New York Giants Free Agency Primer: What to Expect, What to Watch
Less than a week until the 2013 free-agent bonanza opens on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. But, as per usual, the New York Giants aren't expected to make more than a tiny splash on the open market.
But they'll certainly look to make some smart investments in order to help plug holes before completing their 2013 roster at the draft. Here's our free agency primer for the G-Men...
After a series of restructures and cuts, the Giants are just over $4 million under the salary cap. That's the good news.
The bad news? New York is down three starters from 2012 (Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley) and it still hopes to sign top receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to long-term deals.
With 16 players slated for unrestricted free agency (more on them in a moment), they'll have a lot of trouble shaving more cash for 2013 because there aren't a lot of restructure candidates remaining. That's a double-edged sword because it leaves them with less money to re-sign said free agents.
If they do attempt to re-do some more deals, look for Eli Manning, Chris Snee, Antrel Rolle and David Baas to be the top candidates. Manning has the biggest cap number in the league ($20.9 million), and the other three will count about $27 million against the total.
They can also cut Corey Webster and David Diehl to raise about $12 million.
Best-case scenario, they end up with no more than about $5-10 million to spend on free agents.
UPDATE: Webster took a pay cut on Thursday, according to NFL Network's Kim Jones, while Baas restructured his deal, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News. Those moves save the Giants about $6 million.
They probably know they can't afford Osi Umenyiora, but he's just one of five 2012 starters slated to become unrestricted free agents. That number was six before they signed left tackle Will Beatty to a long-term deal last week, but now the focus is on Kenny Phillips, Kevin Boothe, Martellus Bennett and Chase Blackburn.
Victor Cruz will also cost them at least $2.88 million to keep around. That's what a top tender would be worth for the restricted free agent. If they sign him to a long-term deal, that'll probably cost them even more (but they'd dodge a potential mess next offseason).
It would also cost them at least $1.3 million to keep ball-hawking safety Stevie Brown around. Brown, who had eight interceptions while starting only 11 games in 2012 and could be Phillips' replacement, is also on track to become a restricted free agent.
Then there's Sean Locklear, who is probably the in-house favorite right now to start at right tackle. Diehl should be cut to free up about $5 million. The Giants would be insane not to do that at some point soon, but that would increase the pressure for them to make sure Locklear or someone of that ilk is under contract to start in 2013.
I fully expect them to let veterans like Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden and Rocky Bernard walk, and the rest of the UFAs on the roster will make close to the minimum anyway.
This roster will have changed a ton between the last week of 2012 and the first week of 2013.
What They Need
Cornerback: Even if Corey Webster returns at a lower rate, the Giants don't know if they can trust him. The jury's still out on 2012 third-round pick Jayron Hosley and nobody knows what to expect from Terrell Thomas. They could definitely use a starting-caliber corner, or at least some insurance.
What is the Giants' biggest need?
Defensive end: Umenyiora is likely to leave and Justin Tuck hasn't been consistently effective in quite some time. That leaves them looking for someone who can support Jason Pierre-Paul. And keep in mind how much this team stresses the pass rush. They could move Mathias Kiwanuka back up to the line full time, but that just creates a hole in the linebacking corps. It's like Whac-A-Mole.
Defensive tackle: Canty is gone and Bernard is a free agent. Shaun Rogers probably isn't the answer and we're yet to get a proper look at Marvin Austin.
Middle linebacker: Blackburn's a free agent and it doesn't look as though Mark Herzlich has what it takes to be a reliable starter in the middle. It would be interesting to see what Keith Rivers could do in this spot, but he's also an impending free agent and the Giants seem reluctant to move him inside.
Left guard: This depends on what happens to Boothe. If they re-sign him, he and Snee are a fine combo for 2013 and they can wait to address this at a later time. If they lose Boothe, they'll be in desperate need of a new left guard immediately.
Right tackle: If they lose Locklear and/or Diehl, they need someone who can compete with James Brewer and Matt McCants. Even if they do lose one or both of those veterans, they'll likely be looking to add a body or two on the cheap.
Why I didn't include outside linebacker: Quite simply, I love Jacquian Williams. Although that need could change if they move Kiwanuka up permanently.
What They Can Afford
Arrington could be a stretch, but he and McKelvin have the most upside as potential starters. Hayden and Griffin would be good depth guys and nickel options, while Toler is a personal favorite. The 28-year-old former fourth-round pick was beaten on only 41.5 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2012, which was the best percentage in the league, per Pro Football Focus.
The reality is that pass-rushers are too expensive for teams like the Giants in free agency, so the draft is the better way to go here. But if they want a veteran to cover for Tuck, these three experienced 4-3 ends make a lot of sense. I think the Giants and Dallas are in a similar market here.
Hill has enough upside to become a starter next to Linval Joseph, while Jenkins would be an ideal fit and could even be an upgrade. The Giants have shown interest in Jenkins already, but we'll see if the price is right. I really like Knighton, but he'd be a risk.
Middle linebackers: Daryl Smith (Jaguars), Brad Jones (Packers)
Smith is a hot rumor, too. He'd cost a decent amount but could be had since he's 30 and coming off a lost season due to injury. Jones might also be too expensive, but he's on the rise after a solid season in Green Bay and would be a superb addition. Phillip Wheeler and Nick Roach are also interesting linebacker options, but both would be better suited for spots on the outside.
Vasquez is the best option to replace Boothe but could be too pricey. As for Thomas, Slauson and Reynolds, here's what I wrote about them in my Cowboys primer:
Thomas hasn't been a regular starter in a while but performed well and opened up some nice holes in spot duty with New England in 2012. Slauson is a very good pass protector, while Reynolds could fly under the radar after missing much of last season due to injury.
Offensive tackles: Ryan Harris (Texans), Will Svitek (Falcons)
I also think the Cowboys should chase guys like Harris and Svitek, so here's my take on those two:
Harris started 34 games in four years in Denver and was a solid swing tackle on one of the best offensive lines in football in 2012. He's the next-best option if they can't land someone like Andre Smith, Gosder Cherilus, Sebastian Vollmer or Phil Loadholt. Svitek could come cheap after missing 2012 due to injury. He was a pleasant surprise in a relief role the year prior.
What They Can Wait For
It all depends on what takes place over the next five days, but I think corner and defensive end are positions that have to be addressed immediately, both in free agency (short term) and the draft (long term).
They also need a defensive tackle in free agency but can probably replace either Locklear or Boothe in the draft. If they lose both of those guys, they'll have to hit the free-agent market for at least one offensive lineman.
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