GM Jerry Reese examines his talent.
At this time of the year, with free agency on the horizon and the NFL draft around the corner, everyone is writing about what the New York Giants should be doing in the coming weeks. This article will do the opposite.
Championship teams are often built in March and April, well before the first sweat is broken in OTAs or training camp. But if the organization fails to set the team up for success in the early months, Super Bowl hopes can be shot before the team ever lines up for a single snap.
Luckily, New York has general manager Jerry Reese, a proven front-office executive, running its offseason show.
This article will highlight five moves that Reese and the Giants must avoid making in the coming weeks and months.
Many veteran free agents, aware that they are on the last leg of their careers, will be looking for one final payday before calling it quits. Considering these players have an unknown amount of fuel left in the tank, they are the ones New York must avoid.
This may sound obvious, but since long-time Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney expressed interest in playing in New York recently, the sentiment must be reinforced. While Freeney is a three-time NFL All-Pro and only one year removed from a Pro Bowl season, he is probably not a good fit for the Giants in 2013.
This goes for all soon-to-be free agents in the same boat as Freeney. This is the time to get younger and faster; aging veterans work better on a team that is just a few puzzle pieces away from a championship. While the Giants aren’t far removed from Super Bowl success, let’s not forget they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2012.
If New York thought overpriced, decaying veterans were the way to go, Osi Umenyiora would be a lot higher on the team’s list of offseason priorities.
A lot of fans want to see tight end Martellus Bennett back with Big Blue next year—I’m one of them. But, as the penny-pinching Reese surely knows, Bennett should be retained only if the price is right.
Lately, Bennett claims he hasn’t been “feeling the love” (via Daily News) from the Giants organization, which probably means he’s asking for too much money. The Giants don’t have a proven pass-catching tight end under contract to replace Bennett, but that shouldn’t worry the team.
Bennett had a solid season in 2012, the best of his career, in fact. With 626 yards and five touchdowns on 55 receptions, the 6'7" target proved to be a valuable one for quarterback Eli Manning.
But just how valuable was he?
Bennett replaced Jake Ballard, who was snatched up by the New England Patriots to the dismay of Giants fans. And before that, Ballard replaced Kevin Boss, who was one of Manning’s favorite targets ever since his heroic rookie playoff performance. Even before that, Boss replaced Jeremy Shockey, one of the most electrifying tight ends in franchise history.
Bennett, Ballard and Boss all had tough acts to follow, but the truth is that Manning gets the most out of his tight end no matter who it is in the lineup.
As long as New York retains positional coach Mike Pope, a tight end guru, it will have the confidence to let Bennett walk if his asking price is too high.
Safety Kenny Phillips suddenly became an underappreciated member of the Giants secondary in 2012. Phillips’ replacement, Stevie Brown, may have provided impact turnovers, but the 28th-ranked pass defense should be an indicator that something was seriously wrong without him.
Cornerback Corey Webster, although terrible at times, can only shoulder so much of the blame, as he was missing the glue that holds the Giants defense together: Phillips.
Phillips managed to step onto the field for seven games in 2012, but his usual presence was not felt, as he suffered a knee injury (his second in four years) that severely limited his action and effectiveness.
As far as retaining Phillips, a teammate’s recent contract should be encouraging.
Offensive tackle Will Beatty, who has missed just as much time as Phillips in his career due to injuries, just signed a five-year, $38 million deal. The Giants were able to see Beatty’s upside if he is able to stay healthy; the same courtesy should be extended to Phillips.
If anything, the Giants are lucky. Because of Phillips’ recent injury, New York may be able to keep him at a discounted price. Had he played at full strength in 2012, Phillips could have built a case to become one of the highest-paid safeties in the league this free-agency period.
This is an urge many teams face on draft day, but it’s one that Reese has been able to resist. Although it could result in yet another first-round selection on a defensive end, picking the best player available is always the best move in the long run.
The Giants’ biggest needs this year are at offensive line and linebacker. The team lacks both depth and elite skill at these positions, yet they are consistently ignored year in, year out on draft day.
If a player like Georgia inside linebacker Alec Ogletree or Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson somehow falls to the Giants at pick No. 19, Reese would be justified in picking either of them. But if both are off the board early, New York should stifle the urge to fulfill that void with less-touted player at the same position.
With the exception of quarterback, New York needs to go best player available in the first and second rounds. In the later rounds, the Giants will have more freedom to address whichever position they please.
Luckily, cornerback is also a relatively weak positional unit, and it is also one that Reese values highly. That, in combination with a strong class of cornerbacks, leads me to believe the Giants will bolster their pass coverage with early-round draft picks this April.
The contract squabble between wide receiver Victor Cruz and the Giants organization has been well documented, but things could quickly take a turn for the worse.
Cruz’ original asking price of $8-10 million a year was immediately shot down by co-owner John Mara, and it’s likely that the two sides have not come much closer on the issue, as most reports say that the contract talks have reached a stalemate.
This is an issue that can’t be lingering by the time training camp opens in late July.
Since Cruz is a restricted free agent, he does not have much leverage. If the two sides cannot agree, the Giants will likely slap a first-round tender on him, much like the Steelers did for wide receiver Mike Wallace almost a year ago, offering to pay him just under $3 million for one year’s service.
Technically, that won’t lock Cruz up with New York. If another team wants to take a shot at Cruz, it can. That team will have to give up a first-round pick and offer a contract that the Giants aren’t willing to match, though.
But as we saw with the Wallace situation, that’s not a very likely scenario. It’s unlikely that much will be different for the former undrafted free agent out of DI-AA University of Massachusetts.
However, that will only leave one option for a desperate Cruz: a holdout.
Although it may seem inevitable, the Giants need to avoid a Cruz holdout at all costs. A superstar like Cruz sitting out of practice will attract an ungodly amount of media attention, distracting the whole organization to the detriment of the team.
A larger road bump during the Giants’ most pivotal learning period is unimaginable.