The New York Giants teased quite a few fans during their recent four-game winning streak, but a deflating last-second loss to the Dallas Cowboys all but confirmed that the Giants will be watching the playoffs from home for the fourth time in five years.
The deficit Big Blue faces is simply too large, and it's running out of time. What's more, this is a team that clearly will have a lot of work to do throughout the offseason in order to avoid the same fate next year. Let's get off to a five-week head start by putting together a checklist for the Giants to follow.
How much will they have to spend?
Our friends at OvertheCap.com have crunched the numbers in order to determine that the Giants should enter the 2014 offseason with at least $16 million to spend. But that number could grow quite a bit. B/R Giants correspondent Patricia Traina explains:
Specifically, there is approximately $11.5 million of potential cap savings that can be recognized if the 2014 contract years of tight end Brandon Myers, guard Chris Snee and cornerback Corey Webster are voided.
If that happens, the Giants' Top 51 commitment will shrink to approximately $94.874 million, which, if we use the current $123 million cap figure as a basis, would give the Giants roughly $28.125 million to spend.
Of course, they'll also have decisions to make regarding 2014 free agents such as Hakeem Nicks, Linval Joseph, Andre Brown, Justin Tuck, Stevie Brown, Keith Rivers, Jon Beason, Terrell Thomas, Spencer Paysinger, Ryan Mundy, David Diehl, Mark Herzlich, Mike Patterson, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Boothe and Dan Connor. Re-signing a large chunk of those guys would eat into their cap space quite a bit.
Regardless, the Giants will enter the 2014 offseason with a lot more to spend than they did last year.
Which players should they let go?
Let's start with the three names Traina lists. Myers is a poor blocker; the Giants can do better. Webster has struggled with injuries and simply hasn't been effective when on the field the last two years. Snee is over the hill. It's time to move on from all three of those guys.
Forget about Nicks. He's injury prone and you drafted Rueben Randle for a reason. He'll likely be overpaid somewhere else. They should wave goodbye to both him and Diehl, who is OIE (old, injured and ineffective). Every other impending free agent would be relatively cheap, so none are must-cuts.
Finally, it's about time to end the Mathias Kiwanuka era. The guy hasn't been a reliable pass-rusher for quite some time and has done more harm than good. He took two back-breaking penalties against Dallas, which might have been the final straw. They can save nearly $2 million by releasing him, so that's gotta be the move.
As far as the coaching staff goes, Tom Coughlin will captain this ship until the day he decides he's had enough. There have been no signs that Coughlin, who at 67 is the league's oldest head coach, plans on doing that in the immediate future. I'm certain he'll be back for at least one more season.
But the coordinators are a whole different story. Coughlin becomes quite committed to his guys, but at some point you have to wonder if Kevin Gilbride has done more harm than good. Despite possessing a relatively strong core, this offense has been sloppy for the better part of two seasons now. Gilbride hasn't been the most consistent play-caller and is sometimes a little too vanilla. It's time for the G-Men to move on.
So, in summary...
|Key players/coaches the Giants should cut ties with|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||25||Randle is there and he's become unreliable.|
|TE Brandon Myers||28||Not a good enough all-around player.|
|CB Corey Webster||31||Hasn't been effective since 2011.|
|G Chris Snee||31||Declining. And can he stay healthy?|
|OL David Diehl||33||Hasn't been good for several years.|
|DE Mathias Kiwanuka||30||Let Damontre Moore take his snaps.|
|OC Kevin Gilbride||N/A||It's become stagnant on offense.|
Three names not significant enough to make the chart above but whom I believe they'll also part ways with: linebackers Mark Herzlich, Keith Rivers and Dan Connor.
Which players should they keep?
Joseph has to be a priority. The 25-year-old can flat-out play and should only become a better all-around defensive tackle. He's been one of the most consistently effective players on this team the last two years and could be a hot name on the free-agent market. Losing him would hurt.
Beason and Thomas should also return. The Beason trade has worked like a charm, so unless his play really drops off in the next few weeks he's probably earned a new deal with Big Blue. Thomas is also a successful reclamation project, and will likely earn a short new deal to stick around. Both veterans have become valuable members of this defense.
And on offense, Andre Brown has probably done enough the last few weeks to earn a new deal, especially considering that David Wilson remains a mystery and the free-agent market is dull at that position.
Getting back to the coaching staff, Perry Fewell has done enough to keep his defensive coordinator job. Jason Pierre-Paul hasn't been himself, that linebacking corps is laughably thin and the secondary is still subpar. And yet that New York defense has been holding it down in impressive fashion each of the last five weeks. It's far from perfect, but it's hard to pin that on Fewell. The pass rush has picked it up and the numbers are in its favor.
|Key players/coaches the Giants should keep|
|DT Linval Joseph||25||Great all-around player with Pro Bowl potential.|
|LB Jon Beason||28||Successful reclamation project No. 1.|
|CB Terrell Thomas||28||Successful reclamation project No. 2.|
|RB Andre Brown||26||Should compete for starting job.|
|HC Tom Coughlin||N/A||He'll decide when he wants to walk away.|
|DC Perry Fewell||N/A||He's earned another season the last few weeks.|
I would also keep McBride and Mike Patterson, both of whom have been mildly pleasant surprises on D, but those aren't make-or-break moves. Same applies to Boothe on offense.
Which players have five weeks to audition?
One player we haven't touched on is Tuck, which is strange when you consider that many of us had written him off prior to the season. The 31-year-old still has only 2.5 sacks, but he's been a better pass-rusher than that number would seem to indicate and has been strong in run defense. If he can keep producing over the next five weeks, the Giants will have a tough decision to make. I can guarantee that he'll receive interest on the open market.
I suppose Fewell could still lose his grip on that defensive coordinator job with some ugly outings down the stretch, but things seem fairly cut and dried everywhere else.
Which players should they sign?
Even if they re-sign Tuck, Joseph, Beason, Thomas, both Browns, McBride and Patterson, I'd imagine the Giants would have about $10-15 million to sign free agents. This is not a franchise that has typically splurged anyway, but we've still got some suggestions.
Prince Amukamara might be good enough to be the top cover man, but imagine how much better off they'd be with Alterraun Verner, Brent Grimes or Aqib Talib starting opposite Amukamara, with Terrell Thomas and McBride providing depth? The corner market looks like it could be real strong, so that might be the best spot to invest.
Interior offensive lineman
With Diehl and Snee done and Boothe slated to become a free agent, they'll need help at guard. Center David Baas has been injury prone, too. They might want to address this spot in the draft, but with 2013 top pick Justin Pugh needing help and Manning getting older, a veteran would be preferred.
Kansas City's Jon Asamoah has been the sixth-best right guard in the game this year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so he'd be the top prize. Matt Slauson and Travelle Wharton have also been very good on the left side.
Yes, I'm suggesting that the Giants use their fifth different starting tight end in five years. We still don't know how good Adrien Robinson is and Myers has been a disappointment, leaving the Giants in need of a new veteran at that position.
They could bring Jake Ballard back, or they could take a chance on Jermichael Finley, Fred Davis or Dennis Pitta, all of whom have injury and/or character concerns.
If Brandon Spikes hits the market, he'll be the top name. But Wesley Woodyard would be a nice addition, too. Both would be upgrades. A linebacking corps with Beason, Spikes and Jacquian Williams would actually be pretty solid.
Which players should they draft?
I'd keep pushing for pass-rushers. They still don't know if Damontre Moore is the real deal, but this team knows more than anyone that you can't have too many good players who can rush the quarterback. Pierre-Paul needs more support, and they may lose/let go of Tuck and/or Kiwanuka, but there are never very many quality pass-rushers on the open market. That's why the draft has to continue to be their well.
In addition to that, I'd be thinking about the secondary. They'll be in decent shape, especially if they bring back Thomas, McBride and Mundy, but Rolle will turn 31 next season and Cooper Taylor remains a mystery.