After the disappointing end to the 2013 season, New York Giants co-owner John Mara was quoted as saying that the Giants offense “Is broken right now and we need to fix that.” It was a message to GM Jerry Reese, Coach Tom Coughlin, the players, media, and fans, that this off season would be one of change. And multiple changes continue to come. The Giants front office has been its most aggressive in free agency since it started twenty years ago and a full third of the roster may turn over before all the dust settles. This article will examine the Giants offense and how it’s changed since the season ended last December.
How does one fix a broken offense? First, make changes to the coaching staff. Long time Coughlin assistant and offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride “retired” and was replaced with an NFL up and comer, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. Another long time Coughlin assistant, running backs coach Jerald Ingram, was replaced with Craig Johnson, who previously coached running backs for the Tennessee Titans and most recently was quarterbacks coach for the Vikings. The most shocking change was the release of veteran tight ends coach Mike Pope, a connection to Bill Parcells talent laden Giants staff, who has been replaced with holdover Kevin M. Gilbride, son of the retired offensive coordinator. The younger Gilbride had most recently coached wide receivers for the Giants.
Other changes to the offensive coaching staff include the addition of former Oregon University offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf as quarterbacks coach, and Former Princeton University tight ends coach Ryan Roeder as an offensive assistant. Sean Ryan, who served as quarterbacks coach since the 2010 season has been reassigned to coach wide receivers.
It was apparent to the knowledgeable football fan that the Giants troubles on offense started with the offensive line. Center Davis Baas, Guard Chris Snee, Center Jim Cordle, Guard/Tackle David Diehl, and Tackle Will Beatty all missed time with injuries, and over the course of the 16 games season, used 7 different starting combinations of 8 different linemen. This lack of a consistent offensive line, along with multiple running backs injuries resulting in a putrid running attack that ranked 29th in the league. The passing game was not much better, ranking 19th. Eli Manning was under pressure almost every time he dropped back to pass and this surely contributed to his league leading 27 interceptions.
The team began the process of rebuilding its offensive line aggressively in free agency by signing the top ranked guard on Rotoworld’s list of 2014 free agents, Geoff Schwartz, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, to a 4 year, $16.8 million contract. Schwartz will likely start at left guard. Also signed is former Miami Dolphin John Jerry, implicated in the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito incident, to a 1 year, $770 thousand contract. He is expected to provide much needed depth. Former New Orleans Saint Charles Brown, a 14 game starter, was signed to a 1 year, $795 million contract. You will recall that Beatty suffered a broken leg in the 2013 season finale against the Washington Redskins. Brown will not only provide depth, but insurance against Beatty not being fully healed by the start of the 2014 season.
Former Denver Bronco and Washington Redskin J.D. Walton was also signed to a 2 year, $5 million contract. He is expected to compete for the starting center job if he is sufficiently healed from a severe ankle sprain that cost him most of the 2012 and all of the 2013 seasons. It is my opinion that the Giants starting center for the 2014 season is not on their roster as of April 4th.
Removed from their offensive line were 2013 projected opening day Baas, who was released after refusing to take a salary cut, Diehl, who retired, and guard/center Kevin Boothe, who signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders. Of the three, the only loss that will potentially impact the Giants is Boothe, who started all 16 games last season, played multiple positions, and was a solid contributor. Diehl’s best days were behind him and likely would have been a salary cap casualty if he had not voluntarily retired. Injured for most of last season, Baas was a free agent disappointment since joining the team in 2011. The Giants also chose not to tender restricted free agent Cordle, who started 8 games for them last season before tearing the patellar tendon in his left knee, although resigning him before training camp in July remains a possibility. I suspect the rebuilding of the offensive line is not complete and we will see multiple linemen added during the NFL draft on May 8th to May 10th, possibly as early as the 12th overall pick.
Running back is another position of concern due to the overwhelming injuries that occurred during the 2013 season. David Wilson has shown flashes of greatness, but suffered a herniated disc in his neck and underwent a vertebrae fusion that leaves his NFL future in doubt. While reports of a full recovery have been prevalent, I expect the Giants to use one of their top 4 picks on a running back. If Wilson is unable to return or is ineffective after his injury, the position will look considerably different in 2014. Gone are Andre Brown (free agent), Da’Rel Scott (Restricted Free Agent, not tendered), and Brandon Jacobs (retired). Peyton Hillis, a mid season 2013 signing, and surprisingly effective when healthy, was resigned to a 2 year, $1.8 million contract. Also added in free agency is Rashad Jennings, formerly of the Raiders, who received a 4 year, $10 million contract. Additionally on the roster is speedy 2013 rookie Michael Cox.
The quarterbacks will be the same in 2014 as backup Curtis Painter resigned with a 1 year, $795 thousand contract, joining starter Eli Manning, and promising second year player Ryan Nassib. The outcome of the 2014 season will largely be determined by the ability of new Offensive Coordinator McAdoo to improve Manning’s ability to protect the football. A more stable offensive line will go a long way toward that primary objective.
A familiar face is rejoining the Giants receive corps. Super Bowl XLVI hero Mario Manningham returns from San Francisco with a 1 year, $795 contract. He will replace the departed Hakeem Nicks, who signed as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. Nicks had been a disappointment the past 2 seasons, suffering from knee and leg injuries in 2012 and in his expected bounce back 2013 season, held to 56 receptions and no touchdowns. Questions about his work ethic surfaced and it was rumored that the Giants preferred to let him sign elsewhere for 2014. Also leaving is the speedy Louis Murphy, a 2013 free agent signing, who left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after having a minimal impact in his one season with the Giants. Wide Receiver/Kick Returner Trinton Holliday, formerly of the Broncos signed for 1 year, $700 thousand. One of the fastest players in the NFL, the 5’ 5” Holliday will immediately improve the Giants punt and kickoff returns. Holliday has lost 3 fumbles in the past 2 seasons, and will need to improve his ball security if he wants to stay on the field on a Tom Coughlin team.
The star of the receiving corps remains steady, salsa dancing, Victor Cruz, who had 73 receptions and just short of 1,000 yards in a down year for the entire Giants offense. He will surely feature prominently in the Giants attack. Third year player Reuben Randle is expected to start opposite Cruz and have a larger role in the offense. With 41 receptions as the third receiver in 2013, Randle will need to step up this season. Of the 29 interceptions thrown by Giants quarterbacks, 8 were intended for Randle. Nicks was next on this list with 7 intended passes intercepted, and the next closest were Myers and Cruz with 4. Kevin Gilbride’s offense required both quarterback and receiver to make the same read to be effective and that was a challenge for Randle. McAdoo will need to take this into account when working Randle into his offensive scheme. Also returning is fourth year receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who appeared to break out at the end of last season with 19 receptions for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns in the last 3 games. If he can build on that momentum, he will be a big contributor in 2014.
Tight end is a position in transition for the Giants. Gone is disappointing 2013 free agent signing Brandon Myers, who left for greener pastures with the Buccaneers. Also unsigned is long time Giant Bear Pascoe, more blocker than receiver, although it would not surprise me if the he was resigned before training camp. Joining the Giants on April 4th is 6 year veteran tight end Kellen Davis, best known for his blocking. Contract details are not currently available. Speaking last week at the League meetings in Orlando, FL, Tom Coughlin called this position a “question mark” and it will surely be addressed in the upcoming NFL draft.
The Giants offense will feature a rebuilt offensive line, at least 5 new starters, a brand new scheme, and renewed energy in 2014. With the talent on this offense, it should easily rank in the top half of the league in both yardage and scoring. Two factors will determine how quickly the turnaround occurs. First, the offensive line needs to gel. There will be at least two new starters, and potentially a third if Chris Snee is not healed from his 2013 hip injury or doesn’t bounce back. History has shown that linemen need time together and if five starters aren’t in place from mini-camp through the preseason, this doesn’t bode well for continuity. Second, with the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement limits on off season study and practice time, the players have not begun the learn McAdoo’s scheme. How quickly it’s installed and its intricacies mastered will, along with the success of the rebuilt offensive line, determine the success of the Giants 2014 offense.