Mar 102022
Lorenzo Carter, New York Giants (December 19, 2021)

Lorenzo Carter – © USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth time in seven years there is a new sheriff in town with Brian Daboll taking the helm as head coach. The New York Giants also are on their third general manager during this time frame, an astonishing development for a team that only had two general managers for 27 years (1979-2006). The franchise that preached stability for decades has become one of the most unstable in all of sports.

The results of all of these changes have been equally damning and frustrating. In the last five years, the Giants have compiled a 22-59 record, averaging 4.4 wins per season. The team has not gotten better and arguably is in worse shape than it was when Tom Coughlin was “retired.” While General Manager Jerry Reese engineered the downward decline since 2011 until he was fired late in 2017, General Manager Dave Gettleman was an epic disaster in his four years despite having six 1st-round draft picks, including the #2, #6, #17, #30, #4, and #11 overall selections. He also was given the resources to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency. All of this to no avail.

New General Manager Joe Schoen and new Head Coach Brian Daboll find themselves in a tough position. The Giants began March about $12 million over the salary cap. Schoen has said he wants to cut about $40 million in salary. He already cut $7 million with the release of tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Devontae Booker. That leaves $33 million more to go so expect more cuts, contract adjustments, and possible trades. For a team already devoid of talent, the list of holes to fill is likely to increase substantially. In many ways, Schoen and Daboll would have been better off with an expansion team.

Reese and Gettleman always claimed they would not have much money to spend in free agency, but this ended up usually not being true. Both spent hundreds of millions of dollars, signing dozens of high-priced free agents, most of whom ended up being disappointments. Schoen and Daboll are also now crying fiscal restraint. We shall see what happens, but it seems more serious this time. The point is this may be the most subdued free agent signing period for the Giants in recent memory. They will sign players, but as of now, the expectation is they will look mainly for second- and third-tier bodies at bargain prices. If true, we may see more signing activity in April, May, and June then we see in March.

Most of the early free agent news is likely to be which Giants are leaving for other teams.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Daniel Jones
  • Davis Webb
  • Brian Lewerke

Free Agents:

  • Mike Glennon
  • Jake Fromm

Much depends on what the new regime feels about Daniel Jones. The rumor mill says the Giants are going to make a play for Mitch Trubisky. If true, they will have to open up their checkbook. It’s not that Trubisky is that good, but it appears to be a weak quarterback draft and teams are desperate. Trubisky also knows Daboll’s offense and terminology, reducing the learning curve. If the Giants sign Trubisky to an expensive contract, it may be best to see if the team can trade Daniel Jones now before he hits free agency next year. It will also offset the cost of signing Trubisky. I can’t see the team having any interest in re-signing Glennon or Fromm.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Saquon Barkley
  • Gary Brightwell
  • Antonio Williams

Free Agents:

  • Elijhaa Penny
  • Cullen Gillaspia

Even if you still believe in Saquon Barkley, who hasn’t been the same player since his rookie season in 2018, the “help wanted” sign is up here. Barkley will also be a free agent in 2023. Brightwell was a late-round special teams player. Williams was on the Bills’ practice squad for two years before signing with the Giants in January. The team needs bodies here. Look for at least one cheap free agent addition before this position is addressed in the draft. The latest media report says Daboll emphasizes the H-Back position over fullback and thus isn’t interested in bringing Penny back.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Kenny Golladay
  • Kadarius Toney
  • Sterling Shepard
  • Darius Slayton
  • Collin Johnson
  • Alex Bachman
  • Travis Toivonen
  • Austin Proehl

Free Agents:

  • John Ross
  • David Sills
  • C.J. Board
  • Dante Pettis

There are numbers, but many issues at this position for the Giants. Golladay was signed to a 4-year, $72 million contract, but didn’t even score a touchdown. Neither did 1st-round draft pick Toney who was really limited with hamstring, ankle, thumb, quad, oblique, and shoulder injuries. Shepard missed seven games with hamstring and quad injuries before tearing his Achilles’ tendon in December. He never lived up to expectations and may never be the same player. Slayton has been a big disappointment since his promising rookie season in 2019. The Giants may look for bargain-basement vets for competition, but any serious upgrade is likely to come from the draft. There are no pressing free agents to re-sign.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Kaden Smith
  • Chris Myarick
  • Rysen John
  • Jake Hausmann

Free Agents:

  • Evan Engram
  • Levine Toilolo

This may be the weakest position on the team, and that’s saying something when you consider the state of the Giants’ offensive line. Engram is likely gone. Toilolo missed all of 2021 with an Achilles’ injury and won’t be back. If the season were to start today, Kaden Smith would be the starting tight end with Myarick the second tight end. Look for the team to sign at least one second-tier veteran before addressing the position in the draft. The Giants will be looking at in-line blocking tight ends as well as move H-Backs.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Andrew Thomas
  • Matt Gono
  • Matt Peart
  • Devery Hamilton
  • Shane Lemieux
  • Wes Martin
  • Ben Bredeson
  • Nick Gates

Free Agents:

  • Nate Solder
  • Korey Cunningham
  • Will Hernandez
  • Matt Skura
  • Kyle Murphy
  • Billy Price

What a confusing mess! Andrew Thomas is the only keeper at this point. Most if not all of the free agents will be allowed to walk. Nick Gates may never be the same and can’t be counted on in 2022, so the team doesn’t have a healthy center on the roster right now unless they re-sign Price. Gono was just signed off of the street and, as of today, he’s the starting right tackle. Peart tore his ACL in late December and can’t be counted on. The previous coaching staff questioned his toughness regardless. Lemieux lost a valuable year of development due to a knee injury. Bredeson was a major disappointment, missing five games and only starting one. He still could end up starting, but the Giants need insurance. One could argue the Giants need four new starters. They all can’t be drafted so this is one area where Schoen may open up the checkbook to sign a center, guard, or tackle. Look for the team to also scan the waiver wire.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Leonard Williams
  • Dexter Lawrence
  • Raymond Johnson
  • David Moa

Free Agents:

  • Austin Johnson
  • Danny Shelton

The Giants basically have two viable players under contract, Williams and Lawrence. Both of last year’s nose tackles are free agents. Shelton won’t return and Johnson may walk. The team could move Lawrence to nose tackle. Regardless, the Giants need bodies and they can’t all come in the draft. Second-tier free agents who play the run well will be added. This position is a bigger need than many realize.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Azeez Ojulari
  • Quincy Roche
  • Elerson Smith
  • Oshane Ximines
  • Omari Cobb
  • Niko Lalos
  • Trent Harris
  • Blake Martinez
  • Tae Crowder
  • Carter Coughlin
  • Cam Brown
  • Justin Hilliard
  • T.J. Brunson

Free Agents:

  • Lorenzo Carter
  • Reggie Ragland
  • Benardrick McKinney
  • Jaylon Smith

A lot of bodies here…13 already under contract. The question of quality is a different story. Outside, Ojulari is penciled in to start. Roche and Smith are youngsters who could still make some noise. Ximines wore out his welcome with the last coaching staff. Carter really came on late in the year. Do the Giants gamble on re-signing him? Can they afford to do so? Inside, many assumed Martinez, who missed most of the season with a torn ACL, would be cut. He may be back with a re-structured deal or pay cut. Martindale will have to figure out if 2020 late-round picks Crowder, Coughlin, or Brown have any value. The Giants likely won’t spend big money on an edge player in free agency. They will address that position in the draft. They might want to add a cheap veteran inside.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • James Bradberry
  • Adoree’ Jackson
  • Aaron Robinson
  • Darnay Holmes
  • Rodarius Williams
  • Xavier McKinney
  • Logan Ryan
  • Julian Love

Free Agents:

  • Jarren Williams
  • Keion Crossen
  • Jabrill Peppers
  • J.R. Reed
  • Steven Parker
  • Joshua Kalu
  • Nate Ebner

So much depends on the fate of James Bradberry. If the Giants trade or cut Bradberry, cornerback becomes a major need that is more likely to be addressed in the draft. If he re-structures or takes a pay cut, that will help. Jackson didn’t live up to his contract, but he wasn’t bad. Robinson missed much of the season, was up and down when he played, but flashed promise. Holmes was playing his best ball until a neck injury forced him to miss the last six games. The last coaching staff was very high on Rodarius Williams but he tore his ACL and we’ll have to see how he comes back from that. The Giants may want to bring back Jarren Williams (exclusive rights free agent) and Crossen (unrestricted, but a good special teams player). Martindale will be thrilled to have McKinney and Love at safety given their versatility. Will Ryan be a salary cap victim? Another body or two is needed at safety, and one could come in free agency.


Players Currently Under Contract:

  • Graham Gano
  • Riley Dixon
  • Jamie Gillan

Free Agents:

  • Casey Kreiter

Gano will remain the kicker. However, the Giants may cut Dixon. Gillan is currently the only other punter on the roster. Kreiter is a free agent. The Giants will need to re-sign him or sign another long snapper.


The Giants won’t spend a lot on high-priced free agents. The exceptions could be Trubisky and one offensive lineman. In terms of the secondary market, the Giants need bodies at many positions that can’t all be addressed in the draft. This includes at running back, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, and safety.

Mar 292021
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (November 28, 2019)

Kenny Golladay – © USA TODAY Sports

Teams were officially able to begin negotiating with free agents from other teams on March 15. So although it seems as if free agency has been going on for quite some time, we’re only still at the 2-week mark since it began. More signings will continue through the spring and summer, especially as players are cut. That said, the initial free agency rush is over and we can start to make some snap opinions on what the New York Giants have and have not accomplished.

The “need” level I reference was addressed in my March 12th Free Agency Preview for the team.

QUARTERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Medium): For at least one more season, Daniel Jones is the unquestioned starter. The expectation was that the team would re-sign Colt McCoy. However, the Giants surprisingly went in another direction by signing the well-traveled Mike Glennon as Jones’ back-up. Glennon is much bigger (half a foot taller) than McCoy with a much stronger arm. Both complete around 61 percent of their passes and both have started roughly the same number of NFL games. There were media whispers too that McCoy wanted more money than the Giants were willing to pay. On the surface, this appears to be a wash, although the coaches said McCoy was a very good influence on Jones in the meeting rooms. (Mike Glennon YouTube Highlights)

RUNNING BACKS (Previous Need Level – High to Desperate): Some chided my prediction that all three running backs behind Saquon Barkley may not return in 2021, but that appears in fact to be the case. As of this moment, Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis remain unsigned. So much of the team’s upcoming success will depend on how well Barkley returns from a major knee injury and whether he can stay healthy for a full season. It’s quite telling that the very first player the Giants signed in free agency was the relatively-unknown Devontae Booker to a 2-year, $5.5 million contract. Fan reaction was immediately negative. But it appears the coaching staff simply wanted a veteran back who was a more reliable blocker and receiver than Gallman. Depth behind Barkley still remains shaky as the only other halfbacks on the roster are NFL cast-offs Taquan Mizzell and Jordan Chunn. The Giants also added another fullback/special teams player in Cullen Gillaspia to compete with Eli Penny. (Devontae Booker YouTube Highlights)

WIDE RECEIVERS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): The Giants have significantly upgraded this position with the addition of one player to the tune of a 4-year, $72 million contract. Kenny Golladay is not only a true #1 receiver, but he fills a desperate need that this team had for a physical receiver with size. His presence also allows Darius Slayton to become the #2 and Sterling Shepard the slot receiver, roles that both are far better suited for. From Golladay’s style of play to the team’s extended wooing period to satisfy personality issues, this signing is highly reminiscent of the Giants’ signing of Plaxico Burress in 2005. And Golladay is quite capable of having a Plaxico-type impact on this team. In addition, before the Giants signed Golladay, they signed the 9th overall player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross. While Ross did not live up to expectations in Cincinnati, he brings true deep speed to a team that desperately needs it. It would not be shocking to see Ross get cut, but it also would not be shocking for him to press for a starting job opposite of Golladay. In addition to wanting to prove doubters wrong, Ross will rejoin his old college receiving teammate, Dante Pettis, on what had been an explosive University of Washington receiving corps. Overall, the make-up of this unit is far different now than it was just two weeks ago. (John Ross YouTube Highlights)

TIGHT ENDS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Right or wrong, the front office and coaching staff appear willing to continue to hope Evan Engram develops into the player hoped for when he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. But the team decided to team him with a mentor. Kyle Rudolph has been one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the past 10 years. While not an explosive player, he can catch and block. Just as importantly, he is reliable, something Engram is not. The downside is that Rudolph turns 32 in November and is coming off a foot injury (The Athletic is reporting it is a Lisfranc injury) that required surgery AFTER the Giants signed him. Much depends on how well he recovers. On paper, if he is healthy, this looks like a major addition both in terms of helping out Daniel Jones and the offensive line. (Kyle Rudolph YouTube Highlights)

OFFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Medium): This is one area where it is debatable if the team has improved in free agency. The Giants were able to force Nate Solder to take a big pay cut to remain with the team. He will now compete against Matt Peart for the starting tackle spot opposite of Andrew Thomas. The Giants somewhat surprisingly simply cut Kevin Zeitler without approaching him about a pay cut. To fill that void, they signed right guard Zach Fulton, who had an inconsistent stay with the Houston Texans. Fulton will compete with Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux for a starting spot. Fulton does not feel like an upgrade over Zeitler. Where the team probably did get better is at back-up center with the signing of Jonotthan Harrison back in January. He is a better player than Spencer Pulley. Look for the team to continue to address the offensive line in the upcoming draft.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson): Undoubtedly, the biggest loss the team suffered in free agency was losing nose tackle Davlin Tomlinson to the Minnesota Vikings for what appeared to be a reasonable 2-year, $22 million contract. The Giants re-signed back-up nose tackle Austin Johnson to a 1-year, $3 million deal in anticipation of the loss. Johnson will now have to start at nose tackle or the team will be forced to move Dexter Lawrence from end, or sign a veteran or draft a player. Moving Lawrence seems like an obvious option, but that would have a domino effect in that B.J. Hill would probably then become the new starter at end opposite of Leonard Williams. Thus, what had been a somewhat shaky depth situation becomes even more dubious. The team was extremely fortunate in 2020 that no one got hurt up front. The only back-ups on the roster right now are R.J. McIntosh, David Moa, and Breeland Speaks, the latter signed by the Giants in January. Speaking of Williams, the Giants were able to re-sign him to a 3-year, $63 million deal. There will be tremendous pressure on him to live up to that contract.

(Late Note: The Giants signed 6’2”, 335-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton today. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Shelton was cut by the Detroit Lions and will help fill the void created by the departure of Tomlinson).

LINEBACKERS (Previous Need Level – High): On paper, the Giants lost one free agent (Kyler Fackrell) and signed three (Ifeadi Odenigbo, Reggie Ragland, Ryan Anderson). All three newcomers were relatively inexpensive, 1-year deals. Ragland will likely compete with Tae Crowder for the inside linebacker spot next to Blake Martinez. He has started 38 regular-season games in the NFL and is a former 2nd-round pick so he has a good shot to win that job. Anderson is another former 2nd-round pick who was stuck behind a plethora of outstanding outside linebackers in Washington. He is known more as an overachiever who saw most of his playing time on special teams, but he could surprise as his competition will be Lorenzo Carter (coming off of a torn Achilles), Oshane Ximines (coming off of shoulder surgery), and last year’s rookies (Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos). What about Odenigbo? Good question. He was the first defensive player the Giants signed in free agency. He played exclusively on the defensive line in Minnesota, primarily at end, but also shifting inside in pass-rush packages. However, his lack of size (6’3”, 258 pounds) strongly suggests he will be used like “linebacker” Jabaal Sheard was used by the Giants last year, that is, an edge rusher in 4-man pass rush packages. The Giants could also push him inside like the Vikings did in obvious passing situations in 4-man fronts. It is doubtful that he should be considered a true outside linebacker because he simply does not have experience dropping into coverage. Because of that, one could actually argue he should be included in the defensive line review. Also, the Giants did re-sign inside linebacker Devonta Downs, who started at inside linebacker for the Giants in 2020 until Tae Crowder beat him out. He will have to fight just to make the team however.

CORNERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Like the wide receiving position, the make-up of this position completely changed with the addition of one free agent, adding Adoree’ Jackson to a 3-year, $39 million contract after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans. Opinions on his play vary, but Jackson is clearly a major upgrade over everyone else on the team’s roster with the exception of Pro Bowler James Bradberry. The former 1st rounder is a physical and aggressive press corner who plays with a lot of confidence. Depth is still a concern, but on paper, the Giants now look like they have one of the better secondaries in the NFL as long as Darnay Holmes continues to develop at slot corner.

SAFETIES (Previous Need Level – Low): While Adrian Colbert and Nate Ebner remain unsigned, the Giants still look to be in decent shape at this position with Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan, and Julian Love – the latter two who can also play corner. Depth will be added later in free agency or the draft.

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER (Previous Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter): When the Giants re-signed long snapper Casey Kreiter, this position was largely settled other than camp bodies. The only real question is are the Giants looking to upgrade at punter at some point.

SUMMARY: In my March 12th article, I argued this roster was a train wreck. Two weeks later, with the addition of 11 free agents and counting, it feels vastly different. It’s not just the quantity, but the quality. Keeping Leonard Williams was a big deal. Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson were two of the best, if not the very best, players available at desperate need positions.  If healthy, Kyle Rudolph could be a major addition as a security blanket for both Daniel Jones and the offensive line. Golladay and Jackson will start. Rudolph will be a quasi-starter. John Ross (1st rounder), Reggie Ragland (2nd rounder), Ryan Anderson (2nd rounder), and Zach Fulton might start. Devontae Booker is now the primary back-up behind Saquon Barkely, Ifeadi Odenigbo will add to the pass rush.

The risk? The money. While most of the deals were relatively cheap, the team did dole out $174 million on three players – Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Adoree’ Jackson. If they are wrong about any of these three, the team will be paying for it for years. We’ve seen that before and it’s one of the major reasons why the Giants have been mired in the basement of the NFL for a decade. One could also argue that the team should have allocated its resources a bit differently in order to keep Dalvin Tomlinson, extending his contract even last year.

Mar 122021
Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 8, 2020)

Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

As is always the case, there are fans of the New York Giants who are optimistic about the team’s future while there are others who are pessimistic. That’s just human nature. Regarding the 2021 edition of the franchise, the optimism is largely based on confidence in Head Coach Joe Judge and his staff. The negativity is mainly due to a lack of faith in ownership and the front office. But a cursory review of the existing roster doesn’t help either.

The Cliff Note’s version of this article is that the roster is still a mess.

The most damning thing about the franchise is that the Giants seem to have been in “rebuilding” mode for a decade. And they don’t seem to be REALLY further along in that rebuilding effort than they were 10 years ago. Much of that has to do with the fact that John Mara, Steve Tisch, and two general managers would not accept that the team needed a complete rebuild. At least not publicly. If they felt that way privately, then their level of incompetence is frightening. To be blunt, the team has been spinning its wheels for years. We all know it.

The core problem is easy to diagnose. The team has drafted poorly. They have attempted to compensate for that by overpaying for often mediocre talent in free agency. That has not only tied up immediate cap space but created additional burdens in future years with millions of dollars in dead money. A common refrain heard from fans defending team management is, “What choice did the GM have? He had to overpay because not doing so would have been worse!” This is a loser’s argument. And that’s what the team has become, a losing franchise.

So the 6-10 New York Giants approach free agency with little cap room once again and over $10 million dead money wasted. If the team is ever going to stop this vicious cycle, it needs to draft better and stop trying to compensate in free agency with ridiculous contracts. It’s not just the foolish high-profile signings such as when the team made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in football but the under-the-radar contract such as giving a 3rd-string tight end (Levin Toilolo) a 2-year, $6.2 million deal. Stupid. Indefensible. The “what choice did they have” argument looks pretty foolish in hindsight.

Now to be fair, the team’s two high-profile signings in 2020 appear to have been smart decisions. CB James Bradberry and LB Blake Martinez were major positive additions to the team Bradberry went to the Pro Bowl and Martinez is arguably the team’s best inside linebacker since Antonio Pierce. But it came at a cost in the form of $74 million spread out over three years. And both will have to continue to justify those contracts. After 2016, fans were applauding the $194 million given to CB Janoris Jenkins, NT Damon Harrison, and LB Olivier Vernon. That tune changed quickly after only one season. And those contracts sabotaged the team for years.

Hopefully my point is obvious. Be careful. Spending tens of millions of dollars in free agency rarely ends up well. It feels good initially, but the team often finds itself right back where it started, with its wheels spinning in the mud.

QUARTERBACKS: Daniel Jones remains the starter. But 2020 back-up Colt McCoy is currently an unrestricted free agent. So there is a greater need here than many realize. Daniel Jones gets hurt and misses games. The team will likely re-sign McCoy or sign another veteran. (Need Level – Medium)

RUNNING BACKS: Aside from depth, after the 2018 season, the New York Giants seemed set at this position for the foreseeable future after Saquon Barkley’s superlative rookie season. But after two injury-plagued seasons, including injuries to his ACL, MCL, and meniscus last year, his future with the team is very much in doubt with his contract expiring after the year. Worse, the next three running backs on the depth chart (Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis) are all unrestricted free agents and there is a decent chance that none will be re-signed. That leaves Taquan Mizzell, Jordan Chunn, and fullback Eli Penny. Oh boy. (Need Level – High to Desperate) 

WIDE RECEIVERS: This position is bordering on disaster. Golden Tate flopped in 2020 and was cut this offseason. That leaves Sterling Shepard, a perpetual tease who is possibly one concussion away from retirement, and sophomore slump victim Darius Slayton, who only caught 12 passes after the bye week. Dante Pettis and C.J. Board are waiver-wire pick-ups. The other four receivers were undrafted and two of those have already been cut by other teams. Dave Brown had better receivers to work with in the 1990s and that’s saying something. (Need Level – Desperate)

TIGHT ENDS: If Evan Engram was the player the front office and coaching staff says he is, the team would be in decent shape at this position. But he’s not. I pray I am ultimately proven wrong about Engram, but it’s been four years since he was drafted. He is a tease who disappears for long stretches and comes up small in the clutch. Engram is a “receiving” tight end who isn’t particularly good at that aspect of the game. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. And yet the coaching staff keeps saying they can build an offense around him? Put down the crack pipe! Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo are average-at-best back-ups. Neither scored in 2020. The Giants only had one touchdown from their tight ends last year. Wow. (Need Level – Desperate)

OFFENSIVE LINE: How you view this position depends on your level of confidence in the young guns. Understandably, Giants fans have little faith in the ability of the team to “fix” the offensive line because they have been unable to do so in 10 years of drafting and free agency. In addition, the Giants enter 2021 with a new offensive line coach who has never coached at the pro level, and multiple cooks in the kitchen who will advise him (Freddie Kitchens, Ben Wilkerson, Pat Flaherty). The good news is that Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, and Matt Peart did show flashes of real ability. The ups and downs were to be expected by green players with no real training camp and no preseason. The team cut Kevin Zeitler so Lemieux and the player he replaced, Will Hernandez, will likely start at guard unless the team signs a veteran or drafts an impressive rookie. It also appears the Giants will bring back Nate Solder on a reduced contract to compete with Peart at right tackle. Depth is not terrible with the likes of Jonotthan Harrison, Cam Fleming (if re-signed), and the loser of the Peart/Solder competition. The real pressing question here is guard and much depends on Lemieux and Hernandez. (Need Level – Medium)

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Giants will be in really good shape at his position IF they can re-sign their three free agents: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson. Combined with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and R.J. McIntosh, this is young, big, strong group. Williams was franchised and will be back unless both sides can’t agree to a long-term deal and his tender is rescinded (a possibility). Tomlinson is key. Many fans and pundits say the Giants should not invest too much money in 3-4 defensive linemen. They could be right. And overpaying for your own talent is just as bad as overpaying for someone else’s. That said, the Giants have a long recent history of drafting defensive tackles in the 2nd round only to see them walk in free agency and then having to replace them again in the draft. What did I say about spinning wheels? If Tomlinson and Johnson don’t re-sign, the team will have to move Dexter Lawrence to nose tackle and/or sign or draft replacements again. A team with so many holes at so many positions can ill-afford creating more holes at the few positions where they have some strength. Tomlinson is a good player and a good influence in the locker room. He would be my free agent priority. (Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson)

LINEBACKERS: Really this position needs to be divided into inside linebackers and edge rushers (outside linebackers).

Blake Martinez was a major addition to the team as a player and leader. He played virtually every defensive snap and finished the season with a team-high 151 tackles, nine tackles for losses, three sacks, six quarterback hits, five pass defenses, one interception, two forced fumbles. Finding his counterpart inside is the challenge. David Mayo was cut. The last player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tae Crowder, stole the starting job away from Devante Downs. On paper, Crowder appears to be a good, athletic complement to Martinez. But insurance and depth are needed. Keep in mind that T.J. Brunson is still in the picture as well. (Need Level – Medium)

The problem for the Giants is that they were deprived of a key evaluation year for Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Both earned starting jobs but both were lost for the bulk of the season. Worse, Carter is coming off a serious ruptured Achilles’ tendon injury. Kyler Fackrell was a nice complementary piece who could play inside or outside, but he’s an unrestricted free agent. What the Giants really lack on defense are outside edge rushers who scare the other team. They were reduced to a committee approach in 2020, employing role players such as Jabaal Sheard (unrestricted free agent) and rookies Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Niko Lalos. Some have questioned just how important an outside rusher is in the Giants’ scheme, but no team would ever turn down an outside pass-rushing threat. (Need Level – High)

CORNERBACKS: James Bradberry was everything the Giants had hoped, but it is a minor miracle the defense performed as well as it did with the revolving door at cornerback opposite of him. Corey Ballentine, Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Julian Love all took their turns. All have significant warts (and Ballentine is gone). Darnay Holmes will likely remain the nickel corner. There are whispers that the Giants are not really counting on COVID-19 opt-out Sam Beal. If Bradberry were to go down, this would arguably be the worst group of corners in the NFL. The Giants don’t just desperately need another starter, they desperately need quality depth. (Need Level – Desperate)

SAFETIES: This position has been a chronic weakness for the team but seems more settled now due to the additions of Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, and Logan Ryan. Peppers and Ryan have their issues, but they make plays and the coaching staff seems to know how to use them. McKinney missed most of the season due to injury but flashed in limited playing time. Ideally, this position would also be addressed but there are simply too many other needs elsewhere. (Need Level – Low)

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER: 33-year old Graham Gano had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history as a kicker. However, Riley Dixon saw his gross and net punting average decline. Veteran long snapper Casey Kreiter is an unrestricted free agent. (Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter)

SUMMARY: It’s weird. In many ways, I feel more optimistic about this team than I’ve done in years, largely because of Joe Judge and his staff. But this roster is a train wreck. I have never published a “needs” article with so many “desperate” categories. You would be hard pressed to find a worse group of wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL. At running back, the only thing the Giants have is Barkley, who is coming off a potential career-altering injury. The defense is not in great shape either with obvious significant needs at cornerback and outside linebacker.

That all said, if the Giants spend a lot of money to fix these problems in March and April, I guarantee you that I will be typing a similar article in 2023, and probably with a new coaching staff.

Mar 052018
Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers (December 17, 2017)

Andrew Norwell – © USA TODAY Sports

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2017 was an utter disaster for the New York Giants. The 13 losses were a team record for a team that has suffered through some horrific seasons in its 93-year old history. It was so bad that team ownership took the incredibly rare steps (for them) of firing the general manager and head coach a month before the season ended.

What made this all the more shocking is that in many quarters, the Giants were expected to be a Super Bowl contender. Instead, they became arguably the worst team in the NFL with atrocious play on offense, defense, and special teams. It wasn’t just bad. It was really, really bad. And the demise began well before the injury bug hit once again.

Enter Dave Gettleman as the new general manager and Pat Shurmur as the new head coach. Both are uninspiring, safe, conservative choices. And for better or worse, the Giants did not completely break with their institutional past that was created by George Young in 1979. The GM search was largely telegraphed and settled as soon as the team hired former George Young-disciple Ernie Accorsi to consult in the selection process. It’s probably the easiest money Accorsi ever made. Gettleman is experienced and well-traveled, but spent 14 years with the Giants from 1999-2012 under both Accorsi and Reese. While the Giants fired Vice President of Player Evaluation Marc Ross, everyone else in the personnel department (at least for now) has been retained. This is hardly any sort of institutional change in thinking.

The field of head-coaching candidates this offseason seemed underwhelming. Two Bill Belichick disciples, the relatively-inexperienced Panthers defensive coordinator, and the previously-fired, milk toast Shurmur. In hindsight, thank God the Giants passed on Josh McDaniels (or he passed on them) as he unbelievably screwed the Colts at the last minute. Shurmur may be bland, but he is respected around the league as probably has the highest floor. The question is how high is his ceiling? Can he manage, lead, and inspire an NFL team towards greatness? Or is he a middle-of-the-pack-type of coach? And while there were significant changes in the assistant coaching staff, Shurmur did keep a few Tom Coughlin-Ben McAdoo holdovers to not completely break with the past here either.

Then there is the third most important figure in the equation: the quarterback. For better or worse, the Giants are going to continue to hitch their wagon to the seemingly fading 37-year old Eli Manning. Gettleman and Shurmur keep pointing to the second game against Philadelphia as somehow indicative of Eli’s still-current vitality, while apparently ignoring the other 15 contests. Of course, the ultimate proof of their continued faith (or lack thereof) will be what the Giants do with the #2 pick in the draft. But that is a topic of discussion best suited for another day.

In sum, though not to the serious degree of January 2016, this still has the feel of somewhat half-assed approach to it. This was somewhat predictable in that it would be difficult to see John Mara completely breaking with the almost 40-year old institutional structure. He simply wasn’t willing to blow it all up. It’s not in his DNA. Only future results will determine if this was the correct decision or not.

On the surface, the biggest change appears to be the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (James Bettcher) who may shift the Giants back to the 3-4 defense that they abandoned in 1994. Honestly, at this point, we don’t really know what Bettcher and the Giants will do on defense. And that obviously will determine which type of players they pursue in free agency and in the draft.

“We had a meeting with all the college personnel and all the pro personnel and we sat in there for an hour and a half and James gave us a clinic,” Gettleman said recently. “He did a great job and now I feel like we really have a full understanding of what we’re looking for… There’s not a huge change (in the secondary). It’s the front seven.”

QUARTERBACKS: Much depends on whether or not Pat Shurmur wants to keep two or three quarterbacks on the roster and if the Giants plan on drafting a quarterback. Unless he is traded, which appears unlikely at this point, Eli Manning will be the starting quarterback in 2018. And unless he is traded, Davis Webb will be a back-up. If the Giants don’t plan on drafting a quarterback and want to carry three quarterbacks, signing a cheap veteran as insurance is a likely possibility. Geno “the Earth is flat” Smith is an unrestricted free agent and probably will be moving on. (Need Level – Low to Medium)

RUNNING BACKS: There could be significant changes at this position. Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen are both unrestricted free agents and could be moving on. That leaves only Wayne Gallman (who played decently as a rookie), Paul Perkins (who had a very disappointing sophomore season), and a couple of long shots (Jalen Simmons and Terrell Watson). This is an area to watch in free agency and the draft. This looks like a strong and deep draft class at running back. Yet the Giants may choose to sign a veteran presence in free agency too. The question is how much money do they want to spend? For example, do you want to spend more on Carlos Hyde (49ers) or a cheaper alternative such as Alfred Morris (Cowboys)? It remains to be seen how important the fullback position is to Shurmur; Shane Smith is still on the roster. (Need Level – High)

WIDE RECEIVERS: It will be interesting to see the working relationship between Shurmur and the diva Odell Beckham, who is showing signs of restricting his on-field time until he gets a mega $20 million per season deal. Assuming Odell plays and plays well, the focus really is on the complimentary pieces. Sterling Shepard will be the slot receiver. But who will start opposite of Beckham and what about depth? Brandon Marshall was extremely disappointing before he got hurt and probably will be let go. Dwayne Harris has had two injury-plagued years since his stellar 2015 debut with the Giants. He also makes too much money. Harris could return if he accepts a pay cut for the second year in a row. Behind them are 10 no-names who are easily replaceable. One of them could surprise, but that is doubtful and it might be smarter to move on. (Indeed, it is surprising that some of these players haven’t already been cut). Long story short, this is a VERY thin position where the Giants could use a lot of help. Don’t think so? Imagine the state of the position if Beckham gets hurt again. Don’t be surprised if the Giants both sign a veteran and draft a rookie at this position. (Need Level – High)

TIGHT ENDS: A year after the Giants spent big bucks on Rhett Ellison and selected Evan Engram in the first round, this is one position where the Giants are in good shape. Ellison was overpaid and underutilized, but he is a solid, versatile player. If Engram can cut down on the drops, he has All-Star potential. Jerell Adams is a good third tight end and the Giants claimed H-Back Kyle Carter off of waivers from the Vikings in January. Ryan O’Malley is an exclusive rights free agent. (Need Level – Low)

OFFENSIVE LINE: This position is a mess. The Giants have invested three high draft picks on the OL and so far none of them have panned out. Justin Pugh has been solid, but injury prone and may be looking for greener pastures. Weston Richburg had a very good year at center in 2015 but has struggled since then. And the Giants still don’t know what they really have in the very inconsistent and often awful Ereck Flowers. Guard John Jerry is an overpriced, average-at-best player. D.J. Fluker can maul in the run game but has had issues in pass protection; he also is a free agent. Brett Jones is an undersized player who struggled at times. The Giants re-signed 33-year old John Greco to a 1-year contract. The Giants may have found a player in Chad Wheeler, but that remains to be seen as the rookie was also up and down. The problem for the Giants is the offensive line free agent market is extremely thin as evidenced by the fact that Pugh and Richburg are widely considered two of the better players available. The offensive linemen reaching the market will be overpriced and mostly overrated. The Giants may need to add as many as four potential starters. Making matters worse is that almost every team will be looking to sign a lineman and most teams have have far more cap room than the Giants. My expectation is the Giants may make a push to sign one high-profile lineman (Andrew Norwell) but after that they will have to bargain-basement shop for older, over-achieving types who have serious warts to their game. The 2018 NYG line is likely to be a patchwork affair. (Need Level – Desperate)

DEFENSIVE LINE: Analyzing the defensive line needs is extremely difficult in that we don’t know what kind of defensive base James Bettcher will employ. While he will be multiple in his fronts, will the emphasis be on the 4-3 or 3-4 defense? If the latter, then things could get confusing and messy. Even messier if it simply some sort of chaotic hybrid. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are coming off of disappointing seasons. Both are vastly overpaid, to the point where the the cap hit may prohibit them from being cut or traded. Worse, neither is physically suited to play defensive end in a 3-4 system. Bettcher does have a history of converting athletic defensive ends to 3-4 linebacker. So there is a possibility that JPP and Vernon may be changing positions. If so, that is a risky proposition as it remains to be seen if they can handle the switch. If the Giants make the conversion to the 3-4, restricted free agent Kerry Wynn will probably be moving on and Romeo Okwara is not a good fit. On the other hand, the athletic Avery Moss can probably handle the transition to linebacker. The good news is that Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson can play in the 3-4, Harrison on the nose and Tomlinson at end. But the Giants would need to add more 3-4-type players at both positions. (Need Level for 3-4 – Extremely High)

If the Giants choose to remain in the 4-3, the Giants would ideally like to bring in talented defensive ends to compete with Pierre-Paul and Vernon. At some point in the future, the team will have to move on from JPP, and perhaps Vernon, unless they dramatically improve their play. However, that influx in talent would more likely come from the draft than free agency. Good defensive ends rarely hit the open market, including this year. At tackle, the question is one of depth. Jay Bromley will be a free agent and may be moving on. Robert Thomas is replaceable. I could see the Giants adding a veteran defensive tackle in free agency. (Need Level for 4-3 – Average)

LINEBACKERS: Right now, only five of the team’s 12 linebackers are under contact. And they are the injury-prone B.J. Goodson, Calvin Munson, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Derrick Mathews, and Thurston Armbrister. Yikes! That’s as bad as it gets. It also may be time to move on from free agents Jonathan Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Mark Herzlich.

Like the defensive line, this position is confused because of the 4-3 vs. 3-4 issue. If the Giants shift to the 3-4, as mentioned above, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon, and Avery Moss become linebacking candidates. Unrestricted free agent Devon Kennard’s worth increases as well as he has always been better suited to the 3-4. The issue at that point becomes adding additional inside linebacker to compete with B.J. Goodson and Calvin Munson unless the team wants to re-sign Sheppard or Herzlich for cheap veteran depth. (Need Level for 3-4 – Average assuming DEs can handle transition)

If the Giants stay in the 4-3, it means Pierre-Paul, Vernon, and Moss are staying put on the defensive line. It also means that Kennard is less likely to re-sign. In that case, the cupboard looks awfully barren, particularly at both outside linebacking spots. Given that there are very few impact 4-3-type linebackers in the NFL that ever hit the open market, the Giants would most likely have to take the bargain-basement approach here as well in free agency unless they want to make a strong  play for Nigel Bradham of the Eagles. (Need Level for 4-3 – Desperate)

CORNERBACKS: The Giants appear much thinner at this position with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie moving to free safety. Much now depends on how the Giants truly feel about Eli Apple and whether or not Apple is going to mature. When focused, Apple can play. The problem is that he wasn’t focused for most of 2017 and his play deteriorated significantly. Worse, he pissed off his teammates with his shitty attitude. For a new GM who harps on team chemistry, Apple is probably on a very short leash. Janoris Jenkins was also suspended last year for detrimental conduct, but he’s only a year removed from a Pro Bowl/All-Pro season and there has been no indication that the Giants are moving on from him. Ross Cockrell was a pleasant surprise last year and probably had his best season as a pro. Ironically, he’s probably the team’s most important free agent. He could sign elsewhere. Brandon Dixon flashed a little bit but is still a long shot. So are Donte Deayon, Jeremiah McKinnon, and Tim Scott. (Need Level – Average to Very High depending on the status of Apple and Cockrell)

SAFETIES: The strong safety position is in good hands with Landon Collins. Darian Thompson was serviceable at free safety but he had his ups and downs, and the Giants are now reportedly moving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) to free safety to compete for the starting job. DRC has always been a bit of an odd fish. Some coaching staffs have put up with him; others have not. (He was also suspended last season for detrimental conduct). DRC is aging, expensive ($8.5 million cap hit in 2018), and while he doesn’t miss many games, he’s a fragile player whose snaps have been managed. It remains to be seen if he can handle the physical nature of the safety position. That said, the switch is intriguing as DRC could thrive as a ball-hawk in the middle of the field. Andrew Adams is replaceable. Nat Berhe is an injury-prone free agent who simply hasn’t worked out here. Ryan Murphy is a journeyman. Look for the Giants to address this position in free agency or the draft. (Need Level – Average)

KICKERS: Brad Wing’s game declined markedly in 2017 as he became one of the NFL’s least effective punters. Austin Rehkow has already been signed for competition but do the Giants bring in a veteran punter or hope Wing rebounds? A media report said the Giants are interested in place kicker Graham Gano, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season. If true, Aldrick Rosas may be toast. Rosas has exceptional ability but simply missed too many kicks. The patience level with the Giants doesn’t appear to be there. That’s hurt the Giants in the past with some green kickers who have moved on to have very good careers. Incidentally, the Giants have already added another place kicker in Marshall Koehn. (Need Level – Above Average)

SUMMARY: This roster is not in good shape. The offensive line is a mess. The Giants are thin at wide receiver and running back. The front seven has talent problems regardless if the team plays the 3-4 or 4-3. And a secondary that was once considered a team strength is now an issue because of attitude concerns. If that wasn’t enough, the kicking and return games are up the air. While the Giants are about $24 million under the cap, they have a lot of unsigned players, and relative to the rest of the NFL, their cap shape isn’t that great. Worse, the available talent pool in free agency once against appears shallow.

Mar 072017
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants (November 27, 2016)

Jason Pierre-Paul – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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The New York Giants learned two valuable lessons in 2016: (1) if done wisely, you can dramatically improve the team by spending in free agency; and (2) a team weakness can rapidly become a team strength, and unfortunately visa versa.

Last year at this time, the New York Giants entered free agency with approximately $60 million in salary cap space – the most by far in team history. The goal was to rapidly improve a defense that finished dead last in the NFL. The Giants re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (1-year, $10.5 million). Then they went out and spent big bucks on cornerback Janoris Jenkins (5-years, $62.5 million), defensive tackle Damon Harrison (5-years, $46.25 million), and defensive end Olivier Vernon (5-years, $85 million). They also gave fairly sizable short-term contracts to linebacker Keenan Robinson (1-year, $3.5 million) and cornerback/safety Leon Hall (1-year, $2 million). The results were exceptional. The Giants improved from dead last in defense to 10th in yards allowed and 2nd in scoring allowed. Pierre-Paul, Jenkins, Harrison, Vernon, and Robinson were all major factors in the dramatic turnaround. 2016 certainly rivals 2005 (linebacker Antonio Pierce, right tackle Kareem McKenzie, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress) as the franchise’s most successful free agent period to date.

But as the defense rose, the offense declined, falling from 8th in 2015 to 25th in 2016, with precipitous drops in both the passing and running games. The decline was an unpleasant surprise and the team now unfortunately has question marks at every offensive position.

A week ago, the Giants had about half as much cap space ($30 million) as they had last year. But the decision to place the Franchise Tag on Pierre-Paul has now reduced their available salary-cap space to $13 million. The situation is fluid as a renegotiated long-term deal for Pierre-Paul could improve the picture. On the other hand, if the Giants are able to re-sign defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, they will not have much operating room.

The Giants are in a bit of an uncomfortable position. This is a relatively young roster with one major exception: the starting quarterback. Eli Manning is most likely in the twilight of his career. Because of that, there is an extreme sense of urgency to put this team over the top right now. But urgency can cause decision makers to make rash, short-term decisions that end up proving costly. The Giants may feel they have to be aggressive and take some risks in free agency, but they also have to be careful. The worst-case scenario would be sacrificing medium- and long-term cap health and then finding out that Manning is already done.

QUARTERBACK: Eli Manning is under contract for three more years. But decisions need to be made in terms of his short-term back-up in 2017 as well as his long-term replacement. Ryan Nassib and Josh Johnson are both unrestricted free agents. Keith Wenning is the only other quarterback currently under contract. The Giants will probably re-sign Nassib or Johnson, and possibly draft a quarterback. If neither Nassib or Johnson are re-signed, the Giants will have to sign a veteran back-up in free agency.

RUNNING BACKS: Unless Paul Perkins is the real deal, this position is a mess. Rashad Jennings was cut. Bobby Rainey and Orleans Darkwa are both unrestricted free agents who probably should not be re-signed. George Winn, Jacob Huesman, and Daryl Virgies are most likely camp fodder. That leaves 3rd-down back Shane Vereen, who tore the same triceps muscle twice in 2016 and who has an injury-plagued history. The Giants will have to draft a running back, but they may look to add a veteran in free agency as well.

FULLBACKS: Will Johnson missed all of 2016 with a neck injury. Nikita Whitlock missed the season with a Lisfranc injury and will not be re-signed. The most important question moving forward here is does Ben McAdoo want to employ a fullback in his offense? If so, they may add another veteran in free agency to compete with Johnson.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Odell Beckham, Jr. is one of the best receivers in football. Sterling Shepard had a very solid rookie season and will remain the team’s top option at the slot receiver position. But the Giants need another viable outside threat opposite of Beckham. Victor Cruz was cut. McAdoo dramatically reduced Dwayne Harris’ playing time in 2016, and he is more of a slot receiver-type too. Journeyman Tavarres King made some noise late in the season. Roger Lewis, Jr. will be entering his second year. Darius Powe and Kevin Norwood are two bigger receivers who face an uphill climb. Much depends about how the Giants truly feel about King and Lewis. If there are doubts, this is another position where the Giants may sign a veteran in free agency.

TIGHT ENDS: This position has been a revolving door for years and the lack of a serious receiving threat has really hurt Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offensive scheme. The blocking here has also been sub-par. Second-year tight end Jerell Adams has the tools to be a decent two-way player, but does he have the mental make-up? Will Tye (re-signed) appears to be more of a role player/back-up type. Matt LaCosse (re-signed) has not been able to stay healthy. Larry Donnell will not be back. There is a major “Help Wanted” sign at this position. The Giants will undoubtedly draft a tight end. But they should also be taking a serious look at all veteran tight ends on the open market in free agency.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The Giants are comfortable with their left guard and center. The big questions here are do they want to move Ereck Flowers from left tackle to another position, and if so where? And do the Giants see Bobby Hart as a legitimate starter at either right tackle or right guard? How the Giants brain trust answers these questions will determine their strategy in free agency and the draft. The bad news is that good left tackles either entering their prime or in their prime rarely hit the open market. So the Giants will have to gamble on an inconsistent player or an aging veteran if they want to move Flowers. The Giants are not likely to re-sign Will Beatty. But they may decide to re-sign John Jerry at right guard and Marshall Newhouse as a reserve, swing tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Assuming the Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul eventually agree on a deal, the big question mark is can the Giants re-sign Johnathan Hankins? If the Giants re-sign both, the team is in good shape on the defensive line. The dilemma with JPP is that he is seeking a big, multi-year contract and he’s a guy who has had trouble staying on the field in recent years. One also wonders about his focus once he signs a big contract. That said, JPP is clearly one of the best defensive ends available in free agency. The Damon Harrison-Johnathan Hankins combo inside was a big reason why the Giants defense improved so dramatically. But the Giants have had a history in recent years of letting quality tackles go in their prime (Barry Cofield, Linval Joseph) and replacing them through the draft. If Hankins departs, unless the Giants are high on Jay Bromley or Robert Thomas (re-signed), then the Giants will have to draft his replacement and/or sign another veteran free agent.

LINEBACKERS: There are no headliners at this position on the Giants. The team probably would like to re-sign Keenan Robinson if his contract demands are reasonable. Robinson had a good initial season with the Giants, but has an injury-plagued history. The team may not make much an effort to re-sign Kelvin Sheppard or Mark Herzlich. The surprise is that the Giants have not cut J.T. Thomas ($4 million cap hit) yet. Look for the Giants to sign one or two cheap veteran linebackers, especially if Robinson and Sheppard leave.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: The Giants are in great shape at cornerback with Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (JPP). But depth is a bit of a concern. Coty Sensabaugh and Trevin Wade are unrestricted free agents. That leaves Michael Hunter and Donte Deayon. The Giants will need to re-sign someone or add additional bodies in free agency and/or the draft. The Giants are set at strong safety with All-Pro Landon Collins. But free safety is a question mark. Darian Thompson (Lisfranc) and Mykkele Thompson (knee) are coming off of serious injuries. Nat Berhe can’t stay healthy and Andrew Adams, Rahim Moore, Eric Pinkins, and Ryan Murphy are guys you don’t want starting. Much depends on the health prognosis for Darian Thompson. Aging veteran and unrestricted free agent Leon Hall could be a short-term option as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter Brad Wing and long snapper Zak DeOssie (re-signed) are under contract. Dwayne Harris ($3.8 salary cap hit) is the returner unless the Giants release him for space. But the team has a major question mark at place kicker. 35-year old Robbie Gould is an unrestricted free agent. The Giants will need a veteran to compete with Aldrick Rosas.

SUMMARY: Much of the media and fan focus will be on upgrading the offense this offseason. The Giants may need new veteran starters at running back, wide receiver, tight end, and one or two spots on the offensive line. They also need to settle on a back-up quarterback. The defense looks to be in better shape IF the team is able to re-sign Pierre-Paul and Hankins. But in doing so, much of their available salary cap space will evaporate quickly. Other than these two, the main question marks are whether to re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson and what to do at free safety. The team also needs a place kicker.

Free Agent Wish List:

  • Second-string quarterback (Ryan Nassib, Josh Johnson, or another veteran)
  • Running back who can compete for the starting job
  • Fullback who can compete with Will Johnson
  • Wide receiver who can compete for starting outside position
  • Tight end who can compete for starting job
  • Offensive tackle who can compete for starting job
  • Re-sign or replace John Jerry
  • Re-sign or replace Johnathan Hankins
  • Re-sign or replace Keenan Robinson
  • Re-sign or replace Kelvin Sheppard
  • Re-sign or replace Trevin Wade
  • Re-sign or replace Coty Sensabaugh
  • Free safety who can compete with Darian Thompson
  • Re-sign or replace Robbie Gould

The Giants will not be able to address all of these needs in free agency. Some will have to be handled via the draft. But there is much work to be done in order to get this team to the next level.

Mar 052015
Devin McCourty, New England Patriots (February 1, 2015)

Devin McCourty – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 2015 NFL Free Agency Preview: The New York Giants have clearly been in a downward spiral since winning the team’s eighth NFL title in 2011. In the last three seasons, the Giants have finished in third-place in the NFC East, dropping from 9-7 to 7-9 to 6-10. This despite the team’s huge roster overhaul last offseason that included a free-agent spending spree and a solid draft. After the 2013 season, team President/CEO John Mara asserted the offense was “broken.” While the passing game improved in 2014, the running game remained one of the least productive in the NFL. And the Giants fell to 29th in total defense, giving up over 6,000 yards for the third time in the last four seasons and the only times in franchise history.

Since the end of the 2013 season, both the offensive and defensive coordinator have been fired. Many position coaches have departed too as have player stalwarts from the two Championship teams. But the key actors remain: Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin, and Eli Manning. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking on Coughlin and Manning and their chances for one final ring.

It’s largely been demonstrated that teams can’t build championship-level rosters through free agency. The key roster upgrades must come through the draft. But free agency is an important part of the equation. And the Giants have had to be more active in free agency because of the team has little remaining to show for from the 2008-12 NFL Drafts. The ideal free agent is usually not the 30-something, big “household” name that everyone recognizes, but the 27-28 year old, lesser-known player who is coming off his first contract and entering his prime.

“I think we are in pretty good health. We are headed in the right direction with respect to the cap,” said General Manager Jerry Reese on February 21. “I think we will be able to do what we need to do. I think we will have enough money to do what we need to do in the offseason, as far as free agency goes and whatever we decide to do with the other guys.”

The biggest needs for the New York Giants? To regain control of the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. To become a tough, physical football team once again.

Quarterback (Minimal Need): Eli Manning is the starter. Ryan Nassib is the back-up. The team prefers to only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. The Giants might bring another veteran-minimum-type veteran to have an extra arm in camp along with (or to replace) Ricky Stanzi. No one with a legitimate shot to make an NFL roster will want to sign with the Giants because of Manning and Nassib.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • None

UFA’s of Note:

  • Matt Flynn (Green Bay Packers)

Running Back (Moderate Need): It’s likely that Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams are 1a and 1b on the depth chart. Jennings is well-respected and a solid all-around back. But he has been injury prone and is not dynamic. Williams did not flash as much as hoped during his rookie season, but the coaches seem to be very high on his future. What the Giants could use is a quicker, faster change-of-pace back who can pick up the blitz and threaten teams with his pass receiving. Michael Cox and Orleans Darkwa are still under contract. There are some interesting role players in the free agent market such as C.J. Spiller, Shane Vereen, and Roy Helu.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Chris Ogbonnaya (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • DeMarco Murray (Dallas Cowboys)
  • C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills)
  • Shane Vereen (New England Patriots)
  • Roy Helu (Washington Redskins)
  • Mark Ingram (New Orleans Saints)
  • Reggie Bush (Detroit Lions)
  • Pierre Thomas (New Orleans Saints)

Fullback (Minor or Moderate Need): If the Giants re-sign Henry Hynoski, this really is a minor need, especially given the fact that the role of the fullback was minimized in Ben McAdoo’s offense. But if Hynoski leaves in free agency, the Giants will add a body to compete with with him and Nikita Whitlock in training camp.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Henry Hynoski (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • John Kuhn (Green Bay Packers)

Wide Receivers (Moderate Need): There is a difference of opinion among fans about how pressing a need the team has at wide receiver. Much depends on how one views the likelihood of Victor Cruz returning from a serious knee injury and the immediate prospects for Rueben Randle. But keep in mind that even the Giants have said Cruz may never be the same player. Randle has been inconsistent, and even if he improves, he might want to leave the Giants when he becomes a free agent next offseason. The other seven guys currently under contract are no locks to even be on an NFL roster. There isn’t much out there on the free agent market.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Jerrel Jernigan (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • Randall Cobb (Green Bay Packers)
  • Torrey Smith (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles)

Tight Ends (Substantial Need): Larry Donnell was surprisingly productive in 2014, going from a complete no-name to a 63-catch target in one season. But his blocking still remains suspect. Daniel Fells was just adequate. And while Adrien Robinson took some baby steps forward in 2014, he continues to be a disappointing 4th-round draft pick. Based on his size, Jerome Cunningham is probably strictly an H-Back/receiving type. The problem is the top free agent tight ends are not very good blockers.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Larry Donnell (Tendered Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
  • Daniel Fells (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • Julius Thomas (Denver Broncos)
  • Jordan Cameron (Cleveland Browns)
  • Charles Clay (Miami Dolphins – Transition Tagged)
  • Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • Niles Paul (Washington Redskins)

Offensive Line (Critical Need): Fans also differ in opinion over the true state of the offensive line. Hopefully, the Giants have made the correct personnel evaluations and Will Beatty, Geoff Schwartz, Weston Richburg, and Justin Pugh are part of the solution. If not, then this line is really in sad shape. As it stands now, even if you are optimistic about the line, the Giants still desperately need one more starter. And the overall depth situation is not good at all. The big albatross is Will Beatty’s contract. Beatty will be entering the third year of his 5-year, $39 million contract. He will count over $8 million against the cap in 2015, even if the Giants cut him. The Giants need to become a tougher, more physical offensive line. Football games are still won and lost in the trenches. There are some interesting free agent players on the market, especially Mike Iupati, Bryan Bulaga, and Orlando Franklin.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • OT James Brewer (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • OG John Jerry (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • OG Adam Snyder (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • OG Mike Iupati (San Francisco 49ers)
  • OT Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay Packers)
  • OG Orlando Franklin (Denver Broncos)
  • OG Clint Boling (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • OT Derek Newton (Houston Texans)
  • OT Joe Barksdale (St. Louis Rams)
  • OG James Carpenter (Seattle Seahawks)
  • OT Doug Free (Dallas Cowboys)

Defensive Line (Critical Need): On paper, for at least 2015, the Giants appear set at two positions with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. But major questions remain at the other two starting spots. Who is the starting end opposite JPP? Damontre Moore? Kerry Wynn? Robert Ayers? Who starts alongside Hankins? Cullen Jenkins? Jay Bromley? Markus Kuhn and Mike Patterson played quite a bit in 2015 and did not perform well. The Giants need players here who can play the run and rush the passer. The good news is this is probably the deepest free agent group.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Franchise Player)
  • DT Mike Patterson (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions)
  • DE Jerry Hughes (Buffalo Bills)
  • DE Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers)
  • DT Terrance Knighton (Denver Broncos)
  • DT Nick Fairley (Detroit Lions)
  • DT Jared Odrick (Miami Dolphins)
  • DE Jabaal Sheard (Cleveland Browns)
  • DE Pernell McPhee (Baltimore Ravens)
  • DE Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins)
  • DE Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • DT Dan Williams (Arizona Cardinals)
  • DT Kendall Langford (St. Louis Rams)
  • DT Barry Cofield (Washington Redskins)
  • DT Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots)
  • DE Trent Cole (Philadelphia Eagles)

Linebackers (Critical Need): You can argue that the Giants haven’t ignored the position, but simply are terrible at scouting or developing linebackers. Or you can argue the Giants have not spent enough resources on the position. Regardless, the chickens have come home to roost. The Giants are in terrible shape at linebacker, lacking overall athleticism, speed, physicality, and most importantly, play makers. Devon Kennard shows signs of real ability but he’s probably best utilized as a line-of-scrimmage linebacker rather than a guy who you want playing in space. And since the game is more pass-oriented than ever, the Giants need better all-around linebackers. The free agent market for linebackers looks dreadful.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • Jacquian Williams (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • Mark Herzlich (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • Spencer Paysinger (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • OLB Derrick Morgan (Tennessee Titans)
  • MLB Rolando McClain (Dallas Cowboys)
  • MLB David Harris (New York Jets)
  • MLB Brandon Spikes (Buffalo Bills)
  • MLB Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati Bengals)
  • MLB Mason Foster (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Defensive Backs (Critical Need): The Giants are in much better shape at cornerback than safety, especially if they can re-sign Walter Thurmond. But if Thurmond leaves, depth becomes a concern since Prince Amukamara has been injury prone and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off an injury-plagued season. The real concern is at safety where in one season the Giants went from a strength (the 2013 version of Antrel Rolle and Will Hill) to a mess (the 2014 version of Rolle, Stevie Brown, and Quintin Demps). The only safeties currently under contract are Nat Behre, Cooper Taylor, and Thomas Gordon. There are only a few defensive backs really worth pursuing in free agency.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • CB Walter Thurmond (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • CB Zack Bowman (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • CB Chandler Fenner (Tendered Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
  • S Antrel Rolle (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • S Stevie Brown (Unrestricted Free Agent)
  • S Quintin Demps (Unrestricted Free Agent)

UFA’s of Note:

  • S Devin McCourty (New England Patriots)
  • CB Bryan Maxwell (Seattle Seahawks)
  • CB Brandon Flowers (San Diego Chargers)
  • CB Kareem Jackson (Houston Texans)
  • S Rahim Moore (Denver Broncos)
  • S Da’Norris Searcy (Buffalo Bills)
  • S Marcus Gilchrist (San Diego Chargers)
  • S Ron Parker (Kansas City Chiefs)
  • S Tyvon Branch (Oakland Raiders)

Kickers (Minor Need): If the Giants release Steve Weatherford, this would become a major need.

New York Giants Free Agents:

  • None

UFA’s of Note:

  • P Brett Kern (Tennessee Titans)
Mar 042015
Antrel Rolle (26) and Walter Thurmond (24), New York Giants (June 18,2014)

Antrel Rolle and Walter Thurmond – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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We are only a few days from the start of the 2015 NFL free agent period. Other teams can begin negotiating with a team’s free agents on March 7 and officially sign those players on March 10. As of March 4, the New York Giants currently have 20 free agents not under contract: 18 unrestricted free agents and two exclusive rights free agents. If the two exclusive rights free agents are tendered, those two players can only re-sign with the Giants.

New York has already re-signed restricted free agent center/guard Dallas Reynolds (1-year, $700,000) and wide receiver Kevin Olgetree (1-year, $745,000). The team has also designated defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul the team’s franchise player. Pierre-Paul has not yet signed that tender, but it currently will count $14,813,000 against the team’s salary cap.

Twenty free agents sounds like a lot. But not surprisingly for a 6-10 team, many of these unsigned New York Giants free agents are not very good. Here is my recommendation on who to re-sign and who to let walk:

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (if tendered):

TE Larry Donnell (Use ‘Em): Tendering Donnell is a no-brainer. He is a cheap, up-and-coming player who finished 9th in the NFL among tight ends in receptions totals in 2014 after only catching three passes in 2013.

CB Chandler Fenner (Lose ‘Em): The ex-Seahawk Fenner was signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad in October 2014. While he played in 11 games, he was quickly surpassed on the depth chart by players signed to the roster later in the season. It’s questionable whether the Giants will tender Fenner and unknown if the coaching staff thinks he has any long-term potential.

Restricted Free Agents (if tendered):

OC/OG Dallas Reynolds (Re-Signed – Lose ‘Em): The Giants re-signed Reynolds in February, but why bother? The 30-year old journeyman lineman simply is not very good. The Giants should have moved on.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

RB Chris Ogbonnaya (Lose ‘Em): Ogbonnaya is a 28-year old journeyman back who is currently with his fifth NFL team.

FB Henry Hynoski (Use ‘Em): The fullback role in Ben McAdoo’s offense has been marginalized, but the team still needs one fullback for those times in games that it decides to employ one. Hynoski is a good blocker, but the Giants should only give him a veteran minimum-type deal.

WR Kevin Ogletree (Re-Signed – Use ‘Em): The Giants re-signed Ogletree in February. That seemed like a reasonable move for a team that could use some cheap, veteran competition at wide receiver in training camp. That said, there is a good chance that Ogletree will be cut before the season.

WR Jerrel Jernigan (Lose ‘Em): The Giants are sometimes too patient with draft picks. Jernigan teased at the end of 2013 but reverted back to his previous form in training camp and the preseason, and ended up on Injured Reserve after two games. John Mara’s quip aside, Jerngian is a 2011 3rd-round bust.

TE Daniel Fells (Use ‘Em): Fells is “just a guy” but he knows the system and the team doesn’t currently have a lot of other options at tight end. Re-sign him to a veteran minimum contract and see if someone can beat him out in training camp.

OT James Brewer (Lose ‘Em): Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane. It’s time to move on from this 2011 4th-round bust.

OG John Jerry (Lose ‘Em): Jerry is a “coach killer”, meaning that while there are times when he flashes great ability, his screw ups are so common that they lose football games. Jerry is simply far too inconsistent for a 28-year old veteran. It would be better to move on and use the roster spot on a younger player with an upside.

OG Adam Snyder (Lose ‘Em): An aging, declining veteran with knee problems.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul (Use ‘Em): The problem with JPP is we really don’t know which way the arrow is pointing with him. He had one great season (2011), two very disappointing seasons (2012-13), and an inconsistent but productive season where he showed flashes of his old outstanding play (2014). How would he react to a big, fat, long-term contract? On the other hand, how many two-way defensive ends with impact ability are there in the NFL? I’d keep JPP, but I would actually not sign him to a long-term deal. I would have him play the entire year under his $15 million franchise tender unless you can re-sign him to a reasonable long-term deal (unlikely). If he has a great season in 2015, then you franchise him again or sign him to a longer team deal. The $15 million is more than 10 percent of the team’s salary cap, but that one-year hit would be better than a multi-year humongous cap-killing error.

DT Mike Patterson (Lose ‘Em): The 31-year old Patterson started eight games on one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. He didn’t make any big plays. It’s time to move on.

LB Jacquian Williams (Lose ‘Em): The Giants linebacking corps sucks. Williams been here four seasons and the Giants have little to show for it. He’s an athlete who makes few plays.

LB Mark Herzlich (Lose ‘Em): See comment above. Herzlich has also been here four years. He’s a big linebacker who struggles in space.

LB Spencer Paysinger (Lose ‘Em): See comment above. Paysinger is also part of the 2011 linebacker class who hasn’t done much. It’s time to move on.

CB Walter Thurmond (Use ‘Em): Thurmond, who proclaims himself to be one of the best corners in football, signed a 1-year “show me” deal with the Giants after violating the NFL’s drug policy in 2013. He tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2 and was lost for the season. In an ideal situation, the Giants would sign him to another “show me” contract this offseason. Will Thurmond bite? He’s probably still the third-best corner on the team, a de facto starter.

CB Chykie Brown (Use ‘Em): Brown was an in-season cut by the Ravens after getting burned once too often in Baltimore. He played surprisingly reasonably well in the eight games he played for the Giants. Chances are he is an inconsistent player who may struggle to make the team, but I would give him a shot in training camp if he signs a veteran minimum deal.

CB Zack Bowman (Lose ‘Em): Bowman is not a terrible player, but he’s 30 and lacks speed. He also started to fall down the depth chart as the season progressed. The Giants should try to get younger and faster at the back-up positions.

S Antrel Rolle (Lose ‘Em): A year after playing arguably his best season at safety, the 32-year old Rolle arguably had his worst. I’d re-sign him to a veteran minimum type deal, but Rolle won’t accept that. He’s an important leader on defense, but that defense finished 29th in the NFL.

S Stevie Brown (Lose ‘Em): As feared, Brown’s big season in 2012 was a mirage. He’s simply not a play-maker.

S Quintin Demps (Lose ‘Em): Demps looks the part but he’s another “coach killer” who has now played for four NFL teams.

So of the 20 free agents, I would prefer to keep only seven, plus Rolle if he would choose to accept a low-end deal. Hopefully the Giants will move on from most of these players and give a chance to new faces coming out of college. Not only will they be cheaper and be locked into playing for the team for 3-4 seasons, but they have a potential upside that most of these guys do not. In particular, the Giants need to clean out the dead weight on the offensive line and defense.