PHOENIX — Some see disconnect between what the Giants seem to be doing and how they are going about doing it. John Mara sees a plan that makes complete sense.
The Giants are in a building process, coming off seasons of paltry (three and five) win totals and yet they are sticking with 38-year-old quarterback Eli Manning and signing veteran players such as safety Antoine Bethea and receiver Golden Tate, who will be 35 and 31, respectively, by the start of the season. The roster is getting younger, but Tate will replace star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., 26, on the field and Bethea moves in behind Manning and re-signed long-snapper Zak DeOssie as the third-oldest player on the team.
Plus, Manning for the first time in his career will enter the season on the final year of his contract. The Giants say this all adds up.
“It doesn’t matter if Eli is going to be around [after this season] or not,’’ Mara, the team’s co-owner, said at the NFL Annual League Meeting. “Is the team going to be better in the long run with these players? You’re always trying to build your team and make it better, whether Eli is part of your team or not.’’
Unless all goes exceedingly well for Manning and the Giants in 2019, the franchise will look to a new quarterback in 2020, which is why there is more urgency than ever to find an heir apparent in next month’s NFL draft or by another means, such as trading with the Cardinals for Josh Rosen if he becomes available. The new regime of general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur inherited a mess of a roster and an unhealthy salary cap and is trying to dig out of both disagreeable situations, while also improving the product on the field. This is the main reason why Beckham was traded to the Browns for a first- and third-round pick in this year’s draft, plus Jabrill Peppers, a 23-year old safety who will move immediately into the starting lineup.
“I don’t see why it doesn’t line up,’’ Mara said of the deal. “That’s three players, if we make the right decisions, we think we’ll be better off in the long run.’’
There is no conflict, Mara insists, with going young and building while also keeping Manning and adding a few specific older players much closer to the end of their NFL run than the beginning.
“I understand what you guys see as conflict,’’ Mara said. “Are they rebuilding or are they trying to win now? You’re trying to do both. You’re trying to build the team and still remain as competitive as possible. We obviously have a lot of holes to fill, we think we have the draft capital to at least start to address that.
“Whenever you’re building a team, you got to have the right combination of veterans and young players. You want the right veterans to teach the young players how to be professionals, how to be a Giant, what it takes to win in this league. You’ve got to have that combination in the locker room if you’re going to be successful. For me, it’s not a conflict. I understand why you would ask the question and why some of you would perceive that it would be.’’
Mara said “of course we would’’ when asked if he would like to see the Giants as a playoff team this season.
“I’m never going to come into a season saying ‘no, we don’t want to be a playoff team,’ ’’ Mara said. “The direction from ownership to Dave and Pat is build the team.’’
This process got started with the selection of Saquon Barkley with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, a class that looks promising with defensive tackle B.J. Hill and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter. The Giants were 1-7 at midseason and hit the fast-forward button by trading away cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks’’ Harrison, looking ahead to 2019 to accumulate as many draft picks as possible.
“We knew we weren’t going to be a playoff team at that point so let’s start getting the pieces together to build the team for the future,’’ Mara said. “The process started during the season last year and that’s where we are right now.’’