By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
In the whirlwind of NFL free agency, it’s almost impossible to give grades to the myriad moves of 32 teams. Unless a team literally lands a Hall of Famer in his relative prime, as the Packers once did with Reggie White, the impact is more nuanced.
But since one of our local clubs did sign a player inching his way toward Canton consideration, it’s fair to ask how big a deal it is that the Giants reached down the halls of MetLife Stadium and snatched Brandon Marshall from the Jets. Indeed, if Marshall catches 59 passes and gains 939 yards — he’s averaged 86 catches and nearly 1,100 yards per season so far — he will have 1,000 receptions and 13,000 yards over his career. Add a modest eight touchdowns, and he will have 90 for his career.
Pretty heady numbers for someone who has now played for five clubs over a dozen years (including 2017).
But there’s one number that Marshall would like to change more than any on his sprawling stat sheet — zero. That’s the number of playoff wins he’s been involved in over his splendid career. Carry that zero over a spot, and that will also represent the number of playoff games for which he’s suited up.
No doubt Marshall took playoff odds into account when he decided to join the Giants, which finished a refreshing 11-5 last year, including two wins over the hated, 13-3 Dallas Cowboys.
The season ended ice cold on the Frozen Tundra, when the Packers shelled them in the first round of the playoffs. But there’s little sense that the Giants are any worse this year. And when you consider they added Marshall to an already-potent offense that filled its only obvious void at a skill position — tight end — the Big Blue sky is the limit.
Eli Manning hasn’t missed a game since Pop Warner. Odell Beckham Jr. will either be the best or second-best wideout in the game, depending on what Antonio Brown (or perhaps Julio Jones) does in 2017. Sterling Shepard will only improve.
Marshall is also someone who can devour balls across the middle, as Beckham stretches the defense deep. If the 2015 version of Marshall materializes, the Giants will be almost impossible to defend. Especially if they have anything resembling a robust running game.
For decades, the passing game was predicated on the running game. You grind chunks of yards on the ground, until the pre-snap defense inches forward, then fling the football over the top. Now, the reverse makes up modern football. You soften the defense with precise passing, then run traps, draws or just toward the ample gaps in nickel or other passing defenses.
They’ll need it. For a team that all but coined the term “smashmouth football” the Giants were an eyesore on the ground last year. Their entire backfield gained 1,412 rushing yards, which was 29th out of 32 NFL clubs. (Or about 200 less than Ezekiel Elliott gained in his rookie season.) The Giants averaged 3.5 yards per rush, which ranked 30th. And they scored an embarrassing six touchdowns on the ground. You’d never know this was a franchise that, at various moments in history, had Tom Coughlin, Bill Parcells and Vince Lombardi calling the plays.
While it would have been quite incongruous to say this five or so years ago, Marshall, who just turned 33, brings maturity to a receiving corps that has longed for some mentoring. Few receivers can relate to Beckham as well as Marshall can, as he was Beckham eight years ago — a wild and wildly gifted colt who just needed the right training and teaching, who played insanely well but also to the edge of insanity.
In a sense, the Giants are getting Marshall at a perfect time. Other than a few statistical milestones, he has never been more selfless or singularly dedicated to that brass ring.
Or in this case, a Super Bowl ring.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel