Factors such as performance, age, increased expectations and a re-dedication to football all figure to converge for Tuck next season, which also happens to be a contract year.
This offseason, the veteran defensive end has insisted that he's in the right state of mind ahead of arguably the most important season of his NFL career.
According to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, Tuck "feels more alive in a football sense" now than he has in previous years.
Football is a draining sport sometimes and being in New York City and trying to do as much as I do off the football field it kind of drains you a little bit. You start to look at things for granted, maybe I did...My focus is football, I’m trying my best to have it family and football, that’s it.
A refocusing from Tuck has been needed.
An NFL All-Pro in 2010, Tuck battled a number of injuries in 2011 before returning in the postseason and helping the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI. Despite tallying just five sacks in 11 regular-season games, Tuck emerged from the postseason with several important sacks, including two of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
However, his regression continued in 2012.
Tuck started 14 games but registered just four sacks—his lowest output since his second NFL season in 2006. He also failed to register a forced fumble for the first time since '06.
Overall, Tuck has recorded just nine sacks and one forced fumble over the last two seasons. He had 11.5 and six over 16 starts in 2010.
Heading into his ninth NFL season, Tuck needs to return to that form for the Giants to make it back to the Super Bowl.
New York has long relied on its multiple pressure packages to create havoc on defense, but next season figures to test the Giants' celebrated pass rush. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora bolted New York for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, while Jason Pierre-Paul underwent offseason back surgery that could threaten a portion of his regular season.
Mathias Kiwanuka returns, and draft pick Damontre Moore figures to bring high upside as an edge rusher. However, Tuck will be expected to start and produce as a leading man in the Giants' pass rush, especially early on if Pierre-Paul has to miss time.
Another four-sack season simply won't cut it for New York.
Not only does Tuck need a strong season to keep the Giants defense afloat, but also to ensure he's playing in New York past 2013.
For the first time in his NFL career, Tuck is entering a contract season. The Giants have made it clear that the franchise is comfortable letting its veteran defensive end play out his current deal.
Tuck's five-year, $30 million deal signed in 2008 is set to expire following the 2013 season, and for a 30-year-old defensive end on a two-year decline, Tuck needs to prove to the Giants that he's worth keeping around long term. Another down season might force New York—especially with contracts eventually needed for receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz—to look elsewhere.
If Tuck's regression continues, the Giants could very easily roll with Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka, Moore and another draft pick at defensive end in 2014. Tuck would be the lone man out in that scenario, and it's unclear what his price tag would be in next spring's free agency.
Umenyiora received a two-year deal from Atlanta this past spring, but he'll need to hit several incentives to make the full $8.5 million. He also has a longer track record of production from the defensive end position than his former Giants teammate.
It's very possible that Tuck would be forced into taking a one-year, mid-level deal next year if his slide continues in 2013.
While he has long-term monetary incentive to show up in 2013, Tuck should also have incentive in the short-term.
According to Rotoworld, Tuck will make $4.5 million in base salary next season. However, he can also make another $3 million in incentives based on Pro Bowl and sack benchmarks.
One could only assume that Tuck's re-focus on and off the field this offseason stems partly from both incentives.
How many sacks will Justin Tuck have in 2013?
He likely has just one last shot at another multi-year contract, and a $3 million bonus waiting at the end of a big season should be all the motivation he needs to step up to the challenge in 2013.
It appears, at least this offseason, that Tuck is doing and saying all the right things ahead of an important season of crossroads.
Tuck insists that you won't "see him out as much," which may mean less Subway commercials and more focus on football.
He says his contract and any negotiations won't put extra pressure on him, which may mean less complaining about the situation and more production on the field.
Overall, a healthy, right-of-mind Tuck should be expected to show up in a big way next season. He needs a strong season to ensure his next contract, and the Giants need the extra production with a shaky situation at defensive end.