Have you seen what the New York Giants have been up to in free agency? No? Me neither, and I cover the division!
Ah, we kid, we kid. Jokes about the Giants' offseason inactivity are so 2011. It is what it is, as they say in places where Giants fans live, and after the way last season ended, there's no reason to think it's going to change. Those of us who ripped Giants general manager Jerry Reese for not doing enough to improve his team last summer (and yes, of course, I very much include myself) are full to bursting from all the crow we had to eat once Reese's bunch won the Super Bowl. And the Giants' uninspiring list of 2012 free-agent pickups to date -- let's call them Martellus and the Special Teamers -- isn't worth getting worked up over now that even the doubters understand the way the Giants look at the NFL world.
See, the issue last year was that those of us who criticized got caught up in the impatience that defines our times. My point, after watching the Giants stubbornly ignore immediate needs at every level of the draft and do nothing in free agency to address the exodus of seemingly important passing-game targets, was that their philosophy wasn't working. Although it was admirable that they were determined to stick to a plan about which they felt strongly, that plan had produced two straight years without a playoff appearance and was therefore fair game for questioning.
But Reese and the Giants were looking at the landscape more broadly, and that's to their credit. The Giants don't use the draft to address immediate needs. They believe that's a poor use of draft picks -- that rushing to plug a hole with a first-round or second-round pick reduces the value of those picks. The Giants view the draft as a means of building, augmenting and maintaining a deep roster -- the kind of roster that can withstand free-agent defections, plug holes from within and consistently challenge for a playoff spot. The kind of roster that, in the years when it does reach the playoffs, has what it takes to win postseason games and the Super Bowl.
The Giants don't view free agency as some huge shopping mall stocked with all kinds of desirable goodies. Sure, if they see someone they like who plays a position where they need help, they're not above making an aggressive move to get him. Antrel Rolle is a good example from two years ago. Last year, they targeted a center, David Baas, and got him. This year, they targeted a tight end, Martellus Bennett, and locked him up on the first day. But their approach in free agency is measured, focused and patient, and that's the way they believe it should be.
Patience is a hard sell in today's sports culture, where two years without a playoff appearance can feel like an eternity even if the people running the team are the same ones that brought you a Super Bowl title not long before. So last year, the Giants' front office found itself under attack for inactivity. But Reese insisted that inactivity was the right path. The Giants believe in their system, in their coaching staff and in the core of veterans in their locker room. Reese told everyone he'd had a 10-win team in 2010 that missed the playoffs and believed his 2011 team could be better by just enough to get in this time. Lots of us thought he was nuts.
To his credit, at the Super Bowl, Reese declined to accept the accolades. He pointed out more than once that his 2011 team had won only nine games -- one fewer than the previous year's team -- and that he found it funny that somehow he was a genius this time around. Again with the big-picture viewpoint. Reese know there's some good fortune involved -- that if the Eagles hadn't kicked away so many September games or if Miles Austin had caught that pass down the sideline late in the game in Dallas, the Giants very well could have been looking at three straight years without a playoff game. This NFL is a razor's-edge business, and one can do very little to control the placement of that fine line between success and failure.
But what the Giants do is position themselves the best they can to take advantage when fate smiles on them. They don't want their season to ride on the worthiness of a couple of big offseason signings. They don't want their season to rise and fall on the immediate readiness of their first-round draft pick. If the Giants get an opportunity, they want to know they have a roster, driven by gutsy, respected leaders like Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and Justin Tuck that's deep and talented and experienced and driven enough to spot it and take advantage of it.
That's what last season was. The Giants weren't the best team in the NFL in 2011. For most of it, they weren't even close. But they may have been the toughest. And when the time came for that to matter -- for the toughness and the depth of their roster to deliver -- that's exactly what happened.
So here the Giants are again, sitting idly by while the rest of the league rushes out to grab free agents. Do they have some holes they could fill? Sure they do. Might not filling them cost them a game or two this season? Absolutely. But the Giants know who they are and what they have. And after winning a second Super Bowl title in five years, they feel very good about it. They could win the Super Bowl again next year. They could go 8-8 and miss the playoffs. But these are the Giants, and they know one year won't define them. It's a lesson that a lot of other teams -- and a lot of us who analyze and predict this league -- would do well to learn.