The Giants were in the fifth week of their season last year when Odell Beckham Jr. gave an interview to Lil Wayne questioning the abilities of quarterback Eli Manning and saying how much he loved Los Angeles. His words were egregious enough to incur a fine from his team and forced Manning to defend himself and his teammates to respond to the distraction.
How much that contributed to the Giants’ dismal 5-11 season can’t be fully measured, but it certainly didn’t help the chemistry in the locker room when the team’s best receiver questioned a quarterback who has won two Super Bowls for the franchise.
Giants CEO and co-owner John Mara hopes incidents like that are a thing of the past now that Beckham has been traded to Cleveland and the Giants makeup is now of young players looking to prove themselves and veterans not trying to make a splash on social media.
When asked by The Post if the locker-room culture was an issue last year, Mara said, “I think it was not as strong as it could have been.” He added: “I think there’s just a different feel to it this year. I think some players have commented about that, too, so we’ll see.”
Beckham was a lightning rod for controversy, something the Giants eventually grew tired of. Trading him to Cleveland not only helped the Giants front office sleep better but netted them DL Dexter Lawrence of Clemson with the 17th pick overall and OLB Oshane Ximines in the third round with the 95th choice.
While Beckham’s presence had a tendency to overshadow everyone else, he wasn’t the only reason the Giants may have not been a tight unit. There was too much transition last season for anyone to feel secure.
A new coaching staff was in place, and a tone for change took root in October, when underachieving OT Ereck Flowers, malcontent CB Eli Apple and high-priced run-stuffer Damon “Snacks” Harrison were all either traded or released. Once the season was ruined with a 1-7 start, building a winning culture was on the back burner until the offseason. Now the Giants are looking to establish a more cohesive feel in the locker room, as well as on the field.
“A lot of times, I think that gets taken out of proportion,” Mara said. “At the end of the day, if you start winning games, it builds some enthusiasm, it builds some good feelings, some positives vibes, and I think that’s what we need to do more than anything else. Right now, it feels pretty good.”
Of course, the Giants have played just one preseason game in a year that is caught between rebuilding and reloading. Mara said Eli Manning starting every game and Daniel Jones not seeing the field as a rookie “would be an ideal world.” Yet, getting Jones equipped to play is also a priority.
The Giants have been to the playoffs just once (in 2016) since their 2011 Super Bowl season and are coming off consecutive seasons of 3-13 and 5-11. Mara thinks the Giants are ready to take another step forward in 2019.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job in the draft the last couple of years and we’ve got some good, young, talent on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I think our offensive line is better than it’s been, so I think there’s reason for optimism there. But until we start playing some games and winning some games, that’s all it is right now. I also like the feel of the locker room, so we’ll see.”
GM Dave Gettleman took plenty of heat for trading Beckham and drafting Jones. He did so with Mara’s full support.
“I think the best thing for me about Dave is he makes decisions that he feels are in the best interest of the franchise and he doesn’t give a damn what people think about it, be it the media or be it fans or anybody,” Mara said. “He has the courage of his convictions and you have to have that. He’s set about to try to rebuild this team and change the culture a bit in the locker room. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”