A Year After Some Called For His Job, GM Deserves Praise For Building A Winner

By Jason Keidel
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Jerry Reese has joined Brian Cashman as the most maligned general managers in NYC sports. Like the Yankees’ GM, Reese runs a monolithic franchise, part of its sport’s aristocracy, of which the owners and fans expect much more than your garden-variety ballclub. And, like Cashman, the Giants’ general manager has had his moments of glory and gory.

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But if we piled on Reese during the dark days — and yours truly said he was more responsible for the team’s four-year slumber than former coach Tom Coughlin — then he deserves a wink, nod and some praise for this year.

It’s understandable if you’d rather not give Reese props for the Giants’ first Super Bowl in 2007 under Coughlin, branding it just-retired GM Ernie Accorsi’s club. But the team that won four years later was entirely Reese’s. And the team is 8-1 in the playoffs since he took over from Accorsi.

Reese did draft Jason Pierre-Paul. He did draft Landon Collins. He drafted Sterling Shepard, who seems to have a sterling future. He discovered Victor Cruz. And he drafted perhaps the most naturally gifted wide receiver in NFL history, Odell Beckham Jr.

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Reese has bombed on more than one occasion, particularly in the draft. But everyone does, even the Patriots, who backed into the best player in franchise history, Tom Brady. Had any GM regarded him with a modicum of respect, he would not have been the 199th player picked. Likewise, had the world known Beckham would be this pyrotechnic, he would not have lasted until the 12th pick. So it indeed takes an amalgam of skill, will and luck to bag a franchise player and lead a franchise to a Super Bowl.

We’ve seen the underbelly of his bad moves. Reese indeed drafted Jayron Hosley, Adrien Robinson, Marvin Austin, Clint Sintim and James Brewer. Ereck Flowers, a top-10 pick, is hardly morphing into Orlando Pace. Shoving reporters doesn’t help, either.

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But if Reese is to be torn apart for his personnel failures, he surely should get a nod for this season, one that has passed all reasonable projections. Just as you can’t buy Major League Baseball titles — just ask Cashman and his Yankees — you can’t splurge your way into the Super Bowl. So when Reese dropped nine digits on the free-agent triumvirate of Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison, more than a few eyebrows arched.

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You may recall the Philadelphia Eagles built a “Dream Team” a few years ago and bombed. The hallmark of any superlative NFL roster is prudent draft picks. With the salary cap choking the life out of myriad teams — like the Jets — college players are the only way to horde talent while keeping the war chest padlocked.

The Texans thought they struck it rich with Brock Osweiler, who has since been benched and forced back into action only because Tom Savage suffered a concussion. The Washington Redskins are the classic NFL parable of reckless payroll binges, from Antwaan Randle El to Jeff George to Albert Haynesworth. Oh, and there was the $55 million the poured on “Prime Time,” Deion Sanders, at age 33.

But for whatever reason, this cocktail of draft picks and free agents have remolded Big Blue’s defense into perhaps the best in the NFL. Since Week 7, the Giants are tied with the Patriots for fewest points allowed and are first in third-down efficiency. They held the otherwise unstoppable Dallas Cowboys to 26 points over two games.

And that’s on Reese, as much as head coach Ben McAdoo, as much as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. To borrow from the patron saint of the Giants, Bill Parcells, Reese provided ample groceries for his chefs to cook some gridiron delicacy. And despite the fact that Jenkins, Vernon and Harrison are projected to make three of the Giants’ top-four salaries next year, the club still enters the offseason $43 million under the cap (according to the website Spotrac).

But you won’t see too many fans raising Reese on their shoulders. It feels like every Giants fan has, at some point, called for Reese’s job. Then the least we can do is praise Reese for the job he did this year.

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Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel