By Lenn Robbins
The only thing more unpredictable and featured more bloodletting than the final season of Game of Thrones was the New York Giants offseason.
Three-time Pro-Bowl safety Landon Collins was allowed to walk in free agency.
Odell Beckham Jr., king of fire-breathing wide receivers, was traded to Cleveland. That netted the Giants the No. 17 pick in the first round, the 95th pick in the third round and defender Jabrill Peppers. They also acquired the 30th pick from Seahawks.
New York thus had the Nos. 6, 17 and 30 picks and the potential to jump start the roster. They needed immediate help on the offensive and defensive lines, a porous secondary and a potential replacement for quarterback Eli Manning.
What came next might be remembered as Big Blue’s version of the night of the White Walkers. They took Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who was expected to be available later in the first round, with the No 6 pick. Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, taken at 17, gives the Giants formidable run stopper. And Georgia’s Deondre Baker is an athletic corner.
Not exactly time to pop that vintage bottle of bubbly. So, what are three keys for the 2019 Giants?
1. Who’s the quarterback? It’s only the most important position in the football. Eli Manning is nearing the end of a terrific career. But teams usually don’t use the 6th pick on a quarterback and sit him an entire season.
2. Lawrence, at 6-4, 342 pounds, can be a beast in the middle but he’s not going to be much of a pass-rusher. Who brings the heat for Big Blue, especially when they face Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott? Lorenzo Carter anyone? Candidates welcome.
3. Manning should get a courage award when inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s been sacked 406 times, including a personal season-high 47 times last year.
The Giants addressed the left side of the line last season, signing New England free agent Nate Solder and drafting guard Will Hernandez. They acquired standout right guard Kevin Zeitler in a trade for Olivier Vernon (there goes the pass rush) and signed tackle Mike Remmers.
With an aging QB in Manning and a rookie in Jones, the line will have to give the QB an extra second. The good news? If this line comes together, Saquon Barkley could solidify his place as the best all-around back in the NFL. Or is that Le’Veon Bell with the Jets?
Memo to Giants fans: If Jones develops into a star franchise quarterback, GM Dave Gettelman is the smartest guy in the room. If not…
Speaking of the Jets, they must be gluttons for punishment, these Jets fans. It’s tough enough to make it in this city without your favorite football team’s front office make the White House seem like a finely tuned machine.
Just when it seemed as if the Jets were at least formulating a plan, they suffered another dysfunctional meltdown. The new coach conspired to have the general manager, who hired him, fired. Then he basically hand-picked his own GM.
J-E-T-S; Mess, Mess, Mess.
But Jets fans have a way of finding something to be hopeful about. What choice do they have? They have a star running back in Bell. They have the makings of a great defensive front with Leonard Williams, first-round draft choice Quinnen Williams and high-motor man, Henry Anderson.
They have a franchise quarterback – maybe.
Here are the three make or break issues facing the Jets going into 2019.
1. Let’s start with that franchise quarterback. The unflappable Sam Darnold survived his rookie season without his confidence (and body) shattered.
Darnold had a predictably inconsistent rookie season throwing 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and completing 57.7 percent of his throws. For comparison, Hall of Famer Troy Aikman threw nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions and completed 55.7-percent of his passes as a rookie.
Darnold, who just turned 22, seemingly has all the tools. But if he doesn’t take the next step in his second season, the New York pressure cooker will make life very uncomfortable.
above images #14 Sam Darnold David Pokress nysportsextra copyright 2019
2. Mike Mccagnan hired coach Adam Gase, handed out $121 million in guaranteed free agent money, oversaw the draft, and THEN was fired. Gase, who often has insects thinking, “Man, that guy is bugged eyed!” lobbied for Joe Douglas as GM.
Douglas comes from Philadelphia, where he was the vice president of player personnel. He’s part of a team that did a great job of roster building. The Eagles have the most complete roster in the NFL East. The question is: Is he in charge? Is Gase in charge? The Jets need a front-office leader and stability more than anything.
3. Coaches and GMs love to stress that special teams are just as important as the offense and defense. So why did the Jets let two All-Pro special teamers leave? Kicker Jason Myers signed with the Seahawks. Returner Andre Roberts left for AFC East rival Buffalo.
The Jets brought back kicker Chandler Catanzaro who missed five PATs (30-of-35) and was 16-of-20 on field goal attempts last season. At least he’s familiar with MetLife’s vortex winds.
Roberts averaged 29.4 yards per kickoff return (one touchdown) and 14.1 on punt returns (one touchdown). They signed Jamison Crowder but do you want to risk playing their $28.5 million slot receiver on special teams?
Memo to Jets fans: There will likely be more head scratching before there’s a playoff berth.