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Take all the new analytics and toss them to the side here. We are going to deal with batting average, pure and simple. How many times did he take a swing and how many times did he get a hit?
“Now batting, number 69 [years old], Dave Gettleman, number 69.’’
There is no real need to go back and, once again, cite every at-bat for Gettleman since he arrived, three years ago this week, as general manager. Giants ownership one year ago determined Gettleman’s body of work in his first two seasons was sturdy enough for him to stay, despite a record of 9-23. He stayed on the job, with definitive marching orders.
“He does know the batting average has got to increase going forward,’’ co-owner John Mara said following the 2019 season. “We need to win more games and Dave knows that.’’
This is a double-edged evaluation. The batting average tally is made up of many different elements — the NFL draft, free agency, the selection of a new head coach. The winning of games is right there in black and white. The Giants are 5-10 heading into their final game of the regular season, still alive for first place in a division, the NFC East, that could produce the worst team ever (record-wise) to finish on top and go to the playoffs.
The Giants get to 6-10 if they beat the Cowboys on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, which would be a slight improvement from Gettleman’s 5-11 and 4-12 his first two years. How qualifying for the postseason — the Giants are in if they win and Washington gets beaten by the Eagles — factors in is anyone’s guess. It certainly feels as if snapping a three-game losing streak, beating a despised rival and then hosting a playoff game would be the sort of feel-good start to 2021 that allows ownership to view the franchise as headed in the right direction, despite the losing record.
Lest we forget, when Mara announced he and Steve Tisch were firing head coach Pat Shurmur and retaining Gettleman, the explanation focused on giving Gettleman “a chance to finish what he has started, which includes so many changes in this organization that people really don’t know about.’’
Gettleman behind the scenes already implemented sweeping change in the organization, notably an upgrade to the analytics department and an overhaul of the way scouts grade college players. His first two years were deemed worthy of a third crack at it, with tangible signs of progress needed for him to return for year No. 4.
Are there enough signs? Let the exploration begin.
Just as it is fair to say Gettleman took a hit for the hiring of Shurmur, it is equally fair to say he gets points for the hiring of Joe Judge. In truth, these are not “general manager hires.’’ They are organizational hires. Mara was in every interview, alongside Gettleman. Kevin Abrams, the assistant general manager, is often in the room. Tisch during the process always meets with the candidates. Remember, Gettleman does not sign the checks here. But anyone discounting Gettleman’s involvement with the hiring of Judge is out to get Gettleman or does not understand how the Giants operate.
Bringing in a first-time head coach amid a global pandemic was a challenge no one could have anticipated. Every team had to deal with it, although not every team was forced to install all-new systems in this environment.
There are no indications Gettleman and Judge are having problems in their burgeoning relationship. They see football the same way, which is a big plus. As far as a theory floating out there that “Gettleman will be back only if Judge wants him back,’’ forget it. That is not the way this operation works.
Gettleman’s first two drafts are a mixed bag and ownership obviously did not have a problem with taking a running back, Saquon Barkley, with the second pick in 2018. That cornerback DeAndre Baker, taken at No. 30 overall in 2019, was arrested (and later exonerated) and is no longer with the team is a blow. It is too early to tell much about the 2020 class. Left tackle Andrew Thomas, an immediate starter, has experienced ups and downs but there are encouraging signs, though he might never be as good as Tristan Wirfs (taken nine spots after Thomas by the Buccaneers) or the Jets’ Mekhi Becton (if he can stay healthy). There is a chance the Giants get five starters out of this crop: Andrews, safety Xavier McKinney, tackle Matt Peart, cornerback Darnay Holmes and guard Shane Lemieux. Will Hernandez, taken in the second round in 2018, was demoted to the bench this season, replaced by Lemieux, and that is not encouraging. The team is not ready to bail on Hernandez, though, and he could reemerge as a starter, with Lemieux, in 2021 if Kevin Zeitler’s price tag ($14.5 million cap hit) is unmanageable.
This is part of the draft evaluation, of course, but deserves its own category. Gettleman stuck his neck out by taking Daniel Jones at No. 6 and two years in, there is no definitive answer whether Jones is indeed the rightful heir to Eli Manning’s throne. Jones after a promising rookie year regressed badly. The front office staunchly believes in him, pointing to how Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield blossomed in their third seasons. If Jones did more in 2020 it seems as if Gettleman would be secure, as his legacy is tied to his handpicked quarterback. If the Giants are indeed completely bullish on Jones, the loyalty is based more on Jones as a person and athlete and less on his actual production on the field. It should not be lost on anyone that Judge loves Jones and that counts for something, when considering Gettleman’s fate.
Gettleman made his mark in the organization years ago with his Zen-like ability to find talent around the league, talent that meshed expertly into the Giants’ roster. His work this season is far better than the previous two. James Bradberry, Blake Martinez and Logan Ryan are big wins for Gettleman, as all three are fixtures on defense now and into the future. Gettleman had a conviction on Leonard Williams, gave away two draft picks to get him and, after a sensational season, there are far worse situations to be in than the need to find a big enough bundle of money to pay a most-deserving player. The way Gettleman kept the price down on Ryan on a one-year deal and then rewarded him once he proved himself was textbook handling of a veteran player. Kyler Fackrell was also a nice addition. The Giants have no doubt Gettleman still commands his touch when it comes to identifying what a quality player looks like.
Prior to this season, Mara hearkened back to his late father, team patriarch Wellington Mara, in defining what a successful season feels like. That is the key — feels like. Is the arrow pointing up or down?
“I want to feel like when we walk off the field after the last game, whenever that is, that we have the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl and that the combination of people we have here is going to work going forward,’’ Mara said in early September. “We need to feel like we’re building something that is going to compete for a championship. If we are able to play meaningful games in December, that would be a sign that we are doing that.”
This is a fascinating study. After compiling a four-game winning streak, the Giants set themselves up for meaningful games through Thanksgiving and Christmas and will play a meaningful game in early January. Meaningful, of course, only because of the sad state of affairs in the division. Is 5-10 no more than 5-10, regardless of the anomalous playoff implications?
There will not be anyone in the seats at MetLife Stadium as the Giants battle for their playoff lives against the Cowboys. Mara will be there, though. There is no doubt he believes his Giants are building something. As far as having the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl? That is quite a stretch.
Gettleman turns 70 on Feb. 21. There are some rumblings around the league he is thinking about retiring, but those closest to him are not hearing that. Soon enough, it all gets sorted out.
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