By Jason Keidel
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In the week after a playoff loss, folks scramble for scapegoats, excuses and are just generally prone to panic.
Some Giants fans are even pounding Ben McAdoo, despite a robust 11-5 record, a five-game improvement over Tom Coughlin’s last year. For a rookie coach in charge of a team in turmoil, which hadn’t been to the playoffs in five years, McAdoo exceeded all reasonable projections.
Sure, Big Blue blew a playoff game they dominated during the first half. But no coach has the cure for Aaron Rodgers, whose arm and mind are enough to baffle any defense. When you add his improvisational skills, dancer’s feet and uncanny instincts that buy him several seconds in the pocket, no defense could close the lid on No. 12’s game.
With all that in mind, the Giants do have some issues, some of which were italicized during their playoff dud on the frozen tundra.
Big Blue has big holes on the offensive line. Folks can keep apologizing for Ereck Flowers, but he hemorrhages pressure. The next, natural step is to yank him away from the cornerstone spot of left tackle. Do something. Anything. Because this isn’t working.
The Giants also need to beef up their running game. Rashad Jennings is a decent back. And Paul Perkins had a marvelous Week 17 in Washington, but that’s not enough to crown him the bellwether back in 2017. Even if wide receiver Sterling Shepard improves on his lovely rookie season and Victor Cruz bathes in the fountain of youth, they still need a muscular running game to fuel the offense.
The defense has surprisingly few holes. Say what we like about general manager Jerry Reese — and we surely have — but his free-agent triumvirate of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison was as good, if not better, than expected. Since Week 6, the Giants’ D was at or near the top in every salient statistic. Add to that a burgeoning star in safety Landon Collins and the re-emergence of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, if he is re-signed, and it looks like Big Blue will supply plenty of black and blue for a while.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. needs an intervention. If you take any single mishap on its own — his Josh Norman meltdown, his civil war and subsequent detente with a sideline kicking net, his “Love Boat” moment in Miami and his fists of fury moment after the Packers game — you could dismiss it as an adjunct of youth.
But Beckham seems to be devolving, spiraling into a vortex of narcissism and entitlement. Some see that hole in Green Bay’s wall as a perfect metaphor for the gap in Beckham’s head. Whatever the problem, the Giants need to find a solution. Soon.
The good news, beyond their resurgent defense, is that the Giants don’t share the Jets’ salary cap woes. Even after dropping nine figures on their new defensive trinity, they still enter this offseason about $43 million under the cap, according to the website Spotrac.
In fact, if the Giants are largely inert in 2017, they would be looking at a windfall free agency in 2018, with $63.5 million in cap quid.
In a strict monetary sense, the Giants are quite sensibly built. Quarterback Eli Manning ($19.7 million) takes up about 11 percent of their 2017 salary cap, which totals an estimated $168 million. But all franchise quarterbacks take an inordinate bite out of the budget.
The only players other than Manning taking up at least $10 million in payroll next year are Reese’s big three (Jenkins, Harrison, Vernon). Cruz (set to count $9.4 million against the salary cap) will likely be asked to restructure his deal again or find himself in another uniform. And guard Justin Pugh, who enjoys quite a spike in salary (from $1.2 million to $8.8 million) in 2017, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
After that, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($8.5 million) is the only Giant due to make more than $5 million next year. He, too, is a candidate for a pay cut.
Of course, the Giants will soon be faced with the meat-hook reality of seeking Manning’s successor. But given Eli’s pristine medical history and sturdy, family DNA, he should have at least three years of injury-free football left.
The Giants will also have to pay Beckham well more than the $3.3 million he will make next season. But they don’t have to worry about that until 2018, his option year, at the earliest — assuming he doesn’t implode or singe the brass’ sensibilities to such a degree that his headaches weigh more than the sum of his talents.
It may take another few days for Giants fans to recover from the quick, ugly death of the 2016 season. But once they get over that eyesore at Lambeau and take honest stock of the New York Football Giants, they should see that Big Blue could have some big years coming.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel