As last season drew to an end, the Giants were facing another football-less January. They finished 6-10 for the second straight time and missed the playoffs for the fourth consectutive season.
The defense, decimated by injuries, was the league's worst and not befitting of wearing the Giants' vaunted blue.
Ownership had head coach Tom Coughlin fall on his sword rather than fire him and decided to give GM Jerry Reese one final chance to get his roster right -- starting with the defense.
Reese responded by getting aggressive in free agency, re-signing DE Jason Pierre-Paul and then the top DT, DE and CB available in Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon, and Janoris Jenkins respectively. He also inked veteran LBs Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard. In the draft, he landed Ohio State CB Eli Apple in the first round and took safety Damian Thompson of Boise State in Round Three.
The free agents have played spectacularly, to put it mildly, and Apple has shown signs of being a stud in progress. Thompson got hurt early, as did several other safety options, but Reese found UConn's Andrew Adams in the UDFA market and adroitly signed veteran corner Leon Hall to fill the openings.
Robinson, the former Redskin, started slowly but has become the Giants' top pass-defending linebacker. Sheppard has been an integral package player, and rookie DE Romeo Okwara has done more than just spell the injured JPP late this season.
These additions, added to the base of DT Johnathan Hankins, LBs Devon Kennard and Jonathan Casillas, safety Landon Collins, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, form the defense that most of the football world is talking about these days -- and are inches away from comparing them to the great Giant teams of yesteryear.
Will Reese get any credit for this? No, because much of it was done by simply spending the money given to him along with the mandate to improve the team.
What we hear instead is how bad the offensive line is, how they have no running backs and tight ends, and the riducilous notion that QB Eli Manning is finished.
But the truth is Reese has not abandoned the offense. He has spent some high draft picks the past few years on several building blocks. He just hasn't gotten the same results, but the effort is there.
Reese has been dedicated to improving the offense. He recently spent two high No. 1 draft picks on LG Justin Pugh and LT Ereck Flowers, and a second-rounder on center Weston Richburg. WR Odell Beckham, Jr. was a first-rounder, and WR Sterling Shepard a second-rounder. You can't be more dedicated than that.
But when Reese's name is mentioned, fans scowl. No NFL team is a complete, perfect unit. Every team has their strengths and weaknesses. The Giants are no different.
Their defensive moves have come up all aces. Their corresponding moves on offense have not worked out as well, even though Pugh and Richburg are among the best in the league at their positions, Beckham is the most talented player to wear the Blue since Lawrence Taylor and Shepard ranks second among all NFL rookies with 592 receiving yards and seven TD catches.
But all we hear about are the negatives. Flowers is having issues, we know. His learning curve seems to have gotten steeper. The running game suffers from a lack of vision and talent. But the fact is they don't have strong blocking personnel on their roster. They have no fullbacks and their tight ends and WRs are not very good at blocking. It takes more than just the offensive line to make the running game work, folks.
Everyone's got problems. Look around the league. Jacksonville has a roster packed with young studs. They just fired their coach. So did the Rams. Denver is fighting in the locker room. Minnesota was at one time the best team in the NFC. Not anymore. The Packers are struggling and Seattle QB Russell Wilson runs for his life every game.
Instead of blaming Reese for shortcomings beyond his control, Giant fans should be thanking him for doing such a bang-up job in making them a contender again.