Whether Kenny Golladay works out or not, Giants (with Joe Judge) are finally doing free agency the right way – NJ.com

The Giants pulled it off. They got their No. 1 wide receiver.

They signed Kenny Golladay, the best available free agent at the position. Daniel Jones shouldn’t be the only one celebrating this weekend.

Giants fans should, too.

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Sure, there was a reason why Golladay was still available a few days into free agency, and that they were able to host him for a three-day visit without any real fear of losing him to another team, but that’s all part of the reason why this signing is such a positive step in the right direction.

Golladay is the latest, biggest and best example that the Giants process in (and approach to) free agency has changed for the better. Joe Judge deserves a lot of the credit. It wasn’t like this before he arrived, and it doesn’t only have to do with Golladay, though let’s start there.

In 2018, the Giants went into the offseason with a desperate need for an upgrade at left tackle. So they quickly offered Nate Solder — widely considered an average player, at best — a record-setting $62 million contract. That obviously was a mistake in retrospect, but the Giants were desperate.

In 2019, the Giants had just traded Odell Beckham and general manager Dave Gettleman felt like he needed to replace him at wide receiver. So he offered Golden Tate a contract (four years, $37.5 million) far above his market value, thinking he’d help improve the locker room culture. Spoiler: He didn’t. Tate was a disaster: Suspended, benched, unproductive and cut after two years. The signs were there, too. Tate was 30 years old and coming off an awful half-season with the Eagles.

In 2021, the Giants waited. Everyone knew they needed a wide receiver. Everyone knew they inquired about Golladay at the trade deadline. But they didn’t jump the gun and offer him a huge deal right away. They watched as other top free agent receivers (Corey Davis, Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller among them) signed for less money than projected. Golladay’s market was never robust as expected, though he did have offers from the Bengals and Bears.

The Giants made it clear: They would only sign him on their terms.

When actors are being considered for movies, some are “offer only”, some are willing to audition for roles to get the offer. Golladay should’ve been offer-only as the top receiver available in free agency. But the Giants forced him to audition anyway.

He obliged.

“I think it’s really just they just wanted to lay eyes on me, taking a different approach about this whole process,” Golladay said on Saturday. “It worked out for both sides –– I was able to come in and see what they’re all about, I was able to see how the facility was. And they had a chance to pick my brain. I think it worked out.”

So he stayed in East Rutherford for three days. Thursday, he took a COVID-19 test and got dinner with Judge and other coaches. Friday, he took a physical and met with Judge, Dave Gettleman and other brass for a full-day get-to-know-you session. Saturday, after the Giants decided they liked what they saw, negotiations began in full.

The Giants wanted to make sure he was a culture fit. Golladay’s willingness to jump through hoops appealed him to the organization even more.

“To be honest,” he said, “I was really just being patient.”

Golladay had to convince them that he was worth signing. Not the other way around. At any point, Golladay could’ve signed the Bengals or Bears offers, or another team could’ve swooped in, but the Giants didn’t relent despite that risk. And it was a risk.

So, Golladay became a very rich man. He signed a four-year, $72 million contract — with $40 million in guarantees — which was slightly above what some around the league thought he would get in a declining market.

If they’d have come out empty-handed, the fan base wouldn’t have forgiven them. Understandably. There are no other No. 1-quality wide receivers still available, and the NFL Draft is a crapshoot.

It was a bold strategy to take with the player many considered the top free agent wide receiver available, one of the best players at his position in the NFL in 2018-2019, and again in 2020 before he got hurt. He’s the perfect fit for the Giants, as a Plaxico Burress-esque receiver that makes contested catches better than just about any receiver in the NFL. He had 18 catches thrown 20-plus yards downfield in 2019, tied with Stefon Diggs for the most in the league.

Jones should be salivating.

But the Giants wanted to ask questions, and it seems Golladay gave them the right answers.

A not-so-quick aside: The questions about Golladay’s maturity seemed a bit overblown anyway. The two issues being brought up:

1. His public disdain for for Matt Patricia. By “public” and “disdain”, he simply liked an Instagram post that saying Patricia was fired as Lions coach in November. It’s not as if he was the only Lions player happy to see Patricia go. Bleacher Report reported earlier in the season that on the last day of the 2018 season, a group of 10-15 Lions players drank champagne in the locker room to celebrate getting away from Patricia.

This isn’t the sort of social media behavior Judge will tolerate — just ask Tate — but it’s an easy habit to curb. Golladay doesn’t have a known history of social media shenanigans.

2. How things ended in Detroit. This is the actual concern, supposedly. Golladay missed all but five games last season with a hip injury, and there’s some around the league that think he could’ve returned before the end of the season but opted not to so he could preserve health heading into free agency.

NJ Advance Media spoke with Dr. Jesse Morse, a sports medicine and regenerative medicine specialist based out of Miami, who said that Golladay’s injury isn’t a concern. If it’s what Golladay said it was — a hip flexor strain — he should’ve recovered enough in time to play before the end of the season, too, Morse said.

In December, Lions coach Darrell Bevell said that Golladay wasn’t making a “business decision”.

“The guy is competing, he’s working hard,” Bevell said. “The good thing for me is I’m in here every day. I get to see what he’s doing. I get to see what he’s putting his body through to try to get back for us and for his teammates … I love his competitiveness, I love what he’s trying to do, he’s just working with an injury that he’s trying to work through.”

The Giants have some in the building who likely has offered all the necessary insight on Golladay, too. They hired Kyle O’Brien to their front office after he spent five years as ex-Lions GM Bob Quinn’s righthand man.

Back to the Giants getting smarter in free agency: The Golladay signing is a culmination of two years of mostly smart, forward-thinking moves in free agency that started once Judge got hired last January.

In 2020, the Giants focused on targeting players they knew already, without known character or injury concerns, a smart approach with teams not allowed to host players on visits due to the pandemic. The fruits of that labor: Cornerback James Bradberry, linebacker Blake Martinez and safety Logan Ryan, arguably three of their five most important players last season. Bradberry made the Pro Bowl.

They don’t get to six wins without that trio, and all three are back in 2021.

This offseason, the focus (outside of Golladay) has been on scraping the bargain bin for low-risk, high-reward players. For a team tight up against the massively-declined salary cap, it was (and is) the right approach.

Wide receiver John Ross has been an unquestioned disappointment in the NFL, but has elite speed (4.22 40) and was once a Top-10 pick. Defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks in 2019 and is only 26. Linebacker Reggie Ragland (27) is an upgrade over David Mayo and Devante Downs as the top backup linebacker. Quarterback Mike Glennon is an upgrade at backup quarterback, too, and cheaper than the last one (Colt McCoy).

None of them cost more than $2.5 million, and all signed for one year.

They still overpaid for a couple backups — running back Devontae Booker, defensive lineman Austin Johnson — and signed an aging tight end (Kyle Rudolph) but all three are expected to contribute in 2021, especially Rudolph.

The Giants also stopped relying too much on players they already know this year. That was less a problem in 2020 than in years past, when the Giants overpaid for aging players (like Antoine Bethea) because of ties to the coaching staff.

None of the free agent signings, other than Golladay, have worked directly in the NFL for any Giants coaches or front office staffers.

The Giants still have work to do, certainly. They had the second-worst offense in the NFL last season (17.5 points per game), the offensive line is a huge question mark and there are still holes at cornerback and outside linebacker.

But the Giants are better now than they were when the offseason started.

There is reason for optimism, and it starts with the process.

Imagine that: Giants fans can finally trust the process.

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Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at zrosenblatt@njadvancemedia.com. Tell us your coronavirus story or send a tip here.