Just over a month ago, Chase Blackburn used his 6’4" frame to eclipse a 6’6" Rob Gronkowski. Leaping into the air, the former undrafted free agent out-jumped the household-name TE and came crashing down to Earth clutching a game-changing interception in Super Bowl XLVI.
Now, in the final days before free agency begins, reports from the New York Post tell us that Blackburn’s agent has been busy receiving calls from other potential suitors.
Chase found himself competing in the Giants' 2005 training camp as a rookie free agent wearing a number that didn’t even conform to league rules. Given a slim chance to survive, Blackburn wore No. 46 during his first summer with the team.
Without extenuating circumstances, only numbers ranging from 50-59 and 90-99 can be given to LBs during regular season competition.
After impressing the coaching staff with his intensity and drive, Blackburn slid past final cuts and was awarded the jersey No. 57. His first start came a week before Christmas in a crucial home game against the Kansas City chiefs.
Star MLB Antonio Pierce had been lost for the season during the previous week, and the one-time roster long shot soon found himself in the middle of an upset victory against the AFC opponent.
Unfortunately, Blackburn’s stint as a starter was immediately curtailed the following week, when he suffered a neck injury on Christmas Eve. The injury occurred shortly after he notched his first career pick six.
The next five years of Blackburn’s professional career saw him as the fourth man in the LB rotation for the Giants. Often the first sub as either an OLB or MLB, Blackburn saw a decent amount of playing time on defense and also served as a spark on special teams. He earned the title of Special Teams Captain after Jeff Feagles retired in 2010.
Despite all this, he was not a lead contender to replace Antonio Pierce after the Pro Bowler’s retirement. This was thanks in large part to Jonathan Goff.
Goff had a slightly more convenient path to landing a spot on an NFL roster. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Giants, Goff was brought in as a potential successor to Antonio Pierce.
After his first season was limited to just five games due to injury, the Vanderbilt alum did not miss a single contest during the ’09 and ’10 campaigns. His play in the latter season had earned him a vote of confidence from the Giants front office heading into 2011.
Goff took over the starting MLB role in 2010 after Pierce and the team parted ways. He won the role after an indirect training-camp battle with veteran free-agent acquisition Keith Bulluck.
Though Goff had been relegated to second string upon Bulluck’s arrival, the organization decided to bench a disappointing Clint Sintim instead. Bulluck was shifted to Sintim's role as an OLB. Goff returned to the starting MLB spot as a result of the move.
Goff recorded an adequate 54 tackles with one forced fumble/one recovery, one sack and two passes defensed. Throughout the season, he displayed an impressive ability to react to the play and collapse on the ball.
With a year of experience under his belt, Goff was projected to establish himself as a defensive fixture in ’11. A torn ACL prior to Week 1’s matchup against the Redskins derailed that vision.
Instead of producing a breakout season in a contract year, Goff was instead forced to sit out and wait until now to learn his fate in New York. While it is still unclear what direction the Giants would like to go in regards to the MLB spot, Goff appears to be the favorite to win the job.
The Giants had been so confident in Goff that they decided to allow Blackburn to remain a free agent after the lockout ended last summer. Even following Goff’s placement on IR, the team opted to promote untested rookie Greg Jones to the starting MLB spot instead of re-signing Chase. He was eventually brought in for a workout midseason but was not signed until early December.
When he did arrive, he made an immediate impact. Thanks to an injury to Mark Herzlich, Blackburn started against the then-undefeated Packers only days after rejoining the team. He notched three tackles and one interception off league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
His impressive play continued throughout the postseason. His fumble recovery helped put the divisional game in Green Bay out of reach, and his previously mentioned interception of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl stopped the Patriots from blowing the contest wide open.
Despite all of this, the Giants are an organization that relies on value. Goff is coming off of a lost year that followed three other seasons that provided little to add to the highlight reel. Though he has potential, he would not be in the running for a blockbuster deal on the open market. His asking price should stay right in the Giants' wheelhouse, even if a deal isn’t reached before March 13.
Chase on the other hand, is three seasons older. He will be 29 when the 2012 season kicks off this September. Though he went unwanted by all 32 clubs for the majority of the 2011 season, he made use of his time on the field and made several key plays. He is fresh in teams’ minds and he is not recovering from any debilitating injuries.
Who will win the Giants starting MLB job in 2012?
While his agent claims that the demand for Blackburn is high, there is no guarantee that is the case. But it is quite possible that Chase will receive a significant amount of interest when other teams can kick the tires on him. At his age, he may not be a long-term solution, but he could still be in demand for teams that want a reliable LB with his versatility and experience.
The Giants aren’t likely to get in a bidding war over him, and thus his return is in significant doubt. The chances are decreased by the fact that New York has used a three-safety system for the past two years.
This system lessens the usually prominent role of the MLB and requires only the two OLBs to be on the field in many scenarios.
Thanks to the early contributions from Jacquian Williams and the impressive play of Michael Boley, this system has been a success. Even if third safety, Deon Grant (who serves as the extra DB), departs via free agency or retirement, Tyler Sash has been groomed to replace him.
I project that the Giants will only bring back their Super Bowl hero if they are allowed to do so at a relatively low price. Likely, their idea of Chase’s worth will be less than another team's.
Instead, the Giants will be able to offer a modest one-year deal to a former draft pick, of which they have had high hopes.
If Goff does return and live up to his potential, the Giants will have saved themselves the sizable contact that he would have been due after being a starter on a Super Bowl-winning team in a contract year.