Ever since he was taken in the first round of the 2006 draft, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka has been a selfless player willing to play whatever position is asked of him for the benefit of the team.
So when it became official that this year he would play exclusively at defensive end, his native position, Kiwanuka was happy and hoping to dominate at the position this season.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Kiwanuka has posted negative grades in nine games this season, fur of which have seen him struggle against both the pass and the run.
In addition, he’s been struggling in his last two games, which have seen him earn his worst grades of the season from Pro Football Focus.
It’s not known if Kiwanuka is playing with any sort of injury that’s hindered his play this season, but he no longer has a burst off the edge in the passing game and has been reduced to more of a containing role against the run instead of being on the attack.
Circling back to his last two games, in which Pro Football Focus graded him a -5.1 and -3.7 overall, Kiwanuka played in 64 of the 68 snaps against Dallas and all 72 snaps against Washington, the increased reps no doubt a result of the shoulder injury that has limited Jason Pierre-Paul.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell defended Kiwanuka when a reporter asked about the lack of sacks and pressures that Kiwanuka has been able to generate, especially over the last two games, which include one sack and seven pressures.
“He’s doing a hell of a job in playing the run game. The word ‘sack’ is a way for us to knock a guy when they don’t get on the board, but he might be playing and doing a hell of a job like Justin Tuck is doing, in the run game.
“Kiwi finished the game for us against the Raiders with a sack-caused fumble and so Tuck was able to come and do that last week. I think they’re going to complement each other and you’ll see Kiwi come back and have a strong game, if not this game, the next game.”
While we love Fewell’s optimism, a bigger picture to consider is that Kiwanuka, who accepted a contract restructuring this past offseason, has a cap number of $7.05 million next season, according to Overthecap.com.
That number includes a $4.375 million base salary, which would seem to be high for a player whose production has clearly dropped off.
With Justin Tuck making a strong case for another contract (though not at an exorbitant salary), Kiwanuka’s play could force the Giants into making a difficult decision regarding his contract, of which he has two years remaining.
If New York does opt to part ways with Kiwanuka, the Giants would take a hefty $5.25 million cap hit next year. If Kiwanuka is designated as a post-June 1 cap move, the Giants would receive a $2.625 million cap credit after June 1.
Then again, maybe Kiwanuka finishes the season strong, to where that decision doesn’t have to be made.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.