TE M. Bennett is a big free agent: Sign or Pass?
For the New York Giants and the rest of the NFL, the free agent frenzy will commence on March 12. The Giants have 24 soon-to-be free agents (17 unrestricted, 4 restricted and 3 exclusive rights) to either re-sign or let walk in the approaching weeks.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese has spent his offseason prioritizing his free agents and, so far, left tackle Will Beatty is the only one who has agreed to a long-term deal.
This article will highlight each of the Giants’ free agents in 2013 alphabetically, starting with UFAs, then RFAs and finishing up with ERFAs. Each slide will conclude with a simple “Stay” or “Pass” verdict.
Wide receiver Ramses Barden was drafted with high expectations. The 6'6" receiver caught 50 touchdown passes at Cal Poly, an FCS competitor, which prompted New York to select him in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft (85 overall).
During his four seasons with the Giants, Barden’s career hasn’t panned out the way the team originally anticipated. Barden only caught 29 passes with no touchdowns, as he never developed into a legitimate red-zone threat.
Barden does not expect to be back with the Giants in 2013.
Tight end Travis Beckum is another failed product of the 2009 draft, selected in the same round as Barden (100 overall). Advertised as a matchup nightmare coming out of Wisconsin, Beckum was advertised as too fast for a linebacker to cover and too big for a safety to cover.
In his four seasons with the Giants, Beckum has been anything but un-coverable. He has only gotten open for 26 receptions and the one-dimensional tight end provides very little in terms of blocking ability.
After spending most of 2012 recovering from a torn ACL, the Giants have certainly had their fill of Beckum.
After compiling 626 receiving yards in his first year as a Giant, many see tight end Martellus Bennett as one of the team’s top priorities heading into free agency. Bennett was a reliable target for quarterback Eli Manning in 2012 and the connection has the potential to develop into a great rapport in the future.
Bennett, however, says he isn’t “feeling the love” from the Giants, even through the 6'6" tight end has shown interest in returning for the 2013 season. Considering the consistency the Giants have gotten from the tight end position (regardless of who’s playing it) since Manning entered the league, the team should feel confident letting Bennett walk if his asking price is too high.
Rocky Bernard, a former Seattle Seahawk and 11-year veteran defensive tackle, has provided excellent depth for the Giants’ interior defensive line. Since joining New York in 2009, Bernard has displayed great consistency in a primary role as a reserve.
Bernard actually started five games for the Giants in 2012, the most since his final season in Seattle, when he started 15. But, since New York fielded one of the league’s worst run defenses last season, the team should look to get younger and stronger at Bernard’s position.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn has spent all eight of his NFL seasons with the New York Giants, but only the past one-and-a-half as the team’s full-time starter. Blackburn lacks superior athletic ability, but the former undrafted free agent’s direction proved invaluable in 2012.
Blackburn may have been the Giants’ field general, but he was leading the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL. If New York is serious about bolstering it’s defensive unit, then the organization needs a serious upgrade at the middle linebacker position.
Kevin Boothe, a versatile offensive lineman that started all 16 games at left guard in 2012, has proven his value to the New York Giants organization. Boothe can step in at any position along the offensive front and was arguably the team’s best run-blocker last season.
Boothe’s athleticism should garner him a new contract, but reports say he and the organization are not close to a new deal. Although Boothe should not generate an inordinate amount of attention in free agency, he should be one of the Giants’ top priorities.
Backup quarterback David Carr hasn’t started a game since 2007 and riding the bench behind Manning, the NFL’s active leader in consecutive starts by a QB, hasn’t exactly kept him fresh. Still, Carr believes he can compete for a starting job in 2013.
Carr, a former first overall draft choice, is an ideal backup for Manning. However, the Giants also have Curtis Painter, who was signed in January, under contract. Given Manning’s durability, the team has the flexibility to let Carr walk if he finds a better deal elsewhere.
Many expect Rueben Randle to overtake the Giants’ third wide receiver position in his second season as a pro, but that doesn’t necessarily make veteran wide receiver Domenik Hixon expendable. Hixon has been a sure-handed target for Manning since he came to the team in 2007.
In addition to third wide receiver duty, Hixon was Hakeem Nicks’ immediate backup for the No. 1 receiver position and he was able to fill in with authority when called upon. A pair of knee injuries on Hixon’s résumé should keep his asking price down and the Giants would be smart to meet it.
When cornerback Bruce Johnson originally made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2009, the Miami product appeared to have a bright future ahead of him. Johnson played in all 16 games of his rookie campaign and even logged two interceptions, returning one of them for a touchdown.
Since then, Johnson has done very little to earn himself a new contract in 2013. His production in 2010 dropped significantly and season-ending injuries kept him out of the action in 2011 and 2012. The Giants should hunt for someone who’s able to stay on the field.
Offensive tackle Sean Locklear, another former Seattle Seahawk, played a fairly large role with the Giants last season. Signed as a reserve, Locklear was forced into starting action nine times in 2012, stepping in at left tackle, right tackle and jumbo tight end.
When the 2013 season begins, Locklear will be 32 years old, in the twilight of his career. While he provided reliable depth last season, he is coming off a torn ACL that ended his season prematurely. Locklear is a good player, but it would be a significant risk to re-sign him, considering he would probably not be ready for training camp and preseason.
The Giants got some late-season production out of running back Kregg Lumpkin last season, but don’t expect to see it continue into 2013. The Giants are headed in a new direction at running back, which was made evident by the release of veteran Ahmad Bradshaw.
With David Wilson, Andre Brown and Da’Rel Scott slated to be the main competitors for playing time, it’s hard to justify re-signing 28-year-old Kregg Lumpkin, who was acquired as an emergency signing, when the Giants were dangerously thin at running back.
Now that left tackle Will Beatty has been taken care of, the Giants should be turning their attention to safety Kenny Phillips. New York’s first-round pick from 2008 has battled injuries in his five-year career, but he is dominant when on the field at full strength.
Phillips plays centerfield, taking away the opposition’s ability to go over the top on New York’s defense. The Giants really struggled in 2012 with Phillips on the sideline, proving that he is an essential cog in the team’s defensive system. His injuries could drive his asking price down a little bit.
The Giants’ linebackers were awful in 2012 and former Cincinnati Bengal Keith Rivers was no exception. Rivers, a top-10 draft pick in 2008, has never been able to shake the injury bug, leaving his draft day potential painfully unfulfilled.
The trade for Rivers, which cost New York a fifth-round pick in last year’s draft, was not a bad move to fill an immediate need, considering the Giants were able to milk him for 11 games and six starts in 2012. Rivers is not a long-term solution at the linebacker position, though.
Cornerback Justin Tryon earned his keep last season by extreme hustle on the special teams coverage units, but that won’t be enough to secure a new contract. He was terrible when asked to play corner and the Giants can easily replace his hustle on special teams with a hungry undrafted free agent in 2013.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes gets a bad rap for his lack of leg strength on kicks from beyond 50 yards out. While Tynes’ leg strength is certainly not world class, fans undervalue his overall ability and accuracy.
Tynes had a career-best season in 2012, making 33 of 39 field goal attempts, or 84.6 percent. He has kicked the Giants to the Super Bowl twice, proving his ability to hit kicks in the clutch.
As New York will find out if David Buehler is handling placekicking duty in 2013, there aren’t a ton of kickers with Tynes’ credentials lying around on the free agent scrap heap.
It’s no shocker that defensive end Osi Umenyiora will probably not be with the Giants in 2013, as the one-time NFL All-Pro has had a foot out the door for a couple months now. The latest rumors have suggested Atlanta as a plausible landing spot for the 31-year-old pass rusher.
With 75 career sacks and 32 forced fumbles, Umenyiora has put together an impressive nine-season career with the Giants. It’s time for Umenyiora to cash the big paycheck he has always deserved. He will gauge his worth on the open market in search of a bigger payday.
Cornerback Brian Witherspoon is in the same boat as Bruce Johnson: a former undrafted free agent that hasn’t touched the game field since 2010. Witherspoon has suffered back-to-back ACL tears, making his comeback highly improbable.
It is a virtual certainty that he will not be given a new contract from the Giants.
The Giants have four restricted free agents, who have significantly less leverage than the team’s 17 unrestricted free agents. Because of this, the Giants should not have trouble retaining these players for the 2013 season, whether it is part of a cap-friendly deal or under a single-season tender.
RB Andre Brown – RFA
Running back Andre Brown was terrific between the tackles, averaging a team-high 5.3 yards per carry and punching in eight goal line touchdowns in 2012. Brown has trouble staying healthy, though, and he spent the last six games of last season on injured reserve with a broken fibula. His contract should reflect that.
S Stevie Brown – RFA
Safety Stevie Brown, who played on three different teams from 2010-2012, finally settled in with the Giants last season in starter Kenny Phillips’ absence. Brown had eight interceptions in only 11 starts, showing a nose for the ball.
WR Victor Cruz – RFA
Wide receiver Victor Cruz's contract negotiations are in a stalemate, as the Giants and the Pro Bowl receiver remain far apart on a new deal. If that remains the case, the organization will likely place a first-round tender on Cruz, giving him the option to accept the one-year, $2.9 million salary or hold out in hopes of reaching a long-term contract.
RB Ryan Torain – RFA
Ryan Torain was picked up with Kregg Lumpkin when the Giants were hurting for running backs late last season, but he did not get any playing time. The RFA should be easily retained, giving the Giants some backfield depth in training camp and preseason, at the very least.
These players are barely considered free agents. If the Giants offer any of their three ERFAs a three-year, veteran minimum salary, they are required to accept the offer or leave the NFL. These ERFAs have no right to negotiate with any of the other 31 teams.
C Jim Cordle – ERFA
Center Jim Cordle has limited experience, but he provides depth along a particularly thin interior offensive line.
DE Adrian Tracy – ERFA
Defensive end Adrian Tracy, or “Young Osi,” will have a real opportunity to showcase his speed at his natural defensive end position in 2013.
DE Justin Trattou – ERFA
Defensive end Justin Trattou was activated late in the 2011 season on the Giants’ run to the Super Bowl, but he missed the entire 2012 season with a pesky heel/ankle injury.