Will Hakeem Nicks be back with Big Blue in 2014?
The NFL free-agency period, which will begin almost two full months before the draft takes place, is a critical time for a professional football club to solidify its core roster for the upcoming season.
The Giants, coming off a 7-9 season, will have some tough decisions to make.
Each one of New York's 25 soon-to-be free agents is listed in this slideshow and given one of three labels: keep, walk or tag.
Those with a "keep" label have earned a new contract and should be retained for the 2014 season, while those with a "walk" label are better off testing their value on the open market. The "tag" label refers to either the franchise tag or a restricted free-agent (RFA) tender.
For the Giants to be successful in free agency, they must maximize their salary cap space, which you can read about in depth here, courtesy of Bleacher Report's Patricia Traina.
Now, let's roll through this list of impending free agents.
CB Terrell Thomas made a solid comeback in 2013.
In 2013, cornerback Terrell Thomas made an amazing recovery from a third torn ACL and microfracture surgery on his knee, which was only disclosed recently.
He settled into the Giants' nickel corner role and remained healthy for a full 16-game season. While staying on the field was impressive enough, he was also rather productive. He made 67 tackles while adding an interception and a strip sack.
Thomas showed great heart in his comeback from multiple devastating knee injuries. He proved both his durability and his effectiveness as a pass defender.
The Giants should retain him for 2014.
CB Trumaine McBride was an unexpected contributor in 2013.
Some were surprised when undersized cornerback Trumaine McBride survived training camp and made the final 53-man roster. After all, no team had even claimed him the season before.
He was initially kept on board as a reserve, but lingering injuries to Corey Webster (who is not on this list but is entering a voidable year on his contract) and Jayron Hosley forced him into action for much of the season. For the most part, McBride provided a seamless transition.
With 37 tackles and a team-high 15 passes defended, he helped keep the league's 10th-ranked pass defense intact. He closed out the season with two interceptions in New York's finale versus the Washington Redskins.
Against all odds, he has earned his keep.
CB Aaron Ross had his comeback cut short in 2013.
Cornerback Aaron Ross's 2013 homecoming was cut short when a back injury forced the 2007 first-round selection to the injured reserve.
After spending a season in Jacksonville, Ross was reinvigorated by his return to the franchise that drafted him. His return lasted just four games, however, and his impact was never truly felt—aside from a lone interception in a 38-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 3.
He had just four tackles in 2013, and his chances to stay in New York this offseason are slim to none.
DE Justin Tuck had a resurgence in 2013.
After back-to-back down years for the defensive captain, Justin Tuck had a resurgent 2013 campaign.
He had just nine sacks in the past two seasons combined, although he was a staunch run defender during that time. In 2013, however, the defensive end finally rediscovered his pass-rushing prowess.
Tuck finished the season with 11 sacks—his fourth double-digit-sack season and one shy of his career high. His 63 tackles were the most of any Giants defensive lineman in 2013; he also added two forced fumbles and an interception.
It should be a no-brainer for New York to bring back its leader on the defensive side of the ball.
DT Mike Patterson was a solid reserve in 2013.
A former Philadelphia Eagle, defensive tackle Mike Patterson added some solid depth to the interior defensive line in 2013.
He may have originally been added as a training camp body, but his impressive preseason forced former second-round pick Marvin Austin out of a job. The 300-pounder who missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing brain surgery proved that he can still make an impact in this league—possibly as a starter.
Not with the Giants, though. They are loaded with young talent at the defensive tackle position, so it's hard to see Patterson returning for the 2014 season.
DT Linval Joseph is a monster in the middle.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph is almost certain to wrap up a big-money contract this offseason.
He has been the stiffest of New York's run defenders since the departure of defensive tackle Barry Cofield following the 2010 season. Now, with an impressive resume, Joseph will have the opportunity to follow in Cofield's footsteps when free agency opens up.
Anchoring the middle of New York's defensive line, he racked up 59 tackles while adding three sacks and a forced fumble. His efforts went a long way in securing the league's third-stingiest yards per rushing attempt mark (3.8).
The Giants shouldn't break the bank to retain Joseph, but they should remain competitive with the many offers he is sure to entertain from across the league. In the end, the price just may not be right.
DT Shaun Rogers is an aging veteran.
Given a second chance following a season-ending blood clot in 2012, 34-year-old defensive tackle Shaun Rogers landed on injured reserve yet again—this time after playing in seven games.
Through those seven games, the 350-pounder was a force to be reckoned with. Statistically, he did not stand out with just nine tackles, but the mammoth interior D-lineman made it particularly difficult to run up the middle against the Giants.
His place on IR in favor of a younger, healthier Markus Kuhn may have spelled the final chapter of Rogers' NFL career. The battered 13-year veteran will not be retained for the 2014 season.
FB Henry Hynoski was injured almost all of 2013.
Fullback and restricted free agent Henry Hynoski presents a complicated situation.
A solid lead blocker for two seasons, he suffered a fractured shoulder on top of a knee surgery he underwent in the offseason, which ended his 2013 campaign after just three games. In his place, the Giants signed John Conner to a two-year deal.
Because Conner is under contract through 2014, it makes little sense to offer an original-round tender to Hynoski, as Bleacher Report's Patricia Traina points out in her salary cap piece. Instead, the more likely scenario will be a one-year, veteran-minimum contract.
If that's the case, Conner and Hynoski will have to duke it out in training camp; only one fullback will be kept on the final 53-man roster in 2014.
K Josh Brown kicked well for the Giants in 2013.
Longtime Giant Lawrence Tynes, who twice kicked New York to the Super Bowl, was a tough act to follow, but 34-year-old journeyman Josh Brown kicked just fine for the Giants in 2013.
He connected on 23 of his 26 attempts this past season. In a 15-7 victory over the Eagles in Week 8, he converted on all five of his attempts and accounted for all 15 of the Giants' points scored. Against Detroit in Week 16, he nailed a season-long shot from 52 yards out and then booted the game-winner in overtime from 45 yards out.
A leg as solid as Brown's is hard to come by, so expect No. 3 to be kicking for Big Blue again in 2014.
LB Mark Herzlich never held down a starting job.
Linebacker Mark Herzlich, another restricted free agent, is not likely to be tendered either.
Since he was signed as an unrestricted free agent, he has been given every opportunity to start in the middle of New York's defense. Since then, however, the likes of Greg Jones, Chase Blackburn, Dan Connor and, most recently, Jon Beason have forced him to the sidelines. He had 42 tackles in 2013.
Although he is a solid special teamer, Herzlich may not have what it takes to keep his NFL dream afloat with the Giants.
Instead, his professional football journey, which began by beating cancer, may need to be carried on elsewhere.
LB Jon Beason was acquired in a midseason trade.
In what was the most pivotal moment of the season, the Giants traded for linebacker Jon Beason from the Carolina Panthers after an 0-4 start.
The turnaround was not immediate, as the Giants continued to slide to 0-6, but once Beason became acclimated with the defense, the difference was noticeable. With him manning the middle linebacker spot, New York fielded an unforgiving defensive unit.
Beason finished second only to Antrel Rolle in tackles (93), despite joining the team late. His strength is stuffing the run—as evidenced by his 17-tackle performance against the Washington Redskins—but his interception against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11 displayed his ability to drop into coverage as well.
No single player is more responsible for the Giants' 7-3 turnaround from an 0-6 start.
He deserves to return for the 2014 season.
LB Spencer Paysinger is a restricted free agent.
After three seasons, the battle between weak-side linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams still has no clear front-runner.
While Williams is perceived to be the more athletic of the two, Paysinger is more consistent and has repeatedly worked his way into a starter's role. He accumulated 74 tackles in 2013 while also recording a sack. Williams, on the other hand, led all linebackers with nine passes defended.
Williams is already under contract for the 2014 season, but the Giants must also wrap up the sure thing in Paysinger.
He could end up being the only Giants RFA to be offered an original-round tender.
LB Keith Rivers is not an impact playmaker.
A former ninth overall selection, linebacker Keith Rivers just completed his second season with the Giants.
He played all 16 games, which was a concern when he first joined the team, but in three games, he failed to record a tackle. In five games, he had only one. He finished the season with 45 tackles.
His Week 10 performance versus the Oakland Raiders, when he racked up eight tackles and a sack, was an anomaly. Although he was not usually a liability, the strong-side 'backer went missing for long stretches of time.
Rivers is expendable, and the Giants should look to acquire an impact playmaker as his replacement.
C Jim Cordle was injured after landing a starting role.
Jim Cordle was the starting center for much of the first half of the season, but a knee injury cut his 2013 season short.
He has been with the Giants for three seasons, and in his first stint as a starter, he showed some promise. If he can recover from his injury properly and build upon the progress he made in 2013, he could become a better option at center than David Baas. At the very least, he is a solid backup.
Cordle is another player who has an outside chance to land an original-round tender.
OL Kevin Boothe can fill in at any position on the line.
Due to his unmatched versatility, offensive lineman Kevin Boothe is too valuable to lose.
He started the 2013 season at left guard but shifted to center at the midway point, when both David Baas and Jim Cordle were lost to injured reserve. Boothe, who spent several seasons as a reserve, has developed into a solid NFL starter.
Boothe and Justin Pugh are the most promising members of the offensive line, which is in dire need of a revamp. The Giants must work to build around these two big blockers.
No. 77 stays through 2014.
OL David Diehl has been with the Giants since 2003.
No player has been with the Giants longer than offensive lineman David Diehl, who was drafted way back in 2003.
He has fallen from his prime in recent years, though. Like Kevin Boothe, Diehl is a versatile lineman who always fills in wherever he's needed. In 2013, the team player started a large portion of the season at right guard in place of Chris Snee, who was one of many to land on injured reserve. He started at left tackle in both of the Giants' most recent Super Bowl runs.
Because of Diehl's age and waning effectiveness, his days in New York are likely numbered.
A great Giants career will probably come to an end when Diehl walks (and hopefully retires) in the spring.
QB Curtis Painter was Eli Manning's immediate backup in 2013.
In 2013, quarterback Curtis Painter assumed the uneventful role of Eli Manning's backup.
Painter, a four-year pro, appeared in just three games this past season. He threw only 16 pass attempts in relief of Manning, completing half of them for 57 yards. He somehow managed to throw two interceptions and fumble twice, despite his limited on-field opportunities.
In years past, the Giants have carried only two quarterbacks to save an extra roster spot. Moving forward, New York should count on the progression of Ryan Nassib as Manning's immediate—and sole—backup.
If that ends up being the case, there will be no need for Painter on the roster in 2014—although he could be retained for competition in training camp.
RB Andre Brown was one of the Giants' most consistent offensive players in 2013.
Although he missed the entire first half of the season with another broken leg, running back Andre Brown was one of New York's more consistent offensive players.
He eclipsed his career-high rushing total from last season, gaining 492 yards on the ground in 2013. He scored three times, and on two separate outings he surpassed 100 yards on the ground. In his first game back from injury against the Oakland Raiders in Week 10, he breathed new life into a struggling New York offense by carrying the ball 30 times for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Next season, the Giants hope to have David Wilson healthy again. With Brown and Wilson both contributing, New York can maybe once again field a devastating one-two punch at running back.
Brown will almost certainly get another shot with the Giants in 2014.
RB Peyton Hillis was part of a carousel at running back.
For a short while, running back Peyton Hillis held together a shaky ground game for the Giants.
Signed off the street, he landed in New York before the Minnesota Vikings game in Week 7. He played in a total of seven games, accumulating 247 yards on the ground and adding 96 receiving yards on the season.
He touched the ball 23 times in each of his first two games with the Giants. After that, however, New York started to get healthier in the offensive backfield, and his services were needed less and less often. He wasn't even activated in Weeks 11, 12 and 16.
Hillis is unlikely to be in New York's future plans at running back.
S Stevie Brown missed all of 2013 with a knee injury.
After tearing his ACL in the final preseason contest, safety Stevie Brown missed the entire 2013 season.
He was the breakout star of the 2012 season, earning a starting spot opposite Antrel Rolle and intercepting eight passes—tied for second-most in the league. He was expected to improve in his second season with the Giants, but his knee injury put that dream on hold.
With the emergence of Will Hill, Brown no longer has a starting job locked up if he does return.
Still, the Giants will likely award him at least a one-year, prove-it deal similar to the RFA tender he signed last offseason.
S Ryan Mundy is a team player.
Safety Ryan Mundy began the season as a significant contributor on defense, but the growth of Will Hill reduced him to a special teams ace.
In Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys, Mundy returned his only interception of the season 91 yards. A physical tackler and strong run defender, he finished the season with 77 tackles (the exact same amount as Hill) and a sack to go along with his interception in the season opener.
He could be a valuable asset in the secondary, even if he is not starting. With Antrel Rolle and Hill both under contract through 2014, there may be some competition between Mundy and Stevie Brown for a new contract with Big Blue.
However, considering Hill's run-ins with the law and failed drug tests, it would be wise for the Giants to find a way to keep both Mundy and Brown, if possible.
TE Brandon Myers was never a perfect fit.
With Eli Manning at the helm, the Giants have historically gotten solid production out of their tight ends in the passing game. General manager Jerry Reese, in a radio interview with Mike Francesa (via Big Blue View), made it very clear that current tight end Brandon Myers did not perform up to those standards "for whatever reason."
Statistically speaking, Myers' numbers weren't that far off the likes of Martellus Bennett, Jake Ballard or Kevin Boss' from years past. He finished the season with 47 receptions, which he took for 522 yards and four touchdowns. Still, that's a significant drop-off from the 79 balls he caught with the Oakland Raiders in 2012.
It's clear that the team is discontent with its current tight end situation, and the Giants will look to improve it either through free agency or the draft.
Myers almost certainly walks this spring.
TE Bear Pascoe is a physical player.
While the Giants may desire more production out of their tight ends in the passing game, Bear Pascoe is probably an exception.
Without displaying much receiving skills, he has become a mainstay as a blocking tight end for the Giants. He has been with the team since 2009, and a mere 12 receptions this past season tied his career high. He had 81 receiving yards in 2013.
He is a valuable asset to the offense because he can play fullback in a pinch, and he is like an extra offensive lineman as an in-line tight end.
The Giants should be able to set the price to retain Pascoe through 2014.
WR Hakeem Nicks did not catch a touchdown in 2013.
The Giants franchise and Hakeem Nicks have been at odds for almost a year now, dating back to his mysterious absence from organized team activities.
Nicks, who entered the season looking to make a statement, caught 56 passes in 2013, but none of them went for a touchdown. He racked up nearly 900 yards without ever crossing the goal line.
The Giants offense was pitiful in 2013, and some of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of Nicks, who is supposed to be the team's No. 1 receiving threat. Chances are he won't see things that way, and the large-handed receiver will still demand several fistfuls of cash.
Talks between Nicks and the Giants will continue up until free agency, but the gap will not narrow enough to reach an agreement for 2014 and beyond.
WR Louis Murphy Jr. hardly contributed in 2013.
The Giants never had an opportunity to exploit Louis Murphy Jr.'s deep-threat ability in 2013, as the offense failed to find its course in the vertical passing game.
He was buried on the depth chart for most of the year, and the late-season opportunity to shine went, instead, to Jerrel Jernigan, who was a better fit to replace the injured Victor Cruz in the slot. While Jernigan excelled in the final three contests of the year, Murphy was mostly a spectator.
Murphy finished the season with only six catches for 37 yards and a touchdown.
He will walk, as the Giants will look to revamp a stagnant passing attack that Murphy did little to bolster.