Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill the New York Giants' Biggest Needs
With the New York Giants having officially missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the past five years, the roster is expected to undergo a significant overhaul this coming offseason.
For starters, general manager Jerry Reese will have to make decisions on approximately 27 free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.
Some of the notable names on the list include running back Andre Brown, linebacker Jon Beason, corners Terrell Thomas and Trumaine McBride, defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Although the 2014 salary cap won’t be announced until early next year, OvertheCap.com projects that the Giants currently have approximately $108.189 million already committed to 2014’s salary cap.
Based on OTC’s estimates, the Giants should have an estimated $16.583 million in cap space with which to work—and that doesn’t include any upcoming contract terminations or restructurings that might be in the works.
Why is all this important to know? Because as the Giants prepare a plan for how they are going to rebuild their underachieving roster, the moves they make in free agency, which begins on March 11, 2014, could potentially affect how they plan to draft.
Here’s an early look at the Giants' five most pressing needs, and some prospective veteran free agents and draft candidates who might be a good fit to fill them.
One of the biggest disappointments for the Giants this season has been the play of their offensive line. Granted that injuries had much to do with the constant reshuffling of the group, but the depth, especially at tackle, is a concern moving forward.
The versatile David Diehl isn’t a guarantee to be back next season, though the Giants might decide he has value as a veteran reserve and look to extend him for one more year.
Even if he does return, the Giants are still in need of some additional talent to shore up the critical offensive tackle spot. Currently, the players under contract who can play offensive tackle include Will Beatty, Justin Pugh and James Brewer. All three should be somewhere in the starting lineup next season.
Figure that Beatty, who with four years remaining on his contract extension signed last offseason, will get a chance to redeem himself from this year’s inconsistent showing.
Brewer’s best position seems to be at left guard, so he could end up solidifying his hold on that spot going into next season, though he’s not a lock at this point.
Pugh, who has done well at right tackle, has the versatility to play anywhere along the offensive line and thus is the wild card who could be moved inside if the Giants wanted to bring in a young prospect such as 6’6”, 332-pound junior-eligible Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, a college left tackle who has declared for the NFL draft.
Richardson has been part of a Vols offensive line that, according to Nooga.com, allowed less than one sack per game over the past two seasons and whose running game generated 2,261 yards.
A projected first-round draft pick by NFLDraftScout.com, who also has Richardson ranked as the third-best tackle in the upcoming draft, analyst Rob Rang described Richardson as “a road-grader in the ground game.”
That’s exactly the type of player the Giants could use to help boost a rushing game that last averaged over 100 yards rushing per game in 2012 (116.4).
When the Giants signed 6’3”, 256-pound Brandon Myers to a four-year contract worth $14.25 million that was structured to include three voidable seasons, it was a curious move at the time, and not just because New York was pinched for salary cap space.
In retrospect, given how Myers struggled in the Giants' system, it turned out to be a smart move. In 13 games this season, Myers has 423 yards on 38 receptions and four touchdowns.
If the Giants decide to void Myers’ contract, they would only be on the hook for the prorated portion of Myers’ signing bonus, which, per OvertheCap.com would be $1.125 million.
Given that the Giants will have 6’4”, 264-pound Adrien Robinson and 6’6”, 269-pound Larry Donnell under contract, they might want to add another bigger body to the mix.
How nice would it be if that missing piece was 6’6”, 275-pound Jake Ballard, a guy who just happens to be familiar with the offense the team runs and who has shown that he can be productive in the Giants’ passing game?
The 25-year-old Ballard, who played in 14 games for the Giants in 2011, finished with 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions. However, he suffered an ACL tear in Super Bowl XLVI that required microfracture surgery in early 2012.
With him looking at spending the 2012 season on injured reserve, and the Giants needing a roster spot for defensive tackle Rocky Bernard at the time, New York attempted to sneak Ballard onto the injured reserve list by waiving him in June 2012.
Ironically, Ballard never managed to get on the field for the Patriots, who waived Ballard on Sept. 1 of this year. While he was out of football, he continued to work diligently on rehab his knee, reaching a point where he was able to begin contributing again.
He was signed to a one-year contract by the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 4 and has appeared in five games for them, one of which was a start.
If the Giants can add Ballard back to the rotation—and a lot will depend on his knee—they would have some incredible size at the position that could lead to several mismatches next year.
Moreover, Ballard is still young enough to where if he stays healthy, the trio of him, Robinson and Donnell could solidify the position for years to come.
The last time the Giants used a draft pick on a center was, according to their 2013 media guide, in 2003, when they selected Wayne Lucier with the second of their three seventh-round picks that year.
Since then, the Giants have preferred to take the free-agency route to fill the position, a strategy that has yielded mixed results.
Shaun O’Hara, who anchored the line from 2004 to 2010, obviously worked out for the Giants when he came over from Cleveland.
The same can’t be said for David Baas, who played the position for one year with the San Francisco 49ers before signing with the Giants as an unrestricted free agent in 2011.
Although the Giants did win a Super Bowl with Baas at center, the problem with him has been his inability to stay on the field.
This past year, he underwent multiple surgeries to fix various parts of his body, the most recent of which was on his knee. Given the work he’s had done to fix various ailments—and it’s not known if any of the surgeries addressed the neck problem that cost his three games earlier in the season—there is legitimate concern about whether he might be able to pass a physical down the line.
While the 32-year-old Baas is under contract for two more seasons, he’s due a base salary of $4.75 million, a hefty figure for a guy who has missed 18 games during his three years with New York.
If the Giants’ goal is to get younger along the offensive line, they might want to consider parting with Baas after this season, re-sign Kevin Boothe—who in four starts at center thus far this season has graded out well, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—and draft a prospect in the second day to groom for the future.
An interesting prospect projected by NFLDraftScout.com to be a late first/early second-round pick is center Travis Swanson, a 6’4”, 318-pound senior at Arkansas.
Per NFLDraftScout.com’s evaluation, Swanson possesses good athleticism to where he could effectively pull in the running game, something that the Giants haven’t been able to do much of successfully the past two seasons.
He’s also a natural leader, something that the Giants have lacked on the offensive line ever since they lost guard Chris Snee earlier in the season.
While Swanson, like most future NFL rookies probably needs a year in the weight room to bring his strength up to the NFL caliber, his experience and durability—he started 50 games at center for the Razorbacks, which encompass the entirety of his playing career—make him too intriguing to ignore if he’s on the board.
A team can never have enough cornerbacks, and with the way 2014 is shaping up for the Giants, they might need to bring in more than just one to bolster their depth.
Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are unlikely to return next year; meanwhile, Terrell Thomas, who has thrived playing the slot cornerback, and Trumaine McBride, will be unrestricted free agents as well, though both will probably be affordable options.
Thomas, who has overcome the odds to become just the second player in the NFL known to have made it back following three ACL surgeries to the same knee, will almost certainly be offered a contract to return. However, it probably won’t be the big payday that he was hoping for in 2010 before he suffered the first of two consecutive ACL injuries.
McBride is a 5’9”, 185-pound veteran who, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) currently has a 1.4 overall rating, which includes a 1.6 rating in coverage currently tops the Giants cornerbacks this season.
While he has played well, it should be remembered that in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, Thomas, and not McBride, was given the start given the Bears’ tall receivers.
Lastly, there is Jayron Hosley, who at 178 pounds is an inch taller than McBride, but whose first two seasons have been disrupted by injuries. Given his size and the size of many of the receivers the Giants face, Hosley probably is best suited for the nickel role.
If the Giants are looking for a young veteran with nice size to step into the starting lineup opposite of Prince Amukamara, there is 6’2”, 182-pound Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is currently finishing up his sixth season as a pro.
Rodgers-Cromartie, who started his career with Arizona before jumping to the Eagles and then most recently to Denver, has 98 pass breakups and 18 career interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns.
He also has 245 career tackles (221 solo) and is currently the seventh-best cornerback, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Rodgers-Cromartie is currently playing out a two-year deal he signed in March 2013 which, per Rotoworld, has a clause in his contract that would automatically void he second year of the deal (2014) if he is on the Broncos roster five days after Super Bowl XLVIII.
Like cornerbacks, a team can never have too many defensive ends, especially a team like the Giants that relies so heavily on its pass rush.
Next year, the Giants should be set with a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul, who vowed that he’ll be unstoppable next season, and Damontre Moore, who the Giants hope will make significant progress in his second year both as a football player and in his ability to stay out of the trainer’s room.
Thirty-year-old Justin Tuck is in the final year of his contract. He’s been enjoying a comeback season that he attributed to training “completely this offseason” and to being healthy.
He told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger that he has no plans to retire after this season and that he hopes to finish out his career with the Giants.
“I definitely will continue to play," Tuck said. "My body feels great. I definitely have a huge passion for the game, and we’ll see where everything stacks up at the end of the year."
On the other end, Mathias Kiwanuka is having one of his worst seasons, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), who has given him a minus-25.6 overall grade for the season, thanks to what they consider 10 poor showings by the former first-round draft pick in 2006.
Kiwanuka, who has two years remaining on his contract after this season, is due a $4.375 million base salary in 2014, per OvertheCap.com.
That’s a steep salary for a player who has seen his production drop despite being relatively healthy and who doesn’t project to be a starter.
Assuming, then, that the Giants are able to re-sign Tuck and part with Kiwanuka, they’ll need at least one new defensive end.
If they’re looking to spend, an intriguing possibility might be Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks. The brother of former Giants and current Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, Michael Bennett is currently the sixth-best defensive end per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The 6’4”, 274-pound Bennett, who earned a $3 million base salary and $1.8 million in roster bonuses this year, will be an unrestricted free agent in 2014. He’s posted 118 total tackles in his six-year career and 21.5 sacks.
If the Giants’ plan is to use Moore, who was a hybrid defensive end/linebacker in college, in that same role moving forward, teaming a player like Bennett opposite of Pierre-Paul and rotating in Tuck could significantly upgrade that position.