With legal tampering–the ability for teams to gauge the interest of free agents, but not negotiate–opening up as of noon today, the Giants begin what looks to be a tall order in rebuilding their roster. With regards to comments that Heath Evans made on NFL Network this past week, the Giants do NOT have the league’s worst roster. While they certainly have dearth of talent by and large, there are areas to be highlighted which should provide optimism that they will be able to quickly right the ship.
For starters, they have a proven franchise quarterback coming off of consecutive career seasons for them. Eli Manning is signed for another four seasons, a period of time which the Giants should view as their window of opportunity. Manning has been playing the best football of his career, and with Head Coach Ben McAdoo’s continued tutelage and presence, Manning’s trajectory certainly points in a positive direction.
Additionally, Odell Beckham Jr. needs no introduction as a playmaker. The soon to be third year wide receiver has shattered expectations and shown that he is not only one of the best wideouts in football, but also one of the best overall players. This league is about playmakers, and Beckham has certainly cemented himself in the 99th percentile of that category.
While this has also become a quarterback driven league, quarterbacks can sometimes only be as good as the protection afforded to them. Thus, you have to be happy with the youth and talent on the Giants offensive line. While there are certainly questions at Right Tackle, Weston Richburg, Justin Pugh and Ereck Flowers are a core of young hogs who are physical, tough and smart football players–three attributes highly sought after in the trenches. While Flowers hit what Jerry Reese referred to as “the rookie wall” last season, his physical ability and impressive display of toughness make his future bright. Flowers is a virtual certainty at the most coveted offensive line position, one which provides security against some of the leagues best pass rushers. Weston Richburg was highly praised last season, receiving votes for the All-Pro team. In tandem in Justin Pugh, who has slotted in nicely to the right guard position after bouncing around the line out of necessity, the duo makes up one of the better center-guard combinations in football.
Sadly, these three areas of note are the only positions on the roster which can receive any sort of praise. By my estimation, there is one other positional group that does not require an upgrade, not necessarily making it a pool rich in talent, but merely adequate. The running back corp–which was all too frequently a committee last season– is four players deep, each of whom could serve an important role in the offense.
Rashad Jennings caught fire at the end of the season, and will most certainly come into camp as the lead dog whose job is his to lose. Orleans Darkwa showed flashes of talent last season, and should Jennings stutter at all, look for Darkwa to capitalize and provide a presence as a potential three-down replacement. Andre Williams hasn’t shown much as far as the fans are concerned, but the Giants do very much like his ability. Regardless of your feelings on him–and I’ve certainly made my feelings known–he could potentially provide the short yardage power back the Giants have desperately needed. It is probably wishful thinking to slot Andre Williams into that role and think he can produce, but it is about the only place I would think he could flourish in even the slightest bit. Lastly, you have the free agent acquisition from a year ago, Shane Vereen. Vereen earns his money as a third down back who is sometimes lethal out of the backfield as a pass catcher. But that bread and butter attribute was seemingly forgotten at points last season by the offensive brass, despite him displaying an ability to flourish in the screen game and as an outlet receiver.
Listen, I am not saying that the sum of these parts will be greater than the whole a la’ the Earth, Wind and Fire days, but there is no need to spend significant assets on a position which depreciates faster than any other in the NFL. The Giants were abysmal on defense, and every fan clamoring for an improved running game should first check the Giants defensive metrics and rankings. It certainly doesn’t help my cause when “experts” such as Todd McShay slot Ezekiel Elliot to the Giants in the draft at the #10 spot.
So now that we have highlighted where the Giants are adequate to above average, what five moves should they make this free agency period to improve their chances of getting back to championship contention as fast as possible? With more than $56.5M to spend during this period, look for the Giants to make these five moves:
- Resign Robert Ayers Jr, and sign Malik Jackson or Olivier Vernon: Ayers played quite well especially after JPP back, and while some wanted to attribute that to the presence of #90, film showed differently. JPP is probably done in New York given how far apart him and the Giants are in negotiations. Meanwhile, Ayers can probably be had for a price more reasonable, and with less history of firework incidents. Ayers return would only be bettered by pairing him with either one of the young pass rushers that are available. While Malik Jackson is an unrestricted free agent, and showcased impressive talent during the Broncos playoff run, he comes from a different scheme (the 3-4 as opposed to the Giants 4-3) and surely benefitted from the presence of two All-Pro pass rushers, Demarcus Ware and Von Miller. In the case of Olivier Vernon, he lead the league in Quarterback hits last season with 30, but he was hit with the transition tag by the Dolphins, which allows them to match any offer within five days. Jordan Raanan speculated on Twitter this morning that the Giants may be able to pry him away from the Dolphins by front loading the offer, upwards of $20 for that first year. A risky proposition, but with so much cash available, perhaps a necessary maneuver. But both of these players are young, in contrast to Charles Johnson and Mario Williams. Youth should definitely be a secondary focus of players the Giants are targeting on defense. Additionally, this would give the Giants a little bit of flexibility at the #10 spot in the draft, where as of today they are more than likely going to target a pass rusher.
- Sign any two of Tashaun Gipson, George Iloka or Rodney McLeod: People were disappointed when Eric Berry was tagged by the Chiefs, and immediately turned their sights to Eric Weddle. But if you manage to pull this particular move off, imagine the group of centerfielders the Giants now have. All three of these guys are under 25, move fast and hit especially hard. Weddle is a bit up there in age, and would probably command a higher tag than these three guys. With Bennet Jackson and Mykkle Thompson slated to return from injury as well, the Giants would all of a sudden go from having no depth a year ago to being five deep with handpicked guys at the position.
- Sign Marvin Jones: then immediately pair him with Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants’ offense was buoyed for much of the season by solely Odell Beckham Jr., with special teams specialist Dwayne Harris forced into the number two receiver role out of necessity. With Victor Cruz playing as many NFL games as me since November of 2014, the Giants have to address the receiver position. Jones is a proven number two, and will probably command between $7 to $9 million dollars. The Giants might have to overpay to pry him away from the Bengals, but given their available funds, it would behoove them to overpay slightly for the services of a proven pro, and not be stuck with another guy like Preston Parker.
- Find a Right Tackle to push Marshall Newhouse to the bench: Newhouse got pushed around at times last season, and 7th round pick Bobby Hart is still unproven. The Giants shouldn’t cut Newhouse outright because his cap hit for next season is only $3 million, but they are in need of an upgrade at the starter spot and can’t lean on Hart just yet. The highest paid Right Tackle next season will only be making $9M, so a tier 2 or 1.5 right tackle should not thin out the pockets too much. Players such as Andre Smith, Bobby Massie and Mitchell Schwartz may be a little out of the Giants price range, but expect there is be moves at the position.
- Sign a Middle Linebacker: A position that has produced little to no results for the Giants since Antonio Pierce’s heyday, and one that the Giants seldom give credence to in the form of assets. But look around at the some of the championship caliber defenses over the last five seasons and what names are in the middle of them: Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Luke Kuechly, Clay Matthews, Bobby Wagner, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins. All talented players in the middle of the field for their defenses. It is the literal leadership position of the defense, something the Giants have sorely lacked over the past few seasons due in part to injuries suffered by Jon Beason. With the theme on defense being youth, Danny Trevathan of the Super Bowl winning Denver Broncos is available, as well as Shea McClellin, Jerrell Freeman and Rolando McClain. McClain might have a little bit of baggage, but his arrival to the Cowboys and their turnaround from worst defense to above-average in one season was no coincidence. The Giants organizational values have historically pointed to them minimizing the linebacker position in the draft and free agency, but seeing as how the code followed by Jerry Reese sunk the Giants to 32st in total defense, I would recommend a change in thinking.
These five moves would only be a portion of the total moves needed to be made by the Giants. Quite has been dug by team brass, but there are plenty of options to quickly turn the Giants around. There is a pool of youth on the defensive side of the ball this free agency, something the Giants should take full advantage of.