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The Giants Did This To Themselves

Photo: Mitchell Leff (Getty)

“Don’t quit on talent,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman famously said upon his hiring in New York in December 2017.

But, then, Gettleman says a lot of things. Like “we didn’t sign Odell to trade him.” And yet! And yet. Odell Beckham Jr., signed to a big juicy contract extension last summer that could have kept him in blue for his prime, has been traded to Cleveland. The problem isn’t that the Giants are rebuilding—they desperately need a rebuild. The problem is that they were in denial about that fact for too long, torpedoing their own rebuild before it even started. Gettleman no doubt meant what he said at the time—that was the first mistake.

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In a vacuum, the return for Beckham isn’t bad: a first, a third, and safety Jabril Peppers. Maybe that first-rounder will turn out to be almost as good a player as Odell Beckham! But that’s the nature of rebuilding, where a woe-bound team takes future promise in exchange for present, actual talent that serves them no practical purpose because no individual talent can make up for the rest of the roster’s lack of it. Beckham is a singular weapon, but the Giants are such a mess that there was small chance they’d be a playoff team at any time in the two or so years functionally left on his contract.

All of this sounds like justification for trading Beckham, and it is, I suppose. But things are so much worse than they ever had to be.

Last offseason Gettleman and Giants ownership believed, against all logic, that they were a team worth saving. Closer to the surprising 2016 playoff team than the 3-13 squad Gettleman inherited. That was clearly, obviously wrong—or at least willfully blind to the team’s biggest obstacle to contention: its aging, ineffective quarterback. So they inexplicably entered that offseason in win-now mode, attempting to compete before Eli Manning’s window closed, even though Manning’s window had already slammed shut so hard, his receivers were picking glass shards out of their palms.

They re-signed Beckham, and gave big money to Nate Solder to protect Manning. They traded for Alec Ogletree. With the No. 2 draft pick, they took Saquon Barkley. Barkley is a star, but the last thing a team that adrift needed was a running back, especially at the opportunity cost of drafting a more positionally valuable QB, or pass rusher, or D-back. At the time, the most optimistic reading was that the Giants and Gettleman simply didn’t understand position scarcity, or marginal value. In retrospect, they were a losing team drafting like a winning team that needed one missing piece. It was self-delusion.

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The Giants started the season 1-6 and only then did they realize what should have been clear before the year, even before Gettleman arrived: they suck. They started cleaning house at the trade deadline with Damon Harrison and Eli Apple, and have continued this offseason, trading Beckham and Olivier Vernon and allowing Landon Collins to walk. Knowing what we know now about the safety market, it would have been smarter to franchise Collins and trade him.

But that’s how poorly thought-out this rebuild has been from the start. Beckham and Vernon will still count for $24 million in dead cap. Solder and Ogletree still carry big cap hits. Eli Manning is still here. None of these things would be true if the Giants had recognized and committed to a rebuild when they should have. Instead, it’s been a series of half-measures and steps backward, and along the way, none of the fundamental roster problems have even begun to be addressed.

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Losing Odell Beckham will be incredibly painful for Giants fans. Even when the team was dogshit, he made them relevant. Yes, fans want to win, but there’s also something to be said for employing players so exciting that they singlehandedly make games worth watching. “Don’t quit on talent,” might be one way to express that sentiment.

The rebuild was necessary here. And I suppose the Giants now deserve some credit for not falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy—for recognizing their earlier mistake and eventually committing to a teardown, no matter how much more difficult and drawn-out they insured it will be by initially pretending they didn’t need a rebuild at all. Therein lies the real dagger for any optimism among Giants fans: Is there any reason to believe that a front office that hasn’t had a clue until now will finally be able to stick to a plan?

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