7 changes Giants need to make in 2021 to get back to playoffs: Jason Garrett, Evan Engram, Leonard Williams, – NJ.com

The Giants are officially in offseason mode. Monday, players will clean out their lockers and head home for the offseason.

Many won’t return for the 2021 season.

This is a Giants team that was on the cusp of the postseason, even though it finished with a 6-10 record. If a few small things had went differently for the Giants this season, then this week would be spent getting prepared for a playoff opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Instead, they fell short of the postseason for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

Still, the Giants feel closer than they have in recent years. With the right changes, maybe in 2021 Joe Judge can lead them back to the promised land.

But they need to make the right moves.

Here the changes the Giants should make to the roster, front office and coaching staff.

(Note: This about people currently with the Giants, not external free agents)

Move on from Dave Gettleman: There is only so many different ways to say this. The Giants are 15-33 in his three seasons. If Gettleman had built a better roster, the Giants would’ve made the playoffs this season. It’s that simple. They were 6-10 and still alive when the Eagles tanked away their last game, but it never should’ve come down to that anyway.

The Giants lost five games by less than 10 points where they were clearly outmatched in terms of talent. It took stellar coaching from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham — working around talent deficiencies at outside linebacker and cornerback — to even put the Giants in the position they were in. Gettleman’s pet project was the offensive line, and for most of the year that group was inconsistent at best, detrimental at worst. He put all his eggs in the Daniel Jones basket as the sixth pick in 2019, and two years into Jones’ career it’s still unclear if he’s the long-term solution at quarterback.

Gettleman deserves praise for his 2020 offseason, getting James Bradberry, Blake Martinez and Logan Ryan in the building as free agents, and bringing in a quality draft class. But that shouldn’t allow him to escape the mistakes of his first two years, and some from this year. There were more misses than hits overall.

It’s time for a change at the top, and the Giants should be able to attract a quality GM candidate too.

Get a new offensive coordinator: Only the Jets scored less points and gained less yards than the Giants this season, and the Jets were 2-14. Jones passed for 11 touchdowns in 14 games after getting 24 as a rookie. The wide receivers regressed. The offensive line didn’t develop enough. And Garrett was often too conservative in his play-calling.

The Giants never scored 30 offensive points this season — they scored 34 against the Cowboys in Week 5, but one touchdown was defensive — and didn’t have a single 300-yard passing game.

“We have to play much better offensively,” Garrett admitted last week. “There’s no question about that. But the biggest thing you try to do is you focus on the individual improvement of the players, the overall unit. Again, I think we made strides from the start.”

Not enough.

Sure, the Giants lost Saquon Barkley early this season, but the offense shouldn’t have crumbled the way it did without him. Having an offense be that reliant on a running back playing 16 games is not a smart approach.

Ultimately, Garrett’s hiring looked like an arranged marriage to give Joe Judge, a young coach, a veteran play-caller to help him in his first year on the job. Judge is clearly capable at this point. He doesn’t need Garrett, and the Giants can find someone better suited to build an offense around Jones, Barkley and whatever new weapons the team adds this offseason.

Maybe Judge will simply elevate tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, but the smarter play would be finding a bright offensive mind from other teams.

A few names that come to mind — Chad O’Shea (Browns), Mike Kafka (Chiefs), Luke Getsy (Packers) and Ken Dorsey (Bills).

Trade Evan Engram: Engram is only a Pro Bowler in name. In reality, this might’ve been his worst of four seasons with the Giants. That was nevermore obvious than on Sunday, when Engram had two bad drops on passes that hit off his hands, one of them bouncing into the arms of a Cowboys defender for an interception. Giants quarterbacks have thrown six interceptions this season when targeting Jones, per Pro Football Focus.

Judge was asked what his message was to Engram on Sunday. His response was shorter than usual: “Real simple: the ball is slick, let’s get our hands closer together, we’re going to keep throwing to you, so get ready to catch it.”

He’s an elite athlete at the tight end position and has shown tantalizing flashes of talent, but his mistakes are simply too detrimental. Like Nelson Agholor when he left the Eagles, Engram might benefit from a change of scenery. The Giants reportedly refused to trade Engram for anything less than a first-round pick at the trade deadline.

Engram’s value has taken a dip, but he’s still only 26 and on a reasonable $6 million salary in 2021. The Giants could use that cap savings — and the draft pick(s) that could come in a trade.

Re-sign Leonard Williams: The “Big Cat” was utterly dominant against the Cowboys, getting three sacks and single-handedly disrupting some offensive drives. He’s done a lot of that this season, and finished with 11.5 sacks. Even though he didn’t make the Pro Bowl — he could still be an All-Pro — Williams is headed for a significant payday.

When NJ Advance Media broached the idea of Williams getting $20 million per season in free agency, a league source responded simply: “That’s not enough.”

DeForest Buckner ($84 million over four years) and Chris Jones ($80 million over four years) will be the starting points.

And yet: The Giants should still re-sign him. Williams was their only consistently impactful pass rusher this season. They’ve already invested assets getting him into the building (two draft picks, $16.1 million). He’s only 26, well-liked in the locker room and an important cog in Patrick Graham’s defense. Bringing him back might make it difficult to re-sign Dalvin Tomlinson, but Williams’ abilities as a pass-rusher make him more important.

“I’m not going to lie … it’s never been about money for me,” Williams said after the game. “I think I just more wanted the respect and to show guys the reason why I’m in this league. Like I said, it’s just more about the respect to me than the contract.”

Williams might not care about the money.

But he’s going to make a lot of it anyway.

Cap casualties: If the Giants want to re-sign Williams and/or Tomlinson— or add anyone new — they’re going to need to clear cap. It’s still unclear what the 2021 cap hit on Logan Ryan’s new deal will be, but before factoring that in the Giants are currently projected for $16.8 million in cap space. Some possible casualties to clear space:

– WR Golden Tate: Save $6.1 million, $4.7 million penalty

– OT Nate Solder: (Post-June 1) Save $10 million, $6.5 million penalty (2021), $4 million penalty (2022)

– TE Levine Toilolo: Save $2.95 million

– P Riley Dixon: Save $2.675 million, $250,000 penalty

– LB David Mayo: Save $2.3 million

– WR Cody Core: Save $2 million

If the Giants cut all six of these players, that would clear up around $26 million in additional cap space.

Trade Will Hernandez: Before Week 8, Hernandez had started and played every snap for the Giants at left guard. Then he got COVID-19. Upon his return, Hernandez permanently became a rotational backup behind rookie Shane Lemieux. Last week, he played 10 snaps.

In Week 17, he was healthy, active … and didn’t play at all.

He’s clearly fallen out of favor with the new Giants staff and there is little reason to believe that will change in 2021.

Hernandez’s value is clearly diminished, but he’s a young offensive lineman with plenty of starting experience and is still considered a solid run-blocker. The Giants only have six draft picks, and they should certainly be able to get another one for him in a trade.

Extend Kevin Zeitler — or trade him too: This is going to be one of the more interesting decisions the Giants make this offseason. On one hand, Zeitler has been the Giants’ best and most consistent offensive lineman for the last two years. On the other, he’s not a Pro Bowl-caliber player and cutting or trading him this offseason would save $12 million.

The Giants’ offensive line isn’t good enough to be dumping consistent performers like Zeitler, but that is precious cap space too that could be used to fill a host of other needs or to fit both Williams and Tomlinson under the cap. A way to meet in the middle would be to extend Zeitler’s contract to reduce the cap hit in 2021, though he will be 31 in March.

If Zeitler does leave, there is no obvious replacement on the roster if Hernandez is traded.

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