looks good. I see him down in the training room, working out with our trainers and our medical people, and he looks good. But his game is quickness. And until you get out there and move around, you never really know how he's going to recovery from that. We're hoping and praying that he'll come back 100 percent and be the Victor Cruz that we know, but you can't put 100 percent in that basket."
Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in a Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery immediately thereafter and missed the rest of the season. He said in December that his hope was to be ready in time for training camp, but that he couldn't be certain. The rehab from that injury and surgery is long and difficult. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week that he believed the plan was for Cruz to start running soon, which would indicate progress, but there remains a long way to go.
"We'll upgrade receiver. We'll try to upgrade that spot as well," Reese said. "If Victor's back, and Odell and Rueben, that's a pretty good core. And there are some other guys, [Preston] Parker, [Corey] Washington, some younger guys. But if there's a good receiver, guys, we'll draft him."
Reese chuckled at a question about Beckham, who told reporters at the Pro Bowl that he'd played with two tears in his hamstrings in 2014.
"I don't know about that. I think he's trying to be a hero," Reese said. "I don't think you can play with two torn hamstrings and run fast like that. I think our doctors would have caught that."
Beckham missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, but recovered to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games and win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There were times during the second half of the season when Beckham admitted to pulling up on a deep route because he felt the hamstring tug and he didn't want to pull it again.
"According to our doctors, it was healed up," Reese said. "He may have gotten fatigued later in the season, but I don't think you can go out there and run like that if you've got a couple of torn hamstrings."
Reese also took a question about Randle, who was benched a couple of times late in the season for issues relating to punctuality and practice habits. Randle's relationship with the coaching staff seemed to improve late in the season and he finished with a flurry, catching 12 passes for 290 yards in the final two games of the season. Randle is under contract for less than $840,000 in salary and bonuses this year and counts just $1.047 million against the cap. He has a chance to be among the better bargains in the league at the position.
"Rueben gets banged on a lot. Sometimes he should get banged on, but I think he gets banged on a little bit too much," Reese said. "I think he's a good young player. All he needs is some chances. And with Odell and Victor, I think he'll get plenty of chances."
2. As for the others: The Giants also have meetings scheduled with the representatives for free-agent safety Antrel Rolle, free-agent defensive tackle Mike Patterson and others as they figure out where they stand with three weeks left until the new league year. They re-signed bench wide receiver Kevin Ogletree to a one-year deal Tuesday and will continue that level of tinkering here as well.
3. Could the LSU pipleline continue? The Giants have two starting wide receivers from LSU -- Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle. On Wednesday, LSU tackle La'el Collins was one of the prospects who spoke to the media. He said watching the success that former teammates Beckham, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Trai Turner had as NFL rookies last year inspires him. "It's the program," he said. "Everything we do at LSU prepares us for this. I feel like I'm just the next guy to do it." Collins said he has meetings set up here with 22 teams, including the Giants. He played guard his first two years at LSU and left tackle the past two.
4. Division rival news: Washington coach Jay Gruden said during his Wednesday news conference that Robert Griffin III would open the season as the Redskins' starting quarterback.
5. Upcoming: Giants coach Tom Coughlin is scheduled to address the combine media Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET. Giants GM Jerry Reese has his combine news conference Saturday at 10 a.m. ET.
It would be an extremely sensible pick for the Giants. Regardless of whether Scherff profiles as a guard or tackle at the NFL level, a strong run-blocking mainstay on the offensive line is something the Giants need for the short term as well as the long. Decay of the offensive line, brought on by years of poor drafts and an inability to develop mid-round picks, is one of the biggest reasons the Giants find themselves in their current sub-.500 rut, and devoting high-end resources to the problem is both the surest and the quickest way to fix it.
My question is whether, when push comes to shove, the Giants would really make a pick like this.
A year ago, when they held the No. 12 pick in the first round, the Giants were choosing between exciting playmaking wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and offensive lineman Zack Martin, a college tackle who profiled as an NFL guard. Giants GM Jerry Reese has said several times that they had Beckham and Martin rated very close together but that given the choice between the playmaker and the offensive lineman that early in the draft, he's always going to take the playmaker.
Obviously, after Beckham's brilliant Rookie of the Year performance, the Giants are happy with the choice they made. But Martin was an All-Pro and a critical part of the division-champion Dallas Cowboys' dominating rushing attack. Neither would have been a bad choice, and the fact is the Giants needed them both.
A year later, with the roster still in rebuild mode, the Giants again have multiple needs. They need long-range answers on the offensive line, yes, but they also need playmakers at all three levels of the defense. So given the choice between a defensive playmaker and an interior offensive lineman, would the Giants break form and go with the less sexy pick? It's possible, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Given the way Mel's mock falls, there are four pass-rushers already off the board by the time the Giants pick. Florida's Dante Fowler and Clemson's Vic Beasley are still on the board, as is Alabama safety Landon Collins, who'd be a strong (and in-character) pick for Reese to make at No. 9.
We have a long way to go before the draft, and obviously evaluations are going to change and shift a lot -- both in mock drafts and in real life. But for the Giants to take an offensive lineman at No. 9 who's not a long-term answer at left tackle would be very much out of character. No matter how much they may need him.
@DanGrazianoESPN: The New York Giants are paying Rashad Jennings a base salary of $2.23 million this year, and he'll cost less than $3 million against their salary cap. During the portions of the 2014 season when he was healthy, Jennings showed that he can play a valuable role as the starting running back in the Giants' offense, both as a runner and a receiver. The Giants have no reason to re-think the decision to sign Jennings long-term at this point, and no reason not to go into 2015 with him as a big part of their plans. Now, Andre Williams is entering his second season and is likely to earn a greater share of the carries than was originally planned last year. And I fully expect the Giants to try to sign a speedy, change-of-pace back to fill the role they had carved out for David Wilson last summer before neck injuries forced him to retire. So I don't think you can expect Jennings to get the same kind of workload as a Matt Forte or DeMarco Murray or the backs like that. But as for being the nominal "starter" in a fluid Giants backfield designed to distribute lots of carries/catches to several different backs? Yes, he's the front-runner as of now.
@DanGrazianoESPN: No, I think Jason Pierre-Paul is the only real candidate for the franchise player designation this year. The franchise number for safeties is likely to come in somewhere around $10 million, and I don't imagine the Giants wanting to pay a 32-year-old Antrel Rolle that much money. I think the Giants would like to have Rolle back, but they are turning over the safety position with an eye toward the future, so they are unlikely to commit any kind of exorbitant amount to a player of Rolle's age, even if he has been a valuable part of the team and the locker room for the past half-decade. The way the Giants generally operate with their free agents is to assign each of them a price and tell them, if they want more, to go out on the market and look for it. In the meantime, if Rolle does that, the Giants would be likely to move on to other options. But if he'll sign for their price, he could be back on a two-year or maybe even a cheap three-year deal. I don't think he's a candidate to be franchised.
This has to be last yr for Tom, Jerry, and Eli if they don't playoff right? #nygmail— AiredMania (@airedmania) February 6, 2015
@DanGrazianoESPN: I think coach Tom Coughlin is probably out if they miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. But GM Jerry Reese is absolutely not in danger of losing his job, I'm telling you. People don't want to believe it, but Giants ownership is all-in on Reese and has no intention of making a change at GM any time soon. Likewise, they're all in on quarterback Eli Manning and likely to extend his contract this offseason so that he completes his career as a Giant. It's not fair for Coughlin to be the only one taking the fall if the Giants have another bad year, because Reese deserves at least as much blame if not more for the current state of the roster. It's the personnel department's run of failed drafts that have sunk the Giants into this hole, and I don't understand what it is about Reese that makes him untouchable in the eyes of the people who run the Giants. But he is, and that's the reality of it. I think Coughlin needs a winning record in 2015 to come back in 2016, fair or not.
@DanGrazianoESPN: It's really not as simple as "talent over needs" or vice-versa. It's about maximizing the value of your draft pick. And as wonderful a player as Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is, it would be patently foolish for the Giants, from a roster-building perspective, to draft him with the No. 9 pick in this year's draft. The reason is one of allocation of resources. In the salary-cap era, it's important to assign your high-end resources (meaning free-agent money and high draft picks) to the most important positions. But it's also important not to over-commit at one of those positions. Game-breaking wide receivers are nice to have, but as of now the Giants have a first-round pick (Odell Beckham Jr.) a second-round pick (Rueben Randle) and a big-money free agent (Victor Cruz) at wide receiver. That's a lot of high-end resources committed to that one position, and it would be a mistake to do it again this year, because by definition it would leave them too weak elsewhere on the roster. So they need to find the best player they can at No. 9, yes, but they need to do it with an eye toward the needs of their roster. There are important positions (safety, pass-rusher, offensive line) that could stand a taste of the attention the wide receiver position has received from the Giants' front office in recent years, and they should be drafting with an eye toward beefing up elsewhere for a change.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the remainder of your weekend.
Obviously, when you have consecutive seasons under .500, your hope is that you're building something for the future. But at least in the eyes of our talent scout, the Giants are behind three-fourths of the NFL in terms of the quality of young talent on their roster.
We've talked a lot in this space about how the Giants' drafts from 2008-12 were pretty much complete wastelands, but when you're looking at 25-and-under talent you really can't go back further than that 2011 draft. That one delivered first-rounder Prince Amukamara (who doesn't turn 26 until June), but after him it was a mess of Marvin Austin, Jerrel Jernigan, James Brewer, Greg Jones, Tyler Sash, Jacquian Williams and Da'Rel Scott. Amukamara and Williams were defensive starters for the Giants in 2014, and Williams helped win the Super Bowl as a rookie, but that's clearly not a good draft.
The 2012 draft hasn't worked out very well either, as first-rounder David Wilson was forced into early retirement by neck injuries. Second-rounder Rueben Randle is a quality NFL receiver, though not a star. Third-rounder Jayron Hosley was a complete bust, and the Giants have received very little in contributions from Adrien Robinson, Brandon Mosley, Matt McCants and Markus Kuhn.
The Giants got starters in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft with Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins. Damontre Moore is still only 22, so there's still a chance he learns how to play the run and stop committing dumb penalties. And they're happy with fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib as a backup quarterback. But he's shown little to indicate he'll be any more than that, and late-rounders Cooper Taylor, Eric Herman and Michael Cox haven't shown much.
Of these drafts, 2014 obviously shows the most promise, with first-round superstar Odell Beckham Jr. leading the way. Matt also lists second-rounder Weston Richburg, who could be the team's starting center in 2015, among the Giants' top five 25-and-under players. They also found potential starters in the fourth round (Andre Williams) and the fifth round (Devon Kennard), and it's early to judge lightly-used guys such as Jay Bromley and Nat Berhe.
If this were a ranking of players 23 and under, then the drafts from the last two years likely would push the Giants up the list. But they're still lugging around the mistakes and misses from that dark half-decade when they couldn't figure out the draft, and that's why they're sitting there in the bottom quarter of Matt's rankings.
Cruz signed his long-term deal prior to the 2013 season. He has four years left on that deal at an average salary of $7.5 million per year and an average cap hit of $9 million per year. This year's salary is a palatable $6.15 million. Next year's is a more exorbitant $7.9 million. None of the remaining salary in his deal is guaranteed.
Now, if Cruz produces the way he produced in the two years before he signed the deal -- two years in which he averaged 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns -- these numbers are no problem. However, his production dropped in 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards, 4 touchdowns and missed the final two games due to injury). And in the sixth game of the 2014 season, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and had to have major surgery that ended his season.
There is no guarantee Cruz comes all the way back from the injury, or that he's the same kind of explosive player he was before it happened. The Giants hope he makes a full recovery, and he and they are optimistic he will. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has some creative ways to use Cruz that he didn't get to show much in 2014 before the injury. The team's preference would be to have Cruz all the way back and earning his contract in their new offense for the next four years.
But this is a cold business, this NFL contract business. And with Odell Beckham Jr. having exploded onto the scene as a superstar talent and producer in Cruz's absence, the Giants may well have the leverage they need to seek a reduction in Cruz's salary over the remaining four years of the deal. And it may be in their best salary-cap interest to seek that reduction. They can point out the 12 missed games over the past two years and use Beckham's emergence to help their case and maybe shave a couple of million bucks off of that cap number this year.
Doing this would run the risk of alienating one of the team's best and favorite players. Cruz is a selfless, team-first guy who showed up in 2014 training camp after signing the deal and told the coaches he wanted to work on becoming a better downfield blocker in the run game. He's a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they may decide this isn't a road they want to travel. That contract definitely means something to him, and it may well hurt his pride if they come to him and threaten him with a release while telling him Beckham has passed him -- even if it's just a negotiating tactic.
Cutting Cruz would only save the Giants $2.425 million cap space this year, so assuming they believe he's going to make it all the way back that's not a worthwhile way to go. But given the way things have gone since Cruz signed that deal a year and a half ago, it's not crazy to at least look at making some changes to it.
One of the most important rules about interviewing professional athletes is to remember that they are not doctors. Beckham can tell the New York Post, if he likes, that he played the whole season with two tears in his hamstrings. He may even technically be correct, because any kind of muscle pull or strain is, in point of fact, a tear of the soft tissue. But all he's doing is using a different word to describe an injury about which everyone already knew. If you go out in the backyard and throw the football around with your kids and you pull your calf or your quad or your hamstring, you will go to work the next day with at least one tear in your muscle. Congrats on toughing that out.
Now, of course, Beckham's job requires him to use his hamstrings to a much more spectacular extent than you or I use them, so the fact that his preseason hamstring injury never fully healed is interesting. But what you have to remember is this: After Beckham pulled his hamstring in the first practice of training camp last summer, and after he pulled it again in a partial practice a couple of weeks later, the Giants sat Beckham out until they were completely sure he could play without risk of reinjuring that muscle. He likely could have played in Week 4 against Washington, but they waited until Week 5 against Atlanta for his debut simply because they wanted to make sure. (And because, if you remember, they only needed Larry Donnell to beat Washington.)
During the season, Beckham would occasionally discuss the hamstring. Once in a while, he would be discussing a particular play or route and say that was one where he felt he might not be able to go full speed because of his hamstring. Wisely, on these occasions, he slowed down so that he might continue playing in the rest of the game. That is the extent to which Beckham's hamstrings affected him after Week 4, and it's possible he could have stretched it out on any or all of those plays and not been affected.
Beckham was absolutely dazzling this season. His 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games are likely to be rewarded Saturday night with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Might he be even better next season if his hamstring is fully healed after an offseason's worth of rest? Sure. A full offseason program, training camp and slate of preseason games are likely to help him as well, as could the return from injury of fellow star wideout Victor Cruz.
But Beckham's accomplishments and ability require no embellishment. They are great enough on their own, and the words he chose to discuss his hamstring issues Sunday night don't mean anything in the big picture of what this young man did or can continue to do going forward.
We'll take a quick look at the New York Giants' end of it. PFF has them six above-average players away, which doesn't sound bad. They have only one player in the "Elite" category -- Pro Bowl rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- and seven in the "Good" category (Johnathan Hankins, Robert Ayers, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Will Beatty, Rueben Randle and Daniel Fells).
Check out the project and click on the Giants' link and you'll see I have a bit of a rundown on where I do and don't agree with PFF's evaluations (and why). And you can decide for yourself where you do and don't agree with them. And you can look around the rest of the league to see how other teams' problems stack up with those of the 6-10 Giants. For me, I think the evaluations are generous. But with the Giants, they always seem to be -- until the season ends and we look at the record.
Team Irvin will be coached by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who'll be familiar with his roster. The only Cowboy selected by Team Cris Carter was long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur.
Beckham is (obviously) playing in his first Pro Bowl after a dazzling rookie season in which he missed the first four games due to a hamstring injury but still managed to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Pro Bowl is at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona, and will be broadcast on ESPN.
Wouldn't it make the most sense to move pugh inside and get a f/a tackle..then draft picks can be defense.. #nygmail.. - brett vollant (@BLV2180) January 15, 2015@DanGrazianoESPN: I do think it would make sense to move Justin Pugh to guard and find a big-time, mauling, run-blocking right tackle. I have thought that for a couple of years now, and based on the comments the Giants' decision-makers made on the radio earlier this week, it sounds as though they believe it now as well. And your plan -- to find a tackle in free agency and not leave it for the draft -- is likely to be the one they pursue. I believe in the value of building the line through the draft, but at the No. 9 pick it does not appear as though there's going to be a must-take tackle for the Giants this year. There are some interesting tackle names on the free-agent market (Doug Free? Bryan Bulaga? Joe Barksdale?), and it's possible the Giants have their eye on one of them. If they can't upgrade at right tackle, they're fine with Pugh there and could beef up at guard again instead. But it sounds to me as though they'll be in the tackle market, yes. And I think they should be.
@DanGrazianoESPN what are the chances we bring back both JPP and Rolle? #nygmail - Jason De Rozario (@THE_REAL_JayDee) January 14, 2015@DanGrazianoESPN: It's certainly not impossible that the Giants could re-sign free agents Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle, but the chances depend on a number of things. First and foremost is price. If Pierre-Paul is determined to max out as a free agent (which I believe he is), then the Giants would either let him leave or franchise him. If they franchised him, there would be less money for Rolle, who also believes he's worth a lucrative free-agent deal and could leave if they lowball him the way they did Justin Tuck last year. Their best chance for keeping both is that at least one of them gives some sort of "hometown discount." They're not likely to get that from Pierre-Paul. But as a 32-year-old safety, Rolle might not find the market for which he's hoping and could decide staying with the Giants at their price is the best option for finishing his career.
@DanGrazianoESPN Will Cruz's return help or hurt Odell's production and who is the odd man out in the wr rotation? #nygmail - Kerry Loomis (@kerryloomis) January 14, 2015@DanGrazianoESPN: A return to full health for wide receiver Victor Cruz is not guaranteed. But if he does make one then his return to the offense would help Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the offense immensely. I do not think Beckham's role would change at all, and if he continued to play at the level at which he played in 2014, he would continue to pile up targets and catches. But offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo had big plans for Cruz before his season-ending injury last year, and having Cruz back as the slot receiver could make things even easier for Beckham as defenses had someone else who required their attention. Cruz is a guy the Giants feel they can use in a role similar to the one in which the Packers use Randall Cobb -- move him around the formation, line him up in the backfield, etc. And having Beckham as the threat he represents on the outside would enable them to maximize those options. Cruz and Beckham played only one full game together in 2014. As for the "odd man out," good question. Assuming Rueben Randle as the No. 3 (which I think is a fair assumption), they have a fair bit of depth with guys such as Marcus Harris (assuming he comes back from his injury), Corey Washington and Preston Parker and Kevin Ogletree if they bring those guys back. They were surprised by what Parker delivered for them this year, and they view him and Ogletree as good fits for their offense. Wide receiver could be a position of good depth for the Giants if Cruz does return.
@DanGrazianoESPN #nygmail to take next step with new O, do Giants need a better passing threat TE? - Steven Haderer (@stevenhaderer) January 14, 2015@DanGrazianoESPN: I don't think so. If we go back to the Packers comparison (which I think we should always do when talking about the new Giants offense), they really haven't had a high-impact passing-threat tight end recently, right? Jermichael Finley for a time, maybe, but not lately. The Giants (a) don't like to spend big resources on tight end and (b) really like Larry Donnell as a high-ceiling developmental player. They believe that another productive offseason will help Donnell make another leap and emerge as a major threat in their passing game. But even if he doesn't, they showed this year that he can be useful as-is, and as we discussed above, they might have more than enough options at wide receiver.
Thanks for all of your questions.
It's obviously still way too early to know anything for certain at this point, but Mel's reasoning on Scherff sounds like the kind of reasoning that would appeal to the Giants. Some project Scherff as a guard at the NFL level, but the same was said two years ago about Syracuse's Justin Pugh, whom the Giants drafted in the first round and started at right tackle for his first two seasons in the league.
The Giants' specific offensive line needs are unclear at this point. In their radio interviews Tuesday, coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese indicated that there had been some talk of finding a dominating tackle and moving Pugh inside to guard. But Pugh's position flexibility as well as Weston Richburg's and Geoff Schwartz's, allow the Giants to keep their options open.
The Giants need to do better in the run game, and that starts up front, where they struggled mightily with their run blocking in 2014.
You know me. I was the one arguing for Zack Martin over Odell Beckham Jr. last year when the Giants were picking No. 12. But you also know Jerry Reese, who admitted in his radio interview with WFAN in New York on Tuesday that he had Beckham and Martin ranked close together but will always take the dynamic playmaker over the lineman in such a scenario. Given the way the first eight picks of Mel's mock fell, Scherff looks like a solid pick for the Giants at No. 9. But if they think he's a guard, they may decide that's too high to take him, and the guy still on Mel's board who jumps out to me as a Reese-type pick at this spot would be Louisville wide receiver Devante Parker. And if they didn't want to take a wide receiver in the top 12 two years in a row, maybe a pass-rusher like Clemson's Vic Beasley.
Again, long way to go with this stuff.
For Kiper’s complete analysis of the Giants' pick and the entire first round, click here .
But the Bears never called the Giants to ask permission to interview Ross or anyone else in the front office. In fact, no NFL team has expressed interest in any member of the Giants' front office or coaching staff for any vacant GM or head coach opening this offseason.
How unusual is that? There are only seven teams who haven't had anyone call about any of their people for an NFL head coach or GM opening this offseason:
There's only one playoff team on that list, and combined winning percentage of that group in the 2014 regular season was .366. You can make it a nine-team list, if you'd like, by adding the Packers and Jaguars, whose only requests for interviews have been by the Eagles for their pseudo-GM job. But other than the Packers and Steelers, these are not teams whose company you want to keep on any kind of NFL list right now.
This tells that perception and reputation can be fleeting in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Ross isn't a worse executive than he was last year or two years ago. It's just that the state of the Giants' program right now is such that teams aren't thinking about them when they're looking for help. They won the Super Bowl three years ago, sure. But they haven't finished above .500 or made the playoffs since.
And while their 2014 draft, headlined by likely Offensive Rookie of the Year Odell Beckham Jr., looks as though it could turn out to be a good one, the reason for the Giants' problems the past few years is that they're coming off a long string of terribly unproductive drafts that sapped the roster of depth and quality across the board. Once that starts to sink in around the league, it's not the kind of thing that helps your scouting director get GM interviews.
As for the coaching staff, it would be unfair not to point out that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was a red-hot offensive coordinator candidate who even got a head coach interview with the Browns last year before the Giants hired him. But the lack of on-field success in East Rutherford is going to keep NFL teams from looking to the Giants' coaching staff for help when they're making decisions about who should lead them.
It only takes one good year to get back on teams' radar screens. If the Giants turn things around, g0 11-5 and win the NFC East next year, it's entirely possible that Ross and a couple of their coaches and executives start to generate interest again. The lack of interest around the league obviously isn't personal. It's just a reflection of how poorly things are going for the Giants at this particular time in their history.
Beckham is also the only Giants player on the PFWA's All-Rookie team.
The No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Beckham missed the first four games of the 2014 season with a hamstring injury he suffered on the first day of training camp. But in the 12 games he played, he caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, pushing himself into the top 10 in each of those categories.
Their 12-4 regular-season record included an 8-0 road record, and while they shouldn't be favored in next week's divisional playoff game in Green Bay, they're not likely to be an easy out. After three straight 8-8 seasons in which they lost a division title game on the final day, the Cowboys this year broke through to join the ranks of the NFL's top teams. No team in the league won more games.
Along with the ridiculous sight of New Jersey's governor/climber trying to butt in on a celebratory hug between Stephen and Jerry Jones at the end of Sunday's playoff victory over Detroit, the Cowboys' resurgence likely eats at Giants fans who hate that team and the fact it's on to the second round while the Giants sit out the playoffs for the third year in a row. But while you may not like hearing it, the Cowboys offer the Giants and the rest of the NFL a pretty good team-building road map.
Next season will tell whether it was wise for the Giants to keep Tom Coughlin and to keep his staff intact, but regardless of whether they're better off staying put, one thing about the Cowboys' model that should stand out to them is the way they've built their roster over the past half-decade -- specifically up front on offense.
The Cowboys went 29 years without picking an offensive lineman in the first round before taking Tyron Smith at No. 9 overall in 2011. This was not a coincidence. It was a deep-rooted organization belief that the value of using a first-round pick on an offensive lineman wasn't justified. But it showed, and as the Cowboys amassed impressive offensive skill-position talent year after year, offensive line issues continually sunk their seasons. Smith was a great value pick at a position of tremendous need in 2011, and they pulled the trigger.
The following year, they goofed and traded their first-round and second-round picks to move up and take cornerback Morris Claiborne. But in the two years that followed, they went big again, moving down to take center Travis Frederick at No. 31 in 2013 (and picking up Terrance Williams with the extra third-rounder they got out of that deal) and taking Zack Martin at No. 16 last year.
The result is a monster offensive line that gives them the confidence to run the ball with authority even when they fall behind in big games and to protect Romo for six or seven seconds if that's what he needs to throw the game-winning touchdown pass. The Cowboys' offense is still loaded with big-time playmakers, but now it's built to control games and to allow its playcaller to stick with the plan for the full 60 minutes. These are major advantages, and Dallas' 5-1 record against the Giants the last three years has offered plenty of game-by-game evidence of the growing difference between the teams.
The Giants are starting to get the message. They went 13 years without taking a first-round lineman before taking Justin Pugh at No. 19 in 2013. But their current projected 2015 starters still include only Pugh, second-rounders Will Beatty and Weston Richburg and free-agent signees Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton. They continue to seek patchwork solutions at a place on the roster where it's clear they need more elite talent. Beatty is fine, but I don't think "fine" is what you're looking for in a left tackle these days. He's clearly the No. 4 left tackle in his own division behind three Pro Bowlers, and there's little doubt they could upgrade there.
Obviously, Odell Beckham Jr. was the right call for the Giants at No. 12 last year. Martin could have slotted in nicely and been a big help, but Beckham gives them a big-play wide receiver threat the Cowboys already had in Bryant. After Beckham's rookie season performance, there's no second-guessing that particular pick.
Going forward, however, the Giants would do well to at least check out the model the Cowboys have put together over the past four years, realize the manner in which it's working, and think about investing some major resources in that offensive line for a change.
The 2014 New York Giants had two three-game win streaks. Their quarterback cut his interception total nearly in half from last year. And they might well have the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But what the Giants didn't have was enough success -- not nearly enough. After going 7-9 last year and overhauling the offense, the Giants went 6-10 in 2014 and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.
Yes, they had a ton of injuries -- 22 players on injured reserve, more than any other team in the league. And yes, they did have their moments on offense. But they couldn't hang with the good teams in the league and really were never a factor in the playoff race after the midway point of the season.
At the end of it, another disappointing year for a team that always says it wants to win the Super Bowl but, most years, can't even get itself into the postseason.
Team MVP: Odell Beckham Jr. To win a team MVP award after missing all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury takes some doing. But the Giants' rookie wide receiver was unquestionably their best player once he was on the field, and the numbers he put up in his three-quarters of a season ranked among those of the best players in the NFL. He finished the season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. The Giants are excited as they look ahead to the possibility of a full 2015 season with Beckham and Victor Cruz both healthy at wide receiver.
Best moment: Beckham's twisting, one-handed touchdown catch in the Week 12 loss to the Cowboys might have been the No. 1 individual highlight of the entire NFL season. The catch made Beckham an instant sensation, landed him a dinner in New York City with LeBron James and shined a light on the best thing the Giants had going for them in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and overall dismal season. Those who had been watching Beckham in practice every day, in pregame warmups and in non-prime-time games were of course dazzled to see his best work live and in a difficult game situation, but the excitement over Beckham that has followed is fully justified based on the way he played before and after "The Catch."
Worst moment: When Cruz went up to try to catch a short pass in the end zone in Week 6 in Philadelphia and tore his patellar tendon before he hit the ground, it was as sickening and disappointing a moment as any the Giants had all year. Seeing Cruz, in tears, taken off the field on a cart with a team trainer holding his knee in place was tough to watch, and obviously the impact on the Giants' offense the rest of the way was significant. If they ever had a chance to make anything of this season, losing Cruz just as they were getting Beckham into the lineup took it right away from them.
2015 outlook: Hard to say for sure until we see what happens in free agency. But assuming they add a piece or two on the offensive line and address the pass rush, either by re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul or finding a high-end solution on the market, there is reason to hope next year will be better than the past two were. They obviously demonstrated progress and growth in Ben McAdoo's offense as the year went along. Quarterback Eli Manning had a fine season and -- apart from one five-interception mess against the 49ers -- did a better job of protecting the ball and making smart decisions than he has in years past. The array of weapons around Manning heading into 2015 gives reason for optimism.