The loss was expected—and the organization doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do anything about it.
Bennett, who snagged 55 of quarterback Eli Manning’s 321 completed tosses in 2012 (17 percent), was a major offensive contributor for the Giants last year. He had 626 receiving yards and five touchdowns, both of which were career highs.
Many expected general manager Jerry Reese and the rest of the Giants front office to scour free agency for a suitable replacement for Bennett, but that hasn’t been the case. The Giants' acquisitions thus far have been cheap, cap-friendly deals to fill immediate needs.
But is tight end not an immediate need?
According to Giants co-owner John Mara, it is not. Mara believes in avoiding “salary cap jail” and proposed several in-house solutions before free agency began to patch up the team’s now-vacant tight end position, according to Tom Rock of Newsday:
Hopefully we will (have Bennett back) but if not we've got a couple of young kids we're excited about in Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell. We'll work with them. And Bear Pascoe will be back and there's always the draft so there are ways to replace him. Martellus is a very good player and we'd like to have him back. But you can't have everybody back.
Mara admits that the ideal situation involved Bennett returning for 2013, but he realizes that the money is tightest at this time of the year, and the team can’t afford to write everyone the paycheck they deserve.
It’s puzzling, however, that Mara didn't mention possibility of finding a cheaper option on the open market.
Also, notice that Travis Beckum, an unrestricted free agent, was not mentioned in Mara’s comment, presumably sealing the coffin on his career as a New York Giant.
Is the team’s excitement for Robinson and Donnell enough to allow Giants fans to rest easy?
Well, Robinson was likened to Jason Pierre-Paul by Reese when he was drafted last year. The raw, athletic fourth-rounder spent all of 2012 riding the bench, hopefully soaking in some valuable information from the sidelines. There should be hope for him; after all, look what Pierre-Paul did during his second year in the league.
It might be a bit presumptuous to expect Robinson to follow suit, but there’s also Donnell, who is a bit of a wild card. Donnell, a former Grambling State Tiger, spent the 2012 season on the practice squad after a relatively quiet training camp.
Both Robinson and Donnell entered the NFL as unpolished products, but their size and athleticism were enough to land them jobs with the Giants last season. Robinson is 6'4" and 264 pounds, and Donnell is 6'6" and 269 pounds.
Still, size and athleticism alone shouldn’t be enough to feel safe moving forward.
While the Giants know very little about the on-field production they’ll receive from Robinson and Donnell, they know exactly what to expect from Pascoe, the third tight end Mara mentioned and the only other one currently under contract. Unfortunately, Pascoe is primarily a blocker and probably won’t become Manning’s next big passing target, as he's only caught 26 passes in his four seasons in New York.
But Mara also hinted at the NFL draft. Maybe the team has its eye on a particular prospect.
If the Giants are willing to spend a first-round pick on a tight end, there’s a good chance that both Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz will be available when the Giants pick at No. 19. Both players are extremely talented pass-catchers that could shore up the Giants' tight end woes almost immediately.
Given the talent that is likely to be available at positions of higher value, though, a first-round tight end selection may be a bit of a long shot for New York. The Giants could find a mid- to late-round diamond in the rough, like San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar or Colorado’s Nick Kasa. Both players have a ton of upside.
Whatever the Giants' plan for tight end may be, they’re taking a significant risk by relying on so many unproven options. Throughout his career, Manning has shown an affinity for targeting his tight end, and New York would be foolish to field an inexperienced player at such a burdened position.
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