NFL free agency begins at 4 p.m. today.
Yesterday, ESPN (via Adam Schefter) broke that Oakland planned to cut TE Kevin Boss and allow him to test the waters of free agency. It would be the second year in a row that Boss was unable to return to his current team because of a lack of cap space.
Boss, who left the Giants on good terms, may be exactly what the club needs heading into 2012. With two tight ends guaranteed to miss at least a month of the season, Boss could immediately resume his role as one of Eli Manning’s favorite targets with little to no resistance.
But there are other needs that the Giants should consider addressing in the near future; if the price is right.
Both David Diehl and Osi Umenyiora share the distinction of being the longest tenured Giants on the current roster. Both players were selected by the team in the 2003 NFL draft.
Both players were integral parts of the two most recent Super Bowl winning squads that the franchise has fielded. Diehl (who has played four of the five O-line spots professionally) was the starting LT for both Super Bowl 42 and Super Bowl 46.
Umenyiora was the starting RE opposite Michael Strahan in 42, and the third cog behind Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul in 46.
With both players entering their 10th NFL season, they should theoretically be still enjoying their prime. However, Umenyiora’s health has become a growing concern over the past four years and Diehl’s effectiveness has been called into question.
Diehl’s job appeared to be secure last week, when the Giants informed veteran RT Kareem McKenzie that they were going in another direction. Diehl is a leading contender to fill McKenzie’s spot at RT. Will Beatty is expected to resume his role as LT after finishing last season on injured reserve.
Eric Winston’s surprise availability could hurt Diehl’s chances of a return to New York. At 6’7”, 302 lbs, Winston is three years younger than Diehl. Considered a key member of the 2011 AFC South champion Texans, Winston was simply too expensive for Houston to retain.
While the Giants are currently focused on value and homegrown talent, a player like Winston may be worth a larger investment. That investment would only be possible without Diehl’s salary.
The organization is high on Diehl. Entering the starting lineup almost immediately, it took until his eighth professional season for Diehl to miss a single game. His versatility, size and toughness have helped produce multiple 1,000 yard rushers, 27,579 career passing yards for Manning and two Super Bowl titles.
But while Diehl was arguably the best option at LT for the Giants in 2011, there are concerns over his struggles. He can be too easily overpowered or maneuvered by quality pass rushers. As games wear on, so does his ability to overcome a defenders speed and strength.
A move to RT might help elevate his game and he is certainly a more affordable option than a notable free agent like Winston. Also, after his current contract expires, the Giants could elevate 2011 draft pick James Brewer to Diehl’s T spot. That course of action is consistent with the current formula in place.
Still, the Giants will take a look at Winston because of the immediate impact he could have on the O-line. The unit, which at one point was the best in the NFL, is held partially responsible for the ground game’s struggles last season. It is definitely an area of concern for Jerry Reese.
Umenyiora isn’t going anywhere. In a refreshing change of pace, he has decided to not be a distraction this offseason and to quietly finish out the final year of his contract.
In reality, the Giants are the best possible fit for Umenyiora from a productivity standpoint. Thanks to their considerable depth at DE, the Pro Bowl end is technically a reserve. Brought in to relieve the starters or in special pass rush packages that include a surplus of ends, Umenyiora’s lack of durability is less of an issue.
Heading into a contract year, Umenyiora tore his ACL during a preseason game in 2008. Coming off the Super Bowl win, a solid season as a starter would surely have landed him a sizeable contract.
Since returning in ’09, Umenyiora has been a consistent yet injury prone producer. He was a relative non-factor in 2011 until the final games of the regular season. He peaked in January.
The Giants will certainly enjoy his presence for the final year of his contract, but this is almost certainly his last ride with New York. Because there are pressing needs elsewhere, it is unlikely that the Giants will spend one of their initial two selections on a young DE to add to the rotation. I do expect one to be taken as early as the third round if the value is right.
If New York does intend to shop for Umenyiora’s eventual replacement a year early, I would not expect a marquee name to arrive via free agency. They already have three Pro Bowl DE’s on the roster at reasonable prices.
If anyone were to earn Umenyiora’s role or if he were to be lost yet again to injury, I would have to say that Dave Tollefson would have the best odds of replacing him.
Tollefson will hit the market today and could be looking for an organization that will allow him a higher spot on the depth chart. Despite being the fourth DE in the Giants 2011 rotation, Tollefson notched five sacks, two forced fumbles, and 21 tackles.
With Mario Williams on the market, there likely won’t be a heavy bidding war for Tollefson. If the Giants can make him a respectable offer, he is a great insurance policy for Umenyiora.
I expect the two longest tenured Giants to remain with the team through this season. There aren’t any realistic free agent options that would be upgrades. But I do expect 2011 to be the last ride for both of them.