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Giants face decisions on Eli, others after missing playoffs

December 31, 2018 GMT
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Dallas Cowboys' Michael Gallup, right, catches a two-point conversion during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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Dallas Cowboys' Michael Gallup, right, catches a two-point conversion during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Things definitely didn’t go the way Pat Shurmur wanted in his first season as New York Giants coach.

The Giants (5-11) finished last in the NFC East for the second straight year. They missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons and were among the NFL’s worst teams despite a spectacular rookie season from running back and No. 2 overall draft pick Saquon Barkley.

The bottom line is there are lots of problems to be fixed and major personnel issues to be resolved.

For general manager Dave Gettleman, it starts with what to do with two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, linebacker Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins, who finished the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Manning, Vernon and Jenkins all might be salary-cap casualties. Collins is at the end of his rookie contract and might be hit with the franchise tag.

The soon-to-be 38-year-old Manning, who has a $23 million cap value, is the biggest decision. The veteran quarterback finished his 15th season and had his ups and downs, in large part because of his lack of mobility and inconsistent play by an offensive line that remains a work in progress.

There is no one waiting in the wings to replace him, and the quarterback class in the draft is not nearly as good as last season’s.

The Giants, who have the No. 6 pick overall in April’s draft, also have a greater need for a pass rusher or an offensive lineman.

After a 1-7 start, New York showed flashes after its bye week. It won four of five, including a win over NFC North champion Chicago. The season ended with a three-game losing streak, the final two games each decided by point.

It’s no wonder players packing their belongings in the locker room Monday showed the optimism of a team reporting to training camp.

“I believe that we’re very close, and to be completely honest, I think what we have here is special,” said Barkley, who finished second in the league in rushing with 1,307 yards, and No. 1 in yards from scrimmage with 2,028 — only the third rookie in league history to crack the 2,000-yard plateau.

“I wasn’t here the year before, but we’re not the team that we were when we went 3-13,” Barkley added. “Obviously, we went 5-11 and that’s not the record that we would like, but we’re close. We’re really close, and I believe that’s going to show next year if we continue to believe in each other, continue to work and continue to grind and have that dog mentality that we showed this year.”

Shurmur and Gettleman did a solid job of turning over last year’s roster. There were fewer than 15 players from the 2017 team on the roster at the end of the season.

The offense has playmakers with Barkley, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard, and tight end Evan Engram, who rediscovered his game late after an early-season injury.

James Bettcher’s new 3-4 defense played hard but it failed too many times to hold leads. New York lost eight of its 11 games by seven points or less.

The biggest surprise was special teams. Aldrick Rosas, who struggled as a rookie, is going to the Pro Bowl after making 32 of 33 field goals, including a team-record 57-yarder.

“We didn’t win enough games,” Shurmur said. “What we did well is we took a young team and a new team and a new staff and we competed, and we had some good victories. But we’ve got to do a better job of winning those close games. We’ve either got to get a stop or get a score, and that’s where we need to get better.”

Center Spencer Pulley will be a restricted free agent. He wouldn’t mind coming back; this team reminds him of the one he played on last season with the Chargers. They went from 5-11 to 9-7 and just missed the playoffs. Los Angeles went 12-4 this season and got a wild-card berth despite tying Kansas City for the top record in the AFC.

“This is probably the most excited I have been at the end of a season, to come back and be back into the thing,” Pulley said. “I can look at the Chargers team I was on last year and things started getting a little better at the end of the year. I look at them now and they are doing pretty well. I don’t want to say I see even more here, but I see a lot of the same things. There are some many young players here and veterans, I can see special things happening.”

Next year will tell.

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