The assumption entering the 2012 free-agency period has been that the New York Giants will not be active players due to their limited salary-cap space, but I would not be so sure.
With the loss of key players like Mario Manningham, Kareem McKenzie and Brandon Jacobs—whom they released on March 9th—the defending Super Bowl champions enter the offseason with numerous holes on their roster. The Giants might be a team that enjoys filling their depth chart with talent they have picked up through the NFL draft and with undrafted free-agent signings, but some needs require them to break from the mold this offseason.
The Giants have already made room for such an event by restructuring quarterback Eli Manning’s contract and releasing Brandon Jacobs, whose contract outweighed the value New York was receiving in return from their seven-year running back.
There are 21 free agents from the Giants this offseason, and it is unlikely they will retain all of their services. While the Giants may wish to focus much of their attention toward the draft, like always, they would be smart to be buyers in free agency, with premier talent to be had at an affordable price on the market.
That amount does not give the Giants a whole lot to work with, but it should provide them with enough to make some splashes in the offseason.
As it stands now, the Giants roster is thin, lacking depth and solid contributors along the offensive line, at running back and linebacker.
First and foremost, the Giants front office will need to strike a deal with free-agent cornerback Terrell Thomas, who missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL. Though the injury is Thomas’ second ACL injury in six years, his play on the field for the Giants between 2008 and 2010 speaks for itself.
Certainly, Thomas will not be able to demand a contract quite like he could have had he played last season, but the team leader in interceptions will garner attention. A Pro Bowl-caliber player the Giants desperately missed on defense in 2011, Thomas’ return to the team in 2012 would help solidify a shoddy coverage group that needs his presence.
Rumors have already swirled around a few possible additions this offseason, such as former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott and former Giants receiver Steve Smith. Add in valuable talent like former Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush, former San Diego Chargers running back Mike Tolbert, and former Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark to the current free-agent market, and it’s hard to imagine the Giants not taking some chances in the coming weeks.
Each of those players would be smart additions by the Giants, while likely keeping them under the salary cap. Scott would add valuable veteran leadership to a defense depleted of such, outside of Justin Tuck. Meanwhile, Bush or Tolbert, along with Steve Smith, would each bolster positions on the offensive side of the ball that are lacking depth due to the departures of Brandon Jacobs and Super Bowl-hero Mario Manningham.
While general manager Jerry Reese has shown his preferences in years past, the Giants’ work to clear cap space prior to the free agency period is evidence of their desire to do some work this offseason. And with so much uncharacteristically to be improved by the defending Super Bowl champions, the Giants will—or should—be buyers this offseason.