There was no discussion.
For as far back as anyone could remember, the Giants never selected a player in any NFL draft without a lengthy and detailed conversation about that player and several others on their draft board with similar grades. General managers, personnel directors, scouts, coaches, owners, and athletic trainers all offered their opinions on the virtues and weaknesses of the prospective draftees. Only then was a decision made.
But on Thursday evening, the Giants used their first-round selection – and the second overall pick in the draft – to secure Penn State running back Saquon Barkley without even a second of debate. None was needed, because the Giants knew if Barkley was available, they were taking him.
General manager Dave Gettleman made his final decision Thursday morning...
Gettleman’s draft day began mid-morning, when he watched the final practice of the Giants’ voluntary three-day minicamp. In the afternoon, he got a haircut.
“I got gussied up,” he said. “It was so damn long, I couldn't stand it anymore.”
Although manically dedicated to his job, Gettleman has always been able to keep a sharp perspective on football. He likes to say, “We’re not curing cancer.” That was just one reason he was neither nervous nor anxious in the hours prior to the draft.
“It's all about being prepared,” he said in his office, three hours before the draft began.
“If you're prepared, you're comfortable, no matter what you do. If you're on a deadline and you know you're prepared, then you're fine. You meet the deadline and you put your stuff in. The scouts have done a great job, we've been very thorough, we've identified the players that we're interested in, and I feel fine going in.”
After months of meetings, watching tape, visiting pro days and hosting prospects, the Giants began sharpening their draft focus last Friday.
“John Mara, (senior vice president of player evaluation) Chris Mara, (scout) Chris Pettit and Pat (Shurmur, the Giants’ first-year head coach), we had a lengthy conversation, talked about everything, let it marinate over the weekend, and then we had another one on Wednesday and Steve Tisch was in there as well,” Gettleman said. “At the end of the day, we're comfortable with where we are. Obviously, John and I have had multiple conversations since then and with other people, obviously, and we feel very good where we are.”
At 5:32, Ken Sternfeld, the Giants’ director of pro personnel, entered Gettleman’s office with two sheets of paper, each with a trade proposal. Gettleman studied them and said, “It’s not going to happen.” But as Sternfeld left, he said, “Hang onto those.” Wait, you just went from it’s not going to happen to hang onto those.
“You have to be flexible,” Gettleman said.
Earlier, he had said, “We've fielded one call for someone to move up to No. 2, but that's it.”
He spent no time wondering who the Cleveland Browns would select, despite knowing if they chose Barkley, the Giants would have to audible.
“At the end of the day, what difference does it make?” he said. “Everybody is going to take who they are going to take. I don't fret about it, I don't worry about it. You just work your board. That is all there is to it. It doesn't matter if it's the first round or the seventh round. We had one draft a couple years ago down in Carolina where we had it happen twice and the only time it's ever happened where the guy we really wanted was taken right in front of us. But you're not panicking, you're not scrambling, you just take the next guy.”
That’s why you have a draft board. And Gettleman had confidence the Giants had graded the players on theirs correctly.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “Absolutely. Scouts did a great job, everybody had input, we collaborated, we communicated, we were brutally honest with each other, and I'm very pleased with where the board is.”
Gettleman left his office at six o’clock to attend a meeting with the coaches. The topic of discussion was not the draft, but the minicamp.
Upon returning, Gettleman met individually or in groups with John Mara, Pettit, assistant general manager Kevin Abrams, and Mark Konz, the Panthers’ former director of pro scouting who was hired by Gettleman as a draft consultant. Gettleman said the get-togethers were late strategy sessions.
Thirty minutes before the draft’s scheduled 8 p.m. start, Gettleman made the short walk from his office to the draft room. The team executives and scouts sat on the outside of a large square table. Within the square was a small table reserved for the Giants’ three coordinators – James Bettcher (defense), Mike Shula (offense) and Thomas McGaughey (special teams). The rest of the coaches and the medical staff ringed the outside of the room.
Soon after entering, Gettleman addressed the gathering.
“I want to thank everyone,” said Gettleman, who lauded the group’s hard work and dedication in the weeks and months prior to the draft. “We're ready. Remember, once we draft a guy, he is our guy. Whoever it is, everybody should be excited. Remember what I told you before, if you're a true professional and you disagree with the decision, you go into your office, get on your knees and pray you are wrong. It's that simple. Again, you did a great job. I know we're right and things are going to work out.”
At 8:07, Patrick Hanscomb, the team's pro scout who was in Dallas for the draft, announced via speaker phone that, “We’re in business. Cleveland is on the clock.”
About midway through the Browns’ allotted time, Gettleman joked, “Oh, make the pick already, will you?”
Moments later, Hanscomb told everyone Cleveland had selected a player. One minor issue remained – he didn’t know who it was.
“Patrick, walk over and see who they wrote on their card,” Gettleman said. He was not serious.
“I was leaning, but someone from the league office was watching me a little bit,” Hanscomb said.
If Gettleman was concerned, he hid it well. While waiting for the announcement of the Browns’ selection, he worked the room, talking and eliciting laughs from team president John Mara, chairman Steve Tisch, senior vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara, and coach Pat Shurmur.
The second NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium at the draft in Dallas and announced that Cleveland had taken Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma, Gettleman directed Jon Berger, the Giants’ senior director of football information, to “get a card ready with Barkley’s name on it.”
Berger then relayed the information to Hanscomb, who was sitting at the Giants’ desk in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
In an instant, and without even a sentence of deliberation or dissent, Gettleman gave the signal to Berger that formally set in motion the Giants’ drafting of Barkley.
The Giants would have turned in the card immediately, but the NFL asked all teams to use at least half of their allotted 10 minutes in the first round. Ironically, they instituted that rule largely because of Gettleman, who, as the Carolina Panthers’ general manager last year, used about 12 seconds before choosing running back Christian McCaffrey.
“It’s the Dave Gettleman/Kevin Colbert rule,” Gettleman said of the Pittsburgh Steelers general manager who is also known for his quick draft-day decisions.
He later said, “The only reason that pick wasn’t in at 9:58 was because we had to wait till the five-minute mark.”
Moments after he received the directive from Gettleman, Hanscomb’s voice came over the speakerphone in the draft room. “The pick is in,” he said. “Thank you, Patrick,” Gettleman said. When Hanscomb responded, “Good pick,” everyone in the room laughed.
Moments later, when Goodell announced the pick, the room erupted in applause.
Gettleman and Shurmur met with the media following the selection.
"Obviously, we felt Saquon was the best player in the draft," Gettleman said. "In baseball, they call it a five-tool player. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to pick five tools, but I have not seen a guy like this in a long time and I have been around a long time. I have been doing this for 30-plus years. The kid is so unique because of his size and his speed. He has the ability to string together multiple moves. He has the ability to step on the gas. He can do what we call cross the formation. There are a lot of good backs in this league, but they don’t have the speed to go across the formation."
Gettleman was characteristically colorful in revealing why he wasn’t swayed by any of the proposals to trade his first-round pick.
“People call you and they want the second pick of the draft for a bag of donuts, a hot pretzel and a hot dog,” he said. “Leave me alone. I don’t have time to screw around.”
Meanwhile, Shurmur was bullish about the impact Barkley can make on the Giants.
“I have seen the effects of a really, really good running back not only on the offense, but on the team. You have to run the football not just for your offense, but for your team. I have seen the effect that a great running back can have on teams. I was excited about the fact that he was the best player in the draft and I was excited about the fact that we were able to draft him.”
Just moments after Hanscomb turned in the card, the Giants contacted the player who so excited them. Ironically, Barkley was in the stadium where their NFC East rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, play their home games...
For many years, it was the task of executive scout Joe Collins to call the players to inform them they had been drafted by the Giants. Collins was famous for asking the players, “Are you healthy? You didn’t pull a hamstring answering the phone, did you.” (Collins kept the joke alive even after the advent of mobile phones, which could be answered without moving.)
Collins retired after the 2017 draft, and now it is Steve Verderosa, an executive scout entering his 31st season with the team, who calls the newest Giants.
Some traditions die hard.
After identifying himself to Barkley, Verderosa asked, “You didn’t fall and break your ankle going to the phone, did you?"
Thankfully, the answer was no. After Verderosa, Steve Tisch, John Mara and Pat Shurmur all spoke to Barkley.
“Obviously in the draft, you don’t decide where you want to go,” Barkley said on a conference call.
“But if I had to pick, that would be the place that I would pick. Walking into that facility and you see the four Super Bowl rings just hanging in a trophy case, that right there just shows you the mindset and the standard of that place. And that’s where you want to be, and that’s a place you want to be a part of.”
The feeling is strongly mutual.