By Ernie Palladino
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Jerry Reese’s seat could not have gotten much hotter without leaving a burn mark two years ago.
The general manager was on notice, placed in that most uncomfortable of positions by co-owner John Mara the same day Tom Coughlin resigned under pressure.
Mara’s message to Reese was simple.
Fix this 6-10 mess, or else.
Since then, the atmosphere around the GM’s office has looked pretty rosy. An 11-5 wildcard rebound and even brighter prospects for this season prompted Mara’s partner, Steve Tisch, to offer Reese a shout-out at the owners’ meeting in Phoenix, indicating that both executives were just delighted with the work he’s done since that day in early January, 2016.
But no one should know better than Reese that an owner’s praise is fleeting. A reversion to the ways of the previous four playoff-less seasons will turn those front office smiles upside down in a hurry. And all GMs, Reese included, know that their survival depends as much on luck as it does on their football acumen.
For Reese, it came down to the fortuitous confluence of an owner’s patience, a stack of money, and smart player analysis. And that last factor was the only one Reese and his staff could truly control.
It was Mara’s decision, after all, to keep Reese around in the first place, defying critics’ cries for a clean sweep.
“Why get rid of Coughlin and keep the man who left key roster spots devoid of talent around?” they asked.
The answer lay in that offseason. With $132 million in salary cap space, the Giants had plenty of money to sprinkle around for quality free agents. And Mara entrusted Reese to do it prudently.
Along came Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, and Keenan Robinson, and a re-signing to a “show-me” contract of Jason Pierre-Paul.
Suddenly, the defense was transformed. But it wasn’t just the money. A lot of teams haven’t made full free-agent war chests work for them. One need only to look south for a prime example. The Redskins under Dan Snyder’s ownership wasted millions of dollars building their versions of Fantasy Football rosters starting in 2000 with the overpaying of Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith. Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Antwaan Randle-El, Jessie Armstead, and a host of other big-name veterans followed, none to make a significant impact in the win and loss columns.READ MORE: Student Caught With Gun, Thousands Of Dollars Cash At Brooklyn School
It was Reese’s and his staff’s smarts that led them to sign the right free agents. The fact that they all came available in the same year was lucky, as was Reese’s good fortune to have an owner who allowed him to go on a $200 million spending spree to get those players.
The result was an immediate defensive turnaround.
Reese hasn’t had the dough for Louis Vuitton and Chanel this year, but he has for the most part found value for his $12 million and change in cap space. Signing Geno Smith as Eli Manning’s backup was certainly a head-scratcher. But he also locked up Pierre-Paul long-term, and signed Jets free agent receiver Brandon Marshall to bulk up the downfield passing game.
Evidence that Reese picked the right guy in Marshall came this week when the receiver announced he’ll head to Duke from April 3-6 for the quarterback’s annual workouts with his wide receivers, held under the eyes of Manning family mentor and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. Obviously, Marshall has accepted his role as a second option behind Odell Beckham, Jr., and is eager to start the process of fitting in.
Reese’s interest in former Jets center Nick Mangold, who could convert to guard, would give a transitioning offensive line a wise leader.
The GM also hit well in last year’s six-pick draft. Five of those players saw significant time, including future stars in first-round cornerback Eli Apple, second-round wide receiver Sterling Shepard, and this year’s projected starting running back, sixth-rounder back Paul Perkins.
Reese has clearly made the most of a second chance the critics believed he never deserved or would ever get. The seat in the GM’s office has cooled off considerably.
But it couldn’t have happened unless a combination of an owner’s patience, his GM’s smarts, and pure luck hadn’t combined in an equation of success.MORE NEWS: Kool And The Gang's Robert 'Kool' Bell Using Music To Inspire Kids: 'I Think It's Important To Give Back'
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