Feb 232001
 
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.

Tackles:

  • 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.

Guards:

  • 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.

Middle:

  • 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.

Outside:

  • 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.
Feb 222001
 
2000 New York Giants Season Review
One Helluva Season

By David Oliver

How do you keep the music playing?
How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading,
Too Fast?
How do you lose yourself to someone?
And never lose your way?
How do you not run out of things to say?

It’s February 17, the 32nd Anniversary of my marriage to the most beautiful woman in the world. It’s been a good relationship, and like most things in my life has been part of the circular journey. Growing up in NJ, running wild in the City, family, the Giants, a never ending continuum. Sandy got me my Giants jacket for Christmas this year and a Giants watch. Her Mom, who has slowly recognized the reality of my existence, even came through with a Giants cap with a flashing NY logo on the front, which cracked the guys up in the locker room. She has suffered with me through the ups and downs of being a Giants’ fan. After all, the 32 years of marriage and two years of dating before that still fall short of a love affair with the Giants, which has lasted 49 years and running. Yes, I’ve been pretty constant in my relationships.

So it’s time to put a wrap on 2000. Our Giants took us through January this year, a surprise, but a wrench in the biorhythm of my life. January is my down time, I brood, I think, I turn thoughts to Auto Racing. But the Giants carried me right through the evil month and turned it into something special. Mom came down for a visit and she stayed the entire month. She hasn’t been here in three years and we celebrated her Birthday, 82 wonderful years on January 29 – damn, Mom’s Birthday, the Super Bowl, I was in a January groove.

The loss didn’t affect me as long as usual – I was still riding high from the crushing of the Vikings. That one was special for several reasons, among them, following the game. A couple of the young guys that I spend a little time with came down off the podium, joyous and emotional. Two came running over to me and threw their arms around me and we celebrated together. They thanked me for being there with them this year. In the locker room, it happened again and a couple of sophomores made a special point of coming over to me and grasping me with those big paws. It was overwhelming. I’m not like the regular media, and they know that. I’m not ashamed of being a fan, and where that might make less “objective” than the norm dictates, it does give me insights that normally aren’t available. The players know I’m on the field. They see me running, they know I sweat and get dirty and tired, and that means something to many of them.

So this was a season to remember. Many of you who have been on the journey with me from the start know that I have written how my life has run in cycles, like the Giants. The 60s were good years for the most part, the 70s, man, a blank, the 80s were great years, the 90s, up and down, mostly down. I can tell that the next decade is going to be great. I have that feeling for the Giants and for myself.

So I spent the past few weeks catching up on my reading and staying home on the weekends I was supposed to cover the Rolex 24 hours of Daytona, but didn’t. I had credentials to go to the Super Bowl events during the week, but not the game. Not being much of a party guy, and having Mom with me, I opted out. (Now starting to write again on February 22). Following the events of the past weekend, I regret not doing the 24 Hours because the Earnhardts were team racing a Corvette and it would have been great. There is a thread in The Corner Forum discussing the death of Dale, Sr, so I won’t reopen it here, but, in terms of sports history, his passing is a milestone, as he was the link to the formative years of the sport. As in many other sports, a new era has truly begun. So my reading started with a book written by Brassai, CONVERSATIONS WITH PICASSO. Brassai was a photographer in the 30s and 40s, famed for his black & white portraits. He spent time with Picasso and many of the other artistic giants of that era, Dali, Sartre, Celine, Camus, but he recorded for posterity the words of Picasso. I love the writers and artists of that time and have spent many enjoyable hours with Henry Miller, Celine, Sartre, Camus, D.H.Lawrence, that whole genre of depression and war artists. And as I sit here now staring out the window at the falling snow, damn, it’s like a scene out of Dr. Zhivago, Picasso’s words run through my head. He said to Brassai, late in his life, “I no longer want to see new faces. Why should I? But I am always here to my friends…and their visits are that much more precious to me because I live in seclusion…” They are resonant for me because I have felt much the same way since retiring. The days are long and I spend them here, writing or scanning photos, looking out the window, watching the beautiful cardinals, blue jays, doves, and the antics of the squirrels, and my cats, lounging in the sun on the deck below. After 30 years of constant, away from home activity for work, often away 40 weeks, full or partial, of the year, the respite is wonderful. I don’t go out for days at a time, but visits from my friends are precious. Dr. Joe calls regularly, Pat writes, several of you correspond by email – damn, life can be good and friends are always welcome.

Which brings me to another reading, MAESTRO, a tale of Alan Greenspan by Woodward. AG is a classic example of hubris unbounded, Potomac fever delirium, a man who stayed too long, bound by his own self-importance and need to be “in”. He has done some good things, but he will be remembered foe this, his last, the great collapse of 2000. How many thousands of young people have been put out of work?, how many good and decent people who believed in the great 401(k) promise have had their “excess” wealth sucked dry, all in the name of the soft landing. Hell, AG will have a soft landing but not the people he has hurt. Econometrics isn’t the whole story – confidence, as RR pointed out, and as FR first laid out, is a huge part of the equation.

And finally, MIDNIGHT DIARIES by Boris Yeltsin, of which I will have more to say later. So where is the connection here? This piece is about the Giants right? Well, I’ve already pointed out the connection of the Brassai book. Greenspan, well, he reminded me of Allie Sherman and Dan Reeves in a way. Men who took a winning combination and felt it wasn’t good enough to win now, that changes had to be made to create a soft landing, and who, in making those changes screwed up the operation for a while. Okay, so Reeves took over from Ray Handley, who did a pretty good wrecking job. But the prime materials were there. Simms, LT and several others had 1, maybe 2 years left. As did Huff and Mo and some others for Sherman. For me, transitions are difficult things. Having worked through so many of them in my other life, political transitions, I understand that change, although necessary, is not often smooth. There is a down time, a consolidation, a regeneration, and if the managers aren’t good, the results can be cataclysmic, not can be, often are. In football, as in life, go with a winning combo, that’s my philosophy. You can’t predict team chemistry, or productivity, so change is often designed for shock effect, or to emphasize control. So that’s where Greenspan comes in – I fear he may become the Allie Sherman of finance. Now we’ll see if he’s got the right stuff.

And how about Yeltsin? Here’s a quote from his book: “A sharp, unexpected, aggressive move always throws your opponent off balance and disarms him, especially if it is unpredictable and seems absolutely illogical.” The pledge, Coach Fassel’s mid-season pledge or pronouncement that the Giants would be in the playoffs, turned the entire season around. It not only energized his troops, it got the whole League to scratching it’s collective head, opponents laughed, and I’m sure everyone believed that the Giants were done, stick a fork in them, Coach has flipped. They were the worst team for this, and the worst team for that, led by a befuddled Coach who had finally popped off. So Yeltsin’s comment got me to thinking about the season. And let’s not kid ourselves, it was that “sharp, unexpected, aggressive” move by a beleaguered Coach that turned it around and made it a magical season.

Now we sit here at the crossroads, one eye looking back, assessing what was good and what needs improvement; and one eye on the future with Expensive Agency now upon us and the draft looming. Last year was relatively easy. Looking at what the Giants needed, the type of team they appeared to be, and what was available, there was a narrow band of selection available. In their position, the Great Dayne made the most sense. Whether it was a good choice has yet to play out. In the Agency sweepstakes, the Giants surprised everyone with Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker. Parker literally fell in their lap. Hey, don’t deny it, most of you questioned these signings. Lomas took so much criticism for his age, and Glenn, well, no one believed there was any gas in the tank. But they were the mainstays of the offense this year. And don’t kid yourselves, the Giants don’t fix what ain’t broken. So don’t look for any blockbuster signings in this department. And for the draft, with the #30 selection, I don’t foresee line help in Round 1. But in Round 4 or 5 and free agent signings, there will be plenty of big uglies on the scene.

Before I go any further, let me add that this year’s crystal ball is clouded by who stays and who goes. Right now, the most critical resigning for the Giants is Christian Peter. Whether he starts, rotates or backs up, with him the defensive line remains set. Without him, it becomes even thinner than last year, when they didn’t sign Harris. So, if Peter stays, defensive linemen fall to the lower rounds; if Peter is not re signed, the #30 pick becomes a potential for a defensive lineman. Next up is Cedric Jones. So many BBIers are clamoring for a replacement. Fuggedaboutit. CJ will stay – his teammates like him and he fits the defensive scheme. Part of the resurgence of Strahan can be attributed to CJ. But, the G-Men will look for help from a pass rush specialist to share time with CJ. The most likely, if he can be afforded, is Simeon Rice. The Giants wanted him once and he is a perfect passing down replacement for CJ. If the price is not right look for them to go after Ndukwe Kalu, if the Skins don’t re-sign him. An inexpensive speed rusher with experience, he will be given a shot. Failing that, look for a defensive end draft choice – 2nd or 3rd round.

Luke is a fixture as are Stone and Zeigler. But help is needed at guard. Although Tre Johnson is mighty attractive, he is too much money, so look for a potential signing of Pete Kendall. Kendall and Parker are perfect for the left guard duties. Parker is good for 8-10 games in a number of positions, Kendall will fill in on rotation, then take over for a few years. Rosey is much improved, but will remain a rotation man unless the Giants can’t sign a veteran at a reasonable price. At tackle, Ziemann is going to be the rotation man, but the Giants always bring in a number of tackles, either in the draft or as free agents. They will also sign a center or two in the post-draft scramble as competition for Engler. Whittle stays with Rosey as prime rotation man unless someone really better pushes him out in camp.

The hardest position for the Giants, and last year’s biggest mistake is the tight end position. For whatever reason Pete Mitchell has not been utilized and Dan Campbell looks to be the short yardage pass catcher. But they have no stretch the field, find the seam, break the blitz tight end. Oh, Shannon Sharpe, where are you? With Ernie Accorsi pronouncing that the Giants need a two-way tight end, don’t be surprised to see Mark Chmura show up in blue. There simply is no one else out there who fits the need at the price. Failing this, the Giants go to the draft and convince Howard Cross to return for another year.

In the backfield, the QB position is fixed at 1 and 2. Garrett told me he plans to return and I accept that at face value. For some reason, the #3 has become somewhat controversial. BBI doesn’t like Mike Cherry. SOTI says he is unpopular. Nightrain says go bet the farm Cherry won’t be back. Guys, a #3 is a #3. He carries the clipboard and hopes to be a #2. I talked to Galen Hall about Mike last week and he had some interesting comments. He told me Mike has a lot of talent. Then he thought about it and said he needs to play, he needs to play, he should have gone back over to Europe. Coach Hall said Mike just didn’t make plays for him. So it comes down to this; either the Giants give him a contract and give him the ball in camp, or they go sign a number 3 who looks promising enough to be a 2 next year. There are so many of these guys floating around in Europe, Arena and XFL that I don’t see the Giants drafting someone just to be #3. I think Cherry gets a 1-year extension.

The running backs, sort of set. This season belonged to Tiki. He started the Giants off on the right foot. He showed versatility as a pass catcher and runner. But there are still doubts about game carry durability. Enter Dayne. The future, or…? RD needs a good running back Coach; he needs to get over fear of lower body hits; he needs to keep from becoming another Jarrod Bunch. We won’t know if that happens until camp. Joe Montgomery will not stay under present circumstances. Being with a championship team is not as important to him as being “the Man”. I would expect the Giants to pick up a running back somewhere in the draft – or maybe HeHateMe (Rod Sharp) would like to audition for 3 back?

Now if the Giants can’t re-sign Tiki, whose agent says he wants top 5 money, well, Katie bar the door and all bets are off. The wideouts are also set. Amani and Ike, Dixon and JJ are ready to go. Thabiti Davis is on the bubble, saved by his specials team play, but if there are better choices out there, the Giants won’t be bashful. The most interesting free agent available, for my money, is Derrick Mason. He would fit in with the Giants – he can fly, he is kick returner, has experience, and would break the passing game wide open. Will the Giants spend on him? Probably not, but he is this year’s Shannon Sharpe.

The defense played up to standards this year. Again, free agency will determine the amount of change here. After Peter the next most important signing is Sehorn. Unlike many of you, I don’t think the Giants see this as a major weakness, with Sehorn. Without Sehorn, it becomes a glaring hole again. Thomas played well enough at the end of the year to keep his job. EMac turned out to be a great nickel and replacement back. Reggie Stephens showed enough to become a bona fide player, if he stays healthy. The Giants seem to have fallen victim lately to “broken corner” syndrome, so durability is a concern. Here are the variables. Jason Sehorn signs, corner is less of a problem. Jason leaves, expect Tiki to get his top 5 money as an incentive to bring in his brother. Even if Jason signs, Ronde is the best at the price available and may be in Blue to give Dave Thomas a run for the spot. Also, if Jason leaves, or if Ronde is not signed in any event, look for the Giants to use #30 to bring in Andre Dyson – although for my money, if Fred Smoot falls to that position, he is the guy.

The real puzzle in the secondary is the safety position. Lyle West is sticking by virtue of his special team ability. But he is nearing the pricey range and if the Giants find specials help somewhere, look for a safety to come high in the draft. Further support for this position is found in Shaun Williams durability – is he a 16 game player, or a 10-12 game player? Help is needed more at safety than at corner.

The linebackers also will depend on Free Agency. If Monty goes, Phillips might also. This becomes a money thing as well as playing time. As good as Brandon Short looks, I believe he is more a Mike than Sam, so the Giants will keep looking for SAM help. At will, look for Jack Golden to step up. He’s got the tools and energy. With Barrow playing at a high level still, will Monty want to wait one more year?

Thus, the draft will be finalized when Peter, Sehorn, Monty and to a lesser extent Tiki are settled. If everything breaks the Giants’ way in re signing, and Chmura is not the man, look at the tight end candidates carefully.

Think back to preseason. Many forecast a 6-10 to 8-8 season. Now, even after a Super Bowl appearance, the wailing has begun, rougher schedule, same old men, must have a corner, need a running back. The G-Men broke out of the gate 3-0. They did it because Tiki caught out of the backfield, Amani beat the secondaries deep, no one knew what RD brought to the table and because KC stepped up. The Cards game was an expected win, it was close, so no one believed. The Eagles were supposed to clean the Giants’s clock – it didn’t happen. The G-Men showed an iron defense and a surprising offense. The Bears game was tough, not pretty, but a victory. Suddenly, it was, hey, maybe. Then came the Redskins on that Sunday night. Smoke pouring from the tunnel, who let the dogs out blaring from the speakers, Jessie coming out in an all 4s stance barking and howling, and a goose egg. The doubters regrouped. The Titans game was an ugly thing. The Titans killed the G-Men in the first half. The tight end ran wild and no one could stop Eddie on the 3rd down. The second half was more respectable but too late. The team was in a funk – something in Jfs demeanor forecast it before the game. Now the doubt was growing.

A few more wins against beatable opposition and in came the Rams. They roughed up Amani early, the ball bounced the wrong way, the Giants got behind the 8 ball and never recovered. But they were never out of the game. The pleasant surprises, Brown and Parker, KC, Barrow starting to come around, Amani and Tiki. And Gone With The Wind, Coach Payton’s massive play book with all it’s motion, seemed to suit the Giants.

Then the Lions came to town. And the G-Men played the most desultory game of the year. They were flat, dispirited, frankly, not ready. Coach blew a fuse, Lomas blew a fuse, even Eric and I blew fuses. Then came the “guarantee” ( well, Eric and I both know that it was our reviews of the game that turned the season around but we want Coach to feel good, GRIN!!). Like a bolt of lightning, the Giants began to believe. They went into Washington and pushed the Redskins all over the field. Strangely, they couldn’t score and Eddie Murray’s 100-year old foot almost beat them. Well, the Giants were the “worst” everything and the Redskins were the Tenderloin boys, so Boy Dan popped his cork and fired his Coach, clearing the decks for a Giants Division Championship.

More importantly, the team began to believe and the fans were back. In the Pittsburgh game “The Bus” got parked and in the Jax game Brunell was grounded. We were living in hysteria. The playoffs brought the Eagles back to town again. The Giants couldn’t win three games in a year. Yeah, says who? Jason Sehorn broke their backs and even without an offense, the defense catapulted the G-Men into the Conference Championship. Now even Jaws told me he was a believer. Along come the Vikings and again the Giants were supposed to fold. Randy Moss showed up with an entourage of 20, who were promptly kicked off the field. Welcome to NY Randy, these security guys mean business. Dixon, West, Collins, Ike – the balls were flying, but it wasn’t Carter and Moss, it was G-Men everywhere. Comella scores his first and the D does it’s part and shows Culpepper a NY welcome. We are euphoric. The worst team ever has kicked some butt. The fans, the owners, the players, but most importantly, the Coaches have a piece of this. And it will never be forgotten.

Oh, the Super Bowl. A downer, sure, but short term. The G-Men weren’t supposed to be here, actually, they weren’t supposed to be within a 1000 miles. The ride here was fun. The team found a Coach, and a QB and it’s defense was back. Two old men were unlikely heroes. Even the weather was good. From the FANTASTICS “try to remember” comes to mind. For you younger guys, remember it, these thoughts will last you a life time. For you older, salty digs, they delivered for us again. It doesn’t get much better than this.

First Round pick – CB Andre Dyson