After Jerry Reese came out throwing haymakers during last year’s free agency period, I am readily anticipating this years cutting of checks. In what turned out to be the perfect storm of circumstances, the Giants turned their defense from the second worst in the league to the second best in the league by signing a slew of quality free agents. Although gold was struck, considerations were only made with respect to the defense and thus, when one hole is plugged in the ship another part of the vessel is breached. The offense STUNK last season.
What needs do the Giants have this off-season and how should they address them in free agency?
Although the sum of the offensive line is an unmitigated disaster, the two quality pieces are homegrown draft talents that are soon going to be re-signed to long term deals. Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg have flourished as the key interior protectors on the Giants line. The two should also be examples of how a change of scenery along the trenches can make a world of difference. Something for both the Giants brass and Ereck Flowers to consider when considering what to do with the third year left tackle. Which brings us to the conundrum of the Giants offensive line: how do they fix the issues on the outside?
The vast majority of Giants fans will be clamoring for the draft note passed to the commissioner to read Ryan Ramzcyk or Cam Robinson. While I whole heartedly believe in building your team–especially the offensive line–through the draft, these options at tackle don’t feel like Jack Conklin. That being said, the Giants haven’t exactly brought their young hogs along very quickly, and they do have a 37 year old quarterback whose playing window needs to be considered.
Given what the current report on the tackle prospects suggest, the Giants would be best suited to use their cap on established tackles. And spoiler alert: Tyron Smith or Bryan Bulaga are not free agents, so let’s make it clear we won’t be signing a franchise tackle on either side of the line. However, there are quality, temporary answers in Andrew Whitworth, Ricky Wagner, Ryan Clady, Mike Reemers and Riley Reiff. Russell Okung is expected to be a cap casualty too after foolishly signing for ZERO guaranteed money. Point being, there are quality answers to this problem.
Regardless of who it is, I can’t write about the Giants offensive line without reminding everyone how terrible Ereck Flowers has been. Like Clem acknowledged in this blog, Andrew Williams and Larry Donnell are both gone. Flowers is the sole surviving scapegoat from the cast of Giants Woe’s over the last two years. Giants executives may beat around the bush and at most acknowledge an evaluation of the position, but the Ereck Flowers experiment is over. His total incompetence at pass protecting forces a move from left tackle, and since the Giants insisted on playing him only at left tackle for the last two years, we do not know how he would fair as a right guard or right tackle. Thus, the Giants now have to address all three positions to hedge their bets against Flowers being a complete bust rather than a left tackle bust.
It will be a balancing act though, because the Giants cannot afford to sign risky free agent options and lock themselves out of re-signing Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg. The Giants cap situation is enviable for a team who spent $200M last offseason, but last season is an outlier as far as free agents go. Smarter spending is advised in this case.
The options at tight end are not too enticing: Jared Cook will more than likely be retained by the Packers, and that leaves a middling menu of players not named Martellus Bennett. Martysaurus will more than likely be back with the Patriots if for no other reason than the human insurance policy he is for Rob Gronkowski. Jacob Tamme is an interesting idea as a precise route runner and reliable blocker who might be able to avoid getting flipped as consistently as Larry Donnell did.
Given the Giants recent moves with their own free agents and reserve/futures contracts, I do not expect them to be active in the Tight End free agent market. Matt Lacosse was retained despite being sidelined all of last season, and a man whose guide to being a marginal tight end in the NFL reads “5 yard curl, 0 YAC, Rinse and Repeat”, Will Tye was resigned to continue in that tradition. Right or wrong, the Giants usually prefer to reload from within when they can and it certainly appears that is what they are inclined to do here. Remember as well the Giants still have Will Johnson on their roster, who missed all of last season with a stinger. He should definitely be a factor in year two.
That being said, I salivate at the thought of OJ Howard on the Giants. A lot can happen between now and draft day, but it looks like the Alabama steed will be around the spot where the Giants select in the 1st round. He is a polished blocker and a middle of the field, stretch-the-field threat that Will Tye and Larry Donnell combined could not be. He’s shown versatility split out wide and is a freak athlete unlike anything I can remember at Tight End for the Giants. I’ll be anticipating this positional need being addressed on draft day as opposed to free agency.
I broke up the guard and tackle sections because for as important offensive line is, it is quite boring on paper. Regardless, the right guard position is another important addition the Giants need to make this off-season. Whatever player from the Newhouse/Jerry/Hart/Gettis rotation the Giants were employing never was able to get the job done.
I assumed the Giants would address parts of the offensive line in the draft last season since they neglected to do so in free agency. I was obviously riding the high of the defensive spending and forgot that Jerry Reese is Jerry Reese. The Giants did not draft any offensive linemen for the first time since 2008. The result was a porous line that grey zoned Eli on numerous occasions, though it will be tough to d
Luckily, there are some quality guards available this season, mainly TJ Lang, Kevin Zeitler, Larry Waford and Chance Warmack. $8M might be a little steep, but I don’t necessarily equate smart spending to conservative spending. If the only thing separating the Giants from the Promised Land is a beefy offensive line, than who’s to say that putting money towards great players along the front is unwise spending?
After painfully releasing Victor Cruz, the Giants technically have a hole in the 3rd receiver slot in their roster. I’m only listing this position because the stats on the Giants pervasive use of three receivers last season makes this an obvious choice. I would be remiss to not remind the fans who tend to get overly excited about free agency that the Giants prefer to reload from within. So in lieu of them possibly adding a piece like Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Kamar Aiken or Pierre Garcon–that physical receiving presence–I think they will roll the dice with Tavarres King and Roger Lewis Jr.
This is an interesting situation–on the one hand you have Jason Pierre-Paul, who for the firestorm circus surrounding his fireworks injury and rehab, made a valiant return to his all-pro form before getting injured last season. Some would say pay the man in the spirit of defensive continuity. As nostalgic as I can be when it comes to players as special as JPP, this is not a situation where you throw caution to the wind. JPP has spent significant time during his post-2011 Giants tenure battling injuries, and he’s now 28 years old. We aren’t talking about the high-motored, youthful and durable Olivier Vernon. We’re talking about a guy whose asking price isn’t aligned with the current state of his career.
Now if we are talking 4 years/$60M with approximately half of that guaranteed, I take a long look at making that deal with him. Sadly, I do not believe Pierre-Paul is going to deviate that far from his demand of Vernon money. The monetary gap between team and player is why I’ve made my peace with Pierre-Paul leaving, even if it is (likely) for the Cowboys.
Someone tell me if I’m crazy for wanting to roll the dice with Okwara. Once he filled in for JPP, the defense allowed 7, 10, 17 and 10 to close out the regular season (the playoff game gets a pass considering its Aaron Freaking Rodgers). I won’t give you the whole slideshow about the offensive needs of the Giants, but given what we saw from the defense once JPP landed on IR, I’m totally fine with Romeo Okwara being the incumbent starter.
Here’s where my brain starts to churn: explain why DeMarcus Ware doesn’t make a ton of sense? Established pass-rusher who can insert himself into the rotation of defensive linemen the Giants have now and safely play on a pitch count. Ware must realize at his age he won’t be able to get big money, and if the Giants can guarantee him $8M a year, why not do it? It allows you a quick fix for JPP, a veteran presence and also the flexibility to keep Jonathan Hankins.
Lots to keep in mind leading into this free agency period. You will notice I did not mention Adrian Peterson, who I am quite positive will be delusional enough to seek somewhere close to the $18M hit he is slated to be this year. No thanks.