Daniel Jones and Dave Gettleman aren’t the only Giants entering a judgment season.
Jason Garrett is, too, as full-team voluntary OTA practices open on Monday.
Any progress the Giants made in Year 1 on Joe Judge’s watch did not happen on the offensive side of the ball.
Garrett, the longtime Dallas Cowboys head coach, is the one in charge of developing Jones and turning this offense into a more creative, unpredictable, productive system.
Judge bears responsibility, too. He is the head coach. But at least from a game plan, C.E.O. and defensive standpoint, the head coach passed the smell test last season.
Garrett’s offense did not. It didn’t even come close.
And while it wasn’t Garrett who overthrew a wide open Darius Slayton at Dallas in Week 5 or dropped a fourth-quarter pass at Philadelphia in Week 7, he was the architect of the NFL’s second-lowest scoring offense in 2020.
Garrett didn’t have Saquon Barkley for most of the year, but averaging 17.5 points per game still was unacceptable. Now, there will be no time for growing pains this fall. The Giants have to start scoring with modern NFL offenses like the Chiefs, Packers, Bills, Bucs, Ravens, Titans and Saints.
To hammer this point home, Judge has shifted several cooks into Garrett’s offensive kitchen — including Freddie Kitchens and former O-line coach Pat Flaherty, who both will help with the offensive front.
Jones right now is attracting the most focus and heat, and that isn’t undeserved. He still hasn’t shown that he can play consistently high-scoring, turnover-free football. He belongs on the hot seat. It could be argued the Giants should have pulled the plug already.
The same could be argued about Gettleman, whose roster only now in Year 4 finally has some NFL-level talent and depth on paper.
But if Garrett doesn’t get more creative, doesn’t properly plan for his O-line, doesn’t use the Giants’ weapons, and doesn’t optimize Jones’ chances to succeed, it’s possible Jones will be judged as a bust without ever having an A-list combination of coordinator, line and weapons.
It could turn Jones into a version of the next Sam Darnold, a talented New York quarterback who never got it done but never had the support he needed in the first place, either.
One of the most interesting wrinkles in this Garrett story is the question of how he will incorporate first-round pick Kadarius Toney. Some league sources have expressed concern that Toney, while a talented player, doesn’t fit Garrett’s offense.
Toney has explosive traits, but he is not a prototypical wide receiver. He is a gadget player who can line up in the slot on one play, at running back the next, outside the play after that. He is the kind of receiver who is more likely to take a bubble screen 80 yards than to catch a traditional quick slant.
A team like Kansas City felt like the perfect fit for Toney. The Chiefs are constantly sending speedy receivers in motion pre-snap to confuse the defense before unleashing their speed in unpredictable, knee-buckling ways.
Garrett’s Giants offense, on the other hand, was 31st out of 32 teams in their sparing use of pre-snap motion last season, per Pro Football Focus. Garrett’s offense just isn’t built for this kind of player.
That means change in Garrett’s scheme is mandatory.
“We are going to be looking to go ahead and make sure we create enough versatility in his game to play him in different spots to play him in our system,” Judge said last week. “But also we’ll have to change our system like we do with everything to cater to our players.”
Garrett is more accustomed to the kind of traditional set up he had in Dallas, with Ezekiel Elliott pounding the ball behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He had Dak Prescott, one of the league’s best young quarterbacks, throwing to a more traditional No. 1 receiver in Amari Cooper and a traditional, productive tight end in Jason Witten.
Gettleman and Judge have given Garrett more of those traditional weapons, too.
Barkley is coming back, with a more traditional backup in Devonta Freeman. Kenny Golladay and Kyle Rudolph are bigger-bodied prototypes that Garrett prefers at receiver and tight end.
The only time Garrett ever had a gadget player like Toney, though, was when Tavon Austin played two years for the Cowboys in 2018-19. And he touched the ball 33 times on offense in 24 games, averaging 11.5 snaps the first year and 21.7 the next.
Like Austin, Toney is expected to provide a punt return boost on special teams. So the Giants will find ways to get him involved in a game. But for this draft pick to help Jones, Toney has to be incorporated significantly into a traditional offense that is not built for his skill set.
Garrett is going to have to evolve.
Maybe he’ll use Toney on creative screens to give Jones a quick outlet. Maybe Toney’s yards after catch ability will help the Giants draw up more quick passes on three-step drops that protect both the offensive line and Jones by getting the ball out quickly.
Defenses will be looking for all of this, though. So Toney’s skills won’t just call for creativity. They’ll call for unpredictability and weekly adjustments.
Listen: this roster was bad last season. It’s been bad for many years. But Pat Graham’s defense was adaptable and difficult to play against last season despite its talent deficiencies. Garrett’s offense couldn’t overcome the personnel problems.
Meanwhile, Garrett’s former Cowboys assistant, O-line coach Marc Colombo, was fired midseason for insubordination of Judge. Former Cowboys assistant Stephen Brown is gone after one Giants season, too.
It’s time for Garrett to make this offense erupt. Jones and Gettleman fairly are under the microscope, their Giants futures hanging in the balance depending on whether the 2021 Giants can score.
It only follows that Garrett is, and should be, under that microscope, too.