The player who best came to symbolize the New York Giants’ 2017 season was cornerback Eli Apple. Apple, a 2016 first-round selection, was supposed to take the next step after a promising rookie campaign.
The first sign of trouble came before the Giants’ Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Former head coach Ben McAdoo said Apple was “getting attacked” early in games. Apple, who was getting beat over the top and failed to make plays that could have prevented touchdowns leading up to the Chargers game, didn’t agree with McAdoo.
“I know anytime something does happen, I take the approach that I didn’t really give it up, kind of,’’ Apple said. “It was just something that I did, that I made a mistake. It wasn’t, ‘The dude was just better than me.’ I never think that on the football field. So, anytime I line up on the football field, I have 100 percent confidence, no matter what.”
Apple was benched for the game’s first three defensive series as punishment for having a verbal altercation with a coach during the week. After the 27-22 loss that dropped the Giants to 0-5, Apple made a statement some interpreted as an attack on the team’s culture.
“Just getting everybody on the same page, making sure everybody’s mission is to win this game,” Apple said. “We’re 0-5 for a reason. We have to make sure we do everything we can to win the game…I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, but the main thing we need to get back to is just our communication and attacking the quarterbacks a little better. We can get quarterbacks a little rattled more. I think they’re kind of picking up some of the stuff we’re trying to do easily.”
Apple’s season continued to go up and down. Things came to a head when McAdoo decided to have a “brutally honest” meeting with the team in a futile attempt to save his job. It was reported Apple became so incensed by criticism from both coaches and teammates that he almost walked out of the facility, only staying after a one-on-one meeting with McAdoo.
Apple only appeared in 11 games this past season. He was inactive for a four-game stretch (during which he got in trouble for violating the league’s social media policy for sending tweets during a game) and suspended for the regular season finale against the Washington Redskins for “a pattern of behavior of that is conduct detrimental to the team”. Apple refused to practice with the scout team and got into an argument with his position coach, leading to his suspension.
Worse yet, Apple and fellow defensive back Landon Collins became engaged in a very public feud. Collins called Apple “a cancer” (an extremely poor choice of words on Collins’ part considering Apple’s mother had surgery for brain cancer during the season). The back-and-forth between Collins (the Giants’ sole Pro Bowl representative and team leader) and Apple was considered by many to be a final straw, putting Apple’s future with the team in doubt.
Apple took to Twitter to vent his frustrations Sunday night. He tweeted he would “rather be hated than loved” because “the love is always fake”. He even took the time to respond to some of his critics.
One of his teammates who knows a little something about getting tried and convicted in the court of public opinion justly or unjustly offered Apple some advice: wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham, who was lost for the season after re-injuring his ankle in the Chargers game, tweeted that although it feels good to lash out at the critics Apple “shouldn’t waste (his) time” on them. Beckham also tweeted he wasn’t good enough to help the Giants avoid a 3-13 season and Apple wasn’t either.
General manager Dave Gettleman said Apple has a “clean slate” as far as he’s concerned. He had a meeting with Apple earlier this week and was pleased with the outcome.
“It went fine,” Gettleman told the New York Post. “He was very attentive. He was focused. I told him he’s got a clean slate for me. Let’s move forward. Let’s see what happens.”
The Giants may not be ready to jettison a first-round pick, especially one who showed occasional flashes that he can be a good cornerback in this league. Beckham reached out to Apple via Twitter. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall said he wants to help him because of his own mercurial journey through the NFL. Even Collins apologized and said he and Apple can co-exist on the team.
It may be a long, difficult journey for Apple to get back into his teammate’s good graces. Like Gettleman said, the best approach is to move forward and see what happens.