The New York Giants may be in dire straits without Jake Ballard. An impact player on offense and a favorite target of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning, Ballard will likely miss most of the 2012 NFL season.
Ballard recently underwent micro-fracture knee surgery shortly after having surgery to repair a torn ACL, both injuries suffered during the Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots. With a long rehab period ahead, Ballard is sure to miss significant time in the upcoming season.
What's even more worrying than Ballard possibly missing all of 2012 is that most players that undergo similar procedures rarely return to form. Those that do take several seasons to finally find their rhythm again.
Either way, New York is going to have to play without Ballard this season. This leaves the task of determining a replacement for the 2012 season.
New York's other starting option at tight end is in a similar situation to Ballard. Travis Beckum, who also suffered a torn ACL in the Super Bowl, may also miss the beginning of the 2012 season.
Beckum has indicated that he has "a very good chance" of playing in Week 1, although given he recently had surgery and ACL tears generally take almost a full year to recover from, Beckum will likely not be 100-percent for a good portion of the season even if he does start the season.
Regardless, a healthy Beckum won't make up for the gaping hole in production. Beckum has fewer than 30 catches through three seasons as a Giant and only three touchdowns. In fact, in those three seasons Beckum accumulated less in every statistic than Ballard did in only 14 games in 2011.
Other in-house options include Bear Pascoe, who isn't much of a pass-catcher and is used primarily as a blocker either on the line or in the backfield.
New York signed Martellus Bennett in March to a one-year deal as insurance for Ballard and Beckum. Bennett did have somewhat of a passing role with the Dallas Cowboys over the past four seasons, but has made little of an impact playing behind Jason Witten. This could be the season Bennett shows why Dallas drafted him with a second-round pick in 2008.
The options left on the free-agent market are few and far between. Veterans Dallas Clark and Jeremy Shockey are available, but they have already seen their best days. Additionally, both players have gotten very little interest on the open market.
This leaves the draft as the only remaining option. There are plenty of late-round tight ends in this season's draft class, any of which New York could grab with the intention of developing in case Ballard never fully recovers.
Whatever New York ends up doing, it is clear that at this point the organization doesn't have a ready replacement for Ballard on the roster. The Giants may just try to weather the season with the duo of Bennett and Pascoe while hoping Beckum can return sooner than expected.
The fact of the matter is that it will not be easy to replace the impact Ballard made for the Super Bowl champions going into 2012.