The Giants’ extreme offseason makeover is about to be put on display. They open the 2016 regular season against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday (4:25 p.m.) in Texas, urgently endeavoring to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. Over the previous two seasons under former head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants finished third in the NFC East with 6-10 records in both campaigns.
Examining every minute detail of the team’s operations, Jerry Reese, the Giants’ senior vice president and general manager, left no stone unturned, exampled by his redesigning of the Giants’ weight training facilities and restructuring their strength and conditioning program.
But his most profound deployments were Coughlin being replaced by Ben McAdoo, who served as the Giants’ offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, and the franchise’s ownership doling out more than $200 million in free-agent contracts to primarily overhaul the league’s worst statistical defense. The bulk of the money was allocated to defensive end Olivier Vernon, the former Miami Dolphins defensive end, who signed a five-year, $85 million deal with $52.5 million guaranteed.
Although the 25-year-old Vernon has averaged only 7.25 sacks in his four seasons in the NFL, including a career high 11.5 in 2013, his second season in the league, the Miami native, who stayed home to attend college at the University of Miami, is a dynamic edge rusher who fills a significant need for the Giants. A season ago, they ranked 30th out of 32 teams with an unproductive 23 sacks. Only the Buffalo Bills (21) and Atlanta Falcons (19) had less.
With all of the uncertainties regarding the revamped defense under the direction of the unit’s coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, perhaps the most concerning aspect of the Giants entering this season is their offensive line, which performed poorly during the preseason. A dissection of the five-man starting corps reveals that from center to left, the line should relatively stout staffed by tackle Ereck Flowers, guard Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg snapping the ball to quarterback Eli Manning.
The trepidations emanate on the right side, where guard John Jerry and tackle Marshall Newhouse are suspect. The depth of the offensive line is also worrisome for Giants fans, with neither center Bret Jones, guard Bobby Hart nor tackle Will Beatty demonstrating they can capably fill in for the starters in the event of injury. In fact, the 31-year-old Beatty, who played for the Giants from 2009 to 2014, went unsigned during the offseason and most of the preseason until he reunited with them Tuesday as a tenuous insurance policy.
What is favorable for the Giants is that there is no clear favorite to win the division. The Dallas Cowboys (Dak Prescott, fourth-round pick, No. 135 overall) and Philadelphia Eagles (Carson Wentz, the No. 2 overall selection) will start this season with rookie quarterbacks. The Cowboys Tony Romo, who broke a bone in his back, is expected to miss at least eight weeks. And Washington, the defending NFC East champs, who were 9-7 last season, haven’t distinguish themselves as the class of the division.
So this year should be the year that the Giants, with a 9-7 record, win the division for the first time since 2011 and return to the playoffs.