EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Despite losing record-setting receiver Steve Smith and tight end Kevin Boss and failing to make any “sexy” moves in the free-agent market, general manager Jerry Reese insists the New York Giants have the talent to make a run at another title.
And that starts with the playoffs.
“We expect to build off that,” Reese said of his team’s 10-6 mark last season. “If we made a couple of plays here and there, we would have been in the playoffs and who knows what would have happened if that happened. It didn’t happen.
“So, we’ll make the plays this time and get in the playoffs and make a run.”
Bold words, indeed, from the embattled Reese. And they came a day after Smith signed with the rival Philadelphia Eagles.
The general manager, who helped this team to a Super Bowl title with many of the same players still on this roster, was defensive on Thursday, maintaining the Giants made responsible offers to keep Smith and Boss. He also said a reasonable offer was made to former Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress, who decided to join the Jets.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it to work out,” said Reese, who spent six minutes detailing the Giants position-by-position to point out strengths. “We’ll play the hand we’re dealt, and we’ll win with it.”
Reese said the Giants had a game plan heading into free agency and they followed it, signing free agent David Baas to take over at center and re-signing starting halfback Ahmad Bradshaw.
“We are not looking to make every sexy splash that can be made,” Reese said in downplaying the moves made by the Eagles. “We are looking to make solid football decisions.”
Reese’s comments to the media were his first since the team reported to training camp in late July, and came with many wondering whether he has been sitting on his hands in this accelerated free-agency period following the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Speaking for roughly 15 minutes, Reese’s voice quivered at times, a clear indication of mounting pressure. When asked if he felt he was under a microscope, Reese said that was funny.
“Come up to my office and let me show you some of my mail I get,” said Reese, who took over as the GM in 2007. “I’ll show you how under the microscope I get. From the very beginning, it’s pretty vicious the mail I got. This is a big boy’s sport. If you are thin skinned in this market or in the National Football League, period, you’re in the wrong job. I am tougher than I look.”
The last few weeks have been tough for Reese.
It took him a while to re-sign Bradshaw. Two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora reported to camp a day late because of a contract dispute, and he has yet to practice, although Reese insists he will be in the fold soon.
Then, people started leaving.
Boss, who had 35 catches last season and was one of Eli Manning’s top red-zone targets, signed with Oakland and Smith, who had a team-record 107 catches two years ago, joined the Eagles’ “Dream Team.”
“It’s free agency, guys leave in free agency and that’s the way it’s has been for some time,” Reese said. “Nobody — nobody — owes you anything in free agency, almost a dog-eat-dog type of thing.”
The loss of Smith, who is coming off major knee surgery, was stunning, especially to a rival. He visited the Giants on Monday and everyone, including coach Tom Coughlin, assumed he would either re-sign or give them the right to match any offer.
Smith didn’t, and it upset Coughlin.
“It’s like lining up for the race and you’re in the locker room and nobody tells you that the race is going to be run,” Coughlin said. “That’s the disappointing thing here.”
Reese, who succeeded Ernie Accorsi as general manager on Jan. 16, 2007, and has been with the franchise since 1994, refused to criticize Smith or his agent, Ben Droga.
“I don’t want to get into a he said-she said situation,” Reese said. “You do expect some feedback, but no one owes you anything in free agency.”
Reese admitted the Giants’ offers to Smith and Boss reflected the fact that both players had medical issues. Boss has had a couple of concussions and Smith probably won’t be start the season because of his knee.
Coughlin estimated Smith would need another six weeks to be ready.
“When I say sticking to our game plan, I mean we made responsible offers,” Reese said, “and when those offers weren’t good enough, we moved on.”
The Giants are returning Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham at the top two receiver spots. They combined for roughly 2,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Victor Cruz, rookie Jerrel Jerrigan — who was wearing Smith’s No. 12 jersey on Thursday —, Domenik Hixon or Devin Thomas probably will be the third receiver, but none has shown the ability to play the slot like Smith, who was Manning’s favorite target on third down.
Travis Beckum can catch the ball as well as Boss. But he is not as capable a blocker at tight end.
“We feel good where we are,” Reese said. “We’ll continue to look for players to make our roster stronger, but we’re not going to throw in the towel right now. We think we have a strong team and we’re looking forward to the season.”
The Giants missed the playoffs for the second straight season last year, and lost the NFC East title to the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) on a tiebreaker.