Giants and Bears, both in rebuild mode, forever linked by 2021 NFL Draft day trade

The Giants are in rebuild mode again for a lot of reasons, including a decision at the 2021 NFL Draft that inextricably links them to this Sunday’s opponent at MetLife Stadium, the Chicago Bears.

On April 29, 2021, Giants GM Dave Gettleman and coach Joe Judge held the No. 11 overall pick and were prepared to select one of four players they believed might fall to them: Alabama receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn.

But only three quarterbacks were selected ahead of the Giants’ pick, not four. Alabama’s Mac Jones and Ohio State’s Justin Fields were still available, which meant one extra position player would go ahead of the Giants than many teams had anticipated.

The Dolphins took Waddle at No. 6, and the Giants’ draft room writhed in frustration. The Lions at No. 7 picked Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, whom the Giants never expected to make it to 11.

The Panthers then took Horn at No. 8. And the Broncos picked Surtain at No. 9. The Giants liked both players, especially Surtain, who has proven to be as advertised. But now the draft’s consensus top two corners were off the board and Dallas — which had been eyeing those corners — was up at No. 10.

Then it happened: As the Giants watched from their East Rutherford, N.J., war room, the Cowboys accepted a rare in-division trade with the Philadelphia Eagles back to No. 12, and Howie Roseman leapfrogged Gettleman and the Giants and stole the speedy Smith at No. 10.

It was a stunning chain of events. And while the Giants weren’t unprepared for it, they compounded the situation by deciding not to draft Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons due to off-field concerns. And he fell to the giddy Cowboys at 12.

Parsons became a first-team All-Pro as a rookie and helped wreck the Giants’ offensive line last Monday night. Smith is 13th in the NFL in receiving yards after going off for eight catches, 169 yards and a TD on the Washington Commanders last Sunday.

If the Giants had stayed at pick No. 11, Gettleman would have drafted USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, who eventually went No. 14 to the Jets. Instead, they made a trade with Judge’s long-term rebuild in mind that forever links them to the Bears:

The Giants moved back from No. 11 to Chicago’s pick at No. 20. Then-Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy charged up from No. 20 to select Fields, Sunday’s starting quarterback.

The Giants netted pick No. 20 in that draft, the Bears’ 2022 first-rounder at No. 7, Chicago’s 2021 fifth-rounder at No. 164 overall, and a Bears 2022 fourth-rounder at No. 112 overall.

They used the No. 20 pick to select Florida receiver Kadarius Toney. He had such a rough rookie season that the Giants’ new regime tried to trade him this past spring; he played seven snaps in Week 1; and he is missing his second straight game due to a hamstring Sunday.

The Giants used the 2021 fifth-rounder to trade up in the third round with the Broncos to select UCF corner Aaron Robinson. Robinson is starting on the outside this season when healthy but is not considered a long-term solution at the position.

The biggest plus of the trade was netting an extra first-rounder in 2022. New Giants GM Joe Schoen used the Giants’ own first-rounder at No. 5 pick on Oregon pass rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux and then added Alabama tackle Evan Neal with the Bears pick at No. 7.

The Giants used the extra first-round pick they got from the Bears on offensive lineman Evan Neal.

The Giants used the extra first-round pick they got from the Bears on offensive lineman Evan Neal. (John Munson/AP)

Neal has had a rocky start, including allowing three sacks to the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence on Monday night. And the Giants drafted San Diego State tight end Daniel Bellinger this year with the extra fourth-rounder. Bellinger caught a touchdown in the Giants’ Week 2 win over the Panthers but, like most rookies, is a work in progress.

The trade didn’t work out for either the Giants or Bears regimes that held power in 2021.

Fields went 2-8 as a starter as a rookie. The Bears went 6-11, and Pace and Nagy got fired.

Gettleman’s and Judge’s Giants imploded under backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm with Daniel Jones injured and out, and they never got the chance to use that extra first-round pick themselves.

A 29-3 loss at Soldier Field to the Bears, in fact, was the beginning of the end. Judge would never come back from his postgame rant in Chicago, and John Mara and Steve Tisch prematurely pulled the plug on the promise of a long-term rebuild.

Everyone in the Giants’ building, of course, prefers to erase that Week 17 debacle from their memory.

“It’s a new team, new time, new coaches, new year,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said this week. “We don’t really think about that last year. Just come and play this week.”

The 2021 draft trade ultimately left the Giants and Bears competing against each other again in the market for a coach and GM in the offseason.

Schoen and Brian Daboll interviewed for both the Giants and Bears jobs, and the Giants hired the Buffalo Bills package.

Bears GM Ryan Poles was one of three finalists for the Giants’ GM job before taking the Chicago job, and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was hired as head coach.

“That’s a long time ago,” Daboll said of his Bears candidacy.

The Bears then debuted more rookies (11) in Week 1 than any other team in the league. The Giants and Cowboys were second with nine.

Both teams have quarterbacks in prove-it years who seem to have the deck stacked against them: Fields in Year 2, the Giants’ Jones in Year 4.

And Schoen and Poles probably will be competing in next spring’s draft for their next quarterback, too.

A win for either team on Sunday improves their record to 3-1. A loss drops them to 2-2 and higher up next spring’s draft board.

But as both the Giants and Bears both proved last year, a draft pick only matters if you know what to do with it.

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