Last week New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese had a press conference addressing the Giants poor start to the 2017 season. During the press conference he took the blame for the 1-6 start. Predictably, the days following the press conference, scores of articles and blog posts from fans and beat writers alike came pouring in, burying Reese and calling for his job. When a team has high expectations like the Giants did this past off-season and they fail to even come close to being lived up to, someone is going to get blamed. However, the man being blamed is not the right man.

Drafting

Reese has been killed on Twitter and via articles for his drafting. Whether it be the longevity of his or performance of his draft picks. Unfortunately, bad football stats are more contagious than a virus and just as hard to make go away. Reese has had some bad drafts, but over his 11-year career he has proven to be one of the better general managers in the War Room.

First Round Pick Productivity

While you’d like every draft pick to be productive, general managers are tied to their first round picks. To accurately gauge if a first round draft pick has been successful in the league, the player would have needed to play for at least two years, but more accurately three to four. Here are the first round picks Reese has drafted from 2007 – 2015.

To accurately judge success based on draft position there needs to be a few guidelines. If a player is taken in the top ten of a draft, then the ceiling for that player is at the peak of his career he should be considered among the elite at his position. At the very least, he is expected to be a Pro Bowl level talent.

If a player is taken in the first round outside the top ten then the ceiling for that player is at the peak of his career to be an All-Pro level talent. At the very least, he is expected to be a good starter at his position.

Looking through this list, it should be obvious how good Reese has been in the first round. Of his eight first round picks outside the top ten, every one of them has met the minimum requirement. Even David Wilson, who had his career ended in his second season due to a terrible neck injury, reached his minimum. Many people forgot that Wilson was an All-Pro kick returner in his first year and was looking like a good starter for the Giants until his career tragically ended. Of the eight players, two of them, Beckham and Pierre-Paul, have excelled and have been considered elite at the peak of their performance.

Only one player has yet to live up to expectations, and that is the only player who Reese took in the top ten: Ereck Flowers. Flowers has been put through the ringer the last couple of years. It was well known that Flowers had a high ceiling but was going to need time before becoming the Giants starting left tackle. Here is  Flowers’ draft profile by WalterFootball.com’s senior draft analyst Charlie Campbell for reference. However, he didn’t get the time he needed to properly develop to the fault of no one. Will Beatty, the Giants left tackle going into the season, tore his pectoral muscle and then his rotator cuff in the same season. He never became the player he once was. This forced Flowers over to the left side and he has not performed well. Yet, this can’t be excused for Reese. It’s still a bust on his watch. There is still time for Flowers to turn it around and while it’s understandable why he hasn’t developed the way everyone thought, it still has to be considered for Reese to be fair. So how does Reese’s first round success rate compare to his peers?

Name Team 1st Round Picks Busts Success % Rnk
John Schneider SEA 4 0 100.0% T-1
Tom Telesco LAC 3 0 100.0% T-1
Jason Licht TB 2 0 100.0% T-1
Jerry Jones DAL 9 1 88.9% T-4
Jerry Reese NYG 9 1 88.9% T-4
Bill Belichick NE 8 1 87.5% 6
Kevin Colbert PIT 6 1 83.3% 7
Rick Smith HOU 9 2 77.8% 8
Rick Spielman MIN 8 2 75.0% 9
Ozzie Newsome BAL 7 2 71.4% 10
Thomas Dimitroff ATL 6 2 66.7% T-11
Reggie McKenzie OAK 3 1 66.7% T-11
Les Snead LAR 6 2 66.7% T-11
Mike Brown CIN 10 4 60.0% T-14
Mickey Loomis NO 10 4 60.0% T-14
Ted Thompson GB 9 4 55.6% 16
Steve Keim ARI 4 2 50.0% 17
John Elway DEN 4 3 25.0% 18
David Caldwell JAC 3 3 0.0% 19

Of general managers and decision makers who have had the same position since 2014 (the Eagles Howie Roseman is not in the exercise due to the one year when Chip Kelly had full control of the roster), he ranks tied for fourth. What’s more impressive, if you push that back to people who have had the same position since 2010, he’d be tied for second with only Seattle’s John Schneider ahead of him. So much for his draft picks underperforming.

Draft Pick Longevity and Retention

This has been probably the biggest knock against his drafting. All over Twitter you see the same complaint. Reese has almost no one left that he drafted between 2010 – 2013. Factually, that is correct. Reese did go through a down period in those years. But it’s not as bad as many critics would have you believe.

Name Team 10-13 Picks 10-13 Picks Left 10-13 Ret. Rnk
Mike Brown CIN 37 11 29.7% 1
Jerry Jones DAL 28 8 28.6% 2
Thomas Dimitroff ATL 27 7 25.9% 3
Kevin Colbert PIT 35 8 22.9% 4
Rick Smith HOU 34 7 20.6% 5
John Schneider SEA 39 8 20.5% 6
Bill Belichick NE 35 7 20.0% 7
Ted Thompson GB 36 7 19.4% 8
Mickey Loomis NO 22 4 18.2% 9
Ozzie Newsome BAL 33 3 9.1% 10
Jerry Reese NYG 29 2 6.9% 11

He ranks dead last in terms of general managers and decision makers who have held the same position since 2010. Although this looks bad, what do five of the bottom six have in common? All of them have won Super Bowls since the 2010 draft, while only one of the top five has even appeared in Super Bowl since 2010. How can it be that teams with such a low retention rate have won Super Bowls during that time? The result seems to be pretty simple. According to a Sports Illustrated article in 2016, the average career of a NFL player is now just over two and half years. It’s reasonable to think that you can only expect to get three good years at the most from non-Top 50 draft picks. That thinking obviously applies to Reese. Although he only has two players from those drafts on his roster now, 55.2 percent of them made it through three years. Over his career, 63.3 percent of his draft picks make it through three years with the club. What it seems like he is doing is that he’s drafting players, getting the most out of them in three years and then drafting new players to replace them. If that’s the case then he would be need to be near the top of the retention rate for more recent drafts.

Name Team ’14-’17 Picks ’14-’17 Left Retention Rnk
Ted Thompson GB 34 28 82.4% 1
Tom Telesco LAC 26 21 80.8% 2
John Elway DEN 31 25 80.6% 3
Jerry Reese NYG 25 20 80.0% 4
Reggie McKenzie OAK 34 27 79.4% 5
Ozzie Newsome BAL 36 28 77.8% 6
Mike Brown CIN 35 27 77.1% 7
David Caldwell JAC 31 23 74.2% 8
Rick Smith HOU 30 22 73.3% 9
Thomas Dimitroff ATL 28 20 71.4% 10
Steve Keim ARI 27 19 70.4% 11
Jerry Jones DAL 35 23 65.7% 12
Jason Licht TB 26 17 65.4% 13
Kevin Colbert PIT 32 20 62.5% 14
Les Snead LAR 34 21 61.8% 15
John Schneider SEA 38 23 60.5% 16
Mickey Loomis NO 27 16 59.3% 17
Rick Spielman MIN 39 23 59.0% 18
Bill Belichick NE 33 18 54.5% 19

It seems that’s exactly what is happening. When compared to general managers and decision makers who have had the same position since 2014, he ranks fourth in retention percentage of draft picks from 2014-2017 on the current day roster (as of Thursday 10/26/2017). Also at the top of the list is Green Bay’s Ted Thompson and Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome, both of whom are known for building through the draft and both were at the bottom of the 2010-2013 chart.

The people screaming that the 2010-2013 drafts are the reason for the Giants performance are wrong. In a league where the average career is only two and half years, to expect a good team to have a high percentage of players they drafted from eight seasons ago would be absurd.

Free Agency

The other knock on Reese is his lack of aggressiveness in the 2017 free agent offensive line pool of players. As previously mentioned, the Giants, like the Packers and Ravens, build through the draft. Yet, that doesn’t stop them from occasionally throwing some money at high level talent to help their team, just like the Giants did in 2016. That year, Reese brought in Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. All three of them became All-Pros in their first year with the team. As expected, after a year of high spending, the Giants were not in the best position to be among the most aggressive clubs in free agency. Despite that, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com wrote an article saying that the Giants did have enough cap room to pursue big name talents like Andrew Whitworth. He runs through the names the Giants signed in the offseason which are listed below.

Player Pos. ‘17 Cap Hit Contract Years Total Amount
Brandon Marshall WR $4,468,750 2 $11,000,000
DJ Fluker G $3,000,000 1 $3,000,000
Keenan Robinson OLB $3,000,000 1 $3,000,000
Rhett Ellison TE $2,250,000 4 $18,000,000
John Jerry G $1,750,000 3 $10,000,000

(Contract Details from overthecap.com)

The players that have been commonly listed ones that the Giants should have gone after are below.

Player Pos. ‘17 Cap Hit Contract Years Total Amount
Andrew Whitworth LT $9,166,666 3 $33,750,000
Russell Okung LT $6,000,000 4 $53,000,000
Ricky Wagner RT $5,900,000 5 $47,500,000
Kelvin Beachum LT $5,000,000 3 $24,000,000
Riley Reiff LT $8,500,000 5 $58,750,000
Kevin Zeitler G $8,400,000 5 $60,000,000
TJ Lang G $5,869,791 3 $28,500,000
Larry Warford G $3,800,000 4 $34,000,000

The first thing to do is to eliminate the players from this list who wouldn’t have helped the Giants at all. The only thing worse than having a poor O-line, is having poor O-line and paying them like they should be elite. As Pro Football Focus New York Giants media correspondent Ryan Smith said on Last Word on Sports Radio’s “The Big Apple Sports Hour” on Wednesday “some guys that have been some of (Pro Football Focus’) lowest graded offensive tackles were getting ludicrous contracts (in the 2017 offseason).”

Off the bat, Russell Okung, Kelvin Beachum and Riley Reiff are not worth the contracts they received. All three players are currently ranked between 25-31 on Pro Football Focus’ offensive tackle grade chart. The next player to be eliminated would be Ricky Wagner. Although Wagner is absolutely deserving of his contract, the Giants need a left tackle, not a right tackle. The ideal situation would be to get a new left tackle and move Flowers over to the right side where he was meant to go in the first place. Then the Giants would have Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg at one guard spot and the center spot, both of whom have played excellent at those positions. The final guard spot would be between Bobby Hart, who would probably work better inside, or someone else from free agency. Signing Wagner wouldn’t help the Giants in this situation.

Neither would any of the guards. Although all three are good players, and all three are making a lot of money for a non-critical position. Critical positions are quarterback, left tackle, edge rushers and cornerbacks. Kevin Zeitler’s cap hit would make him the seventh highest paid player on this year’s team. His 2018 cap hit of $12.4 million would make him the fifth highest paid player on the 2018 Giants. That’s way too high for a guard, especially one from outside the organization and one who has not had any Pro Bowls or All-Pros to his name. Lang has a cap friendly contract for 2017 but his number jumps to almost $11 million in 2018. Again, that’s high for a guard, but at least Lang is Pro Bowler. The problem is he is 30 and the Giants wouldn’t have been able to cut him loose until 2019 if age started to get the better of him.

Larry Warford seems like the most logical choice for the Giants then. His 2017 cap hit of around $4 million is doable and he’s only 26. But again, his 2018 cap hit soars to $9 million in 2018. He doesn’t have any Pro Bowls or All-Pros to his name. If he was signed then there is no way the Giants could bring back Pugh who hits the market this year. Pugh and Warford have been pretty comparable in play. When deciding who to sign between someone inside the organization and someone outside the club who play at a similar level, it’s always the smarter choice to take the player who is in-house.

This just leaves Whitworth, an elite left tackle who would have been an excellent addition to the Giants. Unfortunately, this is not Madden ’18. The Giants cannot make someone sign with them just by pressing the “A” button. Whitworth knew how valuable he was and he knew he had the leverage. His contract for a 36-year-old is insane. Although it’s looking like age has yet to get to him, from a 2017 off-season perspective, investing as much as he got in his contract was a risky investment. If age did catch up to Whitworth he would have been a massive burden on the Giants. Obviously his cap hit, which would have been the fifth highest on the Giants this year, would be bad. If the Giants had to part ways with him in 2018, his dead cap space would have ranked as the 12th biggest cap hit on the 2018 season if they cut him post-June.

Obviously, in hind-sight, it looks like Reese should have done all he could to make the Whitworth deal happen, although it still might not have. Yet, to say that Whitworth is the only thing that changes the Giants from a 1-6 team to a 6-1 team would be wrong. Although many people credit Whitworth with changing things around for the Rams, Los Angeles also brought in a brand coaching staff and Sammy Watkins. Whitworth is a major piece but he is not the sole reason for the year-to-year change.

Who’s to Blame?

So if Reese isn’t to blame, who is? This year’s poor performance lands solely on Ben McAdoo and the offense. But the reason the offense is poor isn’t due to the talent. Yes, the offensive line isn’t good but every side of the ball on every club has one weakness. Good coaches have the ability to cover up weakness if the general manager gives them the right tools. The best place to look at how that is done is by looking at the defensive side of the ball for the Giants.

The Giants linebacking corps has been one of the weakest squads for almost a decade. Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had one of the best defenses last year. How did he do it with such a glaring weakness? It starts first with Reese. He knew he couldn’t turn one of the worst linebacking corps into one of the best with the players available. Instead he invested in an elite defensive line and defensive back squads. By adding All-Pro players like Olivier Vernon and Damon Harrison to the Giants existing group of Johnathan Hankins and Jason Pierre-Paul, he created a defensive line that could not be overlooked. Opposing offensive lines had to focus so much on the defensive line that it took the burden off of the Giants linebackers. On the back end, having an elite defensive back group allowed him to run more nickel packages, shrinking the amount of decent linebackers the Giants needed. Unfortunately, injuries to have led to this group not being as effective in 2017. However, the formula is there.

On the offensive side, it was essentially the same thing. Reese knew he couldn’t overhaul this offensive line in one move. No matter who the Giants added, Flowers and Hart would still be starting somewhere on this line. Instead Reese invested in athletic, quick players who would be able to spread out opposing defenses. Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard were already on the roster and fit the bill. Both of these players have the unique ability to take a three-yard slant and turn it into a 75-yard catch and run. Both of them also had the ability to get open quickly on short routes. Reese then goes out and gets Rhett Ellison and Evan Engram. Although there are some that would have preferred Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramcyzk in the draft, Ramcyzk has major injury concerns and he’s mainly played right tackle for New Orleans. The games he did play at left tackle didn’t go so well.

Engram, although it says he is a tight end, almost never had his hand in the dirt when playing at Ole Miss. He would move around from the slot, to a wing position, to fullback, etc. Engram fit the bill for what Reese was building. Quick, explosive players who can get open quickly which would allow Eli Manning to get the ball out of his hands before opposing defensive lines could take advantage of the Giants’ offense line. So how does Ellison fit in? Signing him is what allowed the Giants to take Engram. Ellison is more a traditional tight end. He can put his hand in the dirt, he can block, and he’s a decent safety valve. By adding him and making him the traditional tight end, Engram could then be used creatively. As for the run game, Paul Perkins was at his best when working out of the spread at UCLA. This would have been excellent for him.

So why did one fail and the other one didn’t? Coach Spagnuolo played to his strengths. By keeping four down lineman on defense and playing mostly with five defensive backs, the lack of a linebacking corps didn’t derail the defense. Coach McAdoo on the other hand came out in week one and two of the 2017 season in a traditional I-Formation. He had Evan Engram, whose weakness is blocking, tight on the line with his hand in the dirt. He then put Paul Perkins, whose strength is working in space, in a formation where the defense is tight together. Worst of all, he exposed his offensive line. This offensive line could have worked if they were playing against defenses that were spread out. By putting them in the I-Formation, with this personnel, he was putting them in a situation to fail. Coach McAdoo created an offense around his weakness while coach Spagnuolo built a defense around hiding his. The defensive equivalent to what McAdoo did would be for coach Spagnuolo to know he has a weak linebacking corps and then decide to implement the 3-4 defense.

Reese is not a perfect general manager. If this article was coming out in 2015, it would be about how the Giants need to move on from Reese and go in a new direction. Obviously, they didn’t do that. To Reese’s credit, he has done an excellent job of bringing in talent over the past few seasons, redeeming himself from the poor final years of the Coughlin era. Everyone wants to blame someone for this season but blaming Reese for this year would a terrible mistake and not one he deserves.

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