General manager Jerry Reese, co-owner John Mara and Giants fans are already pondering the 2014 NFL free-agent class with New York winless through six games.
If the 0-6 New York Giants win seven of their last 10 games, they would still finish with a losing record and likely be out of the playoffs. This is precisely why it is not too early to discuss whom “Big Blue” should target in the 2014 free-agent class.
While this season may be lost, it could end up only being a one-year blip instead of the first step toward a full-blown rebuilding project. New York still has a Super Bowl MVP quarterback in Eli Manning, plenty of weapons on offense and even a few impact defensive players, like Jason Pierre-Paul, to build around.
The Giants also figure to have a decent amount of money for free agency next season. Based on the early figures from OvertheCap.com, they should have about $15 million to spend, assuming the cap is around $123 million again. According to B/R Giants correspondent Patricia Traina, they could free up significantly more money by voiding a few hefty contracts.
Here are four players the Giants would be wise to sign with their available dollars in order to address key weaknesses on both sides of the ball.
The Giants offensive line is a mess. The only starters who appear to be a lock to start next season are left tackle Will Beatty and right tackle Justin Pugh. Both guard spots and center are manned by soon-to-be unrestricted free agents, injury-prone veterans and fringe starters.
We’ll keep our focus on the right side of the line since there are at least some viable, if not inspiring, options at left guard and center. The Giants could re-sign unrestricted free agent Kevin Boothe for the former or let him walk and plug James Brewer into that spot. In terms of the latter, David Baas is under contract through 2015, and restricted free agent Jim Cordle can be re-signed for depth.
Right guard, however, looks to be wide open. Longtime incumbent Chris Snee is out for the rest of this season with a hip injury, a setback that is career-threatening. Even if he does come back in 2014, the Giants have the option to void his contract.
Assuming the Snee era ends next season, Jon Asamoah would be an excellent replacement. He is only 25 years old and has logged over 1,000 snaps in each of the last two seasons, while achieving a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rating of 15 last year and 8.9 in 2011.
So far this season, he has a 4.2 rating and has played in five of the Kansas City Chiefs’ six games (he missed Week 1 due to a calf injury).
His skill set is also conducive to excelling in the Giants’ current zone-blocking scheme. He has good footwork, strong athleticism and a high football IQ.
Making a hard push to sign Asamoah appears to be a no-brainer except for one problem. Find out what it is on the next slide.
Pugh is probably a better fit at right guard. His short arms and slender frame aren’t a great fit to handle speed and bull-rushing defensive ends as a tackle.
If New York decides to slide the rookie inside for his sophomore campaign, then Rodger Saffold should be strongly considered as his replacement at right tackle.
The 25-year-old started at left tackle for the St. Louis Rams in each of the last three seasons but was moved to the opposite side this offseason with the signing of Jake Long. Saffold, like Asamoah, has very quick feet and is an ideal fit for a zone-blocking scheme (St. Louis, however, currently runs a power-blocking scheme).
The one major problem with the four-year veteran is health. While he was an iron man in college, starting 41 straight games at one point with Indiana, he has been brittle in each of the last three seasons.
In 2011, a pectoral injury cost him seven games, and last year, a neck injury kept him out six games. This year, the ailment is a knee injury, which has limited him to only 92 total snaps.
If Saffold can play well and stay healthy the last half of this season, his appeal to Big Blue would rise dramatically. At this point, though, the injury concerns are a real thing and simply can’t be ignored, especially if his services become expensive.
David Wilson is not a feature back, and injury-prone Andre Brown can’t be relied on as his wingman.
While the Giants have found most of their success at running back through the draft—with Rodney Hampton, Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw as recent examples—Ben Tate is worth a strong look in free agency. At worst, he would split carries with Wilson, though envisioning him getting the lion’s share of the work is not hard.
The current Houston Texan is only 25 (isn’t everyone in this slideshow) and has minimal wear with a mere 291 career carries. He has made the most of these totes, however, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He is also an adequate pass-protector, as witnessed by his minus-0.9 PFF rating in this category over 619 snaps.
His 5’11”, 220-pound frame is better suited to pick up blitzing defenders than Wilson’s, which gives up about two inches and 15 pounds to Tate.
The one knock on Tate will not make Tom Coughlin, who figures to still be Big Blue’s head coach in 2014, happy—he is a fumbler. The four-year veteran has put the ball on the ground seven times in his career.
If this deficiency is fixable—or even tolerable—Tate would instantly give New York a formidable backfield.
Cornerback is the most logical position on the defense to address with a big-name free agent.
The Giants should assemble the linebacking corps through the draft and by attempting to re-sign unrestricted free agents Jon Beason and Keith Rivers as well as restricted free agent Spencer Paysinger. All three players are young and have starting-caliber talent.
As for defensive end, Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka and Damontre Moore are each under contract for next season. Justin Tuck will likely be allowed to walk in free agency, but he can be replaced in the draft.
The cornerback, position, however is Prince Amukamara and a bunch of question marks.
Terrell Thomas, Trumaine McBride and Aaron Ross are all unrestricted free agents and not very good even if they were under contract. Corey Webster is signed for next year, but the 31-year-old’s agreement is voidable. Given his age and injury-riddled 2013 season, New York would be wise to set him free as well.
That leaves Jayron Hosley, who struggled as a rookie and has played all of three snaps this season due to a hamstring injury. Even if he does reach his potential, his small stature and slender frame point to him maxing out as a slot cornerback.
Aqib Talib would be an ideal signing as a starter opposite Amukamara. He is having an excellent season, with an 8.2 PFF rating, four interceptions and a staggering 39.4 percent completion percentage against (the norm for a cornerback is somewhere in the 60-70 percent range).
He also has great height and size for his position, at 6’1”, 202 pounds, and will only be 28 years old at the start of next season.
The only knock against Talib is his reputation. He has had some off-the-field issues and was suspended four games in 2012 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He has stayed out of trouble, however, since being traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the New England Patriots last November.
All stats, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.