5 Steps New York Giants Must Take to Be Super Bowl-Bound Again
There was no late-season magic for the New York Giants in 2012, as they wound up missing the playoffs after finishing second in the NFC East.
Halfway through the season, missing the playoffs seemed an afterthought, but a 2-5 stretch midway sunk the team that always seems destined for a miracle run. The embarrassing back-to-back losses against the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens are what most Giants fans will remember from 2012, but there is hope left.
The Giants have made some changes this offseason, but they still remain the most complete team in the NFC East. Robert Griffin III's ACL injury puts a damper on Washington's 2013 season, the Dallas Cowboys will remain a soap opera as long as Tony Romo and Jerry Jones are around and Philadelphia...well, they have Chip Kelly, and that's about it.
Entering the 2013 season, the Giants will be the favorite to finish atop the NFC East; here are five steps they must take to go beyond that and finish atop the NFL.
Re-Sign Victor Cruz
It's not going to be cheap, and will be much more expensive than his current contract, but if the Giants want to have any chance to compete they must re-sign Victor Cruz.
Mum is the word out of Giants camp, but it would be hard to imagine Cruz playing elsewhere in 2013. He seems to like playing in New York and the fans certainly love him; there is no apparent reason to leave.
The Giants have been clearing cap space all offseason in order to prepare for the massive hit Cruz will be to the cap. It's a necessary step, though, for the Giants to take.
Cruz is one of the elite playmakers in the NFL right now. Anytime he touches the ball he is capable of breaking it for a long gain. Two years in a row he's had over 1,000 yards, and in that span he has caught 19 touchdowns. He has had trouble with drops in the past, especially last season, but regardless, he's a top-10 receiver.
The Giants are deep at wide receiver, but fellow wideout Domenik Hixon is also a free agent. Take a guess as to who should be the priority. Remaining are Hakeem Nicks and Reuben Randle, both viable options. Nicks has been hurt too much for New York consistently rely on him, and there is a question of whether Randle is ready to assume the No. 2 role.
He's shown the talent, but he's still very young and raw. He will blossom in the next few years, but right now the Giants need a proven commodity.
Cruz is a restricted free agent, meaning they will have a chance to match any other team's offer. The Giants must make him their first priority, though, if they want any chance at getting back to the big game.
Solve the Offensive Line Puzzle
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Giants made a significant move yesterday re-upping with William Beatty, but there is still more shuffling to be done.
Ohm Youngmisuk details what the Giants have in store the rest of the offseason after signing Beatty:
The Giants also now can look to re-sign left guard Kevin Boothe, who also is a free agent. That would solidify the left side of the line. The Giants still need to strengthen their line with some depth and youth considering right guard Chris Snee, center David Baas and tackle David Diehl all underwent offseason surgeries.
As Youngmisuk points out, three guys up front went under the knife this offseason. Given their respective ages, it isn't a far-fetched thought to think that these guys are nearing the end of their careers.
David Diehl's future with the team may be in question—he is due $4.475 million this season—but if the Giants are able to work around that it would be beneficial to them. There is no question Diehl has lost a step, but he remains a leader of this team and is a great locker room presence. It would be difficult cutting ties with him, although understandable at the same time.
Beatty's signing all but puts to rest the idea of Jake Long becoming a Giant. While Long is perhaps the best left tackle in the game, he would merely be a luxury for the team. The Giants don't need an albatross of a contract hanging around their neck as Long ages. Beatty was signed for a reasonable price and actually played fairly well last year.
The Giants need some youth on the line, and should look to the draft for it. If a top offensive-line prospect falls to them in the first round, then they may pull the trigger, although it is more likely they wait until the later rounds to fill the roster with depth. Now that Beatty is signed the Giants must focus on getting younger up front.
Fix the Secondary
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Most fans will point to cutting ties with Corey Webster, but that may not necessarily be the move. Webster will make roughly $7 million this year, so if there are any cheaper options of equal talent, Webster is expendable. Otherwise, don't let his horrid 2012 ruin the surprisingly good season he had in 2011.
Webster was awful last year, but so was the rest of the secondary. The Giants were torched game in and game out, allowing 254.3 passing yards per game. Was it all the secondary's fault? No—we'll get to that—but they still played very poorly.
Stevie Brown emerged as a ball-hawking safety, intercepting eight passes last year, and Antrelle Rolle has emerged as a leader of the defense. Prince Amukamura has been slow to develop and it remains to be seen if he ever will develop. He's been decent when he's on the field, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy.
It's also a bad thing that his career up to now is defined by this.
Jayron Hosely and Justin Tyron were all but useless when they were forced to defend number-one or -two receivers. Hosely is an average slot corner, but the Giants certainly need more depth at the position. Going up against Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin four times a year won't jibe with the current state of the Giants secondary.
All a team has to do is put one of its playmakers in the slot to go up against the 5'10" Hosely and 5'9" Tyron and it will have an instant mismatch.
Finding help via free agency or the draft will surely be atop the Giants to-do list this offseason, and, hey, they can always try to trade for you know who.
Get Younger on the Defensive Line
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
I told you in the last slide that the secondary wasn't completely at fault for their abysmal play and here's why: Their defensive line was just as bad.
We know the Giants haven't been a great run defense in the past few years—league average, but not great—but the one thing that we've expected out of the team is a ferocious pass rush. It just wasn't there last year.
The Giants ranked 22nd in the league with 33 sacks last year. Jason Pierre-Paul had half that, literally 16.5 sacks, in 2011. So what happened?
A combination of things, starting with age. Justin Tuck wasn't the same player and Osi Umenyiora was, and still is, on the wrong side of 30. Umenyiora will likely be gone next year—he is an unrestricted free agent—solving that problem, but even Pierre-Paul had a disappointing 2012. The main factor in his regression was that teams were double-teaming him without worrying about Tuck or Osi.
There are plenty of pass-rushing options coming out in the draft this year, something the Giants should heavily consider with their first-round pick.
It seems that it was just yesterday the Giants defensive line was using their "NASCAR Package" to harass Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. As of now, though, the engine to that car has broken down (a self-admittedly lame analogy).
Keep the Team Intact
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
I've touched on a few free agents the Giants should re-sign and others they should release. Well here's what they should do with the rest of their free agent batch.
At linebacker they should try to keep both Keith Rivers and Chase Blackburn. Both should be relatively cheap and have been productive. Rivers will be able to fill the hole left by Michael Boley, as he is athletic and able to cover opposing tight ends. Blackburn is one of the more underrated players in the league, and is valued very highly by Tom Coughlin and the Giants. Both are solid players, and more importantly, both will be cheap.
The Giants should cut ties with Martellus Bennett. It was good while it lasted, but he's made too much noise this offseason about his impending free agency. The Giants don't have a viable option behind him, but that's what the draft and free agency are for.
New York should also let Rocky Bernard go. He's old, wasn't impactful and the Giants still have Marvin Austin waiting in the wings.
After getting rid of Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants should try to re-sign Andre Brown. David Wilson has shown he is more than capable of shouldering the load, but will he remain healthy? Brown and Wilson can give the Giants a little lightning and thunder—sound familiar? They would actually be a pretty good one-two punch, though.
As for the rest of their notable free agents, if the price is right with Donmenik Hixon they should re-sign him. They shouldn't pay much for him, though, as he will be their No. 4 receiver (No. 3 when Nicks inevitably goes down).
Lawrence Tynes was terrific last year, and the Giants should definitely try to re-sign him. He's doesn't have an exceptional leg but he is fairly consistent.
If the Giants can make some, or all, of these moves, they should be in good shape next year. As long as Eli Manning is at the helm they will always be in contention. And when they make the playoffs...you never know.