Key Takeaways from New York Giants GM Jerry Reese’s Combine Press Conference

New York Giants senior vice president and general manager Jerry Reese took the podium at the NFL Combine Thursday to field questions from reporters. Here’s a breakdown of what he had to say.

Same old Mantra

It doesn’t matter how much money the Giants have to spend in free agency; their  M.O. is to get good players.

“Whoever makes it to the market makes it to the market. We have a little bit of money to spend this time and we’ll try to spend it wisely on the players that make it to the market,” Reese said.

But he also added a point that often gets overlooked, yet which needs to be remembered.

“I’m sure there will be plenty of players that don’t make it; people try to keep their best players. But whoever’s out there we’ll try our best to get some of the best players available.”

He’s right—teams don’t let their best free agents-to-be waltz off without at least making trying to re-sign them.

However, not every player who hits free agency is necessarily a gamble. There are those who move on because of a change in scheme. There are others who just want a change in scenery (Eric Weddle, San Diego).

Free agency isn’t the way to build a championship team as the Giants found out in 2014 when they shelled out more than $100 million on new contracts.

Somewhere in there, the draft has to be factored; the problem is that with the draft picks, you’re not assured of hitting a home run; with  free agents, you a least have a general idea about what you’re getting.

So what can we expect, besides of course the Giants chasing after the “best available players”?

According to an NFLPA memo released to the media today regarding the amount of unused 2015 cap space teams are planning to carry over, NFL teams need to spend an average of 89% of their salary cap space over a four-year period that began in 2011, the first year of the current CBA.

Per Over the Cap, New York spent $115,929,485 in active contracts with an additional $16,004,066 in dead money for a total of $131,933,551 of financial resources spent.

As their cap figure was $143,078,442 last year, they spent approximately 92.2 percent of their cap space on player salaries, with only 81% of that total being devoted to guys who were on the roster.

In 2016, Over the Cap projects the Giants to have a total team salary cap $166,240,106, a number based on the projected $155 million salary cap the league is expected to announce and the carryover the Giants elected to bring plus any other cap credits the team will get due to unpaid bonuses, e.g. per-game roster bonuses promised to players who ended up on injured reserve or Pro Bowl bonuses promised to players who didn’t qualify.

Until that’s all figured out, the Giants, according to the CBA clause outlined above,  have already tied up 64.7 percent of their estimated 2016 salary cap in active contracts and dead money. So they definitely have some spending to do this year; the question is will they finally get what they pay for?


Spending on Some Younger Players

If there’s one thing Reese dislikes to do, it’s discuss player contracts with the media. It doesn’t matter who it is or what the circumstances are; if he gets a question, he’ll likely say they’re keeping their options open.

Such was his response when he was asked if he would try to extend some of the Giants’ young players on the roster, players that include offensive lineman Justin Pugh and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

Of those two, Hankins probably makes more sense at this point. He’s coming off a season-ending injury, so there’s a chance he could be had for a fair market value at this point, but on the flip side, Hankins and his agent might decide to roll the dice and see what he delivers in his contract year because if he puts up a monster-like performance, that will boost his earnings.

Pugh is probably not going to be a target for an extension this year for two reasons. One, if there is a possibility of him moving to right tackle—and Reese didn’t rule that out, by the way, the Giants will need to decide whether to pay him like a guard or a tackle.

Second, there really is no rush to extend Pugh this year, as the Giants can exercise a fifth-year contract option in Pugh’s rookie deal, meaning they have him under contract for at least the next two seasons.

That’s probably the direction they’ll head, at least until they can figure out where his permanent position on the offensive line will be.


Reese Pumped the Brakes on Receiver’s Victor Cruz’s Return

Whereas on Wednesday, head coach Ben McAdoo sounded 100 percent certain that receiver Victor Cruz would be on the 2016 roster, Reese pumped the brakes a bit on that.

“Well he is under contract right now; we’ll see where the process goes.”

Besides not wanting to discuss contracts in general, Reese obviously wants to get a better idea regarding whether Cruz, who in a video interview with USA Today on Wednesday put his chances of being back with the Giants at 80 percent (his jersey number, in case the irony was lost on anyone)  will actually be able to contribute this year and if so, when he’ll be able to contribute.

Once he has that information, he’ll likely approach Cruz’s camp regarding a contract restructure to lower the receivers almost $8 million base salary on the books this year.

“Victor’s working hard to get healthy and from everything I understand right now he’s headed in the right direction and we’ll worry about the contract. But right now he’s under contract and I’m not really going to talk about contract situation with Victor.”


Some Injury Updates

Reese shared that safety Mykkele Thompson, the team’s fifth-round pick last year who blew out his Achilles during the preseason, is on track.

“He’s getting close, he’s working hard,” Reese said.

What about the Nat Berhe and Bennett Jackson, the other two young safeties who didn’t make it out of training camp healthy?

“We’re hoping those guys can come back and be healthy and help us out in the secondary.”

The news didn’t sound as promising for  tight end Larry Donnell, who saw his season end prematurely last year because of a neck injury.

“Larry had the neck injury and he’s coming back and hopefully he’ll be able to continue to play,” Reese said, adding that Donnell has not yet been cleared to resume football activities.

“We’re expecting him to be back but necks can be tricky. We’ll have to wait and see where that goes. I respect what our doctors say about the neck and we’ll take extreme precaution with that. Hopefully he can get healthy and come back and continue his career.”


Changes Are Coming to the Draft…Maybe

At the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, Giants co-owner John Mara, who normally keeps his conversations with team employees in-house, lamented the team’s failures with its draft process the last few years.

“I had numerous conversations with Jerry about that,” Mara said. “We need to look at where have we missed the boat on some of these things, where we can do better. What do we need to change? Are our standards too rigid, are they not rigid enough?”

Obviously it remains to be seen what, if any changes the Giants will make to their drafting process—and any changes might not even be noticeable to those outside of the organization.

But changes are apparently going to take place, according to Reese. “We’ve looked at a few things of how we’ve operated with respect to the draft and we’ll try to implement some things as we go through this draft, yeah.”

While Reese won’t tip his hand as to what’s changing, some clues to watch for include whether the Giants break from traditional prototyping of players at certain positions, as we outlined in our current issue, or if they maybe gamble on players who don’t quite have a squeaky-clean image.


It’s Possible to Turn Things Around in One Offseason

When asked if he thought the Giants could get everything they need to fix the roster in one offseason, Reese said, “This is the National Football League. You can get well pretty quickly in the National Football League. You can get players in free agency, you can get players in the draft, you can get players in trades.”

There’s no denying that players are there to be had. The problem with this line of thinking is two-fold. One, a team needs to bring in the right players—anyone remember the Eagles’ famous “Dream Team,” a team built mostly of high-profiled free agents who went nowhere?

Closer to home, anyone remember what the 2014 Giants team, a team that brought in a lot of new faces via free agency, fared?

The point is that chemistry takes time to develop.  These still to be determined players are coming into a brand new locker room, joining returning players who are going to be working with a brand new head coach.

While the Giants can hope for 100 percent attendance at all the offseason activities, it’s still going to take time for the chemistry to come together.

In the end, that chemistry and talent are what will get a team on the right track, not a bunch of big-ticket free agents.


Losing Jason Pierre-Paul Last Year Really Hurt

Injuries in general are not fun to deal with, but out of all the players to be bitten by the injury big, Reese said that defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s injury was the hardest pill to swallow.

“No blow was like the blow we got in July when we got the news about Jason,” he said. “That was probably the biggest blow going into the season.”

While the circumstances surrounding Pierre-Paul’s July 4 injury and then the ensuing cat-and-mouse game certainly rocked the franchise to its core, with all due respect, Pierre-Paul has had one solid season, that being in 2011 when he registered 16.5 sacks regardless of the level of competition he faced.

This is a player who remember had various ailments (back, shoulder) with which he dealt with after that breakout season. Once he was fully healthy, in 2014, he registered nine of his 12.5 sacks that year in the last five weeks of the season, against teams whose offensive lines were suspect.

When he returned in 2015 sporting that big club on his right hand, Pierre-Paul could only muster up one sack.

While Pierre-Paul has undergone surgery to better improve the range of motion in his permanently altered right hand, there are no guarantees that he’ll be the same nor are there guarantees that he’ll be able to shed that protective club this year.

Therein lies the challenge for the Giants, who must figure out what Pierre-Paul is worth in his next contract.

“We know him better, I think, that anybody else would know him,” Reese said. “So we’re hopeful that this procedure that he had after the season helps him with respect to the hand injury that he has.”

Again, there are no guarantees, though Reese did praise Pierre-Paul for doing everything in his power to make sure the hand was no longer an excuse for mediocrity.

“I know he’s working hard at it. It’s really – after you look at that injury – it’s really, for me, people like to throw miracle around, I think it’s a miracle that he was able to walk out there and play for eight games for us. It’s really unbelievable after you really see what happened to his hand.”

Between not having Pierre-Paul for half a season and losing third-round pick Owa Odighizuwa, who was supposed to give a boost to the pass rushing arsenal, there’s a lesson to be learned here.

“You’ve got to have enough depth to continue to play football, and that’s what we need to do. We need to acquire more depth on our football team,” Reese said.

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