New York Giants 2001 NFL Free Agency Preview
With more and more teams pressed against or over the salary cap, the free agent landscape has changed drastically. Players cut due to salary cap considerations are often more attractive than the “official” unrestricted and restricted free agents out there. For example, MLB Mike Barrow and LT Lomas Brown were not “free agents” – they were players who were cut by their previous team in an effort to save money. Since many teams are in salary cap trouble, there is bound to be some very attractive players becoming available – perhaps more so than the true “free agent” prospects I will list below. Because I cannot predict what the total market will look like (i.e., I do not know for sure what players teams will waive), my analysis must be limited to those players who are currently scheduled to be free agents as of March 2, 2001. The cuts have already started and will continue in March and April. Be aware that additional talent will most likely become available after June 1st; after this date, players waived will have their pro-rated signing bonus count against the 2002 salary cap instead of the 2001 cap. It most likely will be wise for the Giants to not act too quickly with too many resources in free agency and see how the market develops instead. Thus, don’t be surprised if the Giants are not real active right away.
Despite coming off an NFC Championship, the Giants have a number of needs. Depth could also be a concern depending on what transpires with the Giants’ own free agents. For example, DT Christian Peter and MLB Pete Monty are valuable reserves who could be looking to move on. The Giants’ primary needs at this time look to be at cornerback, defensive end, tight end, and on the offensive line.
Whoever the Giants look at, Head Coach Jim Fassel has already said that the personality of the prospective player will be a determining factor on whether the team pursues him or not. A premium will be placed upon team-oriented guys who love to play the game. Also, aside for one or two exceptions, don’t look for the Giants to pursue many high-priced free agents. While the Giants are underneath the salary cap, they do not have tons of cap room. Plus, the team is probably a bit wary of possible disruptions to the team salary structure and chemistry (see the 2000 Washington Redskins). Barrow was really the only high-priced guy the Giants went after in 2000; QB Kerry Collins was the guy in 1999. OC Dusty Zeigler did not come cheap, but guys like CB Dave Thomas and LG Glenn Parker were bargains.
The quantity and quality of the free agents signed by the Giants will largely be determined on how much salary cap room they have. Much depends on who of their own they re-sign and for how much. Salaries of some already signed veterans will be re-structured. The ability to attract free agents by the Giants will be helped by the conversion of the home field to grass. It will also be aided by the fact that Head Coach Jim Fassel will soon be on firm ground with a new long-term contract – players love stability. Being a Super Bowl contender will also help.
The following is a list of players by position who interest me and who are currently (as of February 23rd) scheduled to become free agents on March 2nd. Please note, as I have already mentioned, that this list is only limited to players who are still technically affiliated with another team and not players who have been recently waived due to salary cap considerations. (Note: UFA = Unrestricted Free Agent; RFA = Restricted Free Agent).
Cornerbacks: Dave Thomas did a good job for the Giants last season when forced into the starting line-up, but the Giants would like a more athletic and faster player starting at left corner. This would enable the Giants to take more chances on defense with blitzes and varying schemes.
- CB Samari Rolle, RFA, Titans, (6-0, 180lbs, 24) – Restricted, he most likely will cost a first and third rounder to sign. Emerging star. Very good athlete with fine speed. Plays an aggressive game and is fluid in coverage. Mentally tough.
- CB Ray Buchanan, UFA, Falcons, (5-10, 186lbs, 29) – Athletic player who has Pro Bowl-type ability. Plays with an attitude – at times a bit too cocky. Not very big but makes plays on the ball. Good in man-to-man and zone coverage. Needs to stay focused and disciplined all of the time. Re-signed with the Falcons before free agency started; a 6-year, $36 million contract with an $8 million signing bonus.
- CB Aeneas Williams, UFA, Cardinals, (5-10, 200lbs, 32) – Pro Bowl regular who is nearing the end of his career. Still one of the best in the league. Smart and instinctive. Very good cover corner who makes plays on the football. Can play man and zone coverage with equal ability. Can take a receiver out of game though he is not as fast as he used to be. The big questions are how much does he have left and how hungry will he be when he signs what may be his last pro contract? FRANCHISED.
- CB Denard Walker, UFA, Titans (6-1, 190lbs, 27) – Big, physical player with very good speed. Not a great cover man. Best in bump-and-run coverage. Improving.
- CB Ronde Barber, UFA, Buccaneers (5-10, 185lbs, 25) – Lacks ideal size, but he is well-built. Decent athlete with good speed. Still young and developing. Identical twin of Tiki Barber. Plays primarily in a zone scheme in Tampa. Very good on special teams.
- CB Walt Harris, UFA, Bears (6-0, 195lbs, 26) – Has great tools to work with – good size and athleticism. Inconsistent – has not lived up to his billing (13th player selected in ’96 draft). But played better last year. Physical – best suited as a bump-and-run guy. Good tackler against the run.
- CB Dainon Sidney, RFA, Titans (6-0, 188, 25) – Restricted so how “sign-able” he will be will depend on how high is protected; was a third round draft pick. Good size and athletic ability. Has good speed and long arms. Must play tougher.
Tight Ends: Howard Cross is nearing the end and may retire. The Giants have high hopes for Dan Campbell, but relying on him completely at this stage is probably not a wise move. Pete Mitchell – who is more of an H-Back – will probably leave via free agency. Adam Young is an interesting prospect who spent the year on the Practice Squad, but he is an unproven talent. General Manager Ernie Accorsi has voiced a desire to upgrade at this position.
- TE Marcus Pollard, UFA, Colts (6-4, 257lbs, 28) – Athletic player who has started to develop more consistency. Better receiver than blocker at this point, but has the tools to do both well. Can get deep as a receiver; inconsistent blocker. Needs to work harder and stay focused all the time. FRANCHISED.
- TE Mark Chmura, UFA, Packers (6-5, 260lbs, 30) – Waived by Packers after he was accused with sexually assaulting a teenaged girl at a prom party. Has subsequently been found innocent. Has not played football in two years due to the trial and a neck injury (the neck may still be an issue). When healthy and focused, he was a very solid two-way tight end who could hurt defenses catching the football as well as do a fine job blocking. The Giants have publicly indicated that they are not interested in him.
- TE Rickey Dudley, UFA, Raiders, (6-6, 250lbs, 28) – Tremendous tools – size, speed, and athletic-ability. But he is a very inconsistent player who drops too many passes and is not a very good blocker. Can get deep, but he is not a good route runner. Could come on with a change of scenery, but he’s the kind of guy who just may be a perennial tease.
Defensive Linemen: The Giants seem happier with Cedric Jones than do most fans. However, the team may look to upgrade his spot or at least add a situational pass rusher. I wouldn’t think the Giants would go after a defensive tackle. Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin should form a dynamic 1-2 punch inside. However, depth might be a concern if Christian Peter leaves. On the other hand, the Giants may think more highly of Ryan Hale and George Williams as back-ups.
- DE Marcellus Wiley, UFA, Bills (6-5, 270lbs, 26) – Plays in a 3-4 in Buffalo, but should really excel as a pass rusher in a 4-3. Still had 10.5 sacks in 2000. Very good combination of size and athleticism. Can play the run too.
- DE Jason Taylor, UFA, Dolphins (6-6, 260lbs, 26) – Very good pass rusher and disruptive player. Quick and has a burst. Not as strong against the run. FRANCHISED.
- DE Kevin Carter, UFA, Rams (6-5, 280, 27) – Was the best end in football in 1999, but Carter tailed off miserably in 2000. Played uninspired and didn’t look like he was trying at times. Has tremendous talent. Great size and athleticism. Can rush the passer and defend the run – when he wants to. Can be somewhat moody. FRANCHISED.
- DE Kenny Holmes, UFA, Titans (6-4, 270lbs, 27) – Good pass rusher with fine quickness. Not as strong against the run, but improved. Somewhat inconsistent and has had some nagging injury problems which need to be checked out (knee, shoulder).
- DE Nduwke Kalu, UFA, Redskins (6-4, 255lbs, 25) – Pass rushing defensive end who the Giants showed some interest in last year as a restricted free agent. Caught behind Bruce Smith on the depth chart in 2000, but he was the Skins’ best pass rusher in 1999. Good athlete with very good quickness. Not a strong run defender.
- DE Regan Upshaw, UFA, Raiders (6-4, 260lbs, 25): Former first round bust of the Buccaneers, but he seems to be coming on a bit. Good pass rusher with speed and quickness. Plays hard.
- DE Simeon Rice, UFA, Cardinals (6-5, 260lbs, 26) – Probably not the kind of guy who the Giants will look at due to his moody personality. However, he was coached in college by Giants’ Defensive Line Coach Denny Marcin so the Giants could take a chance. Pretty much a one-dimensional pass rusher, but he flashes very good ability when he wants to play. Has good speed and quickness. However, he does not take on blocks all that well and is not a physical player.
Offensive Linemen: Ron Stone is set at right guard and Dusty Zeigler is set at center. Luke Petitgout will play at one of the two tackle spots. The question is whether or not the Giants want to sign a free agent to push LT Lomas Brown or LG Glenn Parker to the bench. Factoring into the equation to is that the Giants are likely to draft competitive depth in April. They also like reserves such as Mike Rosenthal and Chris Ziemann. The fact that Petitgout can play on the right or left side adds to the flexibility of who the Giants may look at.
The free agent tackle market this year is pretty poor. How poor? Scott Gragg is considered one of the best available. But there are some very interesting guards.
- LT Jason Fabini, RFA, Jets, (6-7, 312lbs, 26) – Started at left tackle for the Jets last year, has experience at right tackle too. Will cost a 4th rounder if the Jets don’t match the offer sheet. May be protected at a higher level.
- LT Richmond Webb, UFA, Dolphins, (6-6, 320lbs, 33) – Finesse-type left tackle. Better pass blocker than run blocker. Athletic. Experienced. Like with Lomas Brown (despite the fact that Webb is much younger), there are questions about how much does he have left in his tank. How hungry he will be once he signs a new contract? Recently underwent surgery on his right elbow.
- RT Jerry Wunsch, UFA, Buccaneers (6-6, 340lbs, 26) – Big, strong right tackle who lacks quick feet. Good run blocker, but can be beaten by quickness in pass protection.
- OG Will Shields, UFA, Chiefs (6-3, 321lbs, 29) – A Pro Bowl regular. Smooth, fluid and athletic. Agile with quick feet. Could play a bit nastier and in a more consistent fashion.
OG Jeff Hartings, UFA, Lions (6-4, 290lbs, 28) – Consistent, mobile, and athletic lineman. Would be a nice fit in the Giants’ system. A bit undersized and not real powerful. Just turned down a 5-year, $15 million contract proposal from the Lions that included a $6 million signing bonus.
- OG Steve McKinney, RFA, Colts (6-4, 297lbs, 25) – Nice combination of power and mobility. Consistent. If the Colts sign him to a minimum tender, he would cost the Giants a 4th rounder if the Colts do not match the offer sheet; but he could be protected at a first round level as well.
- OG Ross Verba, UFA, Packers (6-4, 308lbs, 27) – Has experience at left tackle which increases his value dramatically. Tough guy who plays with an attitude.
- OG Tre’ Johnson, UFA, Redskins (6-2, 326lbs, 30 ) – I’m going to break one of my own guidelines and list this recently cut player (because I know he is out there on the market now). Johnson is coming off of a serious knee surgery and didn’t pass the Skins’ physical (though this merely may have been an excuse to waive him due to Washington’s salary cap mess). Nevertheless, the knee will determine how attractive he will be. When healthy, at times, Johnson plays like one of the best linemen in football. He can maul defenders as well as pull. His biggest problem is that he gets lazy with his technique and intensity at times and is therefore inconsistent.
- OG Pete Kendall, UFA, Seahawks (6-5, 292lbs, 27) – Tough competitor who plays with an attitude. Smart.
- OG Benji Olson, RFA, Titans, (6-3, 315lbs, 25) – Restricted free agent so the option to sign him will depend on whether or not he is protected at a first round level; if not he would cost only a 5th rounder. Power player.
- OG Dave Szott, UFA, Chiefs (6-5, 310lbs, 32) – Medical question mark due to biceps injury that sidelined him all of last season. If he passes a physical, he should be considered. When healthy, one of the best guards in football. Tough, overachiever who doesn’t look pretty but gets the job done. Wants to be with a team in the New Jersey area so he can take of his sick son.
Linebackers: The Giants probably won’t go after a linebacker in free agency unless they lose SLB Ryan Phillips and/or MLB Pete Monty. Phillips’ spot would most likely be filled by Brandon Short, but depth would become an issue. The Giants would love to keep Monty as he is a perfect back-up, but he may move on to start somewhere else.
- MLB/OLB James Darling, UFA, Eagles (6-1, 250lbs, 25) – Back-up player on the Eagles who has starting experience. More comfortable in the middle, but can play on the strongside. Has an upside, but he needs to play in a more consistent fashion. Has some speed, but he isn’t real agile. Intense and competitive. Needs to tackle better.
- Greg Jones, UFA, Redskins, (6-4, 248, 26) – Supplanted by LaVar Arrington on the strongside of the Redskins’ defense. Has a nice combination of size and athletic ability. Can play over the tight end. Good special teams player.
- SLB Henri Crockett, UFA, Falcons (6-2, 245lbs, 26) – Solid starter on the strongside. Can play over the tight end, but he is not real fluid in space. Not a big play maker and has an old knee injury that needs to be checked out. Good size. Physical.
Place Kickers: Brad Daluiso short kick-offs are a killer and he is never really been that accurate on 40+ yard field goal efforts. Jaret Holmes will compete for the job, but the Giants may want to bring in a proven kicker. However, convincing a much sought-after veteran kicker to come to the wind-swept Meadowlands will be no easy task.
- PK Olindo Mare, UFA, Dolphins, (5-10, 195lbs, 27) – The Giants once cut this superb kicker. Was 28-of-31 on field goal attempts in 2000; including 12-of-13 on kicks between 40-49 yards. Inconsistent on kick-offs, but he has a strong leg.
- PK Ryan Longwell, UFA, Packers, (5-11, 204lbs, 26) – Experienced at kicking in adverse weather conditions. Was 33-of-38 on field goal attempts in 2000; including 13-of-15 in the 40-49 yard range. Not real strong on kick-offs. Re-signed with the Packers before free agency began; a 5-year, $7.5 million contract.
- PK Jeff Wilkins, UFA, Rams, (6-1, 205lbs, 28) – Was a perfect 17-of-17 in 2000, but has been a bit inconsistent throughout his career. Good on kick-offs.
- PK Joe Nedney, UFA, Panthers (6-4, 227lbs, 27) – Became a much more consistent performer last season. Was 34-of-38 on field goal attempts in 2000; including 8-of-10 in the 40-49 yard range category. Strong on kick-offs.
Punters: Brad Maynard will probably be re-signed unless his contract demands are unreasonable. He has been very inconsistent, but it’s still a bit too early to give up on his tremendous talent.
- P Bryan Barker, UFA, Jaguars (6-2, 200lbs, 36) – Older player, but still one of the best at his position. Good leg strength and does a fine job of directional punting. Gets good hang-time and is adept at coffin-corner punting.
- P Dan Stryzinski, UFA, Falcons (6-2, 205lbs, 35) – Older player, but still productive. Gets good hang-time and is a fine directional punter.