Victor Cruz is one of several key offseason priorities for the Giants
The New York Giants roster is rounding into shape just weeks into free agency. While several holes have been filled by general manager Jerry Reese, there are a few key priorities that still must be addressed.
Improving a defense that ranked 31st in 2012 should be the primary focus for New York this spring.
Free agency, April's NFL draft and OTAs will assist the Giants in sorting out how the defense will look in 2013. As the draft nears, pressure will begin to mount for New York's front office. While the offense is close to being solidified, the defense carries cracks on each level.
The big names that fortified Big Blue's defense in years past are starting to become question marks.
Justin Tuck's declining numbers, Corey Webster's struggles in coverage and an absence of athleticism at linebacker are just the tip of the iceberg for the team just one year removed from a Super Bowl victory.
New York should see the remaining months of the offseason as an opportunity to bring youth into the fold. A renewed energy and focus on defense could help reestablish the bravado Giants fans are accustomed to seeing on Sundays. Here's a look at the top remaining offseason priorities for the New York Giants.
Depending on the status of his knee, "Tank" Carradine could be selected in either of the first two rounds in April
Historically the Giants have had tremendous success drafting pass-rushers. A Mount Rushmore of sack-masters consisting of Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul in the past two decades alone speaks to their drafting ability in this field.
New York's track record drafting players who can get to the quarterback makes it difficult to imagine they will address this need via free agency.
The parting of ways between Osi Umenyiora and the Giants will give a young player some very large shoes to fill in 2013. Umenyiora's 75 career sacks rank fourth on the Giants' all-time list.
With Justin Tuck's reps likely to decrease next season, the focus for filling this need will be to find a disciplined defensive end.
The aggressive style of New York's defensive ends hurt the defense in 2012. As teams continue to use the read-option and attack the edge, Perry Fewell's defense must be able to keep containment.
A physically imposing pass-rusher with solid fundamentals in maintaining gaps would help revamp this defensive line next season. Although Florida State's Cornellius "Tank" Carradine has struggled to stay healthy, he would be a steal for New York in the second round.
Alec Ogletree has a knack for making plays
The upgrade Alec Ogletree presents over Dan Connor and Mark Herzlich makes selecting him in April's draft a no-brainer. An absence of athleticism on the second level for New York was a glaring weakness last season.
Fans wearing blue at Radio City Music Hall will consider it a blessing if the best available player in this year's draft comes from a position of need.
The 129.1 yards per game surrendered on the ground by New York is a huge concern for head coach Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. A player of Alec Ogletree's caliber would go a long way in shoring up a leaky New York run defense.
While there are questions surrounding Ogletree following a DUI in February, the tape on this Georgia product is undeniably impressive.
Ogletree stands out because of his ability to diagnose plays and quickly get from sideline-to-sideline. He would be penciled in as a starter for the Giants before Roger Goodell can finish uttering the words, "With the 19th pick..."
If New York can come away with the duo of Alec Ogletree and Cornellius "Tank" Carradine from the first two rounds of the draft, the defense's outlook will be much brighter in 2013 and beyond.
James Brewer could be pressed into duty at right tackle in 2013
In an ideal world the Giants would be able to use their first-round pick on a right tackle this April. When taking the team's priorities into account, however, there are far more pressing issues.
Right tackle is likely the only position on offense without a clearcut starter determined for New York.
There are several veteran options New York can explore. Similar to last offseason, the team can bring in a player like Sean Locklear, who played well when called upon in 2012. If Locklear recovers from the knee injury he suffered in Washington, there is a good possibility he will be retained. David Diehl once was an extremely versatile lineman for the Giants. He can still play several positions along the line but is best suited as a backup at this point in his career.
Despite being an unproven prospect, James Brewer should emerge from OTAs as the Giants' starting right tackle in 2013.
Unlike Kevin Boothe and Will Beatty, who came into their starting roles after playing a decent amount early in their careers, James Brewer is a player with little experience. Despite not seeing much action thus far, Brewer will benefit from the presence of veteran guard Chris Snee next to him.
On the surface, this move appears to be risky for New York. Plugging in a young offensive lineman at a tackle position is typically a gamble. The experience and talent the Giants will have to the left of James Brewer makes this a risk worth taking.
He may be priced out of New York's range, but Nick Barnett will be a solid pickup for any team this spring
While the Giants would love to build a linebacking corps for the future, it's not entirely possible to do so in one offseason. The departure of Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley could mean some new faces will be starting at linebacker.
An ideal solution to the Giants' linebacking woes would be to put Keith Rivers and Jacquan Williams outside of Alec Ogletree. Unfortunately, a history of injury concerns for both players means the Giants must hedge their bets and sign a veteran free agent.
Two-down linebackers who can make plays against the run present the best fit for New York in free agency.
The Giants have used three safety looks in the past and figure to reach back into that well in 2013. That limits the burden a veteran player faces at outside linebacker.
A potentially cost-friendly move Jerry Reese can explore would be to sign veteran Nick Barnett.
Barnett recorded 112 tackles and two sacks for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. The Giants could desperately use a solid open-field tackler who can produce consistently each week from the linebacker position.
Low-risk, high-reward signings are typical for teams with salary cap issues. Nick Barnett may not be a name that gets people buzzing with anticipation. There are plenty of reasons to believe that may change following a one-year deal with Big Blue.
The licks Victor Cruz took in 2012 could encourage him to take a long-term deal now
The long-standing negotiations between the Giants and Victor Cruz are finally picking up steam. That doesn't necessarily mean the two sides are close to a deal.
According to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, the Giants have offered wide receiver Victor Cruz a deal worth more than $7 million per year, with "a sizable amount of guaranteed money."
The first-round tender assigned to Cruz means he will be paid approximately $2.88 million in 2013 if a new deal is not reached.
It remains unlikely a team will give Cruz a long-term contract along with a first-round pick to New York. This gives the Giants leverage heading into the 2013 season.
Like every player in the NFL, Victor Cruz is susceptible to getting hurt. A diminutive receiver at 6'0'' tall, Cruz will be inclined to take the security of a long-term contract. The alternative would be to play the 2013 season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
For every huge Mike Wallace contract in free agency, there are countless players who had their value diminish after declining a contract extension. Victor Cruz is aware of this fact. It will be interesting to see how big of a risk the Giants star is willing to take with his future.