Commentary

Reese must lead Giant turnaround

The GM had a very bad year, and now it's his responsibility to clean up the mess

Updated: December 30, 2013, 7:32 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As Black Mondays go, the New York Giants got off easy compared to the housecleaning some of the NFL's other non-playoff teams went through.

But the message became clearer the longer everyone talked on getaway day at the team's headquarters. As sub-par as quarterback Eli Manning's season was, and as uncertain as head coach Tom Coughlin's contract extension remains, general manager Jerry Reese is the man who needs to have the best season of any Giant in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJerry Reese
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJerry Reese fielded question from the media on Monday, a day after the Giants finished 7-9.
And Reese acted like a man who knew that Monday.

He didn't exclude himself from blame for the Giants' fourth non-playoff season in five years when he stepped to the podium about 25 minutes before owner John Mara arrived. Reese delivered an unsparing critique that included some significant second-guessing of everything from the team's recent drafts to its 28th-ranked offense, which Mara later called "broken."

"I'll start with myself," Reese said. "If you're 7-9, there's definitely personnel issues ... 7-9 sucks, you know. Yeah, it's hard to swallow. It sucks being 7-9."

Asked what precisely needed to be fixed, Reese said, "Everything. We need help in a lot of areas. Everything is a priority."

Those were both right answers from a man who, by his own admission, didn't get a heck of a lot right this past season. He now faces an even bigger challenge: how to overhaul a Giants team that has 23 unrestricted free agents and a handful of tough calls on other players who are still under contract, many of them past contributors.

The possibility of having that much turnover creates a boom-or-bust scenario. The Giants could turn things around in a heartbeat. But that will depend on how shrewdly Reese and his staff handle the offseason.

Reese raved about the year free-agent-to-be Justin Tuck just had, but does he feel as good about Mathias Kiwanuka? Or Hakeem Nicks? Does Reese have the gall to ask co-captain Antrel Rolle to accept a contract extension that would result in a cut to the $9.25 million salary he's owed next year, given Rolle stood by his locker Monday still saying he was "screwed" out of a Pro Bowl berth three days after the teams were announced? How about taking this opportunity to renegotiate Manning's contract?

If Reese doesn't capitalize on the freedom he'll have to remake the roster through free agency and the draft, then next year's Black Monday is almost certain to get a little bloody around here.

Mara takes winning and losing as hard as any owner, and he called this season "bitterly disappointing ... as disappointing as any" to both him and fellow owner Steve Tisch.

Then Mara frankly detailed some of the reasons. "I never expected 0-6 [start]," Mara said. "I'm the same person that stood up here in the preseason and said this is as talented a team as we've had in years and I thought we had a chance to make a run. Obviously I was gravely mistaken."

So what happened?

"Personnel-wise, we overvalued people," Mara said.

The draft?

"We did not get the production we wanted out of certain draft slots. ... We have missed on some guys, no doubt about it," he added.

The makeup of that "broken" offense? "We can't go into next season with the same personnel," Mara said, and in a clear swipe at the coaching staff, added: "I'm not sure why it took us three years to figure out that [wideout] Jerrel Jernigan can play."

Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and his son, receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride, had to be a little rattled to hear that. If anyone on Coughlin's staff seems vulnerable, it's those two -- especially since Mara acknowledged he knew Tampa Bay had fired well-liked former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan earlier in the day. Sullivan coached the Giants' wide receivers and then quarterbacks before taking a promotion to offensive coordinator with the Buccaneers in 2012.

Part of the reason Reese and Mara seemed to hem and haw a bit Monday about exactly what kind of contract extension Coughlin might get beyond 2014 (when his current deal expires) is they plan to sit down with Coughlin later this week for organizational meetings. And if the fiercely loyal Coughlin pushes back on making some changes to his staff, it could affect a lot of things.

"I have my opinions, Jerry has his, and I'm sure Tom has his, and we'll put that all together," Mara said. "I'd like to think at the end of the day, we're all going to be on the same page."

Mara did express faith in Reese, emphasizing he still thinks Reese is the right man for the job. But once you get past his midseason trade for middle linebacker Jon Beason, some of the GM's recent calls have been questionable.

The Giants' drafts haven't been great for several years now. David Wilson didn't seem ready to be the starting running back even before he suffered what could be a career-threatening neck injury. Mara said the depth of the offensive line was a concern of his even before the season started -- which begs the question, why wasn't the line more of a concern for Reese? Chris Snee was coming off hip surgery and center David Baas' durability has been an issue since he joined the Giants.

Worse, Reese's decision to lavish a five-year deal that could be worth as much as $38.75 million on left tackle Will Beatty didn't work out very well, either, even before Beatty broke his leg in Sunday's season finale. "He didn't play as well as we hoped he'd play," Reese admitted.

Reese faced all of the harsh realities Monday with straightforwardness. He always does. And it was good to hear both him and Mara call out Manning a little bit. They both said their franchise quarterback needs to play better in 2014.

"We turned the ball over this season at an alarming rate," Reese said.

Reese was asked if he is still convinced that Manning, soon to turn 33, has the skill set he did once upon a time. Reese nodded and said, "I think so, I think so. You look at him and see some things and think, 'Wow. That's the guy we know and love.' And then there's some times it's not exactly that."

The same could be said of Reese, who took over as the Giants' GM in 2007 and saw all six of his draft picks stick on the way to the Giants winning the first of the two Super Bowls under his watch. That alone is enough to earn Reese the same benefit of the doubt Coughlin got this year. But if the Giants miss the postseason yet again in 2014, it could be a different story.

"Our standards are high around here," Reese said. "We're up for the challenge."

He better be.

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