Thursday, January 2, 2014
Giants' problems run deeper than Gilbride
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
The New York Giants are going to present Thursday's news as the "retirement" of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, but if you're buying that then I'd like to quote you a really sweet price on the George Washington Bridge. Gilbride was clearly forced out in a move favored by many Giants fans and, from the way it sounded Monday, by Giants owner John Mara as well. And since head coach Tom Coughlin expressed strong support for Gilbride in the waning weeks of the team's 7-9 season and obviously didn't want to make the move, it's one that could change the dynamic between Coughlin and the organization going forward.
Which is part of the problem if anyone thinks this really fixes things.
The Giants need to make major changes to their offense. At a time in NFL history frothing with new offensive schemes and concepts, the Giants are likely to remain committed to doing the same things that have always worked for them up until this season. And that's fine, as long as they can get them working again. Their mistake would be to think that minor tweaks and midlevel hirings and firings will provide the solution. They need to think big -- a lot bigger than just dumping the coordinator.
A year ago, the Philadelphia Eagles decided it was time for a whole-program overhaul and turned over the keys to Chip Kelly, who just delivered a division title in his first NFL season. The Giants have decided not to go that drastic in their moves, and again, that's fine. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Coughlin has earned the right to stay and turn this thing around. But the Giants need to operate like a team in need of major change, because their greatest fear isn't that they're where the Eagles were this time last year. It's that they're where the Eagles were two years ago -- unaware of the depth and severity of their problems and too stubborn to change before the bottom fell out.
Acquiring linemen to protect Eli Manning has to be at or near the top of the Giants' offseason plans.
Parting with Gilbride wasn't a bad move. Offensive coordinators have been fired based on better seasons than the one the Giants just had, and the offense slipped a bit in 2012 as well, though not as drastically as it did in 2013. The idea of quarterback Eli Manning declining at age 32 is an alarming one for the Giants, especially since he's likely to get a long, large contract extension at some point this offseason. The case can convincingly be made for a new voice with new ideas in the meeting rooms.
But there has to be much more than this to the Giants' plans to overhaul their offense, because changing coordinators doesn't go far enough.
Blame 2013 on "Gilbride's offense" all you want, but it's Coughlin's offense, too. That's his side of the ball, and the offense the Giants run reflects his vision. Hiring a new coordinator -- especially if it's someone like former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan -- isn't going to change that. There may be tweaks and alterations, and whoever comes in may have some ideas that help Manning or other specific players, but the concepts are going to be the same. They're going to want to stretch the field with wide receivers, run to set up the pass with play-action and lean on big plays to the extent that they can get them.
For that reason, the Giants need to make lots of other changes. We all know about the personnel deficiencies they're confronting due to free agency and age issues on offense. They need three starting offensive linemen, at least one running back, at least one wide receiver and a new tight end. They need help on defense, too, but we'll deal with that in a future column. For our purposes here, know that they can't afford to spend all of their available cap money on offensive solutions even though they have enough needs on that side of the ball to justify it.
The Giants need to be creative and forward-thinking and open to any and all possible solutions if they're to fix an offense Mara described Monday as "broken." Don't just bring back Hakeem Nicks after he lollygagged his way through a contract year. Don't settle for Andre Brown at running back if a more dynamic option is available in free agency. Don't settle for a one-year stopgap at tight end for the fourth year a row. Don't leave it to Manning to make chicken salad. Get him some ingredients whose skill sets are as dynamic as his is.
And for goodness' sake, find a way to keep him safe. Don't assume you're set at right tackle just because Justin Pugh played better as a rookie than you thought he would. Take another first-round tackle, even if that means one of them has to end up at guard. Load up the line with top talent and sort out the positions later. Don't assume you can develop the guy you like in the fourth round. If Chris Snee has to be replaced, respect what he's been and what he's done and make his a high-end replacement. Don't approach it as though you need a new guard; approach it as though you need a new long-term stud.
The Giants aren't going to look at a whole new way of designing an offense, not as long as Coughlin is there. He has been too successful for too long, and as long as the team is committed to him, it's committed to his principles. So within that framework, the Giants must look at new ways of building their roster on that side of the ball. They have to make changes, and they have to make them bigger and broader than the one they made Thursday. If they don't, they're going to be right back here a year from now, looking for scapegoats. And eventually, that search takes you a heck of a lot higher up the ladder than offensive coordinator.