PHOENIX - At the miserable end of the 2015 season, as the Giants were basically firing Tom Coughlin, John Mara wasn't willing to let his general manager completely off the hook. He officially put Jerry Reese on notice when he said "Jerry knows this is on him."
A $200 million spending spree, an 11-5 record, and a return to the playoffs later, it appears that Reese isn't on the Giants' hot seat anymore.
"There was a lot of heat on Jerry," Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said during the NFL Owners Meetings on Monday at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. "John Mara, my partner, made it very clear to Jerry that 'We're watching you and we have very high expectations, and it's really your time to deliver, Jerry.' So the moves he made last season, clearly in retrospect, were hugely significant and changed the whole defense of the team.
"I'm thrilled that Jerry accepted the challenge, acknowledged what he had to do, and he did it. That doesn't happen every time. That doesn't happen really that often. Jerry has done a fantastic job."
There's no doubt that the moves Reese made contributed to the Giants' turnaround - particularly to a defense that had ranked 32nd in 2015 and because a Top 10 unit again last year. The upgrade in talent was obvious by the signings of defensive end Olivier Vernon (five years, $85 million), defensive tackle Damon Harrison (five years, $46.25 million) and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (five years, $62.5 million), and the re-signing of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (one year, $10 million).
Reese obviously deserves credit for spending on the right players, but it was certainly good fortune for him that the Giants had all that money to spend.
"We just happened last year to be in great salary cap shape, which we hadn't been for a long time," Mara said. "So it gave us the opportunity to do some things."
Mara wasn't as effusive in his praise of Reese as Tisch was, but he still praised the job he did helping the Giants rebuild. He also declined to take credit for motivating Reese with his strong words.
"I think he did a good job, but I don't think he needed any extra motivation," Mara said. "He wants to win as much as anybody else does. I think he was as unhappy as the rest of us over four years of not making the playoffs."
Overall, Mara said, "We were 11-5 and I think we built a pretty good defense. I think we have a team that can contend next year. I'm just as confident in Jerry as I always have been."