INDIANAPOLIS – Being an NFL general manager is like being a kicker: What have you done for me lately?
Take Jerry Reese of the New York Giants.
The general manager was on the hot seat the past two years when the Giants missed the playoffs after a couple of late-season collapses. It didn't matter that the team went 10-6 in 2010. They still didn't make the postseason.
Nobody seems to care that New York was 7-7 after 14 games. All that matters is they went on a five-game winning streak and are now playing for an NFL title Sunday.
"It's just part of it," Reese said. "Last year we win 10 games and we don't qualify for the tournament and you're not that smart. This time, we win nine games, win a division, with less games, and now it seems I'm pretty smart again. It just comes with the territory and that's just part of it. It just is what it is."
Reese has been under the microscope as much as coach Tom Coughlin this season, and missing the playoffs the previous two seasons was only part of the problem.
The lockout had delayed the free-agency signing period and made teams scramble to set their roster.
Reese had to make several key decisions, and not all were popular. He released veteran offensive linemen Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert, and he was unable to re-sign popular tight end Kevin Boss and top receiver Steve Smith or coax Plaxico Burress back after his release from prison on a gun charge.
O'Hara, Seubert and Smith were coming off injuries and it was uncertain how much they would have been able to contribute. Boss got a deal from Oakland; Burress was signed by the Jets.
Reese's big moves were signing center David Baas and punter Steve Weatherford, re-signing linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka and lineman Kevin Boothe. He also added depth by re-signing safety Deon Grant and defensive lineman Dave Tollefson.
"Everybody has different ways of doing things," Reese said. "We had a good nucleus of guys coming back and we just felt like we needed to make the best football moves. Obviously, they're not sexy moves. We signed a guard, we signed a center and we signed a punter. That's not really sexy, especially from a fan perspective. Fans are fans and they like to see big names and see you look like you're stacking the deck, but we had good players already and we needed to fill the holes we thought were there and we tried to do that."
The other lingering issue was Reese's relationship with two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora. He had criticized Reese during the lockout, claiming the general manager had reneged on a promise to renegotiate his contract after a year in which the nine-year veteran had 10 forced fumbles.
The topic is still touchy for Reese. He refused to talk about either Umenyiora's future or that of backup running back Brandon Jacobs, who is due a $500,000 signing bonus in March and a big salary next season.
"It's not even appropriate to talk about right now. We are trying to win a Super Bowl," Reese said. "We will cross that bridge when it's time."
When the Giants won the Super Bowl after Reese's first season as general manager, the roster had been mostly put together by then-general manager Ernie Accorsi. This team is Reese's, with 44 of the 53 players signed or drafted by him.
Still, he refused to take credit.
"We all work hard to get where we are from the first person to the last person, whoever they are," he said. "It's all about team for us, that's what is important. It's our players. It's our team. It's our chance to win the Super Bowl
"We have gotten to where want to go and we will all be terribly disappointed if we don't finish the job now," he said.