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No one is safe anymore.
The trade, which sent Pierre-Paul to Tampa for a 2018 third-round pick and a swap of fourth-rounders, signals a full-scale reboot for the Giants. Forget about “winning before the Eli Manning window closes,” which was a common mantra during the past two offseasons. You don’t trade productive pass-rushers for mid-round picks if you are trying to win a Super Bowl in a short window.
General manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur and the new Giants brain trust are changing the team’s scheme, culture and personality. And that starts at the top of the roster.
The Giants are in obvious need of a decisive rebuilding program after last year’s 3-13 season, which was marked by coaching dismissals and locker room drama. But with 37-year-old Manning still listed as the starting quarterback, a mixed bag of arrivals and departures in free agency and a new front office stocked with returnees from old Giants front offices, it was easy to expect the team to approach rebuilding more like tortoises than hares.
But Thursday’s trade changed the whole complexion of the Giants’ offseason. Forget their traditional loyalty to in-house players and reluctance to make wholesale changes. It’s now time to expect the unexpected.
Pierre-Paul is still an effective pass-rusher, racking up 8.5 sacks last year. His 2015 hand injury, the result of a fireworks mishap, is ancient history; both the Giants and Buccaneers know what he is capable of.
Pierre-Paul also enjoyed a turmoil-free 2017 season, even though many of his defensive teammates were either squabbling with coaches or fighting amongst each other. He’s not a natural fit in the 3-4 system that new Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher is installing, but too much can be made of that. A clever coordinator like Bettcher can find roles for an edge-rusher of JPP’s caliber. So there was no compelling mandate for getting rid of JPP.
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But Pierre-Paul was also emblematic of a problem that plagued the Giants for the last two years: His reputation and salary were bigger than his production. And while he didn’t cause any friction, he was a presumed leader on a team that played like it was leaderless for all of last season. It’s not enough to avoid problems when you are paid like a solution.
Trading Pierre-Paul frees up some cap space, but not much. The Giants are on the hook for $15 million in bonus money (according to OverTheCap.com) they doled out last March. JPP’s salary is off the books for future years, but the fact that the Giants are suddenly cutting veterans makes it unclear who they plan to spend that extra money on.
Take Odell Beckham. When we last saw the superstar wide receiver (at least before his charming star turn on the dance floor at Sterling Shepard’s wedding), it was on that fishy viral video with the young lady on the bed, surrounded by suspicious-looking substances and discussing naughty-sounding topics.
We can speculate endlessly about what the video actually depicts or shout from the mountaintops about which substances and behaviors the NFL should and should not frown upon. But we’re not the ones writing eight-figure signing bonuses. NFL owners and general managers are, and the Giants have a very old-fashioned owner and a new general manager who inherited many messes, including a team that sure looked like it needed a character transfusion at times last year.
A 25-year-old coming off an injury-ruined year with a knack for making TMZ headlines is just the kind of player who looks more like premium trade bait than a franchise building block for a new coach and general manager who are clearly trying to set a new tone and chart a new direction.
At the very least, Beckham should get the message that it’s not 2017 anymore and that the Giants aren’t building short-term Super Bowl hopes around him and a handful of others. A dialed-in Beckham is probably still welcome in East Rutherford. The guy from the tabloids could end up in Buffalo.
Then there’s Manning. He’s not getting traded or cut, especially after closing time at the free-agency saloon, when everyone has already gone home with their overpriced veteran quarterbacks. But with the Giants trading veterans for picks and cap relief, Manning’s role becomes crystal clear. He’s a veteran mentor, a glorified Josh McCown with a pair of Super Bowl rings, for a team that’s extremely likely to draft a quarterback second overall in one month.
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When Manning gets benched next time, it won’t prompt a nationwide protest, because it will be part of a roster overhaul, not a wild hair by a desperate lame-duck coach.
None of this was obvious when the Giants were trading for linebacker Alec Ogletree (and his pricey salary) or making Nate Solder the highest-paid left tackle in the league. This isn’t a Browns-style roster purge. But it is a massive shift in personality and priorities.
Trading Pierre-Paul and switching to a 3-4 defense silences all of the echoes of the dominating four-man fronts that powered the Giants to Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011. The Giants clung to those memories for too long, rehiring Steve Spagnuolo to coach the defense in 2015 and spending tons of money to combine JPP with Olivier Vernon and Damon “Snacks” Harrison in an effort to recapture the old Michael Strahan-Justin Tuck-Osi Umenyiora magic.
The JPP-Snacks-Vernon lines were good, but so much money went into building them that other positions (like offensive tackle) collapsed. The Giants kept living in the past until Manning became an over-the-hill liability and an unbenchable national treasure simultaneously. The win-now veterans grew disgruntled the moment the Giants stopped winning now.
Trading Pierre-Paul gets rid of much of that history, good and bad. These are no longer the Tom Coughlin Giants, Ben McAdoo Giants or Eli Manning Giants. They’re the Gettleman/Shurmur Giants, and they will soon look very different than the team we have gotten used to over the last 14 seasons.
So forget the slow-and-steady, business-as-usual, loyal-to-a-fault Giants. Get ready for more big trades and bold draft selections. And as for the players, none of them should get too comfortable, no matter what it says on the back of their jersey.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. He is also a co-author of Football Outsiders Almanac and teaches a football analytics course for Sports Management Worldwide. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.