Projecting New York Giants' NFL Free-Agent Targets

Tamer Chamma@TamerC_BRContributor IIMarch 8, 2013

Projecting New York Giants' NFL Free-Agent Targets

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    The NFL offseason will finally get into full swing with the start of free agency on Tuesday, March 12.

    The New York Giants should be active in trying to grab their share of the available players that will hit the market. Thoughts of bringing home top performers at top dollar, however, must be to rest before the craziness kicks off.

    Big Blue is currently about $9 million under the cap after Corey Webster took a pay cut on Thursday. New York will likely open up more cap space before free agency starts by restructuring other contracts and possibly cutting a player such as David Diehl.

    With news that Kenny Phillips' time with the team may be be coming to an end, the only players of the Giants 26 free agents that will almost definitely be retained are Victor Cruz, Kevin Boothe and Stevie Brown. Martellus Bennett, Andre Brown, Jim Cordle and Adrian Tracy are likely to get a serious look as well.

    Therefore, the Giants should have a modest amount of money to spend on other teams' free agents but not enough to grab some of the most sought after players. Don't expect to see guys like Cliff Avril, Andre Smith, Andy Levitre and Dannell Ellerbe in the coming slides.

    The focus of the players New York should target will be on defense and along the offensive line. It would be a mistake for Big Blue to spend significant dollars in any other area.  

Linebacker: Daryl Smith

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    If the Giants only sign one free agent, it has to be at linebacker. New York simply lacks both talent and experience at this position, especially if Mathias Kiwanuka slides back to defensive end to help ease the certain departure of Osi Umenyiora.

    Smith would be a great addition as the team's newest middle linebacker and he could come at a relatively good price.

    The soon to be 31-year-old was tremendous from 2009-11 with the Jaguars, playing in 48 games and averaging 104 tackles, six pass defenses, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one INT per season.

    What could drive his price down is his age and the fact that he missed all but two games last year due to a groin injury. Improving the Giants' chances even more is that it appears his current team is already off the market for his services.

    Despite some of the risk involved with Smith, Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus thinks he is still a good acquisition because of his all-around talent:

    In 2011 he finished third in Run Stop Percentage at 10.6%, in Pass Rushing Productivity (for those with at least 50 pass rushes) at 13.0, and in Yards per Coverage Snap at 0.67. Many of the free agent linebackers available are good at one or two of those things, but he is the rare talent who can do it all. He will be 31 in a month, so his best football might be behind him, but even if he can’t reach the same heights he once did, he can still be a great upgrade for most teams.

    What will it take to ink Smith? He signed a five-year, $25 million extension in his prime before the 2007 season (he had one-year left on his rookie contract at the time) with $4.5 million guaranteed. He'll definitely command fewer years this time around and probably slightly less per year.

    If the Giants back-load the contract he can be easily attained with room left over to sign other free agents. 

Linebacker: Erin Henderson

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    If the Giants don't get Smith they should probably look to draft a middle linebacker as the other free agents at this position will either be too expensive or aren't good options.

    Taking care of outside linebacker would then be the next priority. Henderson would be a great fit for a few reasons.

    He is young, as he will only be 27 at the start of the 2013 season, and is excellent against the run.

    According to PFF, Henderson was a top-five outside linebacker against the run in a 4-3 scheme in 2011 and 2012. The Giants were terrible stopping the ground game in 2012 so Henderson would be an immediate, dramatic upgrade in this area.

    There is a perception that the five-year veteran is not good in pass coverage. While the stats back this perception up in 2012, with a -6.4 PFF rating, he was actually pretty good in coverage in 2011. He garnered a 4.4 rating two seasons ago, mainly because he only allowed 22 catches for 167 yards in his coverage area.

    You would think a young linebacker like Henderson who has, for the most part, been a solid player for two straight seasons would be viewed as a top priority by his current team. The Vikings, however, don't necessarily feel this way and Henderson may not mind one bit, according to Mark Craig of the Star Tribune:

    The Vikings say they have interest in all three linebackers ... Truth is, they do have interest in them, but they’ll also have wandering eyes. Both Henderson and Brinkley are solid players well shy of their 30th birthdays. They played well on a team that won 10 games and made the playoffs. So they’re comfortable options, assuming they even want to return. That might not be the case with Henderson. He wasn’t happy when he didn’t get a long-term deal last offseason, so he’s more likely to take comparable money from another team.
    What size contract Henderson will get on the open market is still up for debate. Figuring that he only made $2 million on a one-year deal last season, it shouldn't be enough to price the Giants out of obtaining his services. 

Defensive Tackle: Richard Seymour

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    Outside of Smith, I think Seymour makes the most sense for the Giants next season. 

    While he will turn 34 in October and missed eight games in 2012 due to a hamstring injury, the guy is not far removed from being one of the best defensive tackles in the sport.

    He was a Pro Bowler in 2011, recording six sacks and three pass defenses while playing in all 16 games that season. He is also solid against the run, making him a great addition to a defensive line that was too often manhandled by opposing offensive lines in 2012.

    He will almost certainly not be a Raider next season after his contract was voided in February.

    It would be surprising if Seymour got more than a one-year deal in free agency. New York should seriously consider signing him as a stopgap to pair alongside Linval Joseph.

Defensive Tackle: Glenn Dorsey

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    If the Giants want a longer-term option at defensive tackle, Dorsey is certainly worth a hard look. 

    He was considered a bust in his five seasons with Kansas City, mainly due to high expectations coming out of college.

    In reality, though, Dorsey has actually been a pretty solid performer.

    Sure, he missed 12 games in 2012 due to a calf injury, but he played in 62 of a possible 64 games in his first four seasons in the league. He was also tremendous against the run in 2010 and 2011, placing in the top three in PFF rating for defensive ends in the 3-4 scheme in each of those seasons.

    Speaking of the 3-4, it is the reason he has been playing end in the NFL instead of tackle, his natural position. This is the scheme the Chiefs run so Dorsey has been asked to conform. This was thought to be a reason, along with his perceived underachievement, as to why he would not be retained.

    News broke on Thursday though that the Chiefs may actually be interested in re-signing him. Despite this possible change of course, it would be surprising to see Dorsey remain in Kansas City.

    The 27-year-old will likely garner a multi-year deal in free agency, but his injury-plagued 2012 should keep his price down. The Giants would be smart to pounce if the money Dorsey commands is not overwhelming. 

Cornerback: Chris Houston

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    Since Webster will now definitely be on the team next season, cornerback suddenly moves behind linebacker and defensive tackle as needs to be addressed in free agency. This doesn't mean, however, that the Giants shouldn't explore their options at this position.

    Webster is clearly past his prime based on his atrocious 2012 season. Prince Amukamara has battled injuries and inconsistency in his first two years in the NFL and Jayron Hosley's rookie campaign certainly didn't validate him as a starting-caliber cornerback.

    Houston isn't getting the attention that fellow free-agent corners like Brent Grimes and Sean Smith are receiving but he should be. The six-year veteran had seven interceptions and 25 pass defenses combined in 2011 and 2012. He also achieved solid 5.2 and 7.4 PFF ratings, respectively, in each of those seasons.

    Furthermore, he should be a good fit in the Giants scheme, as Paul Tierney of Giants101 explains:

    Although it's difficult to project how successful a defensive back will be after changing teams and defensive schemes, Houston reigns from a Lions defense that relies heavily on the pass rusher to get to the quarterback. His speed would allow him to fit in well in Perry Fewell's defense, as he would be asked to perform similarly to what he did last season, when he established himself as Detriot's best cover cornerback.

    The one problem is that Houston may be out of the Giants' price range. He is coming off a two-year, $6 million contract. Considering his age (he turn 29 in October) and his recent success he will likely command somewhere in the five-to-six million dollar per year range in free agency. Given the Giants' other needs, they would have to pass at offering that type of money. 

Cornerback: Derek Cox

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    From an affordability standpoint, Cox is a more realistic option for Big Blue. Unfortunately this is because he has proven to be injury-prone in his young career.

    The 26-year-old missed 17 games between 2010 and 2012. The good news is that he hasn't suffered any major injuries. Still, it is disturbing when a young player can't stay healthy.

    When he has played, Cox has been productive. He had four INTs last season and also achieved this number of picks in 2009 and 2010. His overall PFF ratings haven't been great throughout his four-year career, but he was pretty good in coverage in 2011, garnering a 5.6 rating, and 2012, with a 1.2 rating.

    Jacksonville is still in play for him but when you hear Cox's agent speak, it doesn't seem likely that his client will remain in northern Florida.

    Cox comes with some risk, but if healthy he would probably be the best cornerback on the Giants roster next season. 

Offensive Tackle: Gosder Cherilus

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    Along the offensive line, the Giants are set at left tackle, center and right guard. That leaves question marks at left guard and right tackle.

    The former would be easily taken care of if Big Blue resigns Boothe, who had a solid 2012 season. That does not appear to be a foregone conclusion at this point though. Given the depth at the guard position in free agency, Boothe will probably not get a great offer on the open market, which should facilitate his return to the team.

    That leaves right tackle, which appears to be an open competition right now between Diehl, Sean Locklear, who is an unrestricted free agent, and unproven James Brewer. Yikes! None of those options are very enticing, especially with the aging Diehl coming off a season that saw him struggle mightily, especially in pass blocking. 

    The Giants would be wise to cut Diehl in the coming days, opening up $4.5 million in cap space, and use that money towards Cherilus.

    The 28-year-old was the second best right tackle in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus, with a 23.4 rating, including a 21 rating in pass blocking. By comparison, Diehl had a -6.8 overall rating and -7.1 specifically in pass protection. Can you say upgrade!

    Cherilus has also been durable in his five-year career, playing in 75 of a possible 80 games. Despite his ability to suit up, Cherilus is still considered an injury risk due to microfracture surgery he had on his right knee in 2010. He also allegedly underwent the popular, but controversial, Regenokine procedure in late January, though Cherilus is denying this report.

    The Lions do not appear to have much interest in re-signing Cherilus since they have multiple options to replace him next season.

    Despite legitimate concerns with his knee, the positives are too overwhelming for the Giants not to make a serious run at him—especially considering how weak they are at right tackle.