NFL Nation: John Mara

One of the major questions in the wake of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam's announcement he is gay is how NFL teams will react. With the draft less than three months away and the scouting combine next week, the focus will be on how and whether Sam's coming out will affect his draft stock. To hear the owners of the New York Giants tell it, it shouldn't affect it at all.

"I would just echo what the league and Zak DeOssie, one of our captains, have said in welcoming Michael into our league and supporting him as he attempts to achieve his dream of playing in the NFL," John Mara said Monday in a statement released by the team. "Our sport, our game, is the ultimate meritocracy. You earn your way with your ability. As Patrick Burke and Wade Davis constantly remind all of us, regardless of who you are, what your background is and what your personal or sexual orientation is, if you can play, you can play. Michael’s announcement will not affect his position on our draft board."

"As I said last night, Michael Sam is a gifted athlete and a courageous man," Steve Tisch said in his own statement released by the team. "I hope any NFL team would not hesitate to draft Michael if he is right for their team. Our game is the ultimate team game, and we often talk about how a team is a family. Regardless of where you are from, what your religious beliefs are, what your sexual orientation is, if you are good enough to be on the team, you are part of the family. How the University of Missouri and its football program embraced and supported Michael is a tremendous blueprint for all of us, but frankly, I think the lessons of our game also provide the same positive example."

I'll echo what I wrote this morning, which is that the Giants likely would be a welcoming environment for Sam due to their strong leadership. The question in the Giants' draft room will be whether Sam represents good value at the mid-round pick with which he'd be available to them. The Giants run a 4-3 defense, but while Sam played 4-3 defensive end in college, there is concern that his lack of prototypical size would inhibit his ability to do so in the NFL. That doesn't mean the Giants won't take him if they think he's a good enough player to help them on special teams and in certain roles, but it's hard to see him as the kind of player they have to have.
MetLife Stadium skylineAP Photo/Charlie RiedelNew York Giants co-owner John Mara would like to see the Super Bowl return to MetLife Stadium.
You know how you make deals with your kids and you know they're going to take advantage but you do it anyway because they're your kids and you just love 'em so doggone much? Like, it's bedtime and you're having fun playing video games with them and they say, "Daddy, pleeeeeease, just one more game and we'll go right to bed?" And then you say yes, and you play the one more game and they ask for another one?

This is John Mara. He's the kid in this story. Roger Goodell and the NFL's other owners are the duped parents who think their kid can do no wrong. And Mara's going to keep getting his way as long as they're all too scared or myopic to put their foot down.

Mara said on the "Ian O'Connor Show" on Sunday morning on ESPN Radio that of course he thinks the Super Bowl should return to MetLife Stadium in future years, because, wow, yeah, the week's been great and look how great the weather is on this one random early-February weekend in 2014.
Asked if he wanted a Super Bowl sequel at MetLife, Mara said, "Based on everything that's happened so far, yes. If we can be assured that we'd get the same cooperation from all the different government entities that were involved, which has been tremendous so far, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't consider doing it again.

"I think that when the NFL owners that are here, when they leave MetLife Stadium tonight after this game, I'm pretty confident that most of them will say to themselves that it was a great idea to have this event in this area, New York and New Jersey, and why not come back here again. It's good for the league."

What a pile of garbage. It's good for John Mara, and for the New York/New Jersey area that hosted all of the events leading up to Sunday night's game. But it's whatever for the NFL, which could stage the Super Bowl on the moon and find a way to make a zillion dollars off of it.

What no one's calling these guys on is that they promised this was a one-time deal. Go back and read what they were saying in 2010, when they decided the game would be here. Asked specifically about this, Goodell and Mara's fellow owners insisted this would be a one-time exception to the NFL's longstanding rule requiring the game to be held in places that had either a dome or an average high temperature of at least 50 degrees. Goodell categorically shot down the idea of other cold-weather, open-air-stadium cities hosting the game because New York is special. No one came right out and admitted that the Super Bowl was a reward condition for Mara's Giants and Woody Johnson's Jets building a new stadium with more luxury boxes and better premium seating options than Giants Stadium had, but everything everyone said made it clear that that's what this was, and that once it was over it wouldn't happen again.

But we all know these guys don't always tell the truth, and so there was never any reason to believe this exact thing wouldn't happen. And now that the area got through the early part of the week with frigid-but-not-incapacitating weather, and now that it appears game conditions will be the absolute best anyone could have hoped for when this whole cockamamie idea was conceived, they want to go back on this.

They shouldn't press their luck. For goodness' sake, another winter storm is scheduled to hit this area mere hours after the game ends Sunday night. They got lucky by one day. And that's just game day we're talking about. Every time they have the Super Bowl here or in Chicago or in Philadelphia (and you know that's going to come up as long as Mara keeps pushing), the NFL is going to be taking a major risk that its biggest week (not just its biggest day, but its major convention week) gets ruined due to weather. And I continue to fail to understand the reasons for inviting that risk.

No, you can't predict the weather. It snowed in Atlanta and New Orleans early last week, which means the Super Bowl would have been a mess this year if it had been in either of those warm-weather, dome-stadium towns. Three years ago Dallas was crippled by an ice storm. I get that you can't predict weather years in advance. But you can minimize risk, and you can decide to hold your gargantuan event in places where it's more likely to go well. The NFL should do this, and the fact the weather in New Jersey on Feb. 2, 2014, is good does not qualify as a good reason to invite the game back here -- or to Philadelphia or Chicago or Foxborough -- in 2018. It's madness. It always was madness. And just because they got away with it one time doesn't mean it makes sense to push their luck and try it again.

But they will. Because they're just like spoiled kids. If you always give them everything they want, then they never stop asking for more.

Giants deny forgery suit claims

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
1:55
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NEW YORK -- So this is an interesting one. A New York Post story on Thursday said that New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, as well as team owner John Mara and equipment managers Ed and Joe Skiba, are being sued for allegedly passing off forgeries as "game-used" equipment. The report says the suit claims Manning's involvement was in retaining his game-worn items for himself while knowing that Joe Skiba was doctoring other items and selling them on the pretense that Manning had used them in games. It's all very skeevy stuff, and the Giants were quick to deny it.

"This suit is completely without any merit whatsoever and we will defend it vigorously," a Giants team spokesman said Thursday. "We will not otherwise comment on pending litigation."

Tough to draw many conclusions here. Obviously, if the accusations were to turn out to be true, it would severely damage the image of both Manning and the Giants, and likely cost Skiba his job. But the suit could be bogus, as the Giants claim it is, in which case it could be a wronged party out to make someone famous look bad during Super Bowl week when so many eyes are on his sport, his town and his family.

Sadly, not much is impossible to believe anymore, and a scam in which a player and some people around him -- including an outside dry cleaner who allegedly doctored items to look worn when they hadn't been -- isn't farfetched. But that doesn't mean Manning, Skiba and the Giants actually did any of this, so it's important to hold off on making any judgments until we see where this goes.
The New York Giants don't do this, which is why it's so noteworthy. They don't grab for the hot new toy. They stick to their guns, believe in their program, stress the importance of continuity. ... Heck, let's just come right out and say it: They're boring.

So when the Giants announced Tuesday night that they'd hired 36-year-old Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator, you were justified in perking up your ears and considering it at least a mild surprise.

The early favorite to replace the retired Kevin Gilbride had appeared to be Mike Sullivan, whom the Giants know well as a former Gilbride assistant with whom quarterback Eli Manning had found great success. Sullivan knows the offense and the terminology, and as long as the Giants remain committed to Tom Coughlin as their head coach (which they do), the in-character thing for them to do would have been to hire him and maintain the aforementioned continuity.

[+] EnlargeBen McAdoo
AP Photo/Mike RoemerBen McAdoo, right, takes over the Giants offensive coordinator position from the retired Kevin Gilbride.
But another thing the Giants don't do is go 7-9 with one of the worst offenses in the league -- at least not since Coughlin's been there. So after they did just that in 2013, there was a sense around the building that a somewhat dramatic change might be welcomed. Team owner John Mara has made no secret, in his public comments since the season ended, that he believes the offense to be "broken" and that something different from Gilbride would be welcomed. Manning hasn't said anything either way, but there's a sense around the team that he'd welcome something fresh and new after 10 years running the same system. And for all of Coughlin's belief in sticking to his program, he is a man who has shown a willingness and ability to make major changes when the writing is on the wall.

So here's McAdoo, whose offensive coaching pedigree doesn't look much like that of a Coughlin/Gilbride guy. McAdoo has worked under Mike McCarthy for the past nine years -- in 2005 when McCarthy was the 49ers' offensive coordinator and for the last eight years in Green Bay with McCarthy as the head coach. While Coughlin is an admirer of McCarthy's schemes and playcalling, there are stark differences between the Packers' system and the Giants' system. McCarthy's offense is basically a West Coast offense with some zone blocking principles sprinkled in, which also backs the comparisons you may be hearing between McAdoo and a young Andy Reid. The Giants' offense under Coughlin and Gilbride has been an evolution of the run-and-shoot, though with a bit more reliance on the running game and the tight end than that offense had in its original incarnation decades ago.

"We're going to try to compromise the system with what we have here," Coughlin said in the team's official news release announcing the hire. "However, there will be change, and that change will be very positive and very well-received by our team and players. And if our players are scrambling around to learn a new system -- good. That's another fire in their rear end."

Assuming McAdoo is being brought in to run something along the lines of what they run in Green Bay, the difference should help Manning and could elevate wide receiver Victor Cruz to new heights. The principles of the Packers' offense rely on the ability of the quarterback to go through his progression quickly (a Manning strength) and deliver the ball accurately to playmakers in space. Receivers like Cruz and maybe Jerrel Jernigan (assuming the final three games of 2013 weren't a fluke) should benefit from that and be productive in such a system. The deep threats on the outside aren't irrelevant in this system, and Manning would still be asked to throw downfield when it's called for and available. But where under Gilbride they were reliant on the big play and the ability to stretch the field, McAdoo's background is with an offense that operates in a more controlled fashion near the line of scrimmage, with the explosiveness coming mainly after the catch.

The Packers also ran the ball effectively this year, though much of their playbook had to be scrapped due to the large number of games quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed due to injury. While rookie Eddie Lacy starred in his role as the feature back, the Packers' offense has excelled for years without a traditional workhorse running back, and it's possible the Giants could continue to mix-and-match at the position and have success under McAdoo.

Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit here, since we don't know what McAdoo plans to run. Maybe all this time he's been convinced McCarthy's got it all wrong and he has his own ideas about how to do it better. When a hire like this is made, we assume we know he'll stay true to his background. And when it's nine years' worth of background working for the same offensive coach, that assumption has a solid foundation. Odds are, if McAdoo is as smart and thoughtful as he's purported to be, his offense will evolve over time and take on a flair and substance he himself imparts upon it. And we'll all find out together what that is. There's no way to know how it will go. McAdoo has never before had a job where he was responsible for calling plays, as he will be now.

But as of right now, on the night McAdoo has been hired to run the Giants' offense, it's worth taking note that this is the Giants doing something they don't normally do. They're taking a chance on a fresh, new face with ideas that differ from theirs. They're dipping their staid blue toe into new waters, mainly out of an admission that what they were doing for so long had stopped working. It's a pretty big deal, and however it works out, it speaks to the state of the franchise right now. After 10 years of Manning and Coughlin, they don't believe their run is coming to an end, but they're at least admitting to themselves that they'll need to try something different if they want to be right.
In his radio interview of WFAN in New York on Thursday, New York Giants owner John Mara referenced this annual study by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, which shows that the Giants led the league in games lost by starters due to injury in 2013 with 91, including 26 on the offensive line. Mara was quick to offer the usual "that's not an excuse" disclaimer, and he's right. The teams that rank second and third on this list -- the Colts and the Patriots -- are playing in a second-round playoff game Saturday night. But the figure raises the question of whether the injuries stand as a legitimate reason for what went wrong with the 2013 Giants.

[+] EnlargeChris Snee
AP Photo/Bill KostrounLosing guard Chris Snee, 76, and center David Baas, 64, to injuries early in the season exposed the Giants' lack of offensive line depth.
First off, Gosselin's figures assign 16 lost games to Stevie Brown, who was projected as a starting safety before tearing his ACL in preseason and missing the entire season. The Giants ended up fine at safety with Antrel Rolle, Will Hill and Ryan Mundy, but Hill did miss the first four games because of a drug suspension, and it's reasonable to think Brown might have helped during that time, as the Giants lost all four of those games as well as the next two.

But the Giants' biggest problem all year was that offensive line, and the losses of David Baas and Chris Snee early in the season were damaging. The line wasn't a strength to begin with, and once the starters began to go down, it exposed the lack of depth behind them. That is why I continue to insist that the line needs to be a major priority in the draft this year, even if they have already addressed it in free agency by then. This team absolutely has to develop capable replacements for the long-term at these positions, because its inability to provide them in 2013 absolutely crippled the offense. If the Giants have a center or a guard or even a tackle they like in March, by all means, they should sign him and make the 2014 line better. But they can't assume that whoever it is will stay healthy or play effectively for years to come. They need to deepen their stable of capable linemen so that injuries along the line don't destroy everything they're trying to do in future years.

The Giants were spoiled in this regard for a long time. Everybody knows about that starting offensive line that held together for years without anyone missing a game. But Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie aren't walking through that door. The days when this wasn't a worry for the Giants are long gone, and now they're dealing with the same reality with which other teams deal. They need depth on the offensive line to combat inevitable injuries, or else nothing they do is going to work.
The latest name in the New York Giants' offensive coordinator search is that of Karl Dorrell, the former UCLA coach who was most recently the Houston Texans' quarterback coach. Dorrell will be the fourth candidate to interview for the position, joining a field that includes former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan, former Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, who's scheduled to interview Saturday.

On a radio interview Thursday on WFAN in New York, Giants owner John Mara said there were currently four candidates but that the field could expanded.

Mara reiterated the Giants' party line that former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride decided to retire, but he also indicated that Gilbride may not have been back even if he hadn't.

"Fortunately, it didn't come to a situation where he had to be forced out," Mara said.

So it seems clear that the Gilbride thing was about to turn ugly, and it's possible that Gilbride saw the writing on the wall and did the Giants a favor. Going forward, it now appears possible that the changes to the Giants' offensive scheme could be more extensive than we originally thought when the Gilbride news broke last week. As head coach Tom Coughlin interviews candidates other than Sullivan to replace Gilbride, it's clear he's keeping an open mind about coaches who might bring fresh offensive ideas to the table.

"I think, going forward, a change is probably going to be good for us," Mara said on WFAN. "Nothing lasts forever. Teams adjust to what you're doing. Sometimes you have to have new ideas in there, and I think Tom is obviously open to that."

Gilbride and Coughlin worked together for a long time. Gilbride was on Coughlin's original staff with the 1995 expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, and 2014 will be the first of Coughlin's 11-year tenure with the Giants without Gilbride on his offensive staff. But as much as the Giants' offense has been Gilbride's, it also has been Coughlin's.

Coughlin's background is as an offensive coach, and his influence on the principles and terminology on which the Giants' offense is based is significant and likely to remain so. For that reason, assuming Coughlin and the team weren't going to want to change much, a lot of us assumed Sullivan would be the leading candidate to take over as coordinator. He knows the offense and the terminology, and if continuity is the goal, he seems the obvious choice.

But if not the goal, then change is at least a possibility. McAdoo and Loggains are both in their 30s and thought of as up-and-comers in the offensive coaching ranks. And Dorrell has extensive experience in college as well as some in the NFL and could bring fresh ideas. If nothing else, Coughlin seems open to the possibility of bringing in someone who might want to shake up the way the Giants play offense. And I guess it shouldn't be a big surprise. Coughlin has shown a willingness to change before, and if it's clear that Mara thinks a change is in order, the coach is smart enough to know he needs to demonstrate a willingness to at least consider it.

No matter who gets hired, the Giants are going to need major personnel upgrades on the offensive line, at running back, at tight end and at wide receiver in order for the offense to work better than it did in 2013. And quarterback Eli Manning will need to play better as well. But after 10 years under Gilbride, I think there's a strong chance Manning could be fired up and energized by a new coach and a new system, and it's wise of the Giants to be looking into those things.


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.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Julio CortezAcquiring 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.

Assessing the Kevin Gilbride situation

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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People want answers, and I get that. Coaches were getting fired left and right in the NFL on Monday, so New York Giants fans are wondering why it should take a few days for their own team's coaching situations to sort themselves out. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is the name on everyone's mind, and everyone wants to know whether he'll be back or if the Giants will find someone new to guide their offense. Former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan, just fired as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator Monday, makes a lot of sense, and it's possible Gilbride will get fired and Sullivan will get the job.

But it's also possible Gilbride will keep the job, and truth be told no decision has been made on that yet. Head coach Tom Coughlin, who says he wants to return and has been told by owner John Mara that the team wants him to return, is scheduled to meet with Mara and other Giants decision-makers later this week, likely Thursday. Until that time, little that you hear or read should be viewed as final.

"We’re going to do what we have to do, but we’re going to do it in an intelligent fashion," Mara said Monday. "We’re not going to make these sweeping changes. Stability is important. It’s one of the reasons we’ve had some success here, but there are times when changes have to be made. If we agree on those changes, then we’ll make them going forward."

Here's how I read the situation as of Tuesday afternoon:

Coughlin wants to be back as head coach and the team wants him back as head coach, so all of the discussions to come work within that framework. Coughlin operates as one of the decision-makers. Head coaches like to choose their own coordinators, and the Giants historically have allowed that to be the case. Coughlin is, however, outranked in the decision-making hierarchy, chiefly by the people who own the team. And if Mara, who described the offense as "broken" Monday, thinks Gilbride needs to be replaced, he's surely going to make that opinion plain to Coughlin.

If and when that happens, the manner in which Coughlin reacts will determine a lot. I do not know for certain how Coughlin would react if presented with a suggestion or ultimatum about firing Gilbride, who's been with him since his Jacksonville days, and neither does anyone else who's speculating on it right now. The people I've talked to think Coughlin would resist or possibly refuse, but even those people are speculating. Only Coughlin knows what's in his heart and head. So be careful with that.

The other piece to remember here is that Coughlin only has one year left on his contract. In the past, when it appeared he might confront that situation, Coughlin has cited with admiration the old Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who never had a contract longer than one year but held the job for 23 of them. He says he's not afraid of having to prove himself year after year, and if the Giants insist on breaking with organizational policy and allowing him to coach as a lame duck, he may say that's fine with him.

But it also could be a negotiating tool. For instance, if the Giants insist that Coughlin fire Gilbride and replace him with Sullivan and he agrees (which isn't an insane thought, since he likes Sullivan and so does quarterback Eli Manning), he could do so under the condition that they add a year or two to his contract. If he goes to the mat for Gilbride and insists that he be kept (also possible, since Coughlin is loyal and has expressed confidence in his coaches in recent days), the Giants could agree but then refuse to extend the contract.

There exists the slim possibility that the whole thing could blow up and that Coughlin could decide to leave (or the Giants could decide to fire him) over one or more of these issues. That would be a shocking result at this point, but again, these meetings are going to be emotional, and it's impossible to predict exactly what will come of them. And there are other coaches whose names will come up for evaluation in addition to Gilbride. Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn can't be assumed to be safe. Gilbride's son is the wide receivers coach, and one of Mara's best lines Monday was about how he was "not sure why it took us three years to figure out Jerrel Jernigan can play." This is, as Mara said, intended to be a thoughtful process and not a rash one. For that reason, it must take some time.

So while I wish I could give you a more definitive answer, the fact is I don't know right now if Gilbride will be fired because the Giants don't either. My only advice is to be patient and rest assured that the decisions will be discussed and made the right way, whether you end up agreeing with them or not.

Coughlin plans could fall apart over OC

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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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.

lastname
Coughlin
"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.

Assessing Jerry Reese's offseason

September, 30, 2013
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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.

Bradshaw
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.

Beatty
Beatty
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.

Cruz
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.

Myers
Myers
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.

A comparison the Giants can't stomach

September, 24, 2013
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Our man Rich Cimini noted Tuesday morning that the New York Giants have the same record (36-31) since the start of the 2009 season as the New York Jets do, including the same number of postseason victories (4). That 2009 season was Rex Ryan's first as Jets coach, and he has led his team to the playoffs twice in that time, while the Giants have only reached the postseason once.

Obviously, the Giants' lone postseason appearance and all four of those postseason wins came following the 2011 season and culminated in the franchise's fourth Super Bowl title. None of Ryan's four postseason wins is a Super Bowl or even a conference title game. The significance of this is not lost on me, Rich or anyone else who might be making the comparison. It's also worth noting that a Dec. 24, 2011, victory over the Jets was the springboard for that Giants Super Bowl run. It was the first of six games the Giants won in a row to claim their title, and it was especially satisfying for them because of all of the talking Ryan and the Jets did in advance of the game.

But see, this is the one reason this point is worth making. I remember that day, and I remember how gleefully Giants owner John Mara spoke in the locker room after the game about the significance of beating the Jets after they talked so much and covered up the Giants' Super Bowl logos in the hallway outside the locker rooms. I remember thinking how unusual it was for Mara to be talking to the media in the middle of the locker room after a Week 16 regular-season game.

Since that time, I've been told by more than one person around the Giants that Giants ownership cares a great deal about being better than the Jets -- that beating the Jets is, in some ways, more important to the Maras than beating the Cowboys or the Eagles or the Redskins. They pay attention to what's going on in Florham Park, and it often annoys them the way the Jets go about their business and call attention to themselves. A feeling of superiority over the team with which they share their stadium -- justified by their franchise's more decorated history -- is a part of the Giants' self-image. So when these kinds of comparisons start getting thrown around, you'd better believe they're being noticed in East Rutherford, and not in a way that makes anyone chuckle at the irony of it all.

As I've written many times, I feel certain that Tom Coughlin's job as Giants coach is safe as long as he wants it. I think Jerry Reese's job as GM is safe, too. I do not expect the Giants to make any organizational or coaching changes in-season, and at this point it's too early to say whether they'd make any at the coordinator level even in the offseason. They believe in stability in positions of leadership, and they have stuck to that belief even when pique and frustration would have pushed other owners into rash action.

But this here? This notion that the Jets are somehow equal to them in any statistical way? I'm just telling you, this is the kind of thing that bothers the people who run the Giants more than you would expect it to. And if it continues, it's going to be a long year for a lot of people around the New York Football Giants.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The NFL reached a tentative $765 million settlement over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.

The agreement, announced Thursday, will compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research. New York Giants owner John Mara fielded questions from reporters before the preseason finale against the Patriots. Here's the full Q&A:

Your reaction to the settlement?

"I think it’s a good settlement, primarily because it will help get money to people who need it much faster than had we gone through a long litigation, with appeals and discovery and everything else. It could have gone on for eight or 10 years. This hopefully will get some money to some people who could use some help."

The $765 million number is a large amount.

"It’s a big number, to be sure, but I think it’s a fair settlement. I’m just pleased that we’re going to be able to help some people that are in need right now."

[+] EnlargeJohn Mara
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire"I think it will be money well spent," Giants owner John Mara said of the league's $765 million concussion settlement.
One of the principal terms of the settlement is that the agreement is not considered "an admission by the NFL of liability." Do you feel culpable?

"No, and I’m not going to get into that aspect of it. I just feel good about the fact that there are some former players out there who are not in good condition right now and we’re going to be able to help them. I heard a report today that it comes out to less than $200,000 per plaintiff, but that’s not the way to look at it because most of these plaintiffs are not going to be eligible. There’s going to have to be a showing of some cognitive impairment, and there are some players who are in that condition, and those are the guys who deserve the money. ... You have to make a showing, according to the way I read the judge’s order, a showing of some cognitive impairment, and that gets determined by independent doctors that both sides will agree on, and it’s overseen by the court."

Some players feel the number could have been bigger.

"You can always say that about any number, but if we had gone through the litigation process here, it would have taken years. I thought the league, we felt like we had some very strong defenses, so who knows how that would have come out. The only thing for certain is it would have delayed for many years the chances of any of those plaintiffs getting any money out of this, and some needed [the money] sooner rather than later. That to me is the best part of this."

Was there pressure on you and the league to not let this go to court because you don’t want a lot of former players going onto the stand?

"You always have that risk when you go into litigation. Fortunately there was a willingness on both sides to come to an agreement, and a judge that was pushing the sides to settle the case, and a mediator who was very effective in bringing the sides together. As a result, we have a deal that is very good for a lot of these players that can use some help."

It cost the owners a lot.

"It will, but I think it will be money well spent."
New York Giants owner John Mara appeared on NFL Network on Tuesday and was asked about the team's ongoing negotiations with wide receiver Victor Cruz. Since there has not been any progress on this deal in months, there's no news to report. But here's what Mara said, per Ohm:
"I'm pretty confident that we'll end up reaching a deal with him," Mara said on NFL Network. "This is not that atypical a situation. Player contracts, particularly with star players like Victor, can tend to drag on from time to time. I think we'll get it done."

...

"This is the right place for him to play," Mara said. "He's a star in this area, he's an important part of our team, and I think we'll eventually get a deal done, but it's just a process that you have to go through. And we're going through it right now. There's communication, and it's slow but steady, and I think at some point we'll reach a deal."

Somebody
[+] EnlargeJohn Mara
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliGiants owner John Mara says he's confident the team will reach a deal with Victor Cruz.
asked during our chat Tuesday afternoon what the point is of Mara saying anything publicly on this. The answer is that this is a case where "negotiating in the media" is to the team's benefit. Look at the two critical elements of what Mara's saying:

1. The team is confident it will reach a deal with Cruz. This serves to calm elements of the fan base that might be worried about losing Cruz. It portrays the team as the reasonable side, and the one that cares enough to reassure the fans that it will all be OK. Part of the Giants' goal surely is to get or keep public opinion on their side, and saying things like this can help with that. In general (and I stress "in general"), fans have historically sided with teams over players in contract disputes, believing that the money is significant enough that the player should be happy with any offer. So the Giants are operating from that position of strength in terms of the fight for public opinion. Coming out and offering reassurance helps project that.

2. Cruz is a star in New York, and would benefit from staying there. This is a key element of the team's argument. The Giants aren't going to give Cruz every dollar that he wants, but Cruz will more than make up for it with endorsement and other such opportunities that will be more lucrative in New York than they would be in another market. It makes sense, is likely true and will ring so with the public that's hearing Mara's words. It serves as another reminder that the player should be happy with what he has and take what's on the table lest the opportunity of a lifetime vanish suddenly due to injury or a shift in the team's priorities (say, to Hakeem Nicks).

Part of the way the Giants believe they can get Cruz to accept the offer they've made is to increase the public pressure on him to do it. The words they're using when they speak publicly about this situation are designed to help with that. That's why you see Mara talking about this publicly. He wouldn't be doing it if he didn't think it would ultimately help the Giants get what they want.
On Thursday night, the New York Giants added a big piece to their aging offensive line with first-round pick Justin Pugh. On Friday night, in the second round of the NFL draft, they did the same for their defensive line, selecting Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins with the 17th pick of the round (49th overall).

Hankins is a run-stuffing defensive tackle who likely projects as a rotational player of the kind the Giants like to use on the interior of their defensive line. They are undergoing a transition of sorts in there, as Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard have left and been replaced by guys like Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Linval Joseph remains as a reliable performer at defensive tackle, and they brought back Shaun Rogers and still like Markus Kuhn, so Hankins joins a deep stable of interior defensive linemen in New York. As is the case with the first-rounder Pugh, this is a guy who could contribute right away if he shows enough in the offseason and training camp but doesn't have to. If he needs time to develop in their system, they have enough bodies at his position to allow him that.

Giants owner John Mara said earlier in this offseason that the team needed to get tougher and meaner on both lines, and with their first two picks of this year's draft, they appear to be paying attention to their owner's mandate.

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