EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Steve Spagnuolo is an optimist by nature, who has always tried to see the up side of people and things. That's why he insisted on Wednesday that he hasn't given up on the young and troubled Eli Apple and believes he can still have a future with the Giants.
Even though the truth is he can't.
"Maybe I think a little bit differently than most people," Spagnuolo said. "But I always believe that in a person, that something positive can happen. There can be positive change. I'm not a person that gives up on people just in general, so I certainly wouldn't do that in this case."
Spagnuolo said that after practice on Wednesday, which is remarkable given what we all learned hours later. Apple was suspended for the final game of the season for what interim GM Kevin Abrams said, in a statement, was "a pattern of behavior that is conduct detrimental to the team." The latest incident came during practice when Apple first got into what a source described as a "heated" argument with cornerbacks coach Tim Walton.
Apple later refused to take the field with the scout team during practice. That, a source said, was the final straw.
The "pattern" though is extensive. It includes multiple arguments with Walton and other coaches during practices this season, according to a source, dating back to at least early October. It includes an incident where he reportedly shouted at a Giants staff member during a game, which led to him being benched the following week. It includes what a team source has described as a bad attitude all season, poor practice habits, and a generally sour demeanor that has worn on his teammates.
He was called a "cancer" in a radio interview by safety Landon Collins on Tuesday, and he later told ESPN that he felt Apple had "checked out."
Collins apologized for his words on Wednesday morning and Spagnuolo met privately with Collins and Apple separately, before having what he called a "very productive" meeting with both of them together. Spagnuolo said he felt "good" after leaving that meeting.
But the permanent damage had already been done.
How can Apple return to the Giants in 2018 when one of the most respected players in the locker room considers him a "cancer"? And, by the way, according to multiple players, Collins isn't the only one who feels that way. Collins didn't speak out in a fit of anger. His choice of words wasn't an accident. And both players know that Apple has almost no supporters in the room.
Once a player has lost the trust and faith and friendship of his teammates, it's time to move on - no matter how talented that player may be.
The Giants could cut Apple, if they're up for a fight. According to ESPN there is language in the four-year, $15.1 million rookie deal Apple signed as the 10th pick in the 2016 draft that could allow the Giants to void all the remaining guarantees on his contract - about $4.3 million in salary over the next two years. Without that, the Giants would have to eat $9 million in "dead money" on their cap if they cut him. That number could be cut in half, which would make him easier to discard. They could also trade him which would cut that dead money in about half.
Whatever they do, they have to do something this offseason because he's clearly burned all his bridges in this organization - even with a new GM and coach coming in. He has battled with coaches, complained openly about the team "culture", been benched for one game and declared inactive for four others.
Yes, he's going through a difficult year personally, too. His mother, Annie, underwent brain surgery earlier this season and he missed two days of practice to be by her side. And as detailed by NJ.com, he had a falling out with his stepfather, Tim, and other issues with his family, too.
Teammates and coaches would normally be sensitive to that and protective of a young player. But during this bizarre year, Collins reportedly had to be restrained from physically attacking Apple after Collins publicly tried to defend Apple and said the two had spoken, and then Apple essentially called Collins a liar.
And Apple won't even talk publicly anymore to explain what's going on. When reporters approached him after practice on Wednesday - before anyone knew of the suspension - he said he couldn't speak because he had to "take a s---t".
He is a player crying out for a change of scenery, a text book example of a player in need of a fresh start.
And the Giants need to make it happen. They need to trade him in the offseason so he - and they - can start over next year. Yes, he's only 22 and he can still grow up. But at this point, why would the Giants try and force it? The bridges he's burned in the locker room are probably impossible to repair. They owe it to the players who are coming back, who still care, to see what they can get for Apple this offseason. Maybe they can only get a mid-round draft pick. Maybe they can't even get that much.
But at this point, it would be addition by subtraction for both of them. The Giants and Apple will both be better off with Apple playing somewhere else.