Or, rather, who he wouldn't be throwing to.
New York's star duo of wide receivers, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, were both absent from the drills this week, suddenly leaving Manning with a dearth of familiar faces surrounding him.
On Thursday, the Giants made sure Eli will have at least one familiar face the next time the team convenes for OTAs. According to a press release by the team, wide receiver Ramses Barden officially re-signed with the club earlier in the day.
The full details of the contract were not released publicly. However, Mike Garafolo of USA Today is reporting the deal is for one year and the veteran's minimum:
Oh and no surprise here, it's a one-year deal at the minimum for Ramses Barden and the Giants.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 23, 2013
The move had been expected to come for about the past 24 hours. It was reported earlier this week that Barden would arrive at Giants facilities on Thursday to undergo a physical, with the expectation of signing a new deal if all went well. He will immediately be eligible to join the team's offseason workouts, which will take place sparingly over the next few weeks.
Barden, a third-round pick by the Giants in 2009, spent each of his first four seasons in East Rutherford.
Though Barden was quoted by NJ.com saying it was "probably best" for him to move on in February, it seems the harsh realities of NFL free agency changed his tune. Unable to land long-term deal this offseason, the 27-year-old Barden seemed more than happy to be back in the team's press release announcing the move:
I’m happy to be back. This is where I wanted to be and now I’m here. I was out there listening to the calls, getting back into the rhythm of the cadence, enjoying the camaraderie and absorbing everything. I remember everything; I’ve had four years to soak it all up. I’m happy to be back on the field. I feel great. I expect the best.
Barden may be happy to land a new NFL contract, but the Giants adding a player who didn't want to be there three months ago seems curious on the surface.
Then again, it doesn't take much time to figure out New York's motivations. By signing Barden to a minimum contract, the Giants are about as beholden to Barden as someone driving around a Rent-A-Car in an unfamiliar city. They can pay him for the days they use him, beat the hell out of him in the process and then ship him back off to the free-agent factory once they're done.
There is literally no risk.
What's more, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter, the uncertainty of when—or if—Cruz or Nicks will show up also created some urgency to get the deal done:
With some uncertainty surrounding Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, Giants re-signed WR Ramses Barden.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 23, 2013
Both Giants receivers are looking for new, long-term contracts and it's unclear when—or if—either guy will show up this offseason.
Cruz, a Pro Bowler last season, was a restricted free agent this winter and did not receive a tender after the Giants placed a first-round value on prying him away. The answer to why Cruz didn't receive a tender from another team is one of those semi-collusionary things about the NFL I guess we're just supposed to ignore.
But Cruz is now stuck negotiating with the Giants for a long-term deal or simply playing out the 2013 season for $2.879 million. Because this is the NFL, where players usually dive on the money where they can, we know where this is headed. It's just taking a while to get there.
Nicks is a more curious case. He's in the last season of his five-year rookie contract, and there seemed to be some confusion as to why he wasn't at organized team activities this week. There had been reports that Nicks was holding out due to the contract dispute, but his agent quickly refuted those assertions to Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole on Thursday.
Still, it's become clear that the Giants want their top stars back in the fold. Manning spoke to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, this week and said Nicks and Cruz need to get to camp soon.
"You've still got to work on your timing," Manning said. "You’ve still got to work on the basics and everybody needs it. I need the basics. How many times have I thrown a hitch in my life? Or a curl route? I’ve still got to do it. I’ve still got to get those things and work them."
It would be easy, then, to draw the conclusion that the Giants signed Barden to send a message to their two stars.
Let's just end that mindless speculation now. Mr. Minimum will have no bearing on Nicks' or Cruz's contract situations. Both wideouts are too ingrained in the fabric of New York's offense to even be slightly threatened by Barden.
Barden, for lack of better term, is a warm body. His entire career contributions in four NFL seasons are 29 catches for 394 yards without a touchdown. He's best known to fantasy football players as that guy who blew up in Week 3 last season—nine catches for 138 yards—and was pretty much never heard from again.
While Barden is an athletic, big body at 6'6", four years is enough time to safely speculate superstardom isn't forthcoming. He's a very nice player and a committed worker who can help teach new players like Louis Murphy the offensive philosophy while the others are out getting their money.
He can be thrown in Nicks' role in organized team activities, working as a facsimile the way he did in Week 3 last season. To draw any other conclusions from this signing is beyond reaching; it's Gumbying.
Nicks and Cruz will show up to camp whenever the Giants choose to pay them. Barden's role (or lack thereof) won't speed up or slow down the process for a second.