Giants’ Dave Gettleman decision can’t hinge on Week 17 result

Pat Leonard, New York Daily News

John Mara and Steve Tisch can’t make their decision on Dave Gettleman based on what happens in the Giants’ regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Giants’ co-owners have to know by now whether they have seen progress worthy of retaining their GM or if the final straw is a third straight season of 10 or more losses under Gettleman — and four consecutive for the organization as a whole.

It would be poor process to judge Gettleman differently depending on whether this team finishes 6-10 with a division title, 6-10 and out of the playoffs, 5-11 in third place, or 5-11 in last.

The Giants still can win the NFC East with a win over the Cowboys and a Washington loss to Philadelphia on Sunday night. They also still can finish in last place in one of the worst divisions in NFL history with a loss and an Eagles win.

The Giants would have been eliminated already if they were in any other division in pro football.

Making the playoffs and posting a 4-2 division record undoubtedly would put a smile on Mara’s face anyway. It would mark the first time since 2016 under Ben McAdoo that the Giants made the playoffs and finished above .500 in the division.

It would be their first NFC East crown since 2011, snapping years-long skids to both the Eagles and Cowboys in the process.

Still, Gettleman has a 14-33 record entering Sunday, including at best a 6-10 record in his third season, with a team that is averaging 8.6 points per game in a current three-game losing streak.

Those bleak realities don’t change with any result Sunday or inspire confidence that the organization has improved dramatically since Gettleman took over in Dec. 2017.

The rationale for keeping Gettleman might be that the organization believes in Daniel Jones, the quarterback Gettleman drafted sixth overall in 2019, and considers this year’s free agent class a stepping stone to building a talented and deep team.

Retaining Gettleman also would mean ownership felt comfortable letting Gettleman make a potential fourth consecutive top six selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.

That would be interesting, considering Gettleman spent his first pick in all three drafts on offense, and the Giants in his third season still have the NFL’s second worst offense (17.1).

The truth is Joe Judge and his staff have been coaching around the team’s personnel deficiencies all season, including an offensive line Gettleman vowed to fix but is nowhere close.

Center Nick Gates is the only obvious bright spot on the line outside of rookie left tackle Andrew Thomas’ upside. This is due to several Gettleman swings and misses in free agency, trades, and the draft, starting with 2018 free agents Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh.

Right tackle Cam Fleming isn’t a starter or building block. Right guard Kevin Zeitler’s big contract isn’t worth keeping around. Guard Will Hernandez, a Gettleman 2019 second-round pick, is a young player who needs work. So is rookie guard Shane Lemieux. Rookie tackle Matt Peart is a project.

Gettleman traded away Odell Beckham Jr. and replaced him with Golden Tate. Saquon Barkley, out for the season, is a big-play hitter with flaws that must improve. Wideout Darius Slayton, a fifth-round hit out of Auburn, has come back down to earth, though it appears he isn’t healthy.

On defense, the Giants have no elite edge rusher talent, no depth, just as they didn’t when Gettleman got here. Veteran Jabaal Sheard thought his career might be over and instead signed midseason with the Giants and has averaged 31 snaps the last five weeks.

The defensive line is supposed to be the team’s strength, and they just gave up 249 rushing yards to the Ravens. Leonard Williams has had a good season in a contract year, but last fall’s midseason trade for him was poor process and asset management.

This year’s free agent signings of James Bradberry and Blake Martinez were direct hits. Gettleman deserves credit for them and for acquiring punter Riley Dixon in a 2018 trade from Denver and for signing kicker Graham Gano this summer. Judge’s recruitment of Logan Ryan added leadership and talent, too.

But Gettleman’s rampant misses in the secondary on DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal, Corey Ballentine, Grant Haley, Curtis Riley, Antoine Bethea and many more left this year’s coaches grasping at straws. Defensive coordinator Pat Graham came in here with a man-to-man scheme and plays more zone than anyone would have imagined to try and maximize what they have.

Summer trade acquisition Isaac Yiadom has developed pretty well, but the young corner was overmatched and slipping off tackles in Baltimore. Rookie seventh-round linebacker Tae Crowder is athletic but wouldn’t be starting on defense on most teams.

The Giants are leaning heavily on players late in the season that they had nearly phased out early in the season, such as running back Wayne Gallman (healthy scratch in Week 2) and safety Julian Love (zero defensive snaps in Week 5).

Gallman and Love have value and have made meaningful contributions, especially Gallman during that four-game winning streak. The point is simply that they were tabbed for a much lower position on the depth chart but are lead dogs in many weeks for this team.

(Come to think of it, the Giants’ three best offensive skill players are all Jerry Reese draft picks: Gallman, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard).

Not that there isn’t blame to go around for the coaching staff, too.

Judge took a couple risks lately that didn’t pan out: He played an immobile Jones in a 26-7 loss to Arizona, and the QB hurt his ankle on top of his strained hamstring. And the coach called a fake field goal early against the Browns that failed in a 20-6 defeat.

Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s play-calling was not giving this team a chance to score enough points until at least week four in Dallas. And resting squarely on Garrett’s and Jones’ shoulders are the Giants’ 31st-ranked red zone offense (45% TDs) and Jones’ startling poor numbers: 10 total TDs to 14 turnovers in 13 games.

The bloom is off the rose on Graham, meanwhile, after his game plans the last two weeks against the Browns and Ravens both fell short of satisfactory.

He loaded up to stop the Browns’ run game, but Baker Mayfield picked apart the Giants’ zone defense downfield with ease and found little resistance. In Baltimore, Graham played inside linebackers Crowder and David Mayo on the edges, and the Ravens attacked inside those edges in the run game and threw the ball easily facing no pressure until some late adjustments.

Middle linebacker Blake Martinez made a shocking admission that the Giants’ defensive players had been out of position pre-snap whenever Baltimore motioned or shifted. Judge mentioned twice that he wished the defense had aborted its plan for the Ravens sooner.

Coincidence or not, the outside linebacker position had been the responsibility of Bret Bielema, but he left the team Dec. 12 to take a head coaching job at the University of Illinois.

Still, in Graham’s defense, his top player Bradberry was out for the Browns game due to COVID protocols, so he was simply trying to limit the bleeding. He couldn’t stop it with years of poor drafting and signings leaving the cupboard bare.

In Garrett’s defense, he has coached around a turnover-prone quarterback. In Judge’s defense, this roster is in the very beginning stages of a rebuild, and the first-year coach’s ability to instill resilience and belief in a 1-7 team to keep them relevant into Week 17 means something.

The Giants’ standards as an organization need to be loftier, however, than being content with where they stand. They need to honestly assess their roster and their process the past three years, and a win or loss on Sunday should not impact their conclusion.

There are a handful of promising pieces here. There is an opportunity to build something from the ground up. But this is still only the beginning. The question is with an opportunity to largely start fresh, does ownership still think Gettleman is the right man for the job?

Whatever the answer is, they should already know it.