Only a month removed from a humiliating playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and with the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine less than a week away, the speculation surrounding the New Your Giants has been in full force.
After an 11-1 start to the season, the team’s deficiencies seemed relatively minimal, but troubled wide receiver Plaxico Burress changed that as quick as a flash.
After inexplicably shooting himself in the leg, Burress was suspended by the Giants and charged with possession of an illegal hand gun. The state of the team after his departure stood as a testament to the old adage “You’re only as strong as your weakest link”.
As tough as it is to win in the NFL, it is even tougher when opponents smell blood. Knowing that Big Blue lacked the ability to go down the field, teams stacked the line of scrimmage and stymied the leagues best running game.
Things became more difficult for Eli Manning as well as the defense, as the Giants began to lose the time of possession battle.
The team struggled down the stretch, ending with a 1-4 record over the last 5 games which included a playoff loss to the aforementioned Philadelphia Eagles. Now it’s time to think about 2009, and filling areas of need for the New York Giants.
With the future of Plaxico Burress up in the air, the Giants currently have nothing close to a No. 1 wideout on their roster right now. Furthermore, Eli Manning threw only one touchdown to a wide receiver over the course of the last five games; it came in the first quarter of a Nov. 30 game at Washington.
The recipient of that pass is currently checking his bags as well; long time Giant Amani Toomer has aimed his ire at the offensive coaching staff, stating that they tried to “faze him out”. While there has been much to do about the Giant offensive coaching staff, it is still sad to see yet another Giant great slam the door on his way out.
The Giants are left with the diminutive (and ineffective) Sinorice Moss, the unproven Mario Manningham, Domenik Hixon, and the slot machine Steve Smith.
That group proved to be very raw this season, and has a lot of room to improve. While there is room for improvement, it is hard to believe that the Giants don’t have a plan to improve this unit.
The future of their No. 1 is in the air, and they let their No. 2 go. Let's take a look at some possible acquisitions.
Anquan Boldin- Upset with his contract in Arizona, Q has demanded a trade. Arizona may choose to go the route The Bengals did when Chad Johnson did the same: do nothing. Anquan is still under contract, but considering how vocal Q has been about this matter, it may be wise for Arizona to see what they can get for him and move on.
While Anquan is not considered a “No. 1” wideout, he is just about as close as it gets to one without actuallybeing one. His rookie season, he had 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns.
Since then, he has been a perennial Pro- Bowler and is notorious for having his sinuses shattered on a meaningless play by an illegal hit and returning in a mere two weeks. For a guy who was as upset with the Cardinals organization as he claims to be, that is a testament to him.
The issue with acquiring Q is that earlier in the year, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones set the standard for trading for wideouts, giving up a first, a third, and a fifth-round pick for Roy E. Williams.
The Cardinals will certainly accept no less for Boldin, and draft picks are a commodity. The Giants have other needs that those picks could fill, and Big Blue does not have a history of Giving up picks in that fashion. He would also demand a salary close to $10 million per year.
If the Giants are to swing this deal, the will need to be as shrewd as ever.
Tony Gonzalez- Not a receiver, but whenever a great player like Gonzalez puts himself on the trading block, you tend to look into it. The Chiefs are rebuilding, and there have been conflicting reports as to his availability.
Either way, this guy could help draw attention away from the young receivers we currently have on the outside and help the team in the red zone and on third down.
What makes this guy an interesting option is the fact that he may come at a fairly cheap price (third round pick and a player). He also expressed interest in playing for a contender and his skill is undeniable. The downside, of course, is that he isn’t a wide receiver and he is nearing the end of his career.
Torry Holt- Clearly only a stop-gap, Holt is also nearing the end of his career. He was once a perennial Pro-Bowler but has declined over the past few years. With the emergence of Donnie Avery and Holt’s $10 million cap number, the Rams may choose to cut this guy at some point.
It may be worth exploring whether or not he has a year or two left in his tank if he can be picked up off waivers. Having a team and an organization like he did the past few years is sure- fire way to experience a statistical decline.
Hakeem Nicks, Darius Heyward- Bey, Jeremy Maclin, and Percy Harvin- All first round wide receiver prospects, they all possess a unique set of skills. The important thing to consider here is whether or not The Giants want to spend a first round draft pick on a wideout.
None of them are Plaxico Burress, that’s for sure, and wide receiver is a very tough position to have success at during a rookie season. Many colleges employ the spread or the option offenses, which can make the adjustments that much tougher.
Maclin and Bey may be reaches for Big Blue in the first round, and Harvin is very injury prone. Nicks looks to be the best fit for The Giants with his 6'1", 210lbs. frame. He was a great playmaker at North Carolina and may be worth taking a shot on.
Another issue to consider here is the Giants futility when drafting receivers. They have spent picks on guys like guys like Tim Carter and Sinorice Moss, while passing on Reggie Wayne, Santonio Holmes, and Greg Jennings.
Other Possibilities- Lance Moore, Bryant Johnson, Antonio Bryant
The Bottom Line- Receiver is probably the most important position of need for the Giants. While many would argue line backer, the Giants defense performed fine this past year and we will be getting Chief Osi back in '09.
With Plax most likely gone, the Giants will need a new offensive approach regardless of who they obtain. No one in the league plays the way Plax plays. This doesn’t mean that The Giants can’t be successful, it just means that they will have to tailor the offense towards the new players strength.
This situation will come down to cap room and free agency. If the Giants address their needs via free agency on defense, then we may not need draft picks, or we may choose to spend them on a receiver.
If The Giants do not get Jacobs back or let Plaxico go, the cap room will expand, allowing a number of more moves through free agency. Personally, I think Anquan Boldin is a physical presence a lot like Jacobs and would be an amazing fit in the Giant offense.
The real question here is how much he will cost, both in draft picks and cap money.
This year, the only constant at the linebacker position was the ever- inflating Antonio Pierce. For most of the season though, he had Danny Clark and Chase Blackburn by his side. These are not exactly household names and for good reason. It has been a long time since the Giants had any household names, and it is time for that to change.
The upcoming draft is one of the deepest at the linebacker position in some time, which is a position that the Giants have neglected to address in the draft (in the first round anyway) for some time now. I believe that will change in 2009.
It is time the Giants began their search for a long term solution here. Allow me to examine the options
James Laurinaitis- The 6'3", 240-pound Laurinaitis was a three year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He is considered one of the top linebackers in the nation, and was the recipient of many awards including the Nagurski and the Butkus awards.
This did not occur by mistake, this guy possesses a lot of talent. He is very quick to react, has a high football IQ, has good size, and blitzes and covers well. His positive traits don’t end there though, he is also a great team and community leader.
All things considered, he sounds like just the kind of player the Giants are looking for. Though he grades out this well, there is a good chance he will drop to the bottom of the first round.
There are six or seven round-one prospects this year, 3-4 linebackers typically go first, and 2-3 DE hybrids should be factored in. It would be disappointing to see the Giants pass this guy up. He could play outside and inside for the Giants in the future, and that could prove very valuable.
Brian Cushing- A North Jersey native and graduate of Bergen Catholic high school, Cushing was part of a perennially great USC defense. Naturally an outside line backer, Cushing is very strong and very competitive.
You can almost see the NFC East attitude in him already. He was a decent pass rusher at USC, which is something the Giants always look for. He could provide a lot of stability for the Giants at outside linebacker if he plays with the attitude he did in college.
It should be interesting to see how far he falls come draft day.
Karlos Dansby- Many who didn’t follow the Arizona Cardinals may not have noticed that he had begun establishing permanent residence in opponent’s backfields. Throughout the playoffs he was a monster, making plays at every opportunity.
This drove his price up significantly, but it may be worth it to take a long look at this guy as our long term solution in the middle.
He is only 27 years old and is very very athletic. Possibly his greatest strength is his coverage ability. The Cardinals would often times drop him deeper than their safety Adrian Wilson in passing situations.
This just happens to be the Giants greatest weakness, the current group really struggles in coverage.
Clint Sintim- A very promising athlete out of Virginia, Sintim had great production at outside linebacker. He also has a great build (6'3", 254), and an amazing motor. One of his great strengths is also rushing the passer, as he had 27 sacks in his time at Virginia.
This guy is a very aggressive guy on the outside, and the Giants have lacked that for some time. His build and skill set could be an asset to the Giants for years to come. He is projected to be a late first round pick.
Other Possibilities- LeRoy Hill, Michael Boley
The Bottom Line- Antonio Pierce is set to make $5 million this upcoming season, and he is undoubtedly not part of the solution. The Giants have a lot of youth on defense right now, and the linebacking unit could certainly use an injection of that.
With all that in mind, trading Pierce may be wise, while looking to free agency for a veteran presence and early picks for youth. Pierce will probably be the starter on day one next year, but one would hope to see some new names around him, whether free agents or rookies.
The Giants will once again approach free agency with the future in mind and our sharp eyes for talent will help us in the draft as well. I expect to see somewhat of a makeover at this position this upcoming season.