EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Hiring Ben McAdoo to replace Tom Coughlin as coach, spending a mint on the defense in free agency and picking up a couple of gems in the first two rounds of the NFL draft got the New York Giants back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Despite a one-sided wild-card loss to the Packers on Sunday, there is much optimism looking toward 2017. The team went from 6-10 the past two seasons to an 11-5 regular-season mark that included a pair of wins over the NFC top-seeded Dallas Cowboys.
All general manager Jerry Reese has to do in the offseason is fix the offense this time around, with a lot less money to spend in free agency.
The unit that was supposed to be the strength of the team failed to score 30 points in any game and wrapped up the year by scoring less than 20 in the final six games, including Sunday’s 38-13 setback to the Packers. The running game was among the worst in the league and 36-year-old Eli Manning never had much time to throw.
Odell Beckham Jr. was his big weapon - 101 catches, including 10 touchdowns - but there was little else outside of him and rookie Sterling Shepard, the second-round pick.
“We felt that we had the talent and the coaching in the scheme this year to have a better year than we had,” McAdoo said. “We obviously fell short from an offensive prospective.”
The offensive line might need the most attention. Left tackle Ereck Flowers, the No. 1 pick in 2015, has underperformed, and right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse will be unrestricted free agents.
A decision has to be made on the future of receiver Victor Cruz. He played after missing most of the last two seasons but was limited to 39 catches playing on the outside instead of his normal slot position, which was given to Shepard.
“Obviously you can’t do everything in one year, or one draft, or one free agency period,” Reese said. “We have things that we can build on. We want to continue to build on every position and upgrade where we can, and build as strong a football team as we can, moving forward.”
Most of the players in the locker room felt the foundation was set for the future and a fifth Super Bowl title for the Giants.
“I’m by no means satisfied,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I don’t think anybody in this locker room is satisfied with how things ended. It’s going to be motivation for us moving forward.”
Here are some things to watch in the offseason:
JPP AND HANKINS: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who missed the last six games with a sports hernia, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins are the two biggest unrestricted free agents on the Giants. Pierre-Paul, who signed a one-year deal for 2016 because of his hand injury, wants a multi-year contract. Reese can franchise him, but JPP said he won’t like that. Hankins and All-Pro Damon Harrison were stout in the middle for New York and breaking them up would hurt the run defense.
DRC: Losing cornerback Dominique Rodger-Cromartie on the opening series Sunday hurt the Giants more than people realize. He is as good as Janoris Jenkins and rookie Eli Apple in shutting down receivers and his play in the slot helped make the secondary outstanding. With him out, Aaron Rodgers constantly went after his replacements. Rodgers-Cromartie is due to make $8.5 million next season and the Giants may not be willing to pay that much to a 30-year-old who battled some nagging injury this season. Cap cut? Renegotiate?
MANNING SUCCESSOR: Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning turned 36 earlier this month, and he did not have his best season, although his receivers let him down on Sunday. Long-time backup Ryan Nassib had elbow surgery late this season and veteran Josh Johnson, who has not thrown a pass in a regular-season since 2011 became the No. 2.
If the chance arrives, Reese might look to get a successor or at least a backup quarterback in the draft this spring.
BAD BOY IMAGE: Beckham is one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. In three seasons he has 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. He is also a distraction with his antics on or off the field. Going to Miami for a day in the week leading up to the Packers debacle didn’t help his image. He has to get his act together. McAdoo and Reese likely will keep after him in the future.
PLAY CALLING: McAdoo did a lot to get the Giants back on track, but he needs to do something about the play calling. He did a good job handling it as the offensive coordinator for two seasons, but the offense took a step back this year with him doing double duty. One of his worst decisions came Sunday when he ran little Bobby Rainey on third-and-short late in the second quarter. He was stopped, the Pack got the ball and Rodgers hit a desperation pass on the final play of the half.
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