By Jason Keidel
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Just two years ago, the Giants spent a first-round draft pick on Ohio State’s Eli Apple, a blue-chip, supposedly shutdown corner who, when paired with up-and-comer Landon Collins, would help lead a defensive revival. Add defensive free agent signings Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison, and the G-Men morphed into an 11-5 club, an instant Super Bowl contender and a group with a blinding future.
Today, just 20 months later, it seems Apple’s career in NYC is over, with him limping out of Gotham looking much more like the Penguin than Batman. A team source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that Apple’s career in the Meadowlands is over. The exact words: “Dude is done with NYG. Done”
Another report asserts that since Apple was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team Wednesday, the Giants will look into voiding Apple’s guaranteed money and cut his dead cap hit in half.
All this stems from a sprawling list of transgressions, all attitudinal, from vulgar language to reporters, to reports that Apple “had to be restrained” during a beef with cornerbacks coach Tim Walton, to refusing to work with the scout team, to being fined by the NFL for using social media during a game, to twice considering walking out on the club.
The aggregate disregard for team rules and team unity, led the team’s defensive leader and perhaps the club’s best player (now that Odell Beckham Jr. is injured), Landon Collins, to call Apple a “cancer.” Collins later retracted the statement and apologized, but likely just to wipe the P.R. egg off his face.
But perhaps a keen football eye could have seen this coming long before it ended up on Page Six. Indeed, the way Apple was covered by the local media was a bit odd from the jump.
It was with some surprise when, eager to read up on Big Blue’s big first-round draft pick, I cracked open The New York Times in April 2016 and read a feature on … Apple’s mother. She’s not only her son’s biggest fan, she also moved to the area to help build her son’s brand.
You never knock a man’s mom. Since we all have one, we all know how moms roll. No matter how old we get, they see us as their 5-year-old cubs. They ask if we’re still wearing a scarf and gloves (especially Thursday), if we’re eating right, dating a nice girl and have a good job. But at some point, all moms must realize there’s a time to ease into the background, to do the mothering from a proper distance. And now Apple’s mom is suffering from cancer, which can only add to whatever emotional alchemy that made him so personally troubled this year. Not that family illness is a passport to professional immaturity, but heavy hearts impact everyone, even pro football players and first-round draft picks.
You rarely read a story where a great athlete reached the apex of his sport by standing on his parents’ shoulders. If you need a current, cultural reference, just look at how well LaVar Ball is doing with his three boys, one of whom was just jailed in China for shoplifting and needed President Donald Trump to guide him safely home. The Lakers have already urged Papa Ball to keep his coaching to AAU, not the NBA. Magic Johnson may love the way young Lonzo Ball passes the ball, but not the way LaVar passes the buck.
Still, Apple is an adult, old enough to own his decisions, actions and mistakes. And so far it’s looked like Apple has flexed a finger at everyone but himself. When terms like “cancer” are floated about, rescinded or not, you’ve got a toxic locker room. It doesn’t take much for a mutinous locker room to crack, especially when the team is 2-13, arguably the Giants’ worst season since the 1970s.
And when you’ve underperformed to the Giants’ subterranean levels, the last person who should be running his mouth is the second-year player who has far from lived up to his first-round status. We’ve long known that the farther a player lines up from the ball, the more loquacious and flamboyant he is. Apple lives on that gridiron island, along with the wide receivers he covers, where he gets little help and all mistakes are magnified because they are so potentially dangerous.
Apple may indeed stay on that football island, but he will surely be booted from that island so many successful athletes call home — Manhattan.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel