Deciding Fate of New York Giants' Key 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents
The New York Giants have 24 unrestricted free agents to consider re-signing heading into the offseason, but, in reality, there are only five who were key players for Big Blue in 2013. Whether the Giants should retain these players will be evaluated in the following slideshow. Also, the final slide will cover some other notable UFAs who could have a role on this team in 2014.
The decision to re-sign key unrestricted free agents cannot be based solely on performance. Many contributing factors will determine whether they're a part of the Giants' plan next season, not the least of which is the money they will command.
Based on figures provided by OvertheCap.com and early projections of the 2014 NFL salary cap, the Giants are currently about $17 million under the projected cap. This figure will likely increase after New York inevitably cuts some bloated salaries and restructures the contracts of other players.
While the Giants should have a good amount of money to spend this offseason, a healthy portion of it will have to go toward signing other teams’ free agents as well as inking their 2014 draft picks. Therefore, managing the dollars allotted to securing their own key UFAs will be vital to maximize the ability to sign new players.
With the complexity of the situation facing the Giants' front office, let’s dive in, starting with arguably Big Blue’s 2013 defensive MVP.
Justin Tuck, DE
While a case can certainly be made for Antrel Rolle, it’s hard to argue with the claim that Justin Tuck was the Giants' defensive MVP this season. You can even go so far as to say he was the team MVP, considering how bad the offense performed in 2013.
The nine-year veteran defensive end had 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception while playing in all 16 games. Along with being a playmaker, he also was consistently excellent stopping the run, as his 11.7 Pro Football Focus rating (subscription required) in this area proves.
While Tuck’s 2013 performance strongly suggests the Giants should re-sign him this offseason, his advancing age needs to be taken into consideration.
He will be 31 at the start of next season and struggled in 2011 and 2012 before this year’s bounce-back effort. However, if New York believes Tuck’s previous struggles were an aberration, then there is evidence to suggest he can be an impact player for several more years.
Legendary defensive ends like Reggie White and Bruce Smith were productive well into their 30s. Actually Big Blue doesn’t have to look too far to find a defensive end who showed age is just a number. Michael Strahan had 49 sacks after his 31st birthday, including nine in his final season at the age of 36.
While age is a slight negative in the argument to retain Tuck, the Giants' current situation at defensive end certainly helps his cause.
Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a second consecutive down year and could potentially have surgery again this offseason, this time on his shoulder.
Mathias Kiwanuka had a terrible return to the defensive line, after playing linebacker for the last two seasons. He only had six sacks and registered a woeful minus-28.1 PFF rating. Finally, Damontre Moore saw limited playing time in his rookie season and will likely still be in learning mode in 2014.
Verdict: Re-sign Tuck to a multiyear contract not to exceed three years.
Hakeem Nicks, WR
Unlike Tuck, Hakeem Nicks did not put forth a strong contract year.
The 25-year-old only had 56 receptions for 896 yards despite playing in 15 games. He wasn’t a reliable target either, as he caught only 57.1 percent of the 98 balls thrown his way. A good percentage for a wide receiver is north of 65 percent.
And, of course, he failed to haul in a touchdown pass, something he now hasn’t done in 18 straight games.
Given Nicks’ age and talent, it would be easier to overlook his second straight bad season if he wasn’t also lukewarm about returning. In addition, he has been a headache since last spring, when he mysteriously skipped OTAs. There was also drama around the one game he missed, the key loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 12.
The Giants wide receiver situation would still be quite strong without the five-year veteran. Victor Cruz is one of the better wideouts in the NFL, and Rueben Randle, despite some communication issues with Eli Manning, had a strong second season. He managed 611 yards receiving, mostly as a third option, and led the team with six touchdown catches.
Then there is Jerrel Jernigan, who finally emerged from a slumber that started when he was selected by Big Blue in the third round of the 2011 draft. The 24-year-old had 19 receptions, 237 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants' final three games. In addition, he tacked on 57 yards rushing and a touchdown in New York’s season-ending win over the Washington Redskins.
Verdict: Let Nicks walk.
Andre Brown, RB
Re-signing Andre Brown seemed like a no-brainer after his first three games of 2013.
The 27-year-old rushed for over 110 yards twice in that stretch, upon returning in Week 10 from a fractured leg he suffered in the Giants' final preseason game.
However, he averaged 37 yards per game on a woeful 2.6 yards per carry over his final five games. To make matters worse, Brown fumbled three times in the Giants' final four games, after not coughing it up previously in his NFL career.
Despite his late-season struggles, which certainly weren’t helped by the Giants' porous offensive line, Brown passes the eye test as a good running back. He runs with power, has good vision and usually displays superb patience in allowing running lanes to develop. Also, he was excellent in 2012, averaging 5.3 yards per carry while leading Big Blue with eight rushing touchdowns.
Like Tuck, Brown is helped by the Giants' current state at the position he plays.
David Wilson is the only quality running back presently on the roster, and he has done nothing to prove in his two seasons in the league that he is an every-down back. He is also not a sure thing from a health standpoint, given the neck injury that ended his season in October and could potentially cut short his NFL career.
The decision to retain Brown is not an easy one. His limited experience, uneven 2013 performance and injury history (he has a broken leg, fractured leg and torn Achilles all on his medical record in his five NFL seasons) all work against him.
The fact, though, that New York is in desperate need of capable running backs is hard to overlook.
Verdict: Re-sign Brown, as long as he doesn’t command more than a one-year deal.
Jon Beason, MLB
Jon Beason certainly proved in his first season with the Giants that he likes to be around the ball.
The 28-year-old middle linebacker racked up 93 tackles, second on the team to Rolle, in only 11 games played after being traded to New York from the Carolina Panthers in early October.
While Beason was not much of a playmaker, with only one interception and no sacks or forced fumbles, his exceptional tackling skills and ability to get sideline-to-sideline cannot be overlooked. It is a key ingredient necessary to be a successful "Mike" linebacker and something the Giants have been missing since Antonio Pierce was released following the 2009 season.
It appears the Giants understand Beason’s value, because they are already actively working to get him re-signed, according to a report by Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
New York, though, must heavily weigh his recent injury history when determining the amount of years and guaranteed dollars they want to commit to Beason. The seven-year veteran only played in one game in 2011 before tearing his ACL and missed all but four games the following season with knee and shoulder issues.
Verdict: Re-sign Beason but do not exceed three years or $8 million guaranteed.
Linval Joseph, DT
While it is hard to overlook a 6’4”, 323-pound man, Linval Joseph manages to fly well under the radar. The reality, though, is that Joseph is a huge piece of Big Blue’s defense, no pun intended.
His key asset is his ability to slow down the ground game. He had 59 tackles in 2013 and recorded an 8.0 PFF rating against the run. He is also dependable, having missed just one game in the last three seasons and young at only 25 years old.
Joseph is not a formidable pass-rusher, with three this season and only nine in his four-year career. However, he is certainly adequate enough in this area, especially considering a defensive tackle who consistently sacks the quarterback is a rare commodity.
Joseph is a player whom the Giants must try hard to retain. According to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, the recent re-signing of defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks by the Jacksonville Jaguars may have set the market of approximately what Joseph is worth.
Raanan believes Joseph is a slightly better, more accomplished version of Marks. Therefore, the four-year, $22 million deal, with $8 million guaranteed, Marks received is in the range of what the Giants should offer to re-up Joseph.
Verdict: Re-sign Joseph, unless he wants more than $10 million guaranteed and a contract longer than five years.
Other Notable Unrestricted Free Agents
Stevie Brown, S—He missed all of this past season with a torn ACL, but he is worth retaining as a third safety, especially if the Giants let fellow unrestricted free agent Ryan Mundy walk. Rolle and Will Hill, though, are entrenched as starters, assuming the ultra-talented Hill can better manage himself off the field.
Terrell Thomas, CB—Considering he has torn his ACL three times, Thomas had a strong 2013 campaign after missing the last two seasons. The 28-year-old played 588 snaps, mostly as a slot cornerback, and accomplished a 0.4 PFF rating.
He is worth keeping on a one-year deal.
Trumaine McBride, CB—The journeyman actually started 10 games for Big Blue and, according to Pro Football Focus, was their best cornerback with a 6.6 rating.
Like Thomas, he deserves to be retained on a one-year contract.
Brandon Myers, TE—He is a poor blocker (minus-9.1 combined PFF blocking rating) and a better fit in a West Coast offense. The Giants should let him walk.
Bear Pascoe, TE—He will probably only cost the Giants around $1 million to retain, and he is a useful player. His strength is as a run-blocker, as witnessed by his 2.4 PFF rating. New York should try to keep the 27-year-old for 2014.
Kevin Boothe, LG & C—Boothe provides much-needed flexibility, as he can play both guard and center. He should also come cheap, probably not commanding much more than the veteran’s minimum.
However, he should only be retained as a backup. He is not starting-caliber and doesn’t figure to drastically improve, considering he’ll be 31 at the start of next season.
David Diehl, RG—All signs point to Diehl retiring. If he does decide to continue playing, though, it shouldn’t be with Big Blue. His minus-26.5 PFF rating this past season proves his best days are way behind him.
Keith Rivers, OLB—Rivers played in all 16 games for the first time in his six-year NFL career, but he failed to impress. His biggest issue is that he is not a playmaker (only one sack and one pass defense) at a position that requires it.
The Giants are better off letting him walk and adding depth at outside linebacker in free agency or through the draft. Beason, Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams should be the team’s 2014 starters at linebacker.
Aaron Ross, CB—McBride and Thomas are better options to provide depth at cornerback, and Prince Amukamara as well as Jayron Hosley are both under affordable contracts in 2014.
The Giants have no use for a player in Ross who will be 32 at the start of next season and missed most of 2013 with a back injury.