With free agency and the salary cap, it seems as if every year there is a fairly significant roster turnover each offseason. However, with a new coaching staff in town – a staff with their own views and biases – expect dramatic roster upheaval in the coming months.
The areas where the Giants need to get better in a hurry are pretty obvious: the offensive line and linebacker. But they also need to add depth at quarterback, running back, defensive end, defensive tackle, and cornerback. They may need to add a place kicker as well. Defensive tackle becomes a big need if the Giants are unable to re-sign Cornelius Griffin (Signed with Redskins). Some of these roster additions will come through free agency (which starts on March 3rd), others via the NFL Draft in April.
If you are looking for an instant starter, then it is far safer and more likely to find that instant starter in free agency and not the draft. Rookies usually are not mentally or physically prepared for a long training camp, four preseason games, and sixteen regular seasons games. Much of their initial season is spent figuring out what life in the NFL is all about. Not true for veteran free agents.
According to General Manager Ernie Accorsi, the Giants are “comfortably” under the 2004 salary cap. Additional room will be created when current veteran contracts such as QB Kerry Collins (Waived, signed with Raiders) are reworked and others are released. “We have money to make moves this year,” said Accorsi in late January. “We’ll have the maneuverability to do what we have to do to with veterans to try to improve our team at certain positions. Obviously, the offensive line is an area we’re targeting. We have some good young players who will benefit from having played. But we need to get some veteran help there.”
“Fans can’t expect blockbuster, superstar, Hall of Fame signings,” said Accorsi. “That’s not the answer. The answer is what we did in 2000 and Bill Belichick told me the Patriots copied us in 2001. They signed 17 players and I think Marc Edwards, a fullback, was the biggest name they signed. And they went to the Super Bowl and won it. This year, Ted Washington and Rodney Harrison were great pickups for them. Those aren’t marquee names, but they helped them win. Those are the kind of players that we need on our team, guys that can fill in. We have as many blue-chip players as anybody at key positions, if they’re healthy. But you have to bring in solid competitors. We did that in 2000 with (Dusty) Zeigler, (Glenn) Parker, Lomas Brown and (Mike) Barrow.”
Below is a listing of soon-to-be-free agents. Some of these players will not hit the open market as they will either be re-signed right before free agency begins or they will be protected with “Franchise” or “Transition” tags. As a reminder:
Franchise Tag: The player shall be permitted to negotiate a contract with any team as if he were an unrestricted free agent; however, draft choice compensation of two first round draft selections shall be awarded to the team franchising the player in the event that he signs with a new club.
Transition Tag: Any team that designates a Transition Player shall receive the Rights of First Refusal.
The following list is by no means comprehensive. It is a listing of those players who caught my eye while perusing the available talent. For a complete listing of available free agents, check out KFFL Free Agent Tracker. Also, please note that this list does not include those players who will shortly become salary cap casualties of other teams – many of whom will be very enticing.
Quarterbacks: Unlike some, I think Kerry Collins (Waived, signed with Raiders) is safe and is one of the better quarterbacks in the league if afforded decent pass protection. However, there is no depth behind him. I doubt Jesse Palmer (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS) and Jason Garrett (Signed by Buccaneers) will be back. That leaves two open roster spots for quarterbacks. I expect the Giants to draft one quarterback and sign a cheap veteran in free agency.
- Billy Volek, Tennessee Titans (6-2, 214lbs, 27 years old): Primary back-up to Steve McNair in Tennessee. Has an excellent arm and showed well in a relief start last season. Suffered a lacerated spleen which must be checked out. (Re-Signed by Titans)
- Damon Huard, New England Patriots (6-3, 215lbs, 30 years old): Primary back-up to Tom Brady in New England. Has a good relationship with the Giants’ new offensive coordinator John Hufnagel. (Signed by Chiefs)
- Jonathan Quinn, Kansas City Chiefs (6-6, 240lbs, 29 years old): Third-string back-up with the Chiefs. Was a back-up in Jacksonville behind Mark Brunell when Tom Coughin was the head coach there. (Signed by Bears)
Wide Receivers: With Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Tim Carter, David Tyree, and Willie Ponder in the fold, and this being an exceptionally strong draft at wide receiver, I don’t see the Giants pursuing a receiver in free agency. It will be interesting to see if the Giants make any effort at all to re-sign unrestricted free agent Ron Dixon, who was lost all of last season with a knee injury that may be chronic.
Halfbacks: Tiki Barber will be a factor in the 2004 offense, but how much of factor will depend on how well he deals with his fumbling problem. Dorsey Levens (Released) turns 34 in May and Ron Dayne has not proven to be a very instinctive or tough runner to-date. Delvin Joyce is going to have a hard time making the team. Look for the Giants to add at least one quality halfback either in free agency or the draft, someone who is a more north-south, powerful runner to complement Tiki.
- Stacey Mack, Houston Texans (6-1, 241lbs, 28 years old): Served as Coughlin’s primary back-up and short-yardage back in Jacksonville. Was hampered with a serious turf toe injury much of last season and is unlikely to return to Houston. Strong, straight ahead runner who the Giants pursued last year in free agency.
Fullbacks: Jim Finn is the current starter. He is a decent position blocker and a good receiver out of the backfield, but he is not a real powerful run blocker. Coughlin may want a more traditional run-blocking fullback to help open up the running game.
- Terrelle Smith, New Orleans Saints (6-0, 246lbs, 25 years old): A powerful run blocker who doesn’t do much as a runner or receiver. (Signed by Browns)
- Dan Kreider, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-11, 246lbs, 26 years old): Excellent lead blocker who has improved some as a pass receiver. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
Tight Ends: Obviously Jeremy Shockey is the entrenched starter. Visanthe Shiancoe flashed as a blocker, but need to become much more consistent and cut down on the mental mistakes – or Coughlin will never let him off the bench. My gut tells me that Coughin would like replace Marcellus Rivers (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS) and Darnell Dinkins with a veteran, run-blocking tight end.
- Jason Dunn, Kansas City Chiefs (6-6, 276lbs, 30 years old): Very good blocking tight end with excellent size. (Re-Signed by Chiefs)
- John Jones, Baltimore Ravens (6-4, 255lbs, 28 years old): Very good blocker and special teams player. Missed five games last year due to an injury. (Signed by Dolphins)
- Erron Kinney, Tennessee Titans (6-5, 275lbs, 26 years old): Doesn’t block as well as his size indicates, but he is a decent blocker and receiver. Runs good routes and has good hands. Smart. (Re-Signed by Titans)
Offensive Tackles: If the prognosis on Luke Petitgout’s back is good, then he should rebound in 2004 and regain his position as one of the better left tackles in football. But there is a glaring hole at right tackle and concerns about depth depending on how the new staff feels about such players as Ian Allen and Jeff Hatch (Released). The Giants must come out of free ageny with a viable offensive tackle.
- John Tait, Kansas City Chiefs (6-6, 323lbs, 29 years old): Tait would be an ideal signing because he has experience both at left and right tackle. Has been the starting right tackle for the Chiefs for the past couple of seasons. Still improving player who can pass and run block. (Signed by Bears)
- Todd Wade, Miami Dolphins (6-8, 325lbs, 27 years old): Dependable right tackle who is a solid run and pass blocker. (Signed by Texans)
- Kareem McKenzie, New York Jets (6-6, 327lbs, 24 years old): A restricted free agent, the Jets would have the right to match any tender offer for his services. Signing him would cost the Giants at least their #3 pick (if he is tendered at the first round level, he drops off this list). Rapidly improving right tackle. Very good athlete for his size. (1st Round Tender)
- Ryan Diem, Indianapolis Colts (6-6, 331lbs, 24 years old): A restricted free agent, the Colts would have the right to match any tender offer for his services. Signing him would cost the Giants at least their #4 pick. Former guard who was moved to right tackle last season with good success. (Re-Signed by Colts)
- Orlando Brown, Baltimore Ravens (6-7, 350lbs, 33 years old): Returned to the NFL after a serious eye injury threatened his career. Big, strong run blocker at right tackle who sometimes struggles in pass protection. Needs to control his temper better on the playing field. (Re-Signed by Ravens)
Offensive Guards: It’s likely that David Diehl will be allowed to continue to develop at one guard spot. The problem is that the Giants probably don’t really know how well Rich Seubert will recover from his serious leg injury. If he was completely healthy, the Giants probably would not have to add another guard. But if he can’t make it back, they need to add a starter. “Some of the injuries we had last year are so serious they’re affecting our planning for the future,” said Accorsi in late January. “There were some awful serious injuries, including Seubert’s. It’s not like, ‘Okay the season is over, they’re healthy now.’ No they’re not. We’re wondering when we’re going to have our mini-camps, because we want to get as many healthy people on the field as we can.”
Depth-wise, much depends on what the new staff thinks of Wayne Lucier, Jeff Roehl (Waived, Claimed by Seahawks), and Mike Saffer.
- Damien Woody, New England Patriots (6-3, 320lbs, 26 years old): Woody would make a nice fit for the Giants because he can play both guard and center. That way, if Rich Seubert recovers, Woody could always move back to center. Woody is an athletic player who is an excellent run and pass blocker. However, he is coming off a serious knee injury that needs to be checked out. (Signed by Lions)
- Mike Gandy, Chicago Bears (6-4, 302lbs, 25 years old): A restricted free agent, the Bears would have the right to match any tender offer for his services. Signing him would cost the Giants at least their #3 pick. Gandy has spent most of the past two years out of position at left tackle, where he has struggled. Better suited inside at guard, his more natural position. Versatility is a plus. (Re-Signed by Bears)
- Jeno James, Carolina Panthers (6-3, 310lbs, 27 years old): James beat out Doug Brzezinski for the starting job in training camp and proved to be a steady, strong run blocker. (Signed by Dolphins)
- Rick DeMulling, Indianapolis Colts (6-4, 304lbs, 26 years old): A restricted free agent, the Colts would have the right to match any tender offer for his services. Signing him would cost the Giants at least their #7 pick. An improving left guard. (Re-Signed by Colts)
- Chris Villarrial, Chicago Bears (6-3, 310lbs, 30 years old): Villarrial is one of the better guards in the league. He’s steady and strong. (Signed by Bills)
- Cosey Coleman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4, 322lbs, 25 years old): Coleman was supposed to compete with former Giant Jason Whittle for the right guard spot in Tampa, but Coleman won the job by default when Whittle broke his leg. Nevertheless, Coleman played decently in 2003 and has an upside. (Re-Signed by Buccaneers)
- Bobbie Williams, Philadelphia Eagles (6-3, 320lbs, 27 years old): Decent reserve lineman for the Eagles who started when Jermaine Mayberry got hurt. Better run blocker than pass blocker. (Signed by Bengals)
- Matt O’Dwyer, Cincinnati Bengals (6-5, 313lbs, 31 years old): Tough, physical guard who finished the season on Injured Reserve and no longer looks like he is in Cincinnati’s long-term plans. (Signed by Buccaneers)
Offensive Centers: Unless the Giants sign Damien Woody, I really don’t see another free agent center out there who is better than Chris Bober (Signed by Chiefs). Wayne Lucier and Scott Peters remain in the picture as well.
Defensive Ends: Michael Strahan is set on the strongside. And Osi Umenyiora will likely be penciled in as the starter on the weakside. Depth is an issue as both Kenny Holmes (who is not likely to return) and Keith Washington (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS) will be unrestricted free agents. A front line starter such as Jevon Kearse (Signed by Eagles), Grant Wistrom (Signed by Seahawks), or Darren Howard (FRANCHISED) is not likely to come to the Giants with Umenyiora in the picture. So if the Giants don’t re-sign Washington, they must fine someone who is willing to be a cheap back-up. Who might that be? I have no idea. Take a guess. Also look for another end to be added in the draft.
- Al Wallace, Carolina Panthers (6-5, 275lbs, 29 years old): Wallace is stuck behind Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker and could be lured elsewhere by the enticement of more playing time. However, recent press reports say he very much wants to return to the Panthers. (Re-Signed by Panthers)
Defensive Tackles: Everything depends on if the Giants can re-sign Cornelius Griffin (Signed by Redskins). If he departs, then the Giants need to sign a front-line starter from another team (see list below). If he re-signs with New York, then he will team with William Joseph inside. Depth is an issue with Keith Hamilton retired and Lance Legree being a restricted free agent. Bringing back someone like ex-Giant Bernard Holsey (Signed by Rams) as a cheap reserve might make sense.
- Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 303lbs, 31 years old): Fans love to bash Sapp because of his outspokenness, but he is still an excellent tackle who can be very disruptive. Regularly draws double-team attention. Much would depend on his asking price. Might enjoy playing with Michael Strahan since those two seem to have made up and appear to be buddies now. (Signed by Raiders)
- Rod Coleman, Oakland Raiders (6-2, 285lbs, 27 years old): Coleman was the sack leader again for the Raiders, but his total fell from 11 to 5 when he was forced to start instead of being a change-of-pace player off the bench. He’s on the small side, but Coleman is a very good inside pass rusher. Giants’ new DL coach came from the Raiders. (Signed by Falcons)
- Gary Walker, Houston Texans (6-2, 305lbs, 30 years old): Played for Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville. Very underrated. Has Pro Bowl-type season in 2002, but missed most of the 2003 season with shoulder and foot injuries (these would have to be checked out). Good run defender who can also rush the passer. (Re-Signed by Texans)
- Robaire Smith, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 310lbs, 26 years old): Tough, physical run defender. (Signed by Texans)
- Brian Young, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 278lbs, 26 years old): Now a back-up on St. Louis, but one of the Rams’ more disruptive front seven players. (Signed by Saints)
- Ted Washington, New England Patriots (6-5, 365lbs, 35 years old): Older player nearing the end of his career, but he was extremely effective as a run defender last season. Ties up two blockers with his girth. Missed six games with a broken leg in 2003. (Signed by Raiders)
- Keith Traylor, Chicago Bears (6-2, 340lbs, 34 years old): Older player nearing the end of his career. Can still stuff the run, but needs to watch his weight. (Signed by Patriots)
Linebackers: There probably isn’t another unit on the team in a greater sense of flux. Dhani Jones (Signed by Eagles) and Brandon Short (Signed by Panthers) are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Mike Barrow (Released, signed by Redskins), while still a good player, is on the decline and is due to take up a lot of salary cap room in 2004. Much depends on how the new defensive staff feels about these three. It is not impossible that none of these three will return. On the other hand, it is also possible that Barrow could take a salary cut. Short or Jones (but probably not both) could also be re-signed. The Giants won’t be able to count on a rookie to come in and start so they undoubtedly are scanning the free agent market.
- Julian Peterson, San Francisco 49ers (6-3, 235lbs, 25 years old): Outside linebacker. The guy the Giants should have drafted instead of Ron Dayne in 2000. One of the best linebackers in the game. Can cover, blitz, and play the run. Highly unlikely he hits the open market without be Franchise-tagged. (FRANCHISED)
- Al Wilson, Denver Broncos (6-0, 240lbs, 26 years old): Middle linebacker who may be able to project outside as well. Tough player who is known for being a strong tackler. Plays the game with a lot of passion. Leader of the Broncos’ defense. Pro Bowler. Could be Franchise-tagged. (Re-Signed by Broncos)
- Ian Gold, Denver Broncos (6-0, 223lbs, 25 years old): Fast and athletic weakside linebacker. Was a rising star before he tore his ACL in October. The knee obviously needs to be checked out. Superb special teams player. (Signed by Buccaneers)
- Barrett Green, Detroit Lions (6-0, 225lbs, 26 years old): Weakside linebacker who plays hard. Athletic and a hitter. (SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)
- Carlos Emmons, Philadephia Eagles (6-5, 250lbs, 30 years old): Strongside linebacker who can cover and plays well in space. Broke his leg late in the season and would have to be medically checked out. (SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS)
- Clark Haggans, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3, 251lbs, 27 years old): Quality reserve linebacker for the Steelers who has stepped into the line-up with positive results. Special teams captain. Could project inside or outside. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
Cornerbacks: This is the deepest position in free agency by far with Champ Bailey (Signed by Broncos), Chris McAlister (FRANCHISED), Charles Woodson (FRANCHISED), Antoine Winfield (Signed by Vikings), Troy Vincent (Signed by Bills), Bobby Taylor (Signed by Seahawks), and Shawn Springs (Signed by Redskins) topping the list. Assuming that Will Allen (foot) and Will Peterson (back) are healthy, the Giants’ starters are set. Frank Walker remains in the picture, but it will be interesting to see how he gets along with Coughlin. Ralph Brown (Signed by Redskins) will be a free agent. If he walks (and even if he doesn’t), the Giants will need to add another corner either in the draft or free agency. A quality corner who is capable of starting is not likely to come to the Giants with Allen, Peterson (RE-SIGNED BY NEW YORK GIANTS), and Walker in the picture. My guess is this position is dealt with in the draft and I could see the Giants drafting a corner higher than many expect. The Giants could pick up a third-tier veteran in free agency, but I would be shooting in the dark trying to guess who that might be.
Safety: Shaun Williams is coming off a very disappointing year at his natural position of strong safety. I don’t think the Giants will release him because the accelerated prorated bonus money may actually hurt the Giants cap position in 2004. (Williams signed a 7-year, $24.5 million deal that included a $6.5 million signing bonus before the 2002 season). Moreover, he is still a relatively young player with great tools. However, if he doesn’t perform this year, I doubt he returns in 2005. Don’t look for the Giants to sign a starting-caliber strong safety this offseason. That means guys such as Donovan Darius (Re-Signed by Jaguars) and Reggie Tongue (Signed by Jets) are likely out of the picture.
On the other hand, Omar Stoutmire is very much at risk. While he is a solid player, he rarely makes any impact plays. How aggressive the Giants are in free agency at free safety ultimately depends on how strong they feel about University of Miami FS Sean Taylor, who has a good chance to be there when the Giants pick in the first round. My gut feeling tells me Taylor is their man, but if he isn’t, then the Giants may look at the following players:
- Jerome Woods, Kansas City Chiefs (6-2, 210lbs, 30): Pro Bowl free safety who the Chiefs may Franchise-tag. (Re-Signed by Chiefs)
- Deon Grant, Carolina Panthers (6-2, 210lbs, 24 years old): Free safety. Played better in 2003 than he had in previous seasons. Somewhat inconsistent, but has matured. Makes fewer mental mistakes and works harder off the field now. Has excellent physical tools. (Signed by Jaguars)
- Arturo Freeman, Miami Dolphins (6-0, 198lbs, 27 years old): Played strong safety for the Dolphins the past two years, but may project better to free safety. Inconsistent but improving. (Re-Signed by Dolphins)
Kickers: Jeff Feagles is likely set as the punter for at least one more season. The Giants may look to upgrade over Matt Bryant and Mike Hollis (Waived) at place kicker.
- Matt Stover, Baltimore Ravens (5-11, 178lbs, 36 years old): Was 33-of-38 last season. (Re-Signed by Ravens)
- Doug Brien, New York Jets (6-0, 180lbs, 33 years old): Was 27-of-32 last season. (Re-Signed by Jets)
- Shayne Graham, Cincinnati Bengals (6-0, 197lbs, 26 years old): Was 22-of-25 last season. (Re-Signed by Bengals)