New York Giants fans haven't received an overwhelming amount of good news this offseason. The cap-strapped Giants still have a handful of unsigned impending free agents who started for them in 2012, and three starters have already been released.
But that New York was able to find a way to sign a starting-caliber defensive tackle for only $2.7 million a year and only $3 million guaranteed (per NFL Network's Kim Jones) is something to be excited about.
Cullen Jenkins will be able to help the Giants get a much-needed push up the middle, joining Linval Joseph to create a very solid, versatile defensive tackle duo. That'll take some pressure off Jason Pierre-Paul, who simply didn't receive enough pass-rushing support from the rest of the defensive line last year.
Jenkins has spent the majority of his career as a 4-3 tackle, and he's cheaper and probably more productive than Chris Canty, who was cut in February. He's had at least four sacks in each of the last five seasons and has 38.5 in his career. And according to Pro Football Focus, only four defensive tackles in the league hurried the quarterback as often as he did in 2012.
He was released by the Philadelphia Eagles last month, but it doesn't seem as though that move had much to do with Jenkins' performance. Instead, he was victimized by significant changes to Philly's defensive scheme under a new regime—one which also appears to be trying to wash its hands of the Dream Team era.
The concern, of course, is that Jenkins turned 32 this winter. He's actually two years older than Canty, which indicates he's only being added as a stopgap. Considering all of New York's needs on defense, this probably indicates that the team will avoid emphasizing interior defensive linemen in free agency and the draft, but this remains a position the staff has to address in the next year or two.
Not only do they need to find a long-term option to join Joseph, but they also have to make an effort to get younger in general in the front seven. Joseph and Pierre-Paul are both only 24, but Justin Tuck turns 30 this offseason, Jenkins is 32, Mathias Kiwanuka turned 30 on Friday, and Chase Blackburn—assuming he's kept around—hits that same milestone in June.
That's the thing about this defense. Everybody's either really young or really old. Corey Webster and Antrel Rolle are north of 30, while Jacquian Williams, Stevie Brown, Mark Herzlich and Prince Amukamara are all 25 or under.
An NFL football player's "prime" is around 26, maybe 27 or 28. The only key player on this defense in that age range is Kenny Phillips, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 24 hours. The 26-year-old Phillips rejected a recent offer from the Giants, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, and he is likely to test the open market.
Some Giants fans are frustrated by this, wondering why the team would use even a dollar that could have gone to Phillips in order to sign the aging Jenkins. But the reality is that the team has probably placed a value on Phillips and won't budge regardless of deals being made elsewhere.
And from a needs standpoint, they had a hole to fill up front and Jenkins made a lot of sense. Phillips isn't easy to replace, but with Brown coming off a breakout season and Rolle and Will Hill also on the roster, he's certainly easier to replace.
Whatever happens with Phillips, the Giants have to make an effort this spring to add some of those 20-somethings to this defense, especially up front. The Jenkins deal was a good one, but it only served as a reminder that this D is lacking players in their prime.