New York Giants: 7 Veteran Free Agents to Pursue This Offseason
To the victors go the spoils.
Well, sort of.
As reigning Super Bowl champions, Big Blue has become an enticing option for serviceable veterans looking for one last shot at NFL hardware.
Music to Jerry Reese's ears, it would seem, as his team faced a profusion of roster shortages and struggled to find consistency on the defensive side of the ball.
But the Giants wage an uphill battle in 2012, still a few moves away from falling under the league salary cap. Facing fiscal difficulties, will New York be able to take advantage of their current position?
The G-Men will do their best to convince a market swollen with aging role players to take a shot in the checkbook for a shot at a title. Here's a look at a few free agents who, while their All-Pro days are far behind them, can make a serious impact in New York next season.
Mike Peterson, LB
Despite their success on the gridiron in 2011, the Giants had glaring vulnerabilities that nearly kept them from the playoffs. Fans, media and even players criticized the play of New York's offensive line, secondary, and linebackers.
Yet the secondary merely faced a few tough breaks with injuries, and with the return of Terrell Thomas in 2012, Big Blue's pass coverage should return to its impermeable self.
And while the offensive line struggled mightily at times, the unit is comprised of mostly veteran journeymen, and replacing them in favor of new free agent veterans would not make sense, especially with the Giants' looming cap woes.
Thus, all eyes turn to the linebacking core and the much-needed changes that should soon ensue.
At age 36, former Pro-Bowler Mike Peterson's once-formidable run stopping abilities have greatly deteriorated. Still, a one-year, low-salary deal could make sense for the former Jaguar and Falcon, who will be looking to bolster his professional resume with a Lombardi Trophy.
Just two years ago, Peterson notched 82 tackles at the outside linebacker position, and if he can return to form next year with a low-risk contract, he could be an invaluable addition to the Giants' 19th-ranked run defense.
Keith Brooking, LB
Next stop on the veteran 'backer carousel is Keith Brooking, a five-time Pro-Bowler who recorded a lowly .36 win probability last year. At age 36, the esteemed defender claims to want to play one final NFL season, although Cowboys executive Vice President Stephen Jones hinted that his return to the Lone Star State is unlikely.
Could Brooking be a short-term stop-gap for the G-Men in 2012?
Like his contemporary Peterson, Brooking is missing a ring from his Canton credentials. He would likely take a small base salary to join a competitive team for one last shot at a title.
The 14 year pro did haul in 50 tackles this year, and his productivity, while relatively minimal at this point, could lead to huge benefits for the Giants' D.
Shaun Rogers, DT
Unlike their linebacking core, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was pleasantly surprised by the Giants' defensive tackles. Heading into the season, Linvall Joseph was emerging from the depths of relative obscurity, while Chris Canty was still unproven as a legitimate star tackle.
Still, the Reese era has been characterized by the mantra of finding the best available talent and accumulating studs at one position. It paid off at wide receiver and defensive end, and perhaps Reese is willing to take a risk on the loud-mouthed veteran Shaun Rogers.
Rogers made a name for himself as the standout on underperforming teams in Cleveland and Detroit. While several indications point to his return to New Orleans next year, the Saints have their own financial red flags to quell, needing to resign a handful of high-profile free agents.
If the Giants are able to swoop in and claim the DT for a low price, the acquisition could pay huge dividends. Rogers offers a change of pace along the front four, and his experience will be immensely beneficial to a relatively young Giants interior line.
Like Peterson and Brooking, his .62 win probability in 2011 highlights limited production and low upside. But if he's willing to sign at a cheap price, Rogers' loquacious ways will fit right into New York City.
Quentin Groves, LB
After losing his starting responsibilities just five games into 2011, Quentin Groves' future in the Bay Area became increasingly bleak.
A free agent in 2012, Groves does lack the veteran presence that the other players on this list boast. But with four years of professional football, in both standard 4-3 schemes and Oakland's 3-4 formation, he is far from inexperienced.
The younger Groves also provides more speed, durability, and sheer athleticism than the other players on this list. He may not be a starting-caliber 'backer now, but the Giants can certainly use him for purposes of depth and flexibility.
Rashean Mathis, CB
If Big Blue is eager to repeat as NFL champions, they'll need to improve their 29th-ranked pass defense.
Plain and simple.
The Giants have unquestionable talent in the secondary, but aside from Corey Webster, they lack a true veteran, hard-nosed corner. Rashean Mathis, a former All-Pro with 30 career interceptions and nearly 500 tackles, would be a huge addition for Reese and company.
Mathis' name carries the allure and prestige of a star, but since 2008, he's struggled to remain healthy. And after another IR trip in 2011, the rebuilding Jaguars may pass on their once-franchise cornerstone.
Mathis too will be seeking a ring at age 31. He likely would compete for a spot as a nickel or dime-back, and his presence would promote flexibility and creativity in the secondary for Fewell.
Yet this remains contingent on whether or not Mathis would be willing to take a minimum contract—or something dangerously close to one. With a vastly deep market for corners this offseason though, the ninth-year pro may not have much of a choice.
Reggie Torbor, LB
Reggie Torbor was a critical component in the Giants' '07 Super Bowl run.
Perhaps Torbor's NFL journey could come full circle with a return to New York in 2012.
As illustrated previously, the Giants desperately need more depth at the linebacker position—when Chase Blackburn is forced from his couch to the starting MLB role, changes are imminent.
That's not to diminish Blackburn's phenomenal efforts in 2011, but the G-Men must be proactive and ensure a sturdy core of 'backers for next year. Torbor, already time-tested to handle the pressures of the Big Apple, would be a cheap, smart addition.
Jim Leonhard, S
With Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips all but locked as the Giants' safeties for the next few years, acquiring Leonhard, a stud in the secondary of crosstown rivals Gang Green, would seem unnecessary.
But when you consider that both Rolle and Phillips have histories with lingering injuries and inconsistent play, perhaps it starts to make sense.
And Leonhard, now entering his seventh season, has seen season-ending surgeries in back to back years.
With his physicality and agility taking a blow, perhaps Leonhard's starting days are behind him. Could he settle in as a role player for the G-Men?
Per the New York Post, the Wisconsin alum claims,
"I'm 100 percent confident that I'm going to be playing football somewhere next year...obviously with the history here [in New York], you'd like it to be here, but you never know."
With the Jets set for a busy offseason, Leonhard becomes a risky re-sign, allowing the Giants to possibly grant his wish and keep him in New York.
Ultimately, Leonhard will likely find a starting job elsewhere. But if his injury is more debilitating than originally thought, look for the Giants to make a play at him and stockpile their safeties.
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