The Giants are clearly an up-and-coming football team, mainly due the talent they have compiled on the offensive side of the football. All eleven offensive starters are under contract and as of today, everyone who started last year on that side of the ball is expected to start on opening day in September 2006. While the offense was very productive last season, it is expected to continue to become stronger as young Eli Manning matures and gains experience. It will also help that the offensive line will return the same five starters at the same position for the first time since 2001. Other than Manning, the big question on this side of the ball is can Tiki Barber, who turns 31 in April, continue to play at an exceptionally high level?
What moves might the Giants make in free agency on the offensive side of the football? Back-up quarterback Tim Hasselbeck (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent. He might not be back and/or the Giants may look to upgrade there. Tim Carter (Re-Signed by Giants), who is also unrestricted, has been a big bust and the Giants might look for a veteran wide receiver. However, no quality starting-caliber receiver will sign with the Giants unless the Giants unexpectedly release Amani Toomer. There is a chance the Giants could add another tight end and the Giants may add another back-up left tackle unless Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is re-signed.
The Giants most pressing personnel needs are on defense and perhaps special teams (the latter if punter Jeff Feagles retires). (Feagles Will Play One More Season) The Giants are already on record as saying they are most interested in improving the quality of their linebackers and defensive backs. They have publicly identified DT Kendrick Clancy (Signed by Cardinals) as their own primary free agent priority. The bulk of playoff history proves that you are unlikely to win a Super Bowl without a very strong defense. The Giants need to get better on this side of the ball.
The players listed below are the ones that caught my eye. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Indeed, the Giants have picked up some of their better free agents in recent years after teams have released those players during free agency. The players listed below are the ones who were available when I wrote this article. It will not include those who become available later.
(Note: Ages provided are the age the player would be on December 31, 2006).
Defensive Line: The Giants are set at defensive end with Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Eric Moore, and Adrian Awasom. There are a lot of bodies at defensive tackle and it is dubious if anyone on the open market will be better or much better than what the Giants have already. Much depends on whether or not Kendrick Clancy re-signs (Signed by Cardinals). Fred Robbins also makes far too much money for a backup. If either depart, the Giants may sign another tackle.
- DT Rocky Bernard, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 293, 27): Lacks top-notch size but he is a quick player and a good pass rusher. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)
- DT Ryan Pickett, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 310, 27): Nice combination of power and quickness. Can be disruptive. Needs to play with better leverage on a more consistent basis. (Signed by Packers)
- DT Larry Tripplett, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 295, 27): Lacks height but is a bulky guy who plays with natural leverage. Has good quickness for his size. Needs to be more consistent. (Signed by Bills)
- NT/DT Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 350, 27): Has great size and strength. Better run defender than pass rusher. (Signed by Panthers)
- DT Damione Lewis, St. Louis Rams (6-2, 301, 28): Quick player who has never really lived up to his draft hype. Has been somewhat injury-prone. (Signed by Panthers)
- DT James Reed, New York Jets (6-0, 286, 29): Similar player to Kendrick Clancy. Career back-up until he started all 16 games in 2005. Lacks height but he is a fireplug with good quickness. Has played some fullback in short yardage situations. (Signed by Chiefs)
- DT Chris Hovan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 298, 28): The Giants took a long look at him in free agency last year. Had a good year with Bucs as a run defender. Plays with good effort and can be disruptive. (Re-Signed by Buccaneers)
Linebackers: Antonio Pierce obviously has the middle spot locked up. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Carlos Emmons (who turns 33) and Barrett Green (ankle/knee problems) (Waived by Giants) are not cheap. I actually would not be surprised to see both starting for the Giants in 2006; but I also could see both hitting the waiver wire. Reggie Torbor is still in the picture and a player on the rise. The Giants obviously want to add talent and depth here.
- OLB Julian Peterson, San Francisco (6-3, 235, 28): Peterson was widely regarding as one of the best linebackers in football two years ago, but he suffered a serious Achilles tendon injury in 2004 and was not as dynamic for the 49ers in 2005. The big question is has the injury caused permanent damage or will he regain his earlier form? When healthy, he can do it all – blitz, cover, and play the run. Not the brightest guy in the world. (Signed by Seahawks)
- WLB Will Witherspoon, Carolina Panthers (6-1, 231, 26): Pure weakside linebacker. Run-and-hit type similar in style to Barrett Green. Can cover and rush the passer. Has problems against the run at times at the point-of-attack. Makes a lot of tackles and is a good locker room presence. (Signed by Rams)
- OLB David Thornton, Indianapolis Colts (6-2, 230, 28): Smart, solid all-around player who can cover and play the run. Has good range. (Signed by Titans)
- LB Bart Scott, Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 235, 26): Back-up his first three years with the Ravens, Scott started 10 games in 2005 and was very productive with 92 tackles and four sacks. Good athlete with fine speed. Good special teams player. (Re-Signed by Ravens)
- OLB Tommy Polley, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 230, 28): Athletic player with fine speed and quickness. Has good range. Run-and-hit-type linebacker who struggles at times at the point-of-attack. Good in coverage. (Signed by Saints)
- LB Ben Leber, San Diego Chargers (6-3, 244, 28): Lacks ideal athleticism, but he is an instinctive, hard-working player with good size. So-so in coverage. (Signed by Vikings)
- LB Rocky Boiman, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 236, 26): Solid back-up for the Titans who can play both inside and outside. Has started 10 games in four seasons. Smart and plays hard. Decent blitzer but only so-so in coverage. Plays special teams. (Signed by Cowboys)
Cornerback: Much depends on Will Peterson (Waived by Giants) who has had damage to his vertebrae twice in three years. One would think it would be wise for the Giants not to count on his return, but who knows? If Peterson was OK, the Giants would be in good shape at corner. Without him, they need help. Will Allen (unrestricted) (Signed by Dolphins) is likely to leave in free agency and it doubtful that Frank Walker (restricted) has a future with the team. If Allen departs, the Giants may want to add someone with experience covering slot receivers.
- Nate Clements, Buffalo Bills (6-0, 209, 27): Clements combines good size and athleticism. He is a tough player who will mix it up against the run. Very good cover corner who makes plays on the football (20 interceptions in five years). Can be inconsistent (i.e., beaten) at times, however, and is looking for a huge signing bonus. (FRANCHISED)
- Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders (6-1, 200, 30): Woodson is a big-name player whose production has not lived up to the hype recently. Has exceptional ability and can shut down an opposing receiver. However, he has had some injury issues and is not the easiest guy to coach. He is not team-oriented and mouths off a lot. Might not be the type of guy who gets along well with Coughlin. (Signed by Packers)
- Ty Law, Waived by New York Jets (5-11, 200, 32): Good cover corner who can play both zone and man. Picked off 10 passes last year, but also led Jets with 10 penalties – sometimes too aggressive. Good run defender. Has a questionable attitude (skips team meetings) and might not be able to deal well with Coughlin.
- Brian Williams, Minnesota Vikings (5-11, 207, 27): Competitive, aggressive, and physical. Lacks ideal quickness and athleticism. Played well in 2005. (Signed by Jaguars)
- Ahmed Plummer, Waived by San Francisco 49ers (6-0, 191, 30): Plummer is a solid corner who plays with good technique. Smart. Has good size, but lacks ideal speed and quickness. Has been injury-prone the past two seasons with injuries to his shoulder, neck, and ankle. Played in only three games last year and six in 2004. (Retired Due to Injury)
- Deshea Townsend, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 190, 31): Given his age, not an ideal free agent candidate, but he could serve as a decent stop-gap starter. Reliable and smart, but not dynamic. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
- Jerry Azumah, Chicago Bears (5-10, 192, 29): Future clouded by chronic arthritic hip condition which is said to be diminishing his skills. When healthy, he is a fast and quick player. Aggressive, but will bite on play-action at times. Very good returner. (Retired Due to Injury)
- Renaldo Hill, Oakland Raiders (5-11, 180, 28): Started 13 games for Oakland last season after playing his first four years in Arizona. Lacks size and speed, but he is a tough guy who usually keeps plays in front of him. Good special teams player. (Signed by Dolphins)
Safety: The Giants added quite a few “street” free agents to the roster in February, but these guys are long-shots at best. Shaun Williams (Signed by Panthers) has not played a full season since 2002 and is an unrestricted free agent. He won’t be back. It’s time to part ways with Brent Alexander (Waived by Giants). That leaves only Gibril Wilson and James Butler. More help is needed.
- SS Tank Williams, Tennessee Titans (6-3, 223, 26): Solid strong safety who is a good run defender. Hits hard. Has good range against the run and plays with an attitude. Not as strong in coverage as he lacks quick feet. But he can intimidate receivers. (Signed by Vikings)
- FS Chris Hope, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-11, 206, 26): Hope has good range and is a good hitter. Only has four picks the past two seasons. (Signed by Titans)
- FS Lance Schulters, Miami Dolphins (6-2, 202, 31): Smart player. Has good range and is a good hitter.
- FS Ryan Clark, Washington Redskins (5-11, 200, 27): Former Giant who signed with the Redskins in 2004 and who has started 24 games for Washington. Lacks ideal size, but he is an athletic player who will hit. (Signed by Steelers)
- SS Adam Archuleta, St. Louis Rams (6-0, 223, 29): Converted linebacker who is a big hitter and a fine player against the run. Not as strong in coverage where lacks range. Has had issues with his back. (Signed by Redskins)
- SS Corey Chavous, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 30): Smart and a good leader. Works very hard off the field in the film room. Better in pass coverage than run defense. (Signed by Rams)
- SS Marlon McCree, Carolina Panthers (5-11, 198, 29): Signed with the Panthers last offseason from Houston and started 14 games for Carolina. Had a big game against the Giants in the playoffs with two interceptions. Lacks ideal speed. (Signed by Chargers)
- FS Will Demps, Baltimore Ravens (6-0, 205, 27): Suffered a partially torn ACL in late November, casting a cloud over his immediate future. When healthy, Demps has good range and is a good run defender. Inconsistent in coverage and only has four picks in four seasons. (SIGNED BY GIANTS)
Quarterback: One press report indicated that the Giants would like to bring aboard another quarterback to compete with Tim Hasselbeck (if he is re-signed) (Re-Signed by Giants) and Jared Lorenzen for the #2 spot behind Manning.
- Jeff Garcia, Detroit Lions (6-1, 200, 36): Reaching the stage of his career where he needs to think about being a backup rather than a starter. Very good leader and smart player on the field. Reads defenses well, makes good decisions, and is accurate. Can cause problems with his feet when the play breaks down. Lacks a strong arm. Would probably be a good mentor for Manning. (Signed by Eagles)
- Jay Fiedler, Waived by the New York Jets (6-2, 225, 35): The Giants tried to sign him last offseason, but he chose to sign with the Jets instead. Suffered a shoulder injury in 2005 that needs to be checked out. Tough and smart quarterback with good accuracy and athleticism. So-so arm. Sometimes forces throws.
- Charlie Batch, Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, 216, 32): Batch has a good arm and is athletic. Smart and tough. Not overly accurate. (Re-Signed by Steelers)
- Jeff Blake, Chicago Bears (6-1, 223, 36): Better deep than short thrower. Athletic but aging. Smart, but inconsistent.
Running Backs: I don’t see the Giants having any interest in halfbacks at all. It is not likely that the Giants will look to sign a fullback, but it is not impossible.
- Fred Beasley, San Francisco (6-0, 246, 32): Good blocker though he is better pass blocker than run blocker. Can catch the football. (Signed by Dolphins)
Tight Ends: Much depends on what the Giants truly think of Visanthe Shiancoe (Re-Signed by Giants), Sean Berton (Waived by Giants), Matt Kranchick (Waived by Giants), and Wade Fletcher. The latter two are receiving-type tight ends. The Giants could look to add another blocking-type to compete with Shiancoe and Berton.
- Dan Campbell, Dallas Cowboys (6-5, 263, 30): It would be great to bring back Campbell, but he is a native Texan who would prefer to stay with Dallas if they offer him a fair deal. Campbell is a very good blocker. Doesn’t scare defenses as a receiver. (Signed by Lions)
Wide Receiver: The Giants are unlikely to waive Amani Toomer. The question is can they attract a starting-caliber-type wideout on a team with Plaxico Burress and Toomer? In addition, the Giants spread the ball around to Jeremy Shockey and Tiki Barber too and that may deter a hot free agent from coming to the Giants.
- Antonio Bryant, Cleveland Browns (6-1, 192, 25): Has the tools. Bryant is athletic with very good hands. He can make the circus catch, but will occasionally drop a ball. Fluid, quick, and agile. Runs good routes. Has had attitude problems in the past (when with the Cowboys). (Signed by 49ers)
- Koren Robinson, Minnesota Vikings (6-1, 205, 26): Has the tools. Big, athletic, and fast. Can make the circus catch, but also drop the easy ball. Dangerous, but inconsistent. Needs to improve focus and maturity. Had a substance abuse problem and was released by the Seahawks in during the 2005 offseason. Signed with the Vikings and flashed great ability again. (Re-Signed by Vikings)
- David Givens, New England Patriots (6-0, 212, 26): Givens has good size and is team-oriented. Has been productive. He is a good blocker and special teams player. Lacks speed. (Signed by Titans)
- Antwaan Randle El, Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 192, 27): A versatile performer who is better suited to a back-up spot/role player than starter. Very quick and shifty, but lacks size and speed. Good in the slot and on gadget plays. Can return punts. (Signed by Redskins)
- Jabar Gaffney, Houston Texans (6-1, 193, 26): Starter in Houston who is better suited as a #3 receiver. Runs good routes and has good hands, but lacks speed and explosiveness. Good third-down receiver. (Signed by Eagles)
- Joe Jurevicius, Seattle Seahawks (6-5, 230, 32): Former Giant who started 11 games for the Seahawks last year after serving primarily as a back-up for three teams during the rest of his career. Has very good size and has a knack for getting open. Can struggle with press coverage at times. Hands are a bit on the inconsistent side. (Signed by Browns)
- Andre’ Davis, New England Patriots (6-1, 195, 27): Davis has never really lived up to his draft hype and has only had 25 total catches the past two seasons with the Browns and Patriots. However, he is a big, fast, quick receiver who can get deep. Will block. Needs to run better routes and has so-so hands. Can have problems with press coverage. Must become more focused. (Signed by Bills)
- Corey Bradford, Houston Texans (6-1, 201, 31): Has a nice combination of size and speed. Can get deep, but has disappointed in the past in other elements of the game. Needs to run better routes and catch ball more consistently. (Signed by Lions)
Offensive Line: The Giants are set at guard with David Diehl, Chris Snee, Rich Seubert, and OG/OC swingman Jason Whittle (Waived by Giants). In an ideal world, they would probably look to replace Luke Petitgout with someone healthier, cheaper, and less prone to making mistakes. However, good left tackles are almost impossible to come by in free agency. Look for the Giants to consider drafting an eventual replacement for Luke. Shaun O’Hara is a decent center and was actually received quite a few Pro Bowl votes. However, it is not inconceivable that they could look to upgrade at center. Reserve tackle Bob Whitfield (Re-Signed by Giants) is an unrestricted free agent who the Giants reportedly would like to re-sign.
- OC/OG LeCharles Bentley, New Orleans Saints (6-2, 313, 27): Has starting experience at both center and guard. Has long arms – unusual for a center. Tough guy who can really maul people. One of the best centers in the game but a bit inconsistent – needs to play at a high level all of the time. (Signed by Browns)
- OC Justin Hartwig, Tennessee Titans (6-4, 312, 28): Smart and durable. Good run blocker who can get movement at the point-of-attack. Lacks ideal quickness and agility in space. (Signed by Panthers)
- OT Jason Fabini, Waived by New York Jets (6-7, 304, 32): Can play both tackle spots. A technician who plays with toughness and smarts. Not a powerful player or overly athletic, but gets the job done. (Signed by Cowboys)
- LT Kevin Shaffer, Atlanta Falcons (6-5, 290, 26): Better run blocker than pass blocker. Can get exposed by speed at times. (Signed by Browns)
Punter: Everything depends on whether Jeff Feagles retires or not (Feagles Will Play One More Season). If he does retire, punter becomes a huge need.
- Jason Baker, Carolina Panthers (6-2, 205, 28): Has bounced around the league since 2001, but had a strong year for the Panthers in 2005 with a net 38.9 yards-per-punt average (third in the NFL). 23 of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line and only four resulted in touchbacks. (Re-Signed by Panthers)
- Dave Zastudil, Baltimore Ravens (6-3, 215, 28): Has been the Ravens’ punter for the last four years. Averaged a net 35.7 yards-per-punt in 2005 (a gross of 43.5 yards-per-punt). (Signed by Browns)
- Tom Rouen, Seattle Seahawks (6-3, 225, 38): Has been around the League since 1993. Net average in 2005 was 35.0 with a gross of 41.6. (Re-Signed by Seahawks)