NFC East: Jerry Reese

Even after all of their dizzying free-agent activity, the New York Giants' hopes for a return to contention in 2014 still rest on a player who has been on their team for the past 10 years.

The Giants have signed 23 free agents since the new league year started March 11, but not a single one of them will have as much to say about the success or failure of next season's team as will quarterback Eli Manning. He remains the one aspect of their roster that they know, from experience, can elevate them from average to championship-caliber. If he recovers from his career-worst season the way he did in 2011, all of Jerry Reese's offseason moves have a chance to look brilliant. But if Manning has another bad year and continues his decline, those moves are going to look useless.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFor the Giants to have future success, Eli Manning must recover from a 2013 season in which he threw 27 interceptions.
Even the manner in which Reese has gone about this rebuild shows you it all comes down to Manning. Of the 23 free agents the Giants have signed, only nine play offense. They changed offensive coordinators, and Ben McAdoo will bring significant scheme changes with him, but considering how horrible the Giants offense was in 2013, they've so far acquired rather little in the way of help. A new starting left guard, a new running back, maybe a new center but maybe not. There's no tight end. The depth chart at wide receiver is Victor Cruz and an array of question marks. Three of the five projected starting offensive linemen come with red injury flags.

Sure, there's the draft yet to come, and maybe even some more free-agency activity. But as with almost all of their moves so far, any free-agent moves yet to come will be Band-Aids. The Giants know they can never count on immediate help from a draft, and they will work to make judicious choices next month to help their roster as a whole for the long term. If, during that process, they come up with a receiver or a tight end or a lineman who helps make Manning better in 2014, so be it. But that's not the primary goal of any Giants' draft. They draft in order to build and maintain a deep roster.

So Manning has a lot of work to do, and this is why the Giants pay him $20 million or so a year. They count on him to be able to carry them to great things. They know, if they didn't already before last year's crater of an 0-6 start, that they can't just let the whole roster erode around him and expect him to work miracles. But they know that if they do put a representative team around him, he's the kind of quarterback who can win playoff games and Super Bowls with it. That's why his salary is what it is, and that's why the Giants go into 2014 crossing their fingers that 2013 was just a hiccup and not a sign of a player on the way down.

Their hope, as articulated in interviews by head coach Tom Coughlin this offseason, is that the arrival of McAdoo will "energize" Manning, and that he'll enthusiastically embrace an offensive scheme change after 10 years without one. I think there is some merit to this hope -- a chance they'll turn out to be right. The reason for Manning's problems in 2013 was a complete breakdown of his protection, but he himself did little to overcome those issues, the Hakeem Nicks issues and whatever else was going wrong. The player the Giants believe can elevate them above their station failed in that assignment, and he and the whole offense had a wasted season. If the firing of Kevin Gilbride and the arrival of McAdoo and his new system can serve as a wake-up call, it's possible that Manning could look more like his old, problem-solving self again in 2014.

But if he doesn't, the Giants are in for another rough year and -- worse -- a 2015 offseason in which they'll have to totally re-evaluate their quarterback situation for the short term and the long term. It has been a decade since the Giants were worried about quarterback, and they have no desire to face those questions again anytime soon. Their organizational hope is that Manning is fantastic in 2014 and they can look ahead to another half-decade of faith that they're set at the game's most important position.

Manning has played under tremendous pressure throughout his career and generally done very well with it. He's under a great deal of pressure in 2014 to recover from his 27-interception season and put the team's recovery on his shoulders. The Giants can sign as many free agents as they like, and it appears they're trying to do just that. But in the end, as it has for years with the Giants, it still all comes down to Eli Manning.
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.

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George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe 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.
Justin TuckJim Dedmon/Icon SMIJustin Tuck's 60.5 sacks were only a small part of his contributions in nine seasons with the Giants.
There's a way for the New York Giants to sell this, and they have plenty of fans who will buy it. It goes like this: Sure, Justin Tuck had 11 sacks this year. But six of them came in two games in December against a Redskins team that had quit, and where was he the two years before that? He woke up in time for the Super Bowl run at the end of the 2011 season, but this 31-year-old Tuck is not the 26-year-old Tuck, and hasn't been for a while. Jason Pierre-Paul is going to need a contract sometime in the next 12 months, Damontre Moore is a talent and Mathias Kiwanuka is still around. There are other needs, and the plan is to get younger.

So while Tuck's free-agent departure is jarring (The Raiders? Really??), the Giants have a way to spin it if they so choose. Just don't mistake this for something it's not.

Two years and $11 million for a 31-year-old pass-rusher with two Super Bowl rings who had 11 sacks last season is not an outrageous deal. The Giants had enough cash and enough cap space to match or beat it if they wanted to, and they didn't. They made a conscious decision to move on from a franchise icon as they work to rebuild a decaying roster with younger players so that last season's 7-9 record doesn't become a long-term trend. Tuck wanted to be back. The Giants didn't want him back. So they part.

The decisions are not easy, and must be cold. Jerry Reese and the Giants have a solid track record of knowing when to cut the cord on beloved, championship-winning players, but I'm confident this wasn't an easy decision for them to make. Tuck will be a Ring of Honor Giant, a guaranteed standing ovation every time he comes back, a New York sports legend. Saying good-bye to that cannot be easy.

But that's not all the Giants are saying good-bye to as Tuck leaves for Oakland. There is a lot about who Tuck still is -- on top of who Tuck was -- that will be very difficult for the 2014 Giants to replace.

Tuck is a pass-rusher, sixth all-time in Giants history with 60.5 sacks, but he's about more than sacks. He's the defensive end the Giants would move inside to play defensive tackle on passing downs because they knew he was willing and able to wrestle with guards and centers while someone like Pierre-Paul or Kiwanuka or Osi Umenyiora got to race after the quarterback. He's the defensive end who can set the edge against the run -- a rare trait, tough to teach, tough to find, tough to get sack-hungry young rushers to prioritize. He's the defensive end who will check a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage to knock him off his route before he heads into the backfield to do the things that show up in the box score. Even when the sacks weren't there, he was still these things for the Giants, and his fellow players knew it and loved him for it.

Which brings us to the other huge thing that leaves with Tuck: Strong, high-character leadership. It's no accident that the Giants put Pierre-Paul's locker next to Tuck's. They did it because they wanted Pierre-Paul to learn as much as possible, if only by osmosis. They wanted Tuck to be right there when Pierre-Paul had a question, for Pierre-Paul to have a front-row seat to watch Tuck carry himself as a professional in team meetings, in media interviews, while suiting up for practice, while studying his playbook ... all of it. And Pierre-Paul wasn't the only one in that room who looked at Tuck with reverence. Kiwanuka did, too. Antrel Rolle counted Tuck among the influences that helped him rise to the level of co-captain. Tuck was the other co-captain on defense, a no-brainer election every year.

One Giants player told me this week, when we were talking about Tuck's situation, "Leadership is big. I don't know if you can replace a guy like Tuck." The Giants have decided to try to find out. They are turning a great big page here and hoping things in their locker room work as smoothly on the other side of it as they did on the side that had Tuck.

I think, if you're a real Giants fan with an appreciation for what the Tom Coughlin-era team has accomplished, this has to be a tough bit of news to take. Tuck should and likely does hold a special place in your heart for all he's meant to the team, the fan base ... heck, the community. He's been as visible and active in local charities as any player in the market. So you and the Giants are welcome to talk big and tough about how it was time to move on, or how Reese always gets this right, or how Tuck's going to be miserable winning five games a year in Oakland. And you might well be right about all of it.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth taking a moment to think about what the Giants really decided to let go of Thursday, when they decided to let Justin Tuck walk out the door.

Could Tuck and Beason head west?

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
Our man Adam Schefter reported Tuesday night that defensive end Justin Tuck is visiting the Raiders. The Denver Post reports the Broncos are interested in middle linebacker Jon Beason. Tuck and Beason are key defensive players the New York Giants began the offseason hoping to re-sign. Could they really both sign elsewhere?

Of course they could.

The Giants have the cap room to keep both players if they want to. Some Giants fans on Twitter seem upset by the two-year, $8 million price tag for O'Brien Schofield, but that contract isn't going to be the reason Beason and/or Tuck aren't back. The Giants had about $26 million in cap room when free agency started. They can sign basically anyone they want to sign.

However, the Giants take a very consistent approach when it comes to their own free agents. They settle on a specific value, establishing in their own minds what the player is worth. They tell the player they'll welcome him back at that number, and if the player doesn't like it he's free to go to Oakland or Denver or anywhere else and see whether he can do better. If he can't, they'll still welcome him back -- provided they haven't replaced him in the meantime. There's always wiggle room, but not much. Just because they have cap room doesn't mean the Giants want to spend more on Beason or Tuck than they believe they're worth.

The Giants believed, when the offseason began, they could sign Beason for something in the $3 million or $4 million per year range. Tuck's number is likely a bit higher, but not too much. The fact both are looking elsewhere indicates they think the Giants should be offering more. And in the cases of Denver and Oakland, they could find satisfaction.

The Broncos have already signed T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib and are trying to sign DeMarcus Ware today in a clear effort to win one more game next year than they did this past year. If they decide Beason is the guy to bring that star-studded defense all together in the middle, outidding the Giants won't be an issue for them.

The Raiders began the new league year with more cap room than any team and haven't spent much of it yet. They also let their own free-agent pass-rusher, Lamarr Houston, leave to sign with the Bears. So they have a hole. They could be a team that drastically overpays for Tuck, and that could send him packing. The Giants still have Mathias Kiwanuka and Damontre Moore to go with Jason Pierre-Paul. They love Tuck and always will, but he's turning 31 in a couple of weeks and the free agents they're signing are all in that 27-28-29 range.

This is one reason the Schofield signing is interesting. He's a linebacker (who could maybe help replace Beason), but the word I'm getting is the Giants also view him as a pass-rusher (who could maybe help replace Tuck). They signed him because they think he's a versatile guy who can help in a variety of ways depending on what their needs turn out to be. The issue may be that he's not that great a player, but the Giants saw something they liked and you guys are always telling me I should trust Jerry Reese more than I usually do.

Stay tuned on all of this, because no one knows what's going to happen. Expect the Giants to stay active, but also to stay consistent in their approach. They want Tuck and Beason back, but if one or both of them get crazy money elsewhere, they're not going to go overboard to make it happen.
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said last week at the NFL scouting combine that he expects defensive end Justin Tuck to test the free-agent market. Should Tuck find what he's looking for there, he could leave the Giants after spending the first nine years of his career in New York.

Tuck turns 31 in March, and his 11-sack 2013 season came on the heels of two injury-plagued and disappointing years from an individual standpoint. So while he's an all-time great Giant coming off a big year, it's not as though the team can't make the case to let him go if he's offered more from someone else than they think he's worth. However, if he leaves, he will need to be replaced in a pass-rush rotation that's grown a bit thin in recent years.

The starter at the other defensive-end position is Jason Pierre-Paul, a superstar talent who's struggled terribly with injuries the past two seasons and is therefore a question mark going forward. The in-house candidates to replace Tuck at this point would be Mathias Kiwanuka, who's better as a rotational substitute than as a starter and is a candidate to be cut for cap reasons anyway, and Damontre Moore, the 2013 third-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie. It's safe to say that, if Tuck leaves, the Giants will need to find at least one pass-rusher in free agency or the draft to replace him.

There are some intriguing free agents:

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Michael Johnson
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliCincinnati's Michael Johnson has 26.5 career sacks and has missed just one game in five seasons.
Greg Hardy, Carolina. He had 15 sacks in 2013 and doesn't turn 26 until late July. He's the top pass-rusher on the market unless Dallas is really crazy enough to cut DeMarcus Ware. I doubt Carolina lets Hardy hit the market, even if that means franchising him.

Michael Johnson, Cincinnati. The Bengals franchised Johnson last year and likely can't afford to do so again. He only had 3.5 sacks in 2013, but 11.5 the year before, and just turned 27 this month.

Michael Bennett, Seattle. After signing for one year and $5 million and winning the Super Bowl with the Seahawks, the 28-year-old Bennett wants to get paid. The Giants employed his brother, tight end Martellus Bennett, two years ago. There is chatter in league circles that Bennett wants to sign with Chicago to play with his brother.

Anthony Spencer, Dallas. We never got to find out what Spencer looked like as a 4-3 defensive end because the former 3-4 outside linebacker got hurt early in the first year of Dallas' transition to the 4-3. He's 30 years old and was great two years ago in the 3-4. Likely too big a question mark for the Giants.

Jared Allen, Minnesota. Big name, yeah, but he'll be 32 in April and is slowing down. If they'd be willing to sign Allen, why wouldn't they just re-sign Tuck instead?

Lamarr Houston, Oakland. He turns 27 in June and is well-regarded as a do-it-all defensive end who can play the run as well as rush the passer. Oakland is trying to keep him off the market.

DeMarcus Ware, Dallas. Have to throw him in here, right? I still think Jerry Jones is just blowing smoke and there's no chance he'll cut Ware for cap reasons. But if he does, this is a Hall of Fame talent who recorded at least 11 sacks in each of the seven seasons prior to 2013. The Giants (and many other teams) would be nuts not to at least kick the tires.

Wake-up call: Combine, Day 4

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
On the schedule for Saturday in Indianapolis:

Giants/Jets media availability: Giants general manager Jerry Reese will address the media at 10 a.m., one day after his coach -- Tom Coughlin -- announced his own one-year contract extension. No doubt, Reese will be asked about Coughlin, but most of the topics will be personnel-related. The Giants' talent base has decayed the last two years, and Reese needs a home-run draft to get them back in the playoffs. There will be no Jets media availability.

Combine schedule: This is the busiest day because there are four different player groups involved in various activities. The offensive linemen and tight ends finish up their week with on-field drills -- springs, agility stations and skill drills. ... The quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers move to their next phase -- psychological testing, bench press and team interviews. ... The defensive linemen and linebackers get into the action with measurements, medical exams, team interviews and media obligations. ... The defensive backs arrive in town, starting with a medical pre-exam and X-rays, orientation and team interviews.

Players of interest: The big story -- the big, big story -- will be Michael Sam. If you haven't heard of him, you're welcome to rejoin our society at any time now. The former Missouri defensive end, who came out recently as gay, is scheduled to meet the media. It probably will be the largest news conference in combine history, assuming it happens. The schedule got jammed up Friday because medical exams took longer than expected, causing some of the wide receivers (including the top prospects) to postpone their media sessions until Saturday. Hopefully, Sam stays on schedule because it should be fascinating.
David Wilson wants to return from his neck injury and be the New York Giants' starting running back again in 2014. But because it's a neck injury, no one can be sure if that's going to be possible.

"If a guy is having a possible surgery that could end his career, it's hard to say that," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Monday. "I think we'll have to have some contingency plans at the running back position. I don't think you go into the next season saying David Wilson's going to be our No. 1, starting running back. I don't think you can do that. The guy is coming off of a neck surgery, if he decides to have it."

Reese said Wilson had another exam scheduled in January to determine the next step, and that surgery to repair his herniated disc was a possible outcome of that exam. Should Wilson have surgery, he and the team are optimistic that he'll be able to recover and play again. But as Reese said, it's impossible to be certain of that. So with Andre Brown a free agent, running back becomes an area the Giants are going to have to address in free agency and/or the draft this offseason.

They were able to mix and match this year with free agents like Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jacobs. And while those guys may or may not be back as backup options in 2014, the degree to which they produced indicates that the Giants always will be able to find at least something at running back on the in-season market. But what the Giants love about Wilson -- and the reason they made him their first-round pick in the 2012 draft -- is that he offers them a chance to deliver big, explosive plays in the run game. Brown also has shown an ability to be a somewhat dynamic runner at times, though not with the upside of Wilson.

So when Reese talks of a "No. 1, starting running back," he's thinking he'll have to go out and get someone good if he doesn't bring back Brown and can't count on Wilson.

Just one more thing to add to a Giants offseason shopping list that already includes three offensive linemen, a tight end, a wide receiver, linebackers, defensive linemen and a cornerback -- to name a few items.

Coughlin plans could fall apart over OC

December, 30, 2013
Kevin GilbrideAP Photo/Bill KostrounKevin Gilbride has been a member of Tom Coughlin's coaching staff for the past 10 years.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants headline of the day is that Tom Coughlin said he wants to stay on as coach and owner John Mara said he's told Coughlin he wants him back. And that all sounds very simple, especially because it's what was expected all along.

But while I still think the strong likelihood is that Coughlin returns to coach the Giants in 2014, I'm not all the way to 100 percent certain yet, and there are a number of reasons you shouldn't be, either.

First of all, no one actually said Monday that Coughlin would be back coaching the team next year. Mara and GM Jerry Reese both said they wanted that to be the case, and Coughlin did, as well. But all were careful not to say with certainty that it would work out that way. There are meetings yet to come about the length of Coughlin's contract, which has only one year left on it, and the makeup of Coughlin's coaching staff, which could be a major sticking point before this is all said and done.

I've spoken to multiple people in recent days who are close to this situation, and they have said they have found Coughlin to be unusually pensive and quiet about his situation lately. They also said that it would be very difficult for Coughlin if the team told him it wanted him back but that he had to make changes to the coaching staff. One of the people said there was "no way" Coughlin would agree to fire offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

And that last part could be a major sticking point. Mara was crystal clear Monday in assessing blame for a 7-9 season he called "as disappointing as any in my memory."

"I think our offense is broken right now, and we need to fix that," Mara said. "We can't go into next season with the same personnel."

He didn't explicitly mention Gilbride, though he made some other pointed comments that could have been directed at the offensive coaches, including, "I'm not sure why it took us three years to figure out that Jerrel Jernigan can play." Mara spoke about the need to make the reconstruction of the offensive line the top offseason priority. And out of respect to Coughlin and the meetings they're all planning for later in the week, he declined to be specific about whether he expected or would demand coaching changes.

"I certainly have my opinion, and I'm sure Jerry has his and Tom has his," Mara said. "I'd like to think that, at the end of the day, we're all going to be on the same page. I don't think it will come to that."

But it could. If Mara's opinion is that the offense is stale and stalled and that Gilbride must go, how far will Coughlin go to stand up for a coach who was on his original 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars staff and has been on his Giants staff for every one of his 10 seasons here? If Mara insists that Gilbride must go, would Coughlin quit before agreeing to fire him? And if Coughlin insists that Gilbride must stay, would that jeopardize his chances to have his contract extended beyond 2014?

Mara could certainly tell Coughlin that he has the right to construct his own coaching staff but that the blame will fall on him if it fails again. He acknowledged that the Giants, as a rule, don't let their head coaches work on one-year deals, but he also said that could change.

"That has been our philosophy in the past, there's no secret about that," Mara said. "Whether it continues or not has yet to be decided."

Basically things sounded more ominous Monday about the Coughlin situation than I expected them to sound. I think there remains a chance this could still come to a head and that the end result could be a change at head coach for the Giants. I think the chance is a slim one, but I believe it exists. And I think Coughlin does, too.

"Everybody wants to know what's next for me," Coughlin said. "I hope it's coaching the New York Giants."

He did not sound like a man who was wavering. He was defiant in his defense of his record, which includes only one playoff appearance in the past five years. "How long ago was 2011?" he asked, referring to the Giants' most recent Super Bowl team. "Did the [defending champion] Ravens make the playoffs this year?" And he expressed clear support for his coaching staff without naming specific names.

"Everything will be evaluated, but I have great confidence in this group of men we have as a coaching staff," Coughlin said. "And I believe in them very strongly."

The problem is, it had been nine years since there was a losing season around these parts, and when losing seasons happen people demand change. NFL team owners demand change. As Coughlin spoke Monday, news was rolling in about head coach firings in Detroit, Tampa Bay, Washington and Minnesota, to go with those that already had happened in Cleveland and Houston. Coughlin has two Super Bowl titles and thus is something of a "made guy" in NFL coaching circles. He'll get to coach the Giants as long as he wants to coach them. But what if the landscape and the power structure shift just enough that he can't coach them on his terms? Will he then decide it's not worth it anymore?

Mara was asked whether and when it might be time to talk to Coughlin, who will be 68 next season, about what comes after him -- to make a "succession plan" of sorts for an inevitable coaching transition. Mara said it was a worthwhile thought, though not a realistic one.

"I'll probably have that discussion with him, but I'm not sure what value there is there," Mara said. "I don't know how much longer he wants to coach. I'm not sure he knows how much longer he wants to coach. It's very tough to have an exit strategy in the National Football League."

Which means things almost can't help but end ugly, no matter how great they have been in the past. Whenever it's time for Tom Coughlin to not be the Giants' coach anymore, the parting is likely to be awkward and uncomfortable. And while I still don't think it happens this week, it would be a mistake for anyone to hear what was said Monday and assume it can't.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If you were looking for a definitive answer on whether or not Tom Coughlin would be back as head coach of the New York Giants next year, there was none to be had in the wake of Sunday's season-ending 20-6 victory over the Redskins at MetLife Stadium. Fresh off his first losing record since his 2004 debut season in New York, Coughlin refused to entertain a postgame question about if he expected to return.

"Don't ask me that," Coughlin said gruffly. "I'm not answering that type of question right now. There'll be an evaluation of everything, I'm sure, and we'll go from there."

Coughlin is likely to meet with Giants ownership and the front office in the coming days to discuss his own status, that of his coaching staff and other matters pertaining to the offseason and 2014. Neither GM Jerry Reese nor owner John Mara offered comment after the game. Coughlin and Reese are both expected to address the media Monday at the Giants' team facility, and there's a chance Mara could as well, though that's not currently scheduled. Mara has not commented on Coughlin's status. Indications are that, while disappointed with the 7-9 record, ownership is pleased with the way Coughlin held the team together following an 0-6 start.

It's widely believed that Coughlin will return. But he is the oldest coach in the NFL at 67, and with only one year left on his contract it's possible he himself could decide to retire. There's been no indication from Coughlin or anyone else close to the situation that he's considering that, but during the season Coughlin convincingly insists that he's not thinking about anything but the current week's game. With the season over, it's possible he could evaluate the situation from a big-picture perspective and make a surprise decision. It's possible Mara and Reese could as well. It's also possible there could be some disagreement between Coughlin and the front office about coordinators and assistant coaches, and that those discussions could change Coughlin's situation.

"I'd be very surprised," free-agent defensive end Justin Tuck said when asked if he thought Coughlin might not be back. "Shocked. You tell me somebody who does it better than he does."

Said Antrel Rolle: "I want him back. I wouldn't want to play for anyone else. He's an outstanding coach and more of a phenomenal person. This is exactly what we need in this locker room. I think it's been proven. We just got off to a real slow start. It had nothing to do with coach Coughlin. We got off to a real slow start and we started picking it up as time went on.

"It's not my call to make, only thing I can hope and wish for is that he'll be back."

The final answers on this shouldn't be too far away now. But they did not come Sunday night, which is at least a small surprise in and of itself.

Twitter mailbag: A new starting corner?

November, 9, 2013
Your daily morning check-in on news and notes about and of interest to the New York Giants.

The news of the day: Giants GM Jerry Reese and all of the team's position coaches spoke to the media Tuesday for the only time all season. As I was in Bristol for "NFL Insiders," Matt Ehalt and Kieran Darcy handled the coverage in East Rutherford and have plenty of interesting stuff. Reese credits coach Tom Coughlin for holding the team together through the 0-6 start and thinks the Giants can still make the playoffs. (I agree with one of those two things.) Wide receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride thinks Hakeem Nicks is on the verge of a breakout. (Not sure about this one, as I think Nicks' legs aren't what they used to be and that he might at least subconsciously be trying to make sure he doesn't get hurt in his contract year.) And the Giants expect that running back Andre Brown will return to game action as soon as he's eligible in the first game after this week's bye. Will be interesting to see what move, if any, they make at running back. Wouldn't be surprised if David Wilson ends up on season-ending injured reserve before this is all over.

Around the division: The folks at have come up with a gallery of 21 Cowboys losses since 2005 that fit into the fun category of "crazy Cowboys losses," inspired by Sunday's loss to the Lions in which they won the turnover battle by four and still managed not to win. A little schadenfreude for Giants fans on the bye week.

Around the league: Nicks wasn't traded, of course, as the NFL's trade deadline passed Tuesday. Neither was Minnesota's Jared Allen or Cleveland's Josh Gordon or anyone else but Isaac Sopoaga, who was dealt from Philadelphia to New England. There were some interesting deals made earlier in the year, including the one that sent Trent Richardson to the Colts and the one that sent Jon Beason to the Giants. But the NFL trade deadline is not a deadline that tends to spur action. Little was expected Tuesday, and very little occurred. I think the Giants did well in the trade season, not just in acquiring Beason, who's changed their defense for the better, but in holding onto Nicks, who may still be a long-term piece of their offense and might not cost what he and they used to think he might in free agency.

CHICAGO -- You cannot undo what's been done, and Tom Coughlin isn't the sort of man to waste his time trying something so foolish and futile. The New York Giants are 0-6 for the first time in 37 years. There's no fixing that. There's nothing the head coach or anyone else can do to make it better. In front of Coughlin lies a miserable 10-game expanse of which he and the Giants must make the best. Beyond that, likely, lies a decision about if, at the age of 67, he wants to stick around and be part of a rebuilding project for a franchise he's led to two Super Bowl titles in the last seven years.

How does Coughlin approach all of that, from the vantage point of the first 0-6 start he's ever had as an NFL head coach? The same way he'd approach it if he were 6-0 -- with a laser-like focus on what he can control and what's right in front of him.

"You go back to work," Coughlin said late Thursday night, after the Giants played their best game of the season and still lost 27-21 to the Bears at Soldier Field. "You have to put everything you can into preparation and try and go win a game, just like you'd do under any other normal circumstance. We're all sick of the losing, but we put ourselves in this position. So we keep striving to improve in the areas we need to improve and to come up with ways in which we can be better."

That's what's on Tom Coughlin's mind at 0-6. You want to talk and wonder and speculate about his future? Go right ahead, but please forgive him for declining to join you. That's not who he is or how he operates. And for that reason, he's probably the best coach the Giants could have to manage them through a season that's over three weeks before Halloween. All that's left for these Giants is pride -- the ability to get themselves up for a game every week and put forth a respectable, professional effort. They are not a contender, right now, for anything but the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. The only remaining question of significance is whether they will quit the way you see teams quit every year when it's over, or if they'll play hard until the bitter, meaningless end. You'd better believe that matters to Coughlin, and because it matters to him, it matters to his players.

"We're always confident, and that hasn't changed and it won't change," Giants guard Kevin Boothe said. "This stinks, but we have a lot of proud guys in here that have won championships. That's the culture of this organization and of this team, to never give up."

Coughlin's mission over he final 11 weeks of this season will be to maintain that. He's not getting fired, now or at the end of the season. And he doesn't sound as though he has any interest in firing anyone himself. Asked if the 10 days between this game and the next might allow him to "make changes," he scoffed.

"What changes would we want to make?" he asked. "I don't see it. I'll look at everything. I'll evaluate everything."

But he's not likely to start firing coordinators in-season, because Coughlin doesn't believe in angry firings as the way to fix anything. Blood for blood's sake is a frustrated fan's instinct, and there are surely coaches, owners and general managers in the league who would operate that way if caught in these circumstances. But the Giants' coaches, owners and GM aren't like that. They're going to swallow this, cope with the fact that the team they put together is a terrible one, then go back to work in the offseason and fix it.

Meantime, though, they're not sitting on their hands. GM Jerry Reese has added pieces since the start of the season, and Brandon Jacobs, Jon Beason and John Conner all played very well Thursday night. Reese deserves a lot of blame for this mess, but he's looking for ways to make it more manageable. Coughlin is, too, and the work ethic they're showing in the face of futility filters down to a locker room that's maintaining its pride and professionalism under circumstances that would crush a lot of teams.

"We've just got to keep playing," said Jacobs, who rushed 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. "This is a lot of adversity that's been placed in our path, but the only way we can overcome it is to stay together and keep working to get a win."

It's the only thing Coughlin knows how to do, and you can be certain it's the only thing he's thinking about. What lies beyond December is a complex, murky end of an era. If Coughlin wants to come back and coach the Giants in 2014, he'll know that he's doing it without Justin Tuck, without Hakeem Nicks, without David Diehl. Probably without Chris Snee, his son-in-law, which means without his grandchildren greeting him in the hallway and the locker room after home games. A lot will be changing with these Giants in the next offseason, and when the time comes, Coughlin's going to have to decide whether or not he wants to come back and help put the pieces back together.

But those are thoughts and discussions for another time. As much as people always want to talk about Coughlin's retirement plans, to this point he has none and doesn't want to spend any time contemplating them. That just doesn't make any sense to him. He has work to do and a game to coach next week.

Assessing Jerry Reese's offseason

September, 30, 2013
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese continues to decline interview requests through the team's media relations department. The Giants insist they are not the sort of franchise whose ownership and management-level leaders hold running commentary about the season, and their 0-4 start is not going to make them be who they are not. That's fine. I can respect that. I disagree, because I think it would constitute a public show of leadership and support if Reese and/or John Mara were to talk publicly at the end of this September. But that's their way of doing business, and you have to stay true to yourself. All good. Long as they don't mind if I keep asking.

This also allows us to write whatever we want to write about Reese and the way he assembled the 2013 Giants roster, because he's not taking the opportunity to present his side of any of it. So with that in mind, I hereby present my wholly objective opinions on five of the significant Giants roster decisions Reese made this offseason.

1. Releasing running back Ahmad Bradshaw

Why they did it: Cap room, and the belief that Bradshaw wouldn't be able to stay healthy enough to count on.

Were they wrong? No, not even in hindsight. Bradshaw's already hurt for the Colts, who have already spent their 2014 first-round pick on an upgrade. To look back now and call this a mistake would be an unjustified second-guess. It was time for the Giants and Bradshaw to part ways.

The impact: The problem is that Reese didn't work hard enough to replace Bradshaw (this is a recurring theme you'll see here). The thought was that second-year man David Wilson could be the primary ballcarrier and Andre Brown could handle pass-protection and goal-line duties. But Brown broke his leg in the preseason and Wilson fumbled twice in the opener, and the Giants were exposed as way too thin at running back with only Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox on the bench. They had to go out and bring back Brandon Jacobs just to fill out the meeting room. Big mess. Where they really miss Bradshaw is in pass protection, where he's the best running back in the league at picking up the blitz. No matter who they brought in, it would have been tough for anyone to replace Bradshaw in that area. Brown was okay at it, but he has an extensive injury history that made him difficult to count on. Reese likely should have found a veteran pass-blocking back to fill out the roster in camp.

2. Signing Will Beatty to a five-year, $38.75 million contract.

Why they did it: The Giants gave Beatty his big deal right before free agency because they feared left tackles like Jake Long, Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith would push the tackle market through they roof. They had a 28-year-old who'd played well for them in 2012 and knew their system, and they got him on a cap-friendly deal before the market could act on him.

Were they wrong? Yes. The market for free-agent tackles didn't go where Reese expected it to go. Long broke the bank with the Rams, but Vollmer and Smith re-signed with their own teams for less than half of what Beatty got. And while those guys play right tackle and Beatty plays left, the difference is not what the contracts indicate. Had they waited, it turns out they likely could have had Beatty for less than they spent.

The impact: If Beatty plays like a franchise left tackle, as he did in 2012, the Giants won't regret the cost. But if he plays the way he's played so far this year -- overmatched physically and employing sloppy, inconsistent technique that's impossible for him to overcome -- then they have a long-term problem that would require him to be replaced and them to be overpaying a right tackle. Four games in, there's a question mark at a position that was supposed to be solved. And with the rest of the line looking like it needs to be addressed in the short- and long-term, that's no good. The issue on both lines is that there's too little in the pipeline -- that they haven't developed players to replace the ones they've lost. They paid Beatty as though he was the exception, and to this point he hasn't looked it.

3. Signing Victor Cruz to a five-year, $43 million contract.

Why they did it: They view Cruz as a special talent and a long-term piece of their puzzle -- a slot receiver capable of catching the ball anywhere on the field and going all the way with it. Eli Manning trusts him completely, and he's a huge part of why their passing game works.

Were they wrong? No. They stayed patient and waited while Cruz sat out offseason practices in the hope that they'd raise their offer. Ultimately, he came to them and accepted the deal at the team's preferred price. They got the player at the cost they wanted, and it helps them as they deal with wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' free agency this coming offseason. They'd have been in a tough spot if they'd had to make decisions on both of them in 2014.

The impact: Cruz was the best Giants player on the field Sunday in Kansas City. He has scored four of their seven touchdowns so far this year. The answer to the question "Where would they be without him?" is obviously exactly where they are right now at 0-4. But they'd be there with one less bright spot to offer any hope for improvement. Cruz is a keeper.

4. Replacing TE Martellus Bennett with Brandon Myers.

Why they did it: Bennett got a four-year, $20.4 million contract from the Bears. The Giants, who have started four different tight ends the last four years, view the position as replaceable. As soon as he was getting multi-year offers elsewhere, Bennett was a goner. Myers, who caught 79 passes for the Raiders a year ago, was the most enticing of the veteran options remaining on the market.

Were they wrong? Absolutely. Not in declining to outbid the Bears for Bennett but in the steps they took to replace him. Rather than bring in Myers, who's a receiving tight end who can't block, they should have focused on replacing some of the blocking ability of Bennett, who (like Bradshaw) grades out as one of the best blockers at his position in the NFL.

The impact: It's being felt most in the run game, where the Giants are getting no effective blocking whatsoever at the point of attack. The glaring example Sunday was the third-and-1 David Wilson run to the right side where he was behind three tight ends and all three of them got smoked and Wilson couldn't get the yard. Myers is what he is, and it's not a blocking tight end. The Giants need one, and especially with Bear Pascoe having to play fullback in place of the injured Henry Hynoski, they really don't have one.

5. Drafting Justin Pugh, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore in the first three rounds.

Why they did it: Pugh was the Giants' first first-round offensive lineman since 1999, and they picked him not with the idea that he'd start at right tackle this year but because they knew they had long-term offensive line needs at multiple positions and they saw him as a guy who could play tackle or guard. Hankins is a defensive tackle, and at the time of the draft they didn't realize they had two veterans in Shaun Rogers and Mike Patterson who would make their team at that position. They felt they were getting thin there, and that Hankins could help as a rotational player in his first year and a long-term piece. Moore was a pass-rusher they felt dropped too far, given his talent and his college sack numbers. They believed he could infuse the pass rush immediately, helping replace what was lost with the free-agent departure of Osi Umenyiora.

Were they wrong? Well, it hasn't worked out as anticipated. Pugh is the starting right tackle because David Diehl got hurt. Hankins has been inactive for all four games because he's fifth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. And Moore, who missed most of August with a shoulder injury, has had an impact on special teams but not yet on the defense.

The impact: Pugh is learning on the job, and it's costing the Giants in pass protection. He shows some good and some bad, as all rookies do, and at this point it looks as though he might be better off moving inside to guard. But they're right to try him at tackle to find out. He's surely not their only problem right now on the line. Hankins is developing in practice, and there's no way to know what kind of pick he'll turn out to be. But with 2011 second-rounder Marvin Austin having flopped and with Linval Joseph eligible for free agency after this year, they need Hankins to be a hit. Moore looks fast and athletic and could be a bolt of energy to the flagging pass rush, but as is the case with Wilson at running back, the coaches are hesitant to play him. The 2013 draft hasn't helped very much, which it's not necessarily supposed to in 2013. But the way the picks were made indicated that the Giants expected at least some help from the early-round guys this year, and it's possible they won't get much of it.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Had he been in a joking mood, New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks might have explained his own disappointing performance in Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs by pointing out that Eli Manning can't catch the passes himself. After being targeted only once last week, Nicks dropped a couple of catchable balls this week and took ownership of his own role in the loss that dropped the Giants to 0-4 for the season.

"Definitely, on my end, I felt like I could have come down with two or three that I didn't come down with," Nicks said. "That's on me, and I know I have to play better. As an offense, I know we can play better. It wasn't that long ago we were all out there making big plays. I still believe we will bounce back."

And the truth is they probably will. The Giants' skill-position players on offense are very talented. The line is awful right now, but offensive lines have a way of improving as the season goes along. And next week's opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles, whose defense is far more vulnerable than those against which the Giants have played their first four games. Nicks and the Giants are justified in thinking things will get better for the offense, if for no other reason than they can't get worse.

Where Nicks is wrong, though, is in his expectation of what "bounce back" means. Inside the Giants' locker room, as there should be, remains hope that something can still be made of this season. They are professionals, still getting paid, and they will continue to work and believe until the math tells them to stop.

But the long view says it's over, before October has even hit. Only one team ever has made the playoffs after an 0-4 start. The Giants right now have so many problems at so many positions that it's impossible to imagine them replicating the 1992 Chargers' 11-1 finish. And even if the NFC East persists in its top-end mediocrity of the past three seasons and can be won with eight or nine wins, and even if the Giants could go 8-4 the rest of the way and pull off something like that, it only would obscure their larger problems. This is a team in need of major work. And with this season lost, it's time for the Giants to start thinking about 2014 and beyond.

So, yeah, Nicks might "bounce back" and post big numbers the rest of the way. He's a talented-enough player to do it, and if he did, it wouldn't be a surprise. But the Giants are going to be watching very closely to see whether he can, or whether the leg injuries of the past few seasons have diminished him as a player. The Giants are going to have a decision to make on Nicks, who's a pending free agent. The final 12 games of this season are a chance for him to show he's healthy enough to deserve the big-money deal he wants.

And he's not the only one. The Giants are going to have offseason decisions to make on decorated veterans such as Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Corey Webster and Antrel Rolle. And while some of those decisions seem obvious from here, it's not crazy to think they could be affected one way or the other by what those players show in terms of health and productivity over the final 12 games of this season.

They have a decision looming not long from now on Jason Pierre-Paul, who has one sack in his past 11 games. The Giants still believe Pierre-Paul is a special-enough talent to be a foundation piece for their defense. But if he continues to languish through the final three-quarters of this season the way he has since the midpoint of last season, they may find themselves re-evaluating that assessment.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel"It wasn't that long ago we were all out there making big plays," receiver Hakeem Nicks said.
They are stuck with Victor Cruz (who's playing great) and Will Beatty, but the performances of those players in the next 12 games could help them determine how much and what sort of help the team needs to find at their positions next spring. If Beatty, for example, doesn't play like a franchise left tackle (and to this point, he certainly has not), do they think about drafting one next year and using Beatty on the right side (and Justin Pugh at guard) long-term? Personally, I think they need to give David Wilson the ball as their feature back the rest of the season and find out whether he's a keeper or whether they need to find someone there, too.

And, yes, of course, there are coaches to evaluate. Tom Coughlin gets to coach the team as long as he wants, and he's earned that right. But it's entirely possible the performance of the team over the final 12 games could cause Coughlin and/or Giants management to re-evaluate the coordinators and other assistants. The Giants prefer to wait until the end of the season to make those decisions, and with no obvious replacements on staff, one has to believe offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell get these final three months to keep the team convinced they're the right men for their respective jobs.

Manning is 32 years old, so there's plenty of window left for him. Heck, his brother is 37 and making a mockery of the league. The questions are about what kind of team the Giants can put around him, and how quickly they can retool at the most important spots. The issues on the offensive and defensive lines are the result of a failure to develop replacements for aging veterans, and now general manager Jerry Reese and the front office have two things to do: figure out which current members of the team look like important parts of its future, and then go out and find replacements for the ones who don't. That's a bitter realization for a team on Sept. 29, but that's where the Giants are, and that's what they have to do.
With all due respect to the established and comfortable structure of the in-season NFL week, I simply do not care what Carl Banks or Antrel Rolle or anyone else had to say when offered an opportunity to voice their frustrations about the New York Giants in their paid weekly radio appearances. "Giants unhappy because they lost and looked bad doing it" is not news. It's noise.

I personally believe it would be more interesting to hear from someone qualified to explain the root of the problems the Giants are having and to offer substantive thoughts on potential solutions. I think Giants GM Jerry Reese fits that profile, and I think it would be good for him to speak publicly this week. Not today, necessarily, with the organization supporting coach Tom Coughlin on the day of his brother's funeral. Some things -- many things, actually -- are more important than football, and certainly this can wait. But when we all go back Wednesday and Thursday for interviews and news conferences in East Rutherford, I don't think it's too much to ask for the team's general manager to come out and answer some questions.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsGM Jerry Reese has some difficult questions to answer concerning the Giants' early struggles.
Requests to interview Reese on Monday were declined, and it has been explained to me that he rarely talks in-season, with the possible exception of the bye week. The Giants' power structure is well established and respected by all involved. Reese's job is to put the roster together. Coughlin's is to coach the team. Reese giving all kinds of interviews in-season the way owner/GM Jerry Jones, for example, holds court in the locker room after every game would be unseemly given the separation of powers in the Giants organization. Fair enough.

But when the team starts 0-3 and there are legitimate questions being asked about whether it's actually built to win, it's time to consider making an exception. Accountability is always in-season, and there are questions that Reese is more qualified to answer right now than are the coaches and players who are giving interviews daily. Questions such as:

  • As an organization that believes in developing internal solutions to its roster issues, where on your roster do you believe improvements on the offensive line can come, in the short term as well as the long term?
  • Given the health issues he had last year and the surgery he had this spring, do you expect Jason Pierre-Paul to make a full return to the form he showed in 2011 and early 2012? And if so, how much longer do you expect to have to get by with this obviously diminished version of him?
  • Based on your pre-draft evaluations of him, and factoring in what you've seen on the field so far, do you believe Justin Pugh is ready for continued full-time duty as your right tackle? Or would he benefit from a move inside or even to the bench once David Diehl is ready to return?
  • Are there any external moves you believe can be made in-season to address the blocking issues still left over from the departures of guys such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Martellus Bennett?

Those are just a few samples, and I'm sure other people have others. And look, this isn't about assigning blame or railing that Reese didn't do enough. I've gone down that road before. Wrote that column in August 2011. I was wrong then, and it's entirely possible that those who want to hammer Reese now will turn out to be proven wrong months down the road. I'm not necessarily betting on it, but I've learned a lesson or two about rushing to conclusions that run counter to people's track records.

I don't think Reese was wrong to let Bradshaw and Bennett and Osi Umenyiora leave given what they would have cost him. I do think it's possible he didn't do enough to replace them, and that the Giants may be entering something of a rebuilding phase as a result. I'd like to get his thoughts on that. And I think if others in the organization are out there answering for the 0-3 start, it's not too much to ask the same of the man who assembled the so-far overmatched roster.