By Jason Keidel
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If a vial of truth serum were jammed into your vein a year ago, you never envisioned Jason Pierre-Paul stalking, hounding or sacking quarterbacks ever again. At least not at this rate. At least not in a Big Blue uniform.
You certainly didn’t see this — a four-year deal, franchise money or a franchise player.
Cynics will assert that the Giants just rolled some serious dice in signing Pierre-Paul, committing $62 million to the defensive end. For someone who so heavily relies on his hands to come thisclose to literally blowing one of them off, Pierre-Paul didn’t likely count on counting $40 million in guaranteed money ever again.
The optimist could say that banking on someone who so publicly and appallingly harmed himself is exactly the guy you go with. Perhaps the last person to be so boneheaded is the one who already was.
But despite missing a few digits, Pierre-Paul seems to remain quite potent at rushing the passer. In 2016, JPP notched seven sacks in 12 games, along with 24 hurries.
And while Pierre-Paul is heralded for sacking the passer, the ultimate QB sniper in a league that increasingly relies on specialists rather than all-round players, Pierre-Paul ranks among the top-20 edge rushers against the run. According to Pro Football Focus, only 20 ends rate at least an 80.0 against the rush, and Pierre-Paul is one of them.
And think about how far Pierre-Paul has come. Forget the player. The person who told the New York Daily News in April 2016 that he thought he might die from the fireworks snafu that wiped the fingers from his right hand. Of course, it didn’t stop him from raising his mangled middle finger at the media when he said they prematurely reported the contract he just signed. Of course, the reports were correct, and he did sign the deal he said didn’t exist.
Still, Pierre Paul must be thanking whatever entity or deity is responsible for his good fortune. He’s lucky just to have a job, much less a job in pro football, much less a starting job with the Giants, much less $62 million.
To still be employed and quite productive is a professional exacta none of us would have bet on in July 2015, or in the subsequent months, when we saw graphic photos of the carnage, his right hand reduced to a knob, like a root pulled out of its soil. Not even Greg Nicotero could have conjured something so grotesque, and he’s the zombie makeup artist on “The Walking Dead.”
Is this a feel-good story? Is this a resounding redemption for someone who made an epic mistake, the source matter for a “30 for 30” documentary? Pierre-Paul is not the first person, player or athlete to climb out of the deep well of his personal failures. He didn’t drink, drive and kill someone. He didn’t storm out of some pub and pummel someone who took one too many iPhone pictures of a private citizen. As dumb and dangerous as he was on that July day, he only hurt himself and deserves the same shot at revival we’d ask for ourselves.
Or is this a second chance for someone who blew his best chance? Is this another galling example of a pampered star getting the gratuitous cash and cachet you never could despite your hard work and clean living? To say Pierre-Paul blew it is a double entendre of cinematic contours, endless fodder for late-night comics on all three major networks.
Perhaps somewhere in between. An athlete is worth what someone is willing to pay him. In a strict, sporting sense, Giants fans simply want the best players on their favorite team, even if his judgement has been dubious, at best. And on the moral scale, Pierre-Paul’s malfeasance is hardly off the charts. His momentary stupidity may have been colossal, but it was still momentary.
And if you can’t get with JPP or Big Blue because of some misplaced gunpowder, then maybe you’re not quite the fan you think you are.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel