NFL Free Agency: How the Defending Super Bowl Champs Can Get Even Better
Typically, a 9-7 season would call for a big splash in free agency, but a surprise Super Bowl victory clearly will temper the New York Giants' approach this year.
The Giants clearly have needs during free agency, which officially starts today at 4 p.m. ET.
Most notably, the G-Men need a running back to complement Ahmad Bradshaw now that Brandon Jacobs has been cut loose, a tight end (as injuries will sideline the team's top two until midseason), they need to add depth and speed across the board on defense and need help on the offensive line.
While other NFC teams with big salary cap room are expected to grab headlines with marquee additions, the G-Men will likely be bargain hunting. General manager Jerry Reese has not made his mark with "sexy" free-agent moves in the past and this year won't be any different.
The Giants are an estimated $2M to $9M under the 2012 salary cap of $120.6 million.
Eli Manning's contract restructuring freed up $6.75 million, and releasing Jacobs saved the team $4.9 million for a savings of roughly $11.5 million in 2012.
However, re-signing wideout Domenik Hixon for $615,000 and placing the franchise tag on punter Steve Weatherford for approximately $2.6 million, added about $3.3 million to the bottom line.
New York, of course, can address the needs mentioned above either through the draft or free agency.
Here's a look at some of the free agents that might be on the Giants' wish list:
Keeping Eli Manning off His Back Starts with Improving the G-Men's O-Line
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In 2011, the Giants offensive line gave up 28 sacks and Manning took 72 hits compared to 16 sacks and 52 quarterback hits just a year earlier.
Even without Kareem McKenzie getting the boot, the Giants had holes to fill. McKenzie's departure makes that challenge even greater.
The New Orleans Saints' Carl Nicks, considered the best guards in the league, is out of the Giants' league this year. The same is likely for the Minnesota Vikings' Steve Hutchinson and tackle Max Starks of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No. 1 on the Giants' list should be Ben Grubbs, the Baltimore Ravens' Pro Bowl guard.
Grubbs, a 6'3", 310-pound left guard, would fit nicely into the Giants line with a little tweaking.
Here's how it would work best: Move Kevin Boothe to right tackle and David Diehl to left tackle, then put Chris Snee at right guard and, of course, David Baas at center.
Signing Grubbs would require restructuring his existing deal, but would make the line much younger.
The 2012 Free Agency Wide Receiver Class Is Talented and Deep
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Mario Manningham says he wants to return, but chances are the G-Men will not pay him the kind of money he wants.
The Giants could promote from within, giving recently re-signed Domenik Hixon or Ramses Barden a shot, but they will likely make a play in free agency, too.
Possible contenders include Steve Smith, who the Giants let go last season. Smith would likely come in near the veteran minimum and would offer a smooth transition.
The team could also look at Reggie Wayne, whom the Indianapolis Colts do not intend to re-sign.
The G-men can't afford top-10 wideout money, but several players with good hands and a few solid years left are available.
If they're looking for a veteran wideout to step in and compliment Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, they would do well to consider Braylon Edwards, Pierre Garcon, maybe even Hines Ward or T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
The Giants Need Help at Tight End, and There's Plenty Available in 2012
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With Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum out until midseason, the Giants could be on the market for a free-agent tight end.
Bear Pascoe is probably not the answer, and there are plenty of mid-level tight ends to consider, including: Dallas Clark, Martellus Bennett, John Carlson, former Giant Jeremy Shockey and the Vikings' Visanthe Shiancoe.
Shiancoe started every game for Minnesota in his five seasons with the team.
In 2011, he saw his numbers drop off, catching just 36 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns.
But Shiancoe, who can catch and block, should be at the top of the Giants' list.
Finding a Replacement for the Now-Departed Brandon Jacobs Is a Giant Priority
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The Giants have had little luck in drafting a solid running back, so it's likely they will look to the free-agent pool for a back to complement Ahmad Bradshaw now that Brandon Jacobs has been released.
D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown round out the current roster, but none appear to be high on Tom Coughlin's list to replace Jacobs as No. 2.
Top free-agent running backs include Mike Tolbert, Peyton Hillis and Michael Bush.
Bush seems like a great fit for the Giants.
He has good hands—just three fumbles in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders—and averaged nearly 700 yards per season as a backup.
In addition, he would bolster the Giants' pass protection, helping cut down on Manning's sacks.
Finding a Reliable Backup to Eli Manning Is a Key Step for the G-Men
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The NFL learned quick last year how losing a quarterback named Manning can doom a season.
The Giants should heed that warning and push to sign a quarterback who can compete with David Carr as Manning's backup.
There are plenty of second-tier free-agent quarterbacks available this year—from the unproven, to the gritty veteran to the head case. (Yes, Steve Young, we mean you.)
The Giants should consider two: Jason Campbell and David Garrard.
Campbell, 30, is a modest talent who has been hindered by coaching changes virtually every year he has been in the league.
In the right system, he could flourish. Over his career he has completed 60 percent of his passes, and has done fairly well given the lack of talent surrounding him.
Garrard missed the entire 2011 after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk and being cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like Campbell, he has a career completion percentage of 61 percent and a roughly 3:2 TD-to-interception ratio.
He's a solid field leader who is younger than his 34 years, having played only 86 games in his career. He would be a major upgrade compared to Carr.