LB Daryl Smith will be available in 2013.
The New York Giants’ 2012 season came to a crushing end last Sunday, but in the coming months, the organization will start to put together the pieces for next year. Through the NFL draft, free agency and possibly even trades, New York will work on fielding a better team in 2013 than it did this past fall.
In the draft, Giants general manager Jerry Reese likes to snag the best player available, regardless of the team’s positional needs. However, in free agency, Reese will often bolster the team’s specific deficiencies.
With nine wins in 2012, the Giants were a winning squad, but they were far from elite. The units that held New York back the most were the linebackers and offensive line. Reese needs to target difference-makers at these positions in free agency this spring.
This article will highlight three linebackers and three offensive linemen that Reese should consider.
New England Patriots right guard Sebastian Vollmer is scheduled to become a free agent in 2013, and he should be on the Giants' radar.
Vollmer is a former second-round pick (2008, 58th overall) and has developed into the quintessential NFL offensive lineman since then. The German-born tackle’s 6'8", 315-pound frame makes him a formidable roadblock for oncoming pass-rushers.
Vollmer was named a second-team All-Pro in 2010, but suffered an injury riddled 2011 season that limited him to only six games played in the regular season. He has bounced back in 2012, though, starting in every game except for one (Week 12 vs. NYJ).
Vollmer will be looking for a big contract in 2012, and it would be risky for the Giants to grant him one given his injury history. However, when he's on the field, Vollmer is well worth the risk, as he is one of the most talented tackles the league has to offer.
Like Vollmer, Loadholdt was also a second-round selection (2009, 54th overall). The 6'8" former Oklahoma Sooner dwarfs all of the Giants' current offensive linemen, weighing in at 343 pounds. Loadholdt’s size is easily his most sought-after characteristic.
Loadholdt has also displayed an admirable amount of durability in his short NFL career. The massive tackle has started in 63 of the 64 possible games during his four-season tenure with the Vikings.
After helping pave the way for running back Adrian Peterson’s 2,000-yard season in 2012, Loadholdt could lead the way for New York’s up-and-coming back, David Wilson.
New York Jets guard Matt Slauson is most famous for his illegal peel-back block on Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing in Week 5, which caused Cushing to tear his ACL and miss the rest of the 2012 season. As a free agent in 2013, though, Slauson will have the opportunity to clear his name with a new team.
Slauson became an unexpected starter with the Jets, as he was a sixth-round pick in 2009 (193 overall) that only played in three games during his rookie campaign. In 2010, his second year in the league, Slauson surprised everyone, landing a job as the Jets’ starting left guard over highly touted draft choice Vladimir Ducasse.
Since then, Slauson has not relented his starting position; he has started all 16 games in each of the past three seasons. Slauson possesses an incredible combination of athleticism and versatility, allowing him to be inserted at center and both guard positions.
The Giants should have a heightened interest in Slauson’s ability. The 315-pounder could help shore up a New York interior offensive line that is constantly battered by injuries.
The Giants have not fielded a Pro Bowl-caliber outside linebacker since Jessie Armstead left for the Washington Redskins in 2002, but Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Daryl Smith, who is scheduled to become a free agent in 2013, could provide New York with that type of talent.
Often overlooked on the lowly Jaguars, Smith has been one of the league’s most productive linebackers for almost a decade. He is the Jacksonville’s all-time leading tackler with 679 since 2004. The nine-year veteran also has 21.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, six interceptions, 39 passes defended and 41 tackles for a loss in his career.
Smith was hampered by a groin injury for almost the entire 2012 season, which severely limited his production, as he was only activated for the Jaguars' final two games of the season. However, he is only one year removed from a 107-tackle season, a career-high mark that Smith also reached in 2009.
Teammate Paul Posluszny, who was a free agency hot commodity himself in 2011, called Smith the Jaguars’ “best defender.” With the Giants, Smith may be able to reach the recognition he deserves.
Former Minnesota Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson left some pretty big shoes to fill after putting up back-to-back 100-tackle seasons in 2010 and 2011, but in his first year as a full-time starter, Jasper Brinkley has done a solid job manning the middle of Minnesota’s playoff-bound defense. He should receive a significant amount of attention when he becomes a free agent in 2013.
Brinkley, a former fifth-round pick out of South Carolina in 2009, saw limited action during his first two seasons in the league. In 2011, his third year in the NFL, Brinkley underwent hip surgery, ending his season before it ever began.
In 2012, though, Brinkley rebounded, collecting 97 tackles and three forced fumbles. He is a powerful run-stuffing linebacker for a Vikings team that only allowed 4.0 yards per carry (seventh in NFL).
Brinkley had three games in 2012 with double-digit tackles, including a 12-tackle performance against the Chicago Bears late in the season in which the Vikings held running back Matt Forte under 100 yards rushing. The Giants, who struggled against the run in 2012, could use a linebacker like Brinkley.
If neither Smith nor Brinkley land in New York next spring, the Giants should look into reeling in Detroit Lions linebacker Justin Durant. After a solid 2012 season, Durant is unsure of his future in Detroit.
Durant spent four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2007-2010) after he was drafted in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft (48th overall). The former Hampton star’s production has blown up, though, since he made the move to Detroit in 2011.
This past season, Durant led a struggling Lions squad with 103 tackles (83 solo), a career high. He also added a half-sack and three passes defended. The 27-year-old linebacker will be searching for a solid deal during free agency if the Lions fail to offer him one.
The Giants need a tough, physical linebacker like Durant, who is 6'1" and weighs 240 pounds. The run-stuffer could find a home in New York in 2013.