Linebacker has been a sore spot for the New York Giants for quite some time. The Giants have had to rely on free agent acquisitions and a trade to beef up a unit that the team has been unable to satisfactory address in the draft. After four seasons with the team, the Giants apparently have given up on 6th round draft pick Jacquian Williams and undrafted rookie free agent Spencer Paysinger. To fill these vacancies, the Giants signed unrestricted free agents J.T. Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jonathan Casillas from the New England Patriots.
The 27-year old Casillas was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New Orleans Saints after the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played for the New Orleans Saints (2009-11), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013-14), and Patriots (2014). In 2014, Casillas played in five games for the Buccaneers before being traded to the Patriots in late October. In eight games for the Patriots with three starts, Casillas accrued 28 tackles and forced one fumble.
Casillas is a local talent, having been born in Jersey City and going to high school in New Brunswick. He has played on two Super Bowl championship teams: the Saints (2009) and Patriots (2014). After arriving in New England in mid-season, Casillas was mainly a back-up pass coverage specialist and core special teams player for the Patriots. Casillas signed a 3-year, $8 million contract with the Giants on March 10. He has already been given Paysinger’s #54 jersey number.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Casillas said. “After so much time away and playing ball in New Orleans and Tampa and New England, being able to come back home and be able to play in front of your home crowd and my family is really a blessing.”
In five seasons, Casillas has played in 64 regular-season games with 18 starts. He missed the entire 2010 season with a foot injury that he suffered in the preseason.
At 6’1”, 227 pounds, Casillas is an undersized linebacker. But he is an excellent athlete with good speed and agility for the position. Indeed, when he came out of college at the University of Wisconsin, there was some talk he might be better suited to the safety position at the pro level. As you would expect for such a linebacker-safety ‘tweener, Casillas is good in pass coverage and special teams. Against the run, while he has good instincts and range, he is not a physical player and he can have trouble at the point-of-attack due to his lack of size. He is a solid tackler.
Casillas only has three career sacks, all three coming in 2011 with the Saints. Despite being very sound in pass coverage, Casillas does not make many plays on the ball. He has never intercepted a pass at the pro level and only has five career pass defenses.
As for his role with the Giants, Casillas will compete for a starting outside linebacker spot, but he most likely will be a situational pass coverage linebacker. That is an important role in today’s pass-happy NFL that features athletic receiving threats at running back and tight end. He is a guy who can match-up against tight ends and backs split out wide or in the slot.
Casillas should also become one of the Giants’ better special teams players. He has 22 career special teams tackles in 70 regular- and post-season games. He recovered an onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV.
“The Giants are getting a real football player,” Casillas said. “Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been under the radar, and I’ve accepted that. I’ve found a way to make plays and contribute, and also to make a healthy contribution to the city I’m in by doing things in the community. I try to do things the right way.”