EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The real work for the New York Giants begins now, six weeks after they played their final game. And there is a lot of work to be done.
The holes on the roster that translated to a six-win season (and fourth straight losing year) aren't going to fill themselves. And it won't be possible to make all the repairs in NFL free agency, or even with the help of this year's NFL draft.
The Giants are in the infantile stages of a multiyear rebuild, even if they aren't likely to admit as much publicly. Call it Year 2, maybe even 2 1/2. If the final few weeks of the 2020 season told us anything -- when they were blown out by the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens -- it's that they're not anywhere near Super Bowl contention.
"So far away from [the playoff teams] right now, it's not even close," a league source with knowledge of the Giants' roster recently told ESPN.
The franchise is in such a precarious position. It can't go after a quarterback such as Houston's Deshaun Watson (if he's even available) because it doesn't have the roster or the assets to make such a move. Not unless Watson can throw, catch and run it all by his lonesome without the help from a sufficient offensive line, defense and the necessary playmakers.
The Giants are out on Watson or any other quarterback this offseason. They are fully committed to Daniel Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Jones is their guy, multiple team and league sources reiterated to ESPN over the past few weeks. And while the organization's brass, from the top down, believes Jones has what it takes to be a successful upper-echelon quarterback, they are knowingly taking this leap of faith with their fingers crossed after inconsistent results during his first two professional seasons.
If Jones and the QB position were the Giants' only concern, a path to immediate success would be more realistic. But it's not. The Giants desperately need a No. 1 wide receiver, a game-changing edge rusher, another starting cornerback and an offensive tackle. These are all premium positions in which quality players cost significant money or draft assets, neither of which the Giants have in excess. New York currently has one pick in each of the first five rounds and two in the sixth. Nothing extraordinary. The Giants also need to add depth to a roster that was better at the bottom this past season.
"We're far from a finished product," Giants owner John Mara said after the season. "There are a lot more pieces that we need here. But I think we're in much better shape now than we were a year ago."
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Maybe so, but the Giants are admittedly paying for their past indiscretions, including the infamous 2018 offseason. They are also still trying to fill positions (edge rusher and WR1) with players like the ones they exiled in a culture cleanse that didn't exactly lead to wins amid its talent shortage.
The Giants at least appear to be trending in the right direction now. It will be important for the organization to not misjudge its own talent or be fooled by a glimmer of success -- a problem in the past.
"We're definitely on the right track. I'd like to believe finishing -- starting at the 1-7 -- we finished 6-10. We finished 5-3 over the last eight games," Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said after the season. "There are a lot arrows pointing up for us. We'll have a good season, a good roster building season right now and we'll feel a lot better. We're getting there."
Gettleman will start the offseason with some salary shedding. Wide receiver Golden Tate (owed $8.5 million in 2021) is an obvious cost-cutter, and the team still needs to sit down with offensive tackle Nate Solder after he opted out this past year. It seems more likely than not, given the $16.5 million cap hit, Solder doesn't return to the Giants next season. The Giants also might look to renegotiate the deal of veteran guard Kevin Zeitler.
Key decisions will need to be made on the Giants' own free agents. Re-signing defensive lineman Leonard Williams is their top priority, but that won't come cheap. The Giants paid him $16.1 million on the franchise tag last year off a half-sack season. What's his price now after an 11.5-sack campaign? It's surely much higher and likely near the $20 million range.
They also would like defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to return, but at what price? Tomlinson could command in the range of $10 million per year. That could be hard for the Giants to absorb combined with Williams' price tag and so many other premium positions still unfilled.
The Giants' most likely route appears to be prioritizing quantity over top-shelf quality. Consider last year when the Giants avoided big-name splash signings in lieu of a bevy of solid, but not headline-stealing moves. Cornerback James Bradberry and middle linebacker Blake Martinez worked out exceptionally well. Safety Logan Ryan was a steal. Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell and right tackle Cam Fleming were quality value.
And this year more than most, there will be value in free agency. A decrease in the salary cap, estimated to be around $180 million, will inevitably make more quality veterans available. The expectation around the league is this is where the Giants will strike most.
In the big picture, not much has changed for the Giants. They still have a young, unproven quarterback with a roster that needs massive upgrading.
The Giants, in the midst of a rebuild, are still miles away from being the Super Bowl contender they desire to be.