New York Giants: How the NFC East's Free Agency Plans Affect Big Blue
In true Reese-era fashion, the New York Giants have followed a tumultuous, twisting, but ultimately triumphant year by staying quiet as a mouse in free agency this winter.
Facing a serious salary cap squeeze, this is far from surprising.
What has been turning heads, however, are the marquee signings made by divisional foes Dallas and Washington in the face of a league-administered cap punishment. Both the Cowboys and the Redskins have made considerable efforts to bolster their chances in 2012, while the Eagles have been busy re-signing a boatload of talent.
True, the G-Men haven't been entirely dormant thus far, as the re-signing of corner Terrell Thomas immediately boosts New York's prospects in the secondary and the signing of tight end Martellus Bennett gives Eli Manning's already-lethal offense an added dimension.
But how will the free agency plans of the rest of the NFC East affect Big Blue's chances at another division crown?
Despite its emanating consequences, Big D has been far from shy on the March market. The Cowboys ditched the inconsistent Terrance Newman in favor of former Chief Brandon Carr at corner, rewarding the latter with a five-year, $50 million contract.
The Cowboys also signed coveted free-agent linebacker Dan Connor, safety Brodney Pool, quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers and a few low-profile offensive linemen to compete for starting spots come training camp.
How this Affects the Giants
Terrance Newman's futility against Eli and New York's receivers has been well-documented. It was Newman who allowed Victor Cruz' 74-yard catch-and-go on the New Year's Day clash for the division, and the Giants always seem to frequent the receiver he's marked up against.
With his release and Carr's arrival, Manning's aerial attack loses a step in head-to-head matchups. Does injury-plagued corner Mike Jenkins become the new Newman? However, Carr ranked a lowly 80th in cornerback win probability last season and although his four interceptions are impressive, he might not live up to his freshly-signed prime-time contract.
Still, an improved secondary makes the Cowboys a formidable opponent and a competitor in the division, as an infusion of fresh talent to Rob Ryan's complex system was much needed. Moreover, it forces the Giants to run the ball against them.
Lawrence Vickers' signing augments pressure on the Giants in a major way, as Perry Fewell's defense struggled mightily against Dallas' tandem running backs last year. In week 14, Felix Jones averaged a whopping 6.6 yards per carry; DeMarco Murray went for five a piece as well.
Vickers lead the way for Peyton Hillis' breakout 2010 campaign in Cleveland and anchored a top-five Texans' run game last season. His arrival in the Lone Star state makes the Cowboys a threat on the ground, opening up Tony Romo and the passing game.
Which team in the NFC East has been the most productive in free agency thus far?
The Redskins were no slouches in free agency either, aiding a struggling receiving core with the signings of Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan. The 'Skins also re-signed defensive end Adam Carriker and picked up physical safety Brandon Meriweather. The team seems to be doing all it can to provide expected-draftee Robert Griffin III with tools for success.
How this Affects the Giants
Nobody will forget Big Blue's indelible Super Bowl run, but their two losses to the Redskins in 2011 may slip under the radar. Washington tallied just five wins last season, but two were against the league champions.
If the Giants' pass defense was ineffective against Rex Grossman and John Beck, the additions of Garcon, Morgan and eventually Griffin should certainly keep Fewell awake at night. These signings force the Giants to look for a replacement for Aaron Ross, and although Terrell Thomas returns to MetLife Stadium in 2011, his post-surgery abilities have yet to be seen.
In an effort to keep up with the NFC East's dangerous passing games, perhaps the G-Men sign a fourth corner to foster the growth of second-year Prince Amukamara.
The Eagles parted ways with tenured linemen Jamaal Jackson and Winston Justice while re-signing wideout DeSean Jackson, defensive end Trent Cole, tackle Todd Herremans and guard Evan Mathis. No major free agents have been brought in to Philly thus far, with the Eagles losing out on the bidding for prime target Carl Nicks.
How this Affects the Giants
The Eagles stockpiled their talent and re-signed a few of their premier players, making life hard on the Giants and the rest of the division. Despite a regressive 2011, Philadelphia flaunts an impressive core of stand-outs that will give Big Blue a run for their money next year.
The re-signing of Cole, designated by Pro Football Focus as the best 4-3 end in all of football, forces the Giants to make adjustments along the offensive line, most likely through the draft. And the return of Mathis, a top guard, makes New York's decision on Osi Umenyiora's contract extension even more crucial. Mathis was a potential target for the Giants as well, again forcing the offensive line issue.
By far the most significant move made here, however, is the re-signing of Jackson, a thorn in Big Blue's proverbial side for years. Jackson is by far the most intimidating non-Giant in the division in terms of vertical ability and explosiveness. His return to New York's bitter rivals furthers the Giants' focus on the secondary.
Ultimately, the NFC East's active role in free agency forces the Giants to right their wrongs in quarterback protection and pass defense. The addition of Garcon and the re-signing of Jackson is particularly troubling for the team. With a scarcity of cheap yet efficacious coverage men in the market, it perhaps readjusts Reese's draft strategy.
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