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A Giants Failure

Jason Garrett is an easy scapegoat for the Giants’ shortcomings, but the team has bigger problems

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

“It’s time for us to start winning,” Giants co-owner John Mara told reporters in March. “It’s been a very difficult four- or five-year period for us. I’m tired of the losing and having a postseason press conference trying to explain what went wrong and why I think we’re making progress.”

Mara is tired of explaining the losing, and Giants fans—including me—are tired of watching it. New York’s loss on Monday Night Football this week was particularly exhausting. The Giants were atomized by the Buccaneers in a 30-10 loss that was truly disgusting to watch. Imagine making a casserole out of black smelly markers; that was how the Giants played.

The Giants have been rotten for the last half-decade or so, but you’ll rarely find a starker juxtaposition of two offenses than Monday’s game. Tom Brady carved up the Giants defense like he was taking an electric knife to a turkey. Meanwhile, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones looked like he was using a slotted spoon. In the process, New York’s season slipped through its hands. With the loss, the Giants dropped to 3-7, making them one of the small handful of (pathetic) teams out of the playoff race in what is otherwise a season defined by seemingly every team being in the playoff race.

New York’s response to the loss was to fire offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. There is zero question this was the right decision. An offense is supposed to score touchdowns—and since Garrett was hired in 2020, the Giants have ranked dead last in offensive touchdowns. In case that wasn’t reason enough for him to be dismissed, the loss to the Bucs was Garrett’s Bizarro masterpiece: bad play-calling, sloppy execution, and a lack of vision for how to put players in positions to succeed. The Giants offense is predictable, sloppy, and unimaginative.

It would be easy to flame Garrett for Monday’s loss. Why didn’t the Giants attack Tampa Bay’s secondary, which has been ravaged by injuries, forcing the Bucs to start a league-high seven cornerbacks this season? Why didn’t the Giants design plays for their two best players, Kadarius Toney and Saquon Barkley? Why did New York’s only offensive touchdown come when the defense intercepted a ball and returned it to the 5-yard line? Why did the Giants burn 25 seconds before radioing in a play-call on fourth-and-1 (which obviously failed)? Why does Kenny Golladay, the receiver the Giants paid $18 million in annual salary this offseason, have fewer receiving touchdowns than left tackle Andrew Thomas? But flaming Garrett is too easy. It also misses the point.

The real story is not that the Giants fired Garrett. The calamity that Mara needs to address is why Garrett was ever hired. Garrett spent nine and a half years as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Their defining quality under him was less than the sum of their parts. His Cowboys offenses had an embarrassment of riches: the league’s best offensive line, talented skill players, and a seamless quarterback transition from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott. These are the rosters most coaches dream of, yet Garrett’s players complained for years that their offense was too predictable. The Cowboys’ special teams play was awful for years, a sign of a lack of attention to detail. Garrett’s clock management was awful, which is genuinely inexplicable for a coach who gave up play-calling in 2013. (If a coach isn’t calling plays, why aren’t they excellent at managing the clock?) In hiring Garrett, the Giants got the absolute worst of the Cowboys over the last decade: all the sloppiness and poor attention to detail without the same level of talent.

Again, this was not hard to predict. Was there one—literally, one—Cowboys fan who was upset that the Giants hired Jason Garrett? (The vibe was more lol, good luck with that.) I am a Giants fan, and I can tell you that every Giants fan I know was distraught by Garrett’s hire. It went exactly as anyone who watched Dallas in the 2010s predicted it would go when you hand Garrett the worst roster in the NFC East instead of the best one. The Giants are supposed to know their division rivals better than they know other teams. Did they not watch the last decade of Cowboys football? How could the Giants evaluate Dallas’s coaching decisions over the last decade and decide that Garrett would improve their team, or that Garrett was a good mentor for Joe Judge or a good coordinator for Daniel Jones? Instead, the inane lack of attention to detail, clock management, and general unpreparedness—the sloppiness—that defined Dallas has plagued the Giants.

Garrett’s hire is a symptom of what is wrong in New York, not the cause. His firing is also the easiest of a series of crucial decisions the Giants have to make this offseason. They need to decide the futures of general manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Joe Judge, quarterback Daniel Jones, and running back Saquon Barkley. (No pressure!)

The first step is firing Gettleman. This should also be easy. The Giants are 18-40 since Gettleman was hired. The only teams with a worse record in that span are the Jets, Jaguars, and Lions. In other words, the Giants have joined the rock-bottom feeders.

Gettleman has made some good moves, even some that were unpopular at the time, like trading Odell Beckham Jr., drafting Julian Love and Darius Slayton, and signing free agents like Logan Ryan. Gettleman seems to be a genuinely good NFL scout and talent evaluator, but he seems really bad at applying that knowledge to running a team. There’s a difference between spotting talent and knowing how much of your limited resources should be used to acquire and keep that talent. Gettleman has demonstrated little grasp of players’ market value, either in cap dollars or draft pick value (i.e., drafting Barkley at no. 2, using a third-round pick on cornerback Sam Beal, and spending $18 million annually for Kenny Golladay). Perhaps Gettleman’s real legacy will be drafting Barkley at no. 2, since no running back may ever be taken as high in the draft again. Gettleman

might as well be Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development thinking that bananas cost $10.

For all his skill as a talent evaluator, Gettleman has also whiffed on several players. One of his primary stated goals when he took the job was to draft “Hog Mollies,” a strange term to describe big offensive and defensive linemen. Every single member of the Giants’ current O-line was acquired by Gettleman, and the result is one of the worst units in the NFL. The Giants also have one of the five-worst pass rushes. Injuries have played a big role, but better returns were expected in—checks pocket watch—year four of a rebuild.

But, like Garrett, criticizing Gettleman has become too easy. There are more pressing issues that Giants leadership needs to address, such as whether to extend key players. Giving Barkley a lucrative contract seems like an obvious mistake given his injury history, the potential cost, and how easily running backs are replaced. Jones’s situation is trickier. He has been exactly the kind of player that lands a team in quarterback purgatory—too good to replace, not good enough to get you a playoff win. The wisest move may be picking up Jones’s fifth-year option, keeping him under contract until the end of 2023, and letting Gettleman’s replacement decide whether they want to roll with Jones or take an underwhelming QB prospect with one of their two first-round picks next year.

Garrett, Gettleman, and Jones will be blamed for the Giants’ failures (and rightfully so), but Mara and the rest of the team’s ownership have to take responsibility, too. Over the last five years—a stretch that begins before any of their New York tenures—the Giants have the second-worst record in the NFL. When a team has been that bad for that long, it’s less about the people who will be fired and more about the people doing the firing.