John Mara and Giants turn down opportunity to evolve by retaining GM Dave Gettleman

Pat Leonard, New York Daily News

The Giants sadly will never change.

We know that better now than ever.

Last January’s hiring of Joe Judge as head coach provided a glimmer of hope that co-owner John Mara finally had recognized that the so-called Giant Way was broken and it was time to graduate to a new approach.

But Mara’s official announcement on Wednesday that he is retaining GM Dave Gettleman for a fourth season undoes that hope. It indicates Mara and the Giants never will stray too far from what’s comfortable.

Instead of evolving his front office into the future, Mara is folding Judge’s tenure back under the veil of the Giants’ past.

“There’s no defending the record. There’s no defending that at all. We haven’t won enough games,” Mara said of Gettleman’s 15-33 overall mark and 6-10 season. “We made some miscalculations in 2018 with some of our personnel decisions. But I think the last two years, particularly this year, we’ve seen significant improvement. And I just felt like to break that up and to bring in somebody new from the outside was not gonna be beneficial.”

While Mara sat on his hands this hiring cycle, the Houston Texans landed Patriots personnel czar Nick Caserio, a potential great fit with his longtime New England colleague Judge.

We’ll never know.

Worse was Mara’s insistence that “I really didn’t contemplate” a change at GM and his flippant response when asked for a formal announcement that Gettleman was coming back.

“Well, he is coming back, if you want a formal announcement about that,” Mara said with a laugh. “I don’t think there was any particular reason that we didn’t make a formal announcement.”

“But I think the way Dave and Joe worked together; I thought our personnel decisions were really sound this year,” Mara continued. “I feel better about our roster than I have in years, and I think the two of them working together have started the building process into something that can have sustained success.”

Mara granted that “I certainly didn’t feel very good midway through the season. We were sitting here at 1-7. I kept thinking that I’m seeing a team that’s practicing hard. I’m seeing a good attitude out there. Nobody’s quitting. But where are the results? Where are the results?”

But once Judge’s team rattled off four straight wins from Weeks 9-13, Mara decided an improved locker room plus “the fact we did go 5-3 in the second half of the season” gave him “some reason for optimism.”

“Obviously we need to do better,” Mara said.

Mara said he knows fans are tired of hearing him ask for their patience but said “I feel like that’s the only thing I can do right now.”

“I am gonna ask them to be patient again,” he said. “I know it’s a tough ask. I know they’re tired of hearing me say that. But I am sincere in the belief that we are making progress here.”

Mara is cherry-picking evidence to support his predetermined conclusion, though.

He chooses to say the Giants finished 5-3 instead of saying they finished 1-3, nearly losing four straight games to finish the year.

Far more alarming, Mara and Gettleman brought some revisionist history to support their argument: While making frequent references to Gettleman’s 2018 personnel mistakes — is that an admission they screwed up with Eli Manning? — they endorsed 2019 as a success.

Five of Gettleman’s 10 draft picks in 2019 aren’t even on the team: DeAndre Baker, Ryan Connelly, Corey Ballentine, George Asafo-Adjei and Chris Slayton. Gettleman apparently is receiving no blame for trading up to acquire Baker in the first round.

Baker’s charges being dropped in an alleged May 12 armed robbery does not mean he was innocent. If he hadn’t done anything wrong this offseason, the Giants wouldn’t have released him with no interest in bringing him back.

“Obviously we had no clue that DeAndre could get in that kind of issue,” said Gettleman, a scout by trade who missed wildly on his evaluations of both Baker the person and player.

The spring of 2019 also was when Gettleman traded Odell Beckham Jr. and signed free agent Golden Tate. Gettleman cited quarterback Daniel Jones and defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence as evidence of that year’s personnel moves working out.

Jones threw 11 touchdown passes this past season. Lawrence has been OK so far.

Hilariously, Gettleman said “a goal of ours” for this offseason is “getting playmakers” on offense. This is a GM who traded Beckham, whose top three picks all have been on offense — Saquon Barkley, Jones and Andrew Thomas — and whose offense finished 31st in yards and points in 2020.

It is unthinkable that Jones threw 11 TD passes this season and yet the Giants are not searching for a new quarterback or GM. It says everything about the Giants that they are sticking with both.

It must be hard for Gettleman to keep track of all his stories these last few years.

In 2018, the Giants were going to turn everything around and win with Eli. Very quickly the GM’s party line changed and said this was a rebuild all along. The team went 5-11.

In 2019, Beckham’s trade was the headline of culture-building changes that were supposed to win more games. Gettleman tried to rebuild on the fly while he won. In Week 3, the Giants benched Manning for Jones. They went 4-12 and fired head coach Pat Shurmur.

Now the Giants’ version of events is that 2018 went badly but that 2019 was a good start. Gettleman also insisted that he “hit on the draft picks” in 2020, of which there is no evidence from the rookie class that took the field for the Giants this past season.

Thomas alone did not come out looking like the correct pick ahead of the Browns’ Jedrick Wills Jr., the Jets’ Mekhi Becton and the Bucs’ Tristan Wirfs.

At quarterback, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert are all clearly superior players to the Giants’ Jones.

The most abhorrent mantra Mara repeated frequently on Wednesday, though, was that “I think the quality of people that we have in the locker room has improved a great deal.”

This is an idea Mara and the Giants won’t let go: that many of the players who led the franchise to its only playoff appearance in the last eight seasons in 2016 were not good enough people.

Were there locker room issues in Ben McAdoo’s 2017 season? Sure there were. But Mara was complicit going back to 2016, as he knows.

And this is a high horse it seems the Giants will never dismount: the idea that Gettleman and the organization now have a better feel of what makes a true Giant, a person that belongs here.

Baker, Gettleman’s first-round pick, is another stain on this franchise. The GM re-signed or retained players like Janoris Jenkins and Aldrick Rosas. Both were jettisoned for off-field discretions. Tate was suspended four games for PED use last season and a game this season for showing up his team.

One of Gettleman’s best offseason signings, corner James Bradberry, might have cost his team a playoff berth by irresponsibly seeing an outside chiropractor who turned out to be COVID-19 positive. The Giants were helpless in a Week 15 loss to the Browns without Bradberry in their secondary.

How do the Giants draw the line on what kind of person is acceptable here? The answer is that the decision is arbitrary. The decision is Mara’s.

The encouraging developments of Wednesday were few.

It was refreshing to hear Mara say that “we didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs at 6-10” and to blame his own team, not the tanking Philadelphia Eagles, for failing to get in. It was good to see Gettleman pass on an opportunity to say I told you so on his Leonard Williams acquisition.

Mara also put Gettleman on some notice for 2021, saying “it (can’t be) another six-win season or something like that. We need to win more games.”

That ultimatum rings hollow, however, after this decision to retain Gettleman.

This decision reinforces that the Giants are not interested in becoming something other than what they are. And what they are, sadly, is stuck in the past.