On the surface, it seems like a strange week to discuss the New York Giants’ upcoming offseason.
After an 0-6 start, Big Blue has reeled off four straight wins and is preparing for their biggest game of the season—a matchup at home against the hated Dallas Cowboys.
A win means New York will be tied with Dallas for second place in the NFC East and only a game behind the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Their season would officially be off life support, and they would have a real opportunity to capture the division title.
A loss, however, would be disastrous and is the reason this article is not premature.
The Giants would fall a full two games behind both the Cowboys and Eagles.
In addition, New York would lose the division tiebreaker to Dallas due to being swept or Philadelphia, because of a worse division record (this is the second tiebreaker after head-to-head, which factors in against the Eagles since they split their two games with them).
New York is essentially one loss away from being three games back of both teams with only five games left in the season. Their suddenly revived playoff hopes would quickly be shattered.
Therefore, the Giants offseason may become a hot topic in the Big Apple sooner than you think.
Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let’s flash forward to 2014 and what will be the pressing issues for Big Blue as they prepare for next season.
In short, New York must prioritize addressing four positions above anything else. Two reside on offense and two on defense.
Luckily for them, the answers to half of these needs are already on the team, which is where we begin.
Re-Sign Jon Beason
The Giants figure to have a decent amount of money to use in free agency in the offseason.
Based on the current figures from OvertheCap.com, they should have about $15 million to spend. According to B/R Giants correspondent Patricia Traina, they could free up significantly more money by voiding a few hefty contracts.
Beason is one player that the Giants must use some of that loot on.
Other unrestricted free agents on the team, like Hakeem Nicks and Justin Tuck, will draw more attention due to their tenure and success with Big Blue. However, the Giants have depth and playmakers at both wide receiver and defensive end.
They do not have a middle linebacker on the roster, though, that approaches the ability and leadership of Beason.
The 28-year-old has 36 tackles and one interception in five starts with New York since coming over via a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October. His impact, however, goes beyond these individual statistics.
Check out the chart below to see the impact that Beason has had on the Giants run defense since his arrival.
|Time Period||Yards Per Game Allowed||Yards Per Carry Allowed|
|1st 5 Games w/o Beason||126 ypg||3.9 ypc|
|Last 5 Games w/ Beason||70 ypg||3.3 ypc|
The second set of numbers is even more impressive when you consider that the Giants have faced Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Eddie Lacy in four of their last five games. All of these running backs are in the top eight in the NFL in total rushing yards and rushing yards per game.
Beason has also quickly established himself as a leader on the defense.
Best of all, he wants to be in New York, as he clearly states in the below excerpt, courtesy of Dave Hutchinson of The Star Ledger:
“I don’t plan on going anywhere, ever. Ever,” Beason said today. “I was talking to (special assistant for player development/assistant coach) Jessie Armstead. I was, ‘Man, when I’m done (playing), I want a job like you.
“Whatever it is you do, you’re still wearing the uniform. Thus far, the city has been real cool. It’s a great group of guys. They’ve welcomed me like I was a draft pick here. I’m happy. I want to be contributing.”
Given Beason’s love of his new home and recent injury history, New York will likely only have to use a fraction of their available dollars to lock up the seven-year pro.
It is a low-risk, high-reward move New York must make to secure the best linebacker the Giants have had since Antonio Pierce.
Re-Sign Andre Brown
Brown’s situation is similar to Beason’s.
He did not start the season as an integral part of the Giants, but has quickly become indispensable at a position that lacks another viable option.
Almost everything about Brown suggests that locking him up to a multi-year contract, at several million dollars per year, is a no-brainer.
He will only be 27 years old come December, has limited mileage with 123 career carries and has never fumbled in the NFL. The five-year veteran is also a polished runner with excellent vision and power.
He is even a decent pass-blocker, as witnessed by his 1.2 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required) in that category last season and 0.5 rating so far this year.
The only reason to hesitate committing to him as a featured back for the next two or three seasons is his injury history. He tore his left Achilles in his rookie year, broke his left leg last November and then fractured the same leg in the last game of the preseason this August.
Even with this red flag, the Giants should take the risk by inking him to a multi-year deal, because there is not another running back close to Brown’s skill level on the roster—especially with David Wilson’s career suddenly in jeopardy.
An alternative to signing Brown is pursuing Ben Tate in free agency.
This is an option Gary Myers of the New York Daily News approved back in October before Brown’s return from his latest injury two games ago.
Signing Tate, however, will likely cost the Giants more money since he is nearly two years younger than Brown, has a better track record and less of an injury history. He is also a fumbler, with seven total and six lost in 373 career attempts.
Address the Right Side of the Offensive Line
Whichever running back the Giants settle on for next season, they will need a better offensive line to run behind.
New York has struggled to consistently pass- and run-block all season, which is a major reason why Big Blue’s offense has not been very productive.
New York is averaging only 77 rushing yards per game on 3.2 yards per carry. Both of these figures rank in the bottom five of the league.
In terms of protecting Eli Manning, the offensive line has not been much better either. The Giants have the third worst Pass Blocking Efficiency rating (PBE) in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
What should the Giants do with Justin Pugh in 2014?
Unfortunately, New York does not have a ton of flexibility to make changes.
Left tackle Will Beatty, right tackle Justin Pugh and center David Baas are all under contract for next season. The injured Baas is an obvious target to get cut, but his $8.2 million cap hit makes that option much less attractive.
As for left guard, Kevin Boothe will be an unrestricted free agent, but he is serviceable and probably will only cost the Giants the veteran minimum. If he walks, they can give 25-year-old James Brewer a shot.
The one position the Giants can make a change is right guard, which is currently being held down by David Diehl.
The 11-year veteran is a free agent after the season. However, he does not figure to be re-signed, considering he will be 34 next September and took a pay cut just to stay on the team in 2013.
The man he replaced, Chris Snee, also appears to be in his last season with the team.
To fill the right guard spot, New York has two options.
The first is to go the free agency route. Two good fits, both from a talent and youth standpoint, are John Jerry of the Miami Dolphins and Jon Asamoah of the Kansas City Chiefs. Jerry will only be 28 at the start of next season, while Asamoah turns 26 in July.
The alternative would be to move Pugh to right guard and bring in a new right tackle.
The rookie is probably a better fit as a guard. His short arms and slender frame put him at a disadvantage to handle speed and bull-rushing defensive ends as a tackle.
If the Giants go this route, either the Kansas City Chiefs’ Branden Albert or the St. Louis Rams’ Roger Saffold should be pursued.
Both players have more experience as left tackles, but Saffold has played a lot of right tackle this season and the 29-year-old Albert is probably better-suited at the less demanding position as he advances in age.
Acquire a Starting-Caliber Cornerback in Free Agency
The Giants pass defense has improved statistically this year compared to their 2012 performance, as the chart below demonstrates.
|Year||Yards Per Game Allowed||Yards Per Attempt Allowed||20+ Yard Plays Allowed Per Game|
|2013||238 ypg (15th NFL)||6.5 ypa (5th NFL)||3.0|
|2012||254 ypg (28th NFL)||8.1 ypa (31st NFL)||3.75|
Despite these improvements, the Giants are still susceptible to a good air attack.
As a case in point, Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien threw for 339 yards against Big Blue on Sunday and completed five passes of over 20 yards, including two that surpassed 40 yards. Tolzien also had three interceptions, but when he was not throwing the ball to the Giants, completing passes against them proved to be easy.
New York’s pass defense will be put to the test over the final six weeks of the season.
They will face offenses led by Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III (twice), Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.
What we will likely learn come the end of December is that the Giants need a quality cornerback to start opposite Prince Amukamara.
The third-year player is having his best and healthiest season as pro. He has started all 10 games, accumulated 55 tackles, seven pass defenses, two forced fumbles and one interception. He also sports a solid 2.3 PFF rating.
Trumaine McBride has been the other starter of late, filling in for the injured Aaron Ross, who is out for the season, and Corey Webster, hampered most of the year by groin and ankle issues. McBride has played well, allowing completions on only 47.2 percent of passes thrown in his direction, none of which have been for a touchdown.
However, McBride, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, is not a long-term answer.
He turns 29 next September, has limited NFL experience and is a poor matchup for physical wide receivers due to his 5’9”, 185-pound frame.
In terms of other options, they include fellow free agents Ross, Webster and Terrell Thomas.
The best option of the three is Thomas, which is saying something considering that the 28-year-old has torn his ACL three times and looks a step slow after missing the last two seasons.
Finally, we have Jayron Hosley, who has barely played this season due to a hamstring injury and has mostly been a disappointment in his two years as a Giant.
With a bunch of question marks surrounding Amukamara, the Giants should look to secure a quality cornerback in free agency.
The Giants will have plenty of options to choose from, since the free agent cornerback market is deep in 2014.
In the expensive aisle are the Tennessee Titans’ Alterraun Verner and the Denver Broncos’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both guys should command big dollars due to their youth and 2013 performance to-date (ESPN Insider, subscription required).
In the risky section is Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots.
Lastly, in the savvy veteran section there is 30-year-old Brent Grimes of the Miami Dolphins and 29-year-old Brandon Browner of the Seattle Seahawks.
Browner is especially intriguing, with his 6’4”, 221-pound frame a great weapon against bigger receivers. He is, however, currently on the shelf with a groin injury that will likely keep him sidelined until the playoffs.