The draft has taken place, the free agency frenzy has dissipated, the proverbial dust has settled. The NFL offseason is no longer the time when coaches, players, and GMs can exhale but rather when the tweaks are made to the haves and the leaps are made by the have-nots.
After coming together for an epic run through the 2007 postseason that culminated in the Super Bowl XLII Championship, 2008 saw the New York Giants get off to a blazing 11-1 start before the season unexpectedly derailed.
Possessing one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, General Manager Jerry Reese and Head Coach Tom Coughlin know that shots at the title are rare, and they are prepared to make another run at it in 2009.
Let’s take a look at the additions, the subtractions, and how they may shape the fortune of this year’s squad.
Steve Spagnuolo, Defensive Coordinator
Spagnuolo’s scheme came together in the last two seasons and was a major determining factor in the team’s success, particularly creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. As a "hot" coordinator for the last two years, it was no shock to see him leave for a head job and rebuild in St. Louis.
Plaxico Burress, WR
Call him a buffoon, say he ruined the season, tell him good riddance…the fact remains that the Giants needed Plaxico down the stretch and their offense suffered as a result of him being injured, and ultimately, suspended.
His ability to convert big plays with QB Eli Manning was sorely missed and saw the offense’s scoring average drop from 29 points through the first 11 games to 18 points over the last six.
His release was the most significant event of the offseason and finding a replacement is the Giants’ No. 1 priority.
Amani Toomer, WR
A 14-year veteran of the team and a class act, his presence and professionalism will be an influence that cannot be easily duplicated. His 48 catches provided solid production but the Giants decided that they will be able to insert a younger, cheaper option at the wide-out position.
James Butler, S
Butler gained valuable experience in his five years with Big Blue and moved on in free agency to help Spagnuolo strengthen his defense in St. Louis. Butler’s aggressive play resulted in 68 tackles and three interceptions so it will be up to some of the younger players to step into his role.
Derrick Ward, RB
Ward filled in perfectly in the three games that starter Brandon Jacobs missed and was regularly a part of an excellent one-two punch when both running backs were active. A 1,000-yard rusher who led the team with a 5.6 yard-per-carry average in 2008, Ward will be missed.
KEY ADDITIONS (FREE AGENCY)
Chris Canty, DE
As old the adage goes, you can never have enough defensive linemen. After losing Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to an injury in 2008, the burden fell on the likes of Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Fred Robbins to put pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
They also experienced a late season swoon so the addition of Canty provides them with excellent depth and an experienced player who may be entering his prime years.
Michael Boley, LB
Boley is an excellent addition to the linebacking corps which is likely the weakest unit on a very strong roster.
His quickness allows him to make some plays from sideline to sideline and his skills in pass coverage were badly needed so expect him to lock up on a lot of opposing tight ends on passing downs.
KEY ADDITIONS (DRAFT)
Hakeem Nicks, WR
The North Carolina product addresses the spot vacated by Plaxico Burress’ departure. Even though Nicks may not have explosive speed, he possesses tremendous hands and overall athleticism which will make him an immediate option for Manning opposite Steve Smith.
The caveat is that Smith is really a No. 2 option, so asking a rookie to come in and claim the No. 1 spot on a potential championship team is asking way too much.
Clint Sintim, LB
Adding a linebacker early in the draft illustrates the Giants' concern with overall depth and talent at the position and addresses the need immediately. Sintim will be adjusting to a new system but, with his excellent size, he can take on would-be blockers in space.
Ramses Barden, WR
At 6’ 6”, 229 lbs, it’s safe to say he has rare size for a wideout. The jury is out on how well he will match up with elite talent but he should make an impact this season even if only in a limited role.
Travis Beckum, TE
Despite having some injury problems at Wisconsin, Beckum showed a lot of ability as a pass-catching tight end, which adds another weapon in addition to starter Kevin Boss.
Andre Brown, RB
A solid talent, Brown steps right into the fray with Ahmad Bradshaw to attempt to fill the hole that Derrick Ward left.
For an offense that averaged five yards-per-carry in 2008, you can expect a heavy dose of the ground game with Brandon Jacobs, while Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie Andre Brown pick up the extra carries.
Also, expect the TEs to be an integral part of the passing offense this season, with Kevin Boss seeing more of Eli’s throws sent his way and rookie Travis Beckum in the mix.
Those two factors will allow wide receivers like Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith to function better as a unit until some of the younger players, including Nicks, develop.
Defensively, 28-year coaching veteran Bill Sheridan steps into a coordinator’s role for the first time. Much of the personnel will be the same but the additions of Canty, Boley, and the likely insertion of Kenny Phillips and/or Michael Johnson into starting safety roles, will require some reps for everyone to feel completely comfortable.
Expectations are high and the Giants have the components for a truly great team this season, so to let one deficiency at wide receiver derail them again would be the height of frustration.
Jerry Reese has purchased the groceries—it’s time for Coughlin and company to cook the gourmet meal.