Here is the final part of my three-part series examining some of the New York Giants' key upcoming free-agent decisions. (If you missed the first two installments, you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)
This installment covers tight end Bear Pascoe, receivers Hakeem Nicks and Louis Murphy, linebacker Keith Rivers, defensive tackle Mike Patterson, safety Ryan Mundy, and corners Terrell Thomas and Trumaine McBride.
If you're just tuning in, here is a recap of the Giants’ pending free agents, compiled from Spotrac.
Be sure to vote, because sometime in January, I’m hoping to write a follow-up piece based on your feedback.
Tight End Bear Pascoe (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Bear Pascoe?
The Giants coaching staff loves a player who brings versatility to the table. That is something that Pascoe, the fifth-year tight end, has delivered.
Originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, Pascoe latched on with the Giants practice squad after the 49ers waived him that first year.
Pascoe was finally promoted to the Giants’ 53-man roster for good in Week 2 of the 2010 season, after then-starter Kevin Boss suffered a concussion.
In addition to playing tight end, Pascoe has been the backup fullback, a job he first took on in 2010 when then-starter Madison Hedgecock missed a good chunk of the season with a hamstring strain.
Pascoe continued to alternate between tight end and fullback in 2011 when Henry Hynoski had to miss five games with a shoulder injury. He also filled the role in 2013 after Hynoski suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers and before John Conner, signed to replace Hynoski, came up to speed on the Giants' playbook.
As a fullback, Pascoe’s height—he’s listed as 6’5”—makes him a little too tall to consistently play at the pad level he needs to be at in order to be effective.
With Conner signed through 2014 and the possibility of Hynoski, a restricted free agent, returning, Pascoe probably won’t have to worry about playing fullback next season if he should return to the Giants.
As a receiver, Pascoe has caught 12 of the 18 passes thrown his way for 81 yards, most of those passes coming from out of the backfield.
Although the Giants have a pair of youngsters on the roster, Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson, Pascoe’s familiarity with the system and his contributions in the running game might make him a worthwhile investment for another season or two.
An additional benefit of bringing Pascoe back is that he could provide some stability at the position until one of the two kids finally steps up and shows that he can be a complete tight end.
Receiver Hakeem Nicks (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Hakeem Nicks?
It was certainly encouraging to hear that Nicks at least has an open mind about possibly re-signing with the Giants.
Nicks told reporters on Friday that his future with the team is not just about money, as Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger reported:
Nicks did not rule out providing the team with a hometown discount, reiterating that money is not his biggest concern at this time. He also wouldn't openly rule out the franchise tag, which would bind the receiver and Giants together in a one-year deal worth more than $10 million.
With all due respect to Nicks, George Young, the Giants late general manager, always used to say, “It’s about the money. And when they say it’s not about the money, then it is definitely about the money.”
Nicks will turn 26 next month, so he’s probably very interested in receiving at least one more multiyear contract worth significant coin.
Before anyone gets too excited about that contract coming from the Giants, let’s review some facts.
First, Nicks has yet to play in a full 16-game season, including this year, when he developed an abdominal issue that kept him out of practice—and out of the Giants’ game against Dallas, the one that, for all intents and purposes, was the fatal blow to the Giants' comeback aspirations.
Second, Nicks’ communication with the team this year has been spotty, most notably his decision to skip the spring OTAs, which was within his right given the voluntary nature of the program.
Still, when Nicks finally showed up for the mandatory minicamp, he told Paul Schwartz of The New York Post, “I could have done a better job of reaching out.”
All of those earlier curious decisions made by Nicks might be water under the bridge and maybe he truly does want to return to the Giants as he claimed.
“I mean, they know that I want to stay,” he said after the Giants held their final practice of the 2013 season. “It’s just a matter of how things are going to work out. We’ll know that soon.”
One thing that would be surprising to see is Nicks getting slapped with the franchise tag, which, for a receiver, would cost more than $10 million.
The Giants have a lot of soon-to-be free agents they'll need to either re-sign or replace, and they can't really afford to devote more than half of their estimated $17. 54 million salary-cap space on one player.
One thing we do know is that Nicks and his agent, Peter Schaffer, plan to open a dialogue with the Giants shortly after the season ends, something that Nicks confirmed during his informal press conference with reporters by his locker.
“We’re going to talk next week from my understanding,” he said.
Where those talks end up—or even if they do take place—remains to be seen. Certainly if Nicks is viewed by the Giants as a No. 1 receiver, he’s probably going to want a better deal than the five-year, $43 million extension Victor Cruz signed this year.
Is Nicks worth the same or more than Cruz? Consider the following:
- Nicks’ touchdown receptions have steadily declined from 2011—he currently has yet to score a touchdown this season after catching just three in 2012.
- Nicks has not posted a 1,000-yard season since 2011.
- Nicks led the Giants in dropped passes this season with seven, per Pro Football Focus.
- He was also the intended target on seven of Eli Manning's interceptions this season, one behind Rueben Randle; though to be fair, not all of the interceptions were the receiver's fault.
Those facts don't exactly scream "big-money contract" to this writer, but as with anything, it comes down to supply and demand.
Receiver Louis Murphy (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Louis Murphy?
When Murphy signed last offseason, part of his appeal was that he was a receiver who could stretch the field.
“I think he’s going to add another dimension to our offense,” said general manager Jerry Reese in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Giants.com) shortly after the Murphy transaction was announced in mid-March.
“This guy is a knife. This guy can take the top off your defense. He's an interesting guy. He gives us a different dimension in our offense. ... This guy gives you a deep threat that we haven’t had.”
For a while, Murphy lived up to the hype, building a rapport with quarterback Eli Manning during the spring OTAs, showing an ability to stretch the field.
When the season started, Murphy disappeared. Through 15 games, he is averaging just 4.4 snaps on offense per game, per Pro Football Focus.
So has Murphy simply been a victim of the numbers game? Giants receivers coach Kevin M. Gilbride weighed in on the question during the bye week, via the team's website:
I would say so. That sounds bad, but basically we try to get the best player for a particular role on the field, the guy that we feel can take advantage of the defense, whether it’s schematically or physically.
At certain points in the game, we might keep someone in even if Louis was the guy that we would like to get in. Maybe it’s just a rhythm type thing where we leave the other receiver on the field.
There’s nothing that he’s done negative to the point where we say, ‘No, we can’t play him at all.’ He really has been more of a victim of a numbers game type of thing.
Reading between the lines, it sounds like Murphy didn't do enough in practice to earn those game-day snaps.
A look at Murphy’s numbers from when he did get on the field would appear to support this conclusion. He’s caught five of the eight passes thrown his way for 29 yards, including four yards after the catch.
He also has one touchdown reception; has been the target of two of Eli Manning’s interceptions this season, including that big red-zone mix-up against Green Bay for which he took the blame; and has one fumble.
If that’s not bad enough, Jerrel Jernigan appears to have passed Murphy on the team’s depth chart, not surprising considering that Jernigan has come up big in these past two games with 13 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown.
All things considered, it would be surprising if Murphy returns next season.
Linebacker Keith Rivers (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Keith Rivers?
For the first time in his career, Rivers made it through an entire 16-game season without popping up on the team’s injury report.
He can probably thank his decision to adjust his offseason training program for that.
This season, the 27-year-old Rivers, whom the Giants acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals in April 2012, has accumulated 40 tackles (23 solo), one sack and one pass breakup.
Against the run, Pro Football Focus has credited him with 11 stops, the lowest total among the Giants linebackers.
Somewhere along the line, Rivers was reduced to a two-down linebacker. Last week against the Detroit Lions, he took no snaps on defense because of the scheme.
Altogether, he’s played in just 404 snaps on defense this year, an average of 26.9 snaps per game.
While he has had his moments in which he reminded people of why he was the ninth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, unless the Giants can get him back for another one-year veteran minimum deal, they might want to consider going in another, less expensive direction.
Defensive Tackle Mike Patterson (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Mike Patterson?
That he was able to get back on the field following that procedure and his release from the Eagles speaks volumes about his resolve.
In his first season with the Giants, Patterson, a run-stopper, consistently earned high run grades from Pro Football Focus in his first eight games.
However, his overall performance has declined in the second half of the season. He’s only had one game in that period in which he earned a positive grade, that coming against Washington in Week 13 when he graded out as a 1.2 overall.
|Avg. Overall Rating|
Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
In his past three games, he’s earned negative grades playing run defense, the worst of which took place in Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks.
As for Patterson’s stats line, he has 18 tackles and 14 stops this season in 389 snaps.
While that production certainly won’t get anyone too excited, there is definitely some value to re-signing Patterson to provide veteran depth at the defensive tackle rotation if he is willing to accept another one-year minimum qualifying offer.
Safety Ryan Mundy (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Ryan Mundy?
When Mundy signed with the Giants after spending four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York probably envisioned him as a spot player.
That plan changed when incumbent Stevie Brown suffered a season-ending ACL injury and Mundy was forced to jump head-first into the starting lineup.
As a starter for the first half of the season, Mundy, who is fourth on the Giants defense with 70 tackles, earned positive grades in the run defense from Pro Football Focus in all but one of his first seven games—he did not take any defensive snaps in Week 8 against the Eagles.
In the second half of the season, Mundy’s starting job went to Will Hill, who has provided an extra jolt of energy and playmaking ability to the defensive secondary.
However, Mundy has still had a role in the Giants defense as part of the three-safety set that the Giants deploy against pass-heavy teams.
If the Giants opt to tender Brown, chances are they won’t bring Mundy back next season, as they’ll probably hope that Cooper Taylor can stay healthy and continue in his development.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Terrell Thomas?
Thomas probably won’t be in discussions for the "Comeback Player of the Year" award, which is a bit of a shame considering all he had to go through in terms of rehabbing from two consecutive ACL surgeries.
However, there have been times this season when Thomas has looked to be lacking a burst in his step, and awkward in his backpedal.
After posting two poor overall grades in a row per Pro Football Focus in Weeks 14 (San Diego, minus-4.1) and 15 (Seattle, minus-1.5), Thomas only received one snap on defense against the Detroit Lions last week.
When considering if Thomas should be brought back, it’s important to remember that this was his first season playing football since 2010, so it’s entirely possible that this season was used as a testing ground for him to regain his confidence in his football skills.
To his credit, Thomas has several things that he wants to work on, according to Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. One of those things Thomas mentioned is his backpedaling:
That’s my craft. It’s truly something I couldn't work on as much. My main focus was always rehabbing and making sure my quad was strong enough to endure a training camp and a season. I think I did a good job of that. Now, it’s time to get back to getting ready to be a starter and get back to my old ways.
Thomas, who also told Hutchinson that he’ll probably take a full two weeks off to rest his knee after the season ends, believes that he did “pretty well” in his first season back in two years.
With his eye set on competing for a starting job next season, if Thomas can continue to strengthen his knee and regain his previous skill level by the spring, there should be no reason why the Giants won’t bring him back to compete in training camp.
Cornerback Trumaine McBride (Unrestricted)
What should the Giants do with Trumaine McBride?
McBride has been solid for the Giants since taking over the starting job for the injured Corey Webster. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s been targeted 61 times, allowing 30 passes to be completed (49.2 percent) for 349 yards and two touchdowns for an overall 77.8 NFL rating.
With the exception of the number of touchdowns surrendered, McBride’s stats are actually better than those posted by Prince Amukamara.
So if McBride is playing as well as Amukamara, he should be a lock to return as a starter, right?
Not necessarily. The Giants will probably want to upgrade that position with a taller, more athletic player considering that the NFC East is filled with lots of 6'0"-plus receivers who tower over the 5’9” McBride.
If the Giants pursue a taller and younger option in the draft, McBride can still have value on this team in terms of providing depth and by holding the seat warm until a younger prospect is ready for full-time duty.