EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The somewhat surprising departure of Eli Apple via trade with the New Orleans Saints for a pair of future draft picks leaves one question that looms over the remainder of the players still inside the New York Giants' locker room.
Not that the Giants' parting ways with Apple comes as a major shock, even if he's been, for all intents and purposes, their second-best cornerback in the midst of another woeful campaign in which Big Blue has earned just about every part of its 1-6 record.
But if the Giants have determined Apple isn't part of the future of the franchise – team brass must make difficult decisions that stretch across the entire roster, and that includes at quarterback with Eli Manning – then general manager Dave Gettleman needed to do what he did in dealing the 2016 first-round pick out of town.
The compensation – a fourth-round pick in 2019 and a seventh-round pick in 2020 – may not seem like much for Apple, who has started 23 of 30 games in his career.
The bigger challenge for the Giants moving forward for Pat Shurmur and his coaching staff comes down to being able to get this team ready to play the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium on Sunday without looking over its collective shoulder with uncertainty regarding what the future holds.
“We’re not throwing in the towel," Shurmur said during Monday's conference call with reporters. "There’s no balancing act in my mind. I’m worried about the team today, and what we need to do to get ready to play Washington. There’s no balance there, but I’m always a part of the discussions as we work to get the roster the way it’s going to be this week, and certainly thinking about the future."
High-priced veterans on defense – the three free agents brought in to spark the Giants to their 2016 playoff run – could be available if a team comes with the right offer. There's reason to believe that Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins are all in the mix to be salary cap casualties next March, so if the Giants determine they can get value now, they might be willing to pull the trigger.
I would not deal Vernon, in part because – no matter how many games he's missed the last two seasons – I'd want to see how he plays out the remainder of this season. His skill set as an edge player both in the pass rush and against the run is unique to this team.
I'm not sure about Jenkins, who has been inconsistent this year, and Harrison is an intriguing situation.
If the Giants have determined they are going to move on from Snacks next year for salary cap relieve – I don’t know if they have – they should gauge his market value, too. He's a great player and a respected teammate, but the Giants don't play him enough. They also have talented young players such as Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill and potentially R.J. McIntosh to grow into that spot.
The Giants have lost 21 straight games when trailing entering the fourth quarter, the longest current streak in the NFL. They could have ended that run of misfortune and heartbreak earlier this month had Graham Gano's 63-yard field goal not split the uprights in the waning moments of a 33-31 victory for the Carolina Panthers.
In his weekly paid WFAN appearance Tuesday, when asked if he heard any of the trade speculation involving him, Manning said: "I haven't thought about the trade scenario and hey, this organization is the only team I played for and only thing I know. I love the Giants. It's hard to imagine being with another organization."
And considering the Giants (and any trade partner) would have to convince Manning under those circumstances to waive the no-trade clause in his contract, the two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback doesn't sound like he's changing his tune about wanting to finish his career with the franchise that traded for him on draft day in 2004.
That should not stop the Giants from getting rookie Kyle Lauletta ready to take over as the backup, perhaps as soon as their post-bye Monday night game against San Francisco out in Santa Clara, Calif. Assess the situation for what it is in the weeks after that, and if the Giants remain on the slow march to the 2019 NFL Draft and potentially the No. 1 pick, they need to convince Manning that playing Lauletta is in the best interest of the franchise for which he has played 15 seasons and promises to adore.
Meanwhile, Apple's tenure with the Giants was filled with controversy, and pretty much from the outset. The Giants had their sights on selecting tackle Jack Conklin and linebacker Leonard Floyd before the Titans and Bears jumped them with their respective trades on draft night. They passed on another tackle in Laremy Tunsil, who wound up in Miami despite a controversy involving a gas mask and accusations of marijuana use, instead choosing Apple, who was in the mix for the Buccaneers and Dolphins picking after them.
At his best, the former Ohio State star showed the potential of being a really good player. Team brass kept Apple here after a turbulent season last fall because of that pedigree.
For all Apple shows at one extreme, there are times when he drifts to the other.
Case in point, the worst of Apple during last season when he was suspended for the season finale, called out by Landon Collins for being a disruptive force – and that’s putting it mildly – and was ultimately picked on by opposing quarterbacks over much of his second campaign in the NFL.
At season's end, there was legitimate reason to believe he might not be on the roster heading into this season. The Giants were resigned to take the good with the bad, knowing full well that – to get him at his best – there might not ever be a middle ground, at least not for a while.
It would not surprise me if another part of dealing Apple is that, at 1-6, no one in the Giants' building wants a repeat of last season. And Apple, as talented as he may be, possesses a quirky personality as a teammate. This might have just been a situation of getting what you can and moving on for the Giants.
Expect B.W. Webb to move outside and replace Apple in the short term with undrafted rookie Grant Haley, who made his NFL debut against the Falcons, seeing a significant jump in his snaps both inside against the slot and on the perimeter.
"I didn’t say we were taking a longer term view. I said what we do is do everything in our power to win each week. Everything in our power to win each week, but that’s also certainly something Dave [Gettleman] considers moving forward, and certainly I’m involved in those conversations – okay, this is how we’re going to do it," Shurmur said. "As I mentioned earlier, we traded Eli [Apple] for a pick, but we’re going to give the guys on our roster, who have played good football for us, an opportunity to go out and play."
As much as the Giants remain committed to the present, the future is now.
They owe it to themselves to start putting those difficult decisions into effect before too long.
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