One of the most exciting times on the NFL’s offseason calendar is the free-agency period, which in 2014 will commence at 4 p.m. ET on March 11.
Before a team can finalize plans for pursuing their own free agents, obviously they will need to ensure that they have enough room under the salary cap.
In the New York Giants' case, the good news is that they should be in much better shape in 2014 than they were in 2013.
Based on data by Over the Cap and the projected $126.3 million cap estimate that was announced at the recent NFL meeting (h/t CBS Sports), the Giants are projected to have about $17.45 million in cap space in 2014, and they could gain as much as $14.7 million more with some additional cap-related moves.
With more than two dozen pending free agents, the Giants will have lot of work to do this winter as they look to sort through the rubble of their first losing season since 2004 and decide how to shape their 2014 roster.
Here’s a summary of the Giants’ key free agents, per data gathered from Spotrac.
Because of the size of the list, I’m including a few players each day, along with a poll for you to cast your vote as to what you think the Giants should do regarding each player. Be sure to look for additional installments covering the other players in the coming days.
Linebacker Jon Beason (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Jon Beason?
The addition of Beason to the Giants linebackers has been like a drink of cool water on a hot summer day.
The locker room has taken to Beason as if he’s been there forever, as he has quickly earned the respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches.
Second on the team in total tackles with 84, there is one noticeable area where Beason—who, per Pro Football Focus (PFF, subscription required), has recorded six negative overall grades in 11 games since being acquired in a trade with Carolina for a seventh-round draft pick (per NJ.com)—has had his struggles.
That area has been in coverage. Based on the NFL passer rating formula—in which the lower the number for a defender, the better—Beason, per PFF, has recorded a 114.0 rating that includes 41 of 51 passes thrown his way to be completed for 519 yards (12.7 per catch), 332 yards after the catch and two touchdowns.
Based on inside linebackers who have taken at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, PFF has Beason as the 37th (out of 39) ranked inside linebacker in coverage, the 32nd best overall and the 13th best against the run.
While an argument could be made that inside linebackers rarely excel at both playing the run and the pass, there are still a handful of guys this season who have earned positive grades from PFF in both categories.
As for Beason's future, he has openly expressed a desire to remain a Giant for life. Chances are very good that he and the team will be able to work out a reasonable contract that would allow the soon-to-be 29-year-old to achieve his desire.
Safety Stevie Brown (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Stevie Brown?
After being tendered at a second-round level this year, Brown ended up suffering a torn ACL in the preseason, ending any hope of him building on his franchise record-setting 2012 season.
The injury doesn’t mean that Brown no longer has any value to the team. Remember, cornerback Terrell Thomas and former wide receiver Domenik Hixon, each of whom had ACL injuries in consecutive seasons, made it back to play at a competitive level.
There should be no reason why Brown can't make it back from his ACL injury, assuming his rehab is on schedule and that his practice reps are managed, as Thomas' have been this season.
Brown, who told the New York Post that he would like to return to the Giants next season, probably won't be a starter moving forward—early projections have Antrel Rolle and Will Hill as the starting safeties, while rookie Cooper Taylor is projected to be groomed for a bigger role in 2014.
However, the Giants could structure a minimum qualifying offer ($730,000 base salary) with bonuses up to $65,000, which can include a roster bonus and a small signing bonus, to make the re-signing of Brown, who finished as the 28th-best safety last season per PFF, a low risk/high reward transaction.
Kicker Josh Brown (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Josh Brown?
One of the more curious moves made by the Giants last offseason was to not re-sign kicker Lawrence Tynes.
According to the records section in the team’s annual media guide, Tynes has the second highest career points (586) behind Pete Gogolak’s 646, the second most points in a season (145) and is tied with Gogolak for most consecutive games (61) scoring.
It seems that the goal with changing kickers was to get a bigger leg on both long field goals and on kickoffs, which is what Brown has delivered this season.
|40-49 yards||50+ yards|
|NFL Rank (overall)||On Kickoffs|
Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
It’s not known if Brown, who will be 35 years old in April, plans to continue his NFL career. The good news for him is that he’s remained relatively injury-free, so health shouldn’t be an issue.
He’s also probably done enough to warrant another short-term contract if he wishes to continue his career. Whether that offer comes from the Giants remains to be seen.
Fullback Henry Hynoski (Restricted)
What should the Giants do with Henry Hynoski?
Before losing his 2013 season to a fractured shoulder—this after working his way back from a broken leg and MCL injury—Hynoski appeared to be on his way toward establishing himself as a top-10 NFL fullback.
Per Pro Football Focus, Hynoski finished the 2012 season with an overall grade of 8.0 and a 7.2 blocking grade, which put him fifth among NFL fullbacks.
Whereas it was once probably a slam dunk that the Giants would at least tender the restricted free agent a right of first refusal offer, which last year was $1.323 million, the fact remains that he's coming back from multiple significant injuries that might cause them to go with a a more conservative strategy if they opt to retain him.
What they could do is offer a one-year qualifying contract at the veteran minimum (projected to be $645,000 in 2014) with a cap of $65,000 in bonuses that would include a roster incentive.
By taking that approach, Hynoski, if he agreed to the contract, would count against the salary cap as the equivalent of a second-year player, which would amount to $570,000 plus any bonus money he received.
Hynoski would also have a chance to compete for a spot on the 2014 roster with current fullback John Conner, whose 6.6 overall grade and 6.3 run-blocking grade are the sixth- and fourth-best marks respectively at the fullback position in the NFL per PFF's rankings.
Per Over the Cap, Conner is signed through 2014 and is scheduled to make the NFL minimum base salary of $730,000—the amount for a player with four to six years of accrued experience and the same base that the Giants could offer Hynoski as part of a one-year minimum qualifying offer.
Quarterback Curtis Painter (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Curtis Painter?
When he was originally signed to a reserve/future contract last January, many people thought that Painter was nothing more than an extra arm the Giants wanted to have for training camp.
It turned out, however, that Painter actually had a stronger preseason than long-time backup David Carr. Thus head coach Tom Coughlin made the decision to go with Painter as Eli Manning’s primary understudy.
Further complicating the picture at quarterback was that the Giants traded up to draft Ryan Nassib in the fourth round this year, the quarterback of whom general manager Jerry Reese told Jim Corbett of USA Today, “If he doesn't ever play, that would be great."
So where does this leave Painter moving forward? Manning is coming off one of his worst seasons since he was a rookie, and not just because of the 26 interceptions he’s thrown in his 15 games played.
Manning hasn't been as sharp in making his reads, and his accuracy has dipped a bit each season from 2010 (62.9 percent) to 2013 (58.6 percent).
Is it a coincidence that Manning’s two worst seasons for interceptions came when Carr, who entered the NFL in 2002, two years ahead of Manning, was not with the team (2010 and 2013)?
Some might find validity in that argument considering that Carr had twice as much NFL experience as Painter, while others will argue that the switch had nothing to do with Manning’s decline this season; but that's a debate for another day.
Getting back to the question of whether the Giants should keep Painter, head coach Tom Coughlin, who will presumably return for an 11th season, has preferred to keep two quarterbacks on his roster.
If Nassib has made significant progress in his development, the Giants will probably promote him to the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Manning next season.
Running Back Brandon Jacobs (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Brandon Jacobs?
It took a year away from the Giants for Jacobs, who was cut by the team in 2012 after failing to reach an agreement on a restructured salary, to learn that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
He signed with the San Francisco 49ers, but due to a knee injury, he rarely saw the field. At one point, Jacobs became so frustrated with how he was being handled that he openly complained of rotting away with the 49ers, a sentiment that the 49ers apparently didn't appreciate, especially when Jacobs tweeted pictures of himself from his days with the Giants.
The 49ers suspended Jacobs and later cut him. Several months later, Jacobs got his wish to return to the Giants when the team lost running back Andre Brown to a broken leg in the preseason finale.
The return of Jacobs, who signed a one-year contract on Sept. 10, provided a veteran leadership in the locker room that was sorely missing.
After taking a couple of weeks to get himself back into better game shape and to reacquaint himself with the playbook, he also provided a much-needed shot in the arm to a running game that struggled out of the gate.
Before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury earlier this month, Jacobs ran for 238 yards on 58 carries (4.1 averge) and four touchdowns. He underwent knee surgery on Dec. 11, a procedure that was described as a cartilage graft procedure to repair osteoarthritis in his left knee.
At 31 years of age, Jacobs, who has openly and repeatedly said that he has no desire to play anywhere else, could be headed to retirement after the season. He hasn’t made any formal announcements yet, as a lot will depend on how his rehab and response to the surgery goes.
Things might also depend on what happens with David Wilson, who spent most of this season on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Offensive Lineman Kevin Boothe
What should the Giants do with Kevin Boothe?
When it comes to reliability, Boothe personifies the very definition of the word. He’s started every game at left guard in 2012, with PFF giving him a 9.2 season grade after he finished the season allowing three sacks, seven hits and 21 hurries when lined up next to veterans at center and tackle.
This season, Boothe has also started every game, playing nine at left guard and six at center. His overall grade from PFF hasn’t been as favorable as it was a year ago—he’s currently earned a minus-8.0 despite allowing just three sacks, six hits and 14 hurries.
His run blocking also hasn’t been up to snuff according to PFF’s grades, which have him as a minus-10.1 in that category.
As a center, Boothe is currently ranked 47th on PFF’s list; as a guard, he’s tied for 46th. An argument could probably be made that the talent on either side of him this season hasn’t been consistent due to injuries causing a consistent reshuffling of the personnel.
The question for the Giants is, do they want to retain a veteran who, for the most part, hasn’t had any major injuries to deal with but who will turn 31 next season? Or do they want to go for the clean sweep and get younger across the line?
My guess is that they will go for the former, especially if they decide to part with David Baas and intend to drafting a younger player to groom for the future.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment in this series.