After basically stumbling into Super Bowl wins in 2007 and 2011, the Giants did a rare thing this past January when they “parted ways” with the coach who led them glory. That was the first big move of 2016, but many more would be coming and the results have New York playing their best football in nearly a decade: An 8-3 record, a top-five scoring defense, and a legitimate chance to do what few consider possible right now, which is upset the Dallas Cowboys and win the NFC East.
Could the Giants be a little more than two months away from winning their third Super Bowl in the last 10 years and redefining “modern dynasty”? It’s not that hard to imagine anymore after the franchise finally started acting like one that was supposed to be a consistent winner.
After falling below .500 in each of the previous three seasons, owner John Mara was probably set to fire coach Tom Coughlin just before he stepped down this year. Coughlin was with the team for 12 seasons but only won a playoff game in two of those seasons; he just also happened to win the Super Bowl in those years. Perhaps that’s why Mara and general manager Jerry Reese liked enough of what they saw in the previous regime to promote offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo rather than hire from outside the organization. But they also kept it the same on defense, retaining defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo despite the fact that New York had finished last in total yards and passing yards allowed in 2015 during a season that the New Orleans Saints set NFL records for pass defense ineptitude.
Luckily for McAdoo and Spagnuolo, more changes were coming and Mara was spending. Once the coaching staff had been settled and the free agent market opened, Reese burst onto the scene like a WalMart shopper on Black Friday:
- Defensive end Olivier Vernon: $85 million
- Cornerback Janoris Jenkins: $62.5 million
- Defensive tackle Damon Harrison: $46.25 million
- Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul: $10 million
Four of the Giants’ six highest-paid players were signed on March 10, 2016. It was a defensive overhaul unlike anything we usually see in football and also a huge risk. Reese saw what could happen to a coach with two rings, what did he think would be coming for him if he spent $200 million on defense and they didn’t produce immediately? That’s no longer a concern for Reese, as so many players have stepped up that it’s hard to even tell which one would you’d call the MVP of the defense during one of the best turnarounds in history.
Jenkins is playing like a franchise cornerback after the LA Rams made it clear that he wasn’t one after they gave former teammate cornerback Trumaine Johnson the franchise tag instead this year, allowing Reese to sign him. He’s helped turn them around from 25th in passing touchdowns allowed to second. Pierre-Paul, not far removed from a fireworks incident that blew off part of his hand (a story that thankfully gets funnier with every great play that he makes), is coming off of one of the best games by any player at any position this season: Seven tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, and a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown in a win over the Cleveland Browns. He’s set to turn his one-year prove-it deal into a contract that could top that of Vernon, a player who has earned respect from teammates by playing through injuries and recently he’s notched at least one sack in each of the last four games.
But the key to everything may be a move that Reese made in 2015 when he drafted safety Landon Collins in the early second round of the draft out of Alabama. Reese sent the Tennessee Titans a second, fourth, and seventh round pick in order to move up seven spots for Collins and it’s proving why it’s unfair that some GMs get to so regularly abuse others in lopsided deals; Collins leads all safeties with 87 tackles, five interceptions, three sacks, and 10 passes defensed. Just 22, he may be the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year honors this season and it’s in no small part due to surrounding him with talent through free agency because as many other teams seem to forget, that’s what free agency is for.
Of course, it’s not as though there aren’t major blocks between the Giants and another championship.
They still remain two games back in the NFC East and even if they beat the Cowboys in two weeks, they also have to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. That’s three division leaders, a wild card team, and a game against the Eagles on the road. Closing the gap on Dallas isn’t impossible by any means, but it would be impressive. Then there’s McAdoo’s offense, which is 31st in rushing and one dimensional in passing, because if you can contain Beckham, what else do you have to worry about? Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard may be talented, but they are hardly worrisome if that’s the best option for Manning to go to. (I guess we can ask David Tyree and Mario Manningham if you need to be a superstar to make legendary catches for the Giants in the playoffs.)
What adds up to is whether or not they win the Super Bowl this season, the New York Giants will be a consistent threat in the NFC for at least a few years now because they started making changes that were necessary and sticking to a plan that proposed, “Winning championships by accident probably isn’t going to be sustainable.” By taking pressure off of Manning to suddenly become Joe Montana in the playoffs in order to win big games, the Giants may actually become the conference’s premier threat in the postseason, and maybe round three against the New England Patriots is imminent.
This time they’d go in with a team that is actually balanced and playing well. Will that work for them though?