As the New York Giants front office evaluates its player roster these next few weeks, it’s never too early to start piecing together a preliminary wish list of free-agent targets for this offseason.
Of course, before anyone can gauge how competitive the Giants can be in free agency, two things must first take place.
First, the team must decide which players they want back and which they do not, including those players already under contract.
There will be higher-priced veterans who are jettisoned from the roster because their skill levels no longer match their salary. This process could create needs that weren't previously visible outside of the organization.
The second step is to figure out how much cap space is available to spend in free agency.
That might seem like a lot of space, but it also needs to be remembered that Giants will have roughly 30 players whose contracts are expiring.
Here’s a look at five projected unrestricted free agents who might make a nice addition to the Giants’ lineup next season if they do hit the market.
It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the Giants and receiver Hakeem Nicks will reach agreement on a multi-year contract. Regardless, it would behoove the Giants to still explore other options.
The Eagles' former first-round pick in 2009 has accumulated 258 receptions for 3,453 yards (13.4 avg.) and 26 touchdowns in 59 games with Philadelphia.
Maclin can be a nice target with run-after-the-catch ability. He also has experience returning kicks and punts on special teams—two areas in which the Giants desperately need upgrades.
Maclin returned eight kickoffs for 146 yards this past season. Four of his kickoff returns were for less than 20 yards. As a punt returner, he had 13 returns for 76 yards.
Maclin is still young enough to have a productive NFL career and could probably be acquired for a reasonable contract if his knee checks out.
Let’s be blunt: The Brandon Myers experiment was a failure.
No, it’s not that Myers is a bad player. Rather, he was not a fit for the Giants offense.
So what can the Giants do at the tight end spot? How about turning to old friend Jake Ballard, currently with the Arizona Cardinals?
The 6’6”, 275-pound Ballard played in 14 games for the Giants in 2011, finishing with 604 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions.
Presumably Ballard's knee, which required microfracture surgery in early 2012 after he suffered an ACL tear in Super Bowl XLVI, is fully healed. He played in eight games for Arizona, catching seven passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
What Ballard can bring to the table, besides experience, is a willingness to go over the middle, fight off defenders and slip into the seam for those passes that were all too often missing from the Giants offense this year.
Sure, Ballard’s practice reps would probably have to be managed, but reacquiring Ballard seems to be a no-brainer assuming he hits the open market.
As the Giants head into their offseason, they have big question marks along their offensive line, which will be a top priority to fix this offseason, as team co-owner John Mara noted, per Dave Hutchinson of The Star Ledger.
Beginning at the center position, it would not be surprising if the Giants have some serious concerns about the future of starter David Baas.
Ever since signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, Baas had constantly dealt with one injury after another. Last offseason, he underwent multiple surgeries to his shoulder, hip and elbow.
Those surgeries apparently weren’t enough, however. He developed knee and neck issues that caused him to miss more time last summer.
While his neck injury eventually quieted down, he then suffered a season-ending knee injury that required further surgery.
Given Baas' injury history and the fact that he is due a $4.75 million base salary in 2014, who could blame the Giants if they are re-thinking that investment?
While re-signing Kevin Boothe is an option, an intriguing possibility, assuming he hits the open market, is Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack.
Mack is a two-time Pro Bowl player who has never missed a game since being selected in the first round (21st overall) of the 2009 draft.
The 6’4”, 311-pound Mack is only 28 years old and is just now entering his prime. However, Mack has laid down roots in Cleveland, per the Associated Press (h/t Yahoo! Sports Canada), so might be more willing to give the Browns a hometown discount if they want him back.
Another player who is a long shot to hit the free-agency market, but would be worth the money if he did is Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis.
At just 25 years old, the 5’11”, 203-pound Davis tied Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu as the third-best cornerback this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
How good was Davis this season? He allowed just 50.6 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed for 560 yards. He did allow eight touchdowns to go with only one interception, but also managed to break up 11 passes.
Davis, who has 13 career interceptions, was a first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2009 before being traded to the Colts in August of 2012 in exchange for a second-round draft pick.
While Trumaine McBride has certainly earned the right to compete in Giants training camp this summer, his lack of size is always going to be a negative, especially against opposing receivers who tower over him.
Okay, so Jon Beason is one of the Giants’ unrestricted free agents and really isn't supposed to be on this list. But hey, sometimes you have to break outside the parameters of the assignment, especially when this particular free-agent reacquisition is a no-brainer.
Just how much of an impact did Beason have? After starting the season ranked 15th in the league, the Giants' overall defense fell to rank no higher than 20th, but no lower than 26th, the rest of the way.
Where Beason really made an impact was against the run. For the month of November, the Giants' run defense ranked no lower than 11th and no higher than seventh.
Although the month of December wasn’t quite as kind to the Giants’ run defense, it still finished with a respectable 15th-place ranking.