The New York Giants are projected to have 23 unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents on whom they must make decisions. The list includes the following:
- LB Jon Beason
- OL Kevin Boothe
- RB Andre Brown
- K Josh Brown
- S Stevie Brown
- OL David Diehl
- RB Peyton Hillis
- DT Linval Joseph
- CB Trumaine McBride
- S Ryan Mundy
- WR Louis Murphy
- TE Brandon Myers
- WR Hakeem Nicks
- QB Curtis Painter
- TE Bear Pascoe
- DT Mike Patterson
- LB Keith Rivers
- DT Shaun Rogers
- CB Aaron Ross
- CB Terrell Thomas
- DE Justin Tuck
- CB Corey Webster
- OL Jim Cordle
- LB Mark Herzlich
- FB Henry Hynoski
- LB Spencer Paysinger
- RB Da'Rel Scott
Many of those listed probably played their final game as a Giant in 2013. Some are very much desired to be part of the team’s foundation in 2014 and beyond.
Here is my take on the five free-agency moves the Giants must make, in no particular order, and the money that each player might be worth.
Jon Beason, whom the Giants acquired in a trade with Carolina, finished with 93 tackles—two fewer than safety Antrel Rolle, the team leader.
That’s a rather impressive statistic considering Rolle played in 16 games for the Giants while Beason only played in 11.
What’s even more impressive besides that stat and the leadership that Beason brought to a locker room was how he helped improve a Giants run defense that was already much improved from a year ago.
How so? Prior to Beason’s arrival, the Giants' run defense was allowing 126.4 rushing yards per game.
After he arrived, that average dipped to 101.1 yards per game.
Beason also received five negative grades in pass coverage as a member of the Giants. However, it should be remembered that he spent two years in a row rehabbing serious injuries. When a player has to devote time to rehab, that changes how he is able to train and thus has an effect on his performance.
Just 28 years old, Beason will finally get the opportunity to train the way he feels he needs to, as he told Dan Salomone of Giants.com.
That difference in his training could be just what the doctor ordered, if you’ll pardon the pun. In 2008, the first year Pro Football Focus began tracking grades for every player, Beason, already a good run defender, finished with a 1.9 overall grade in pass coverage.
That season, he allowed just 64.6 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed for 399 yards and two touchdowns in coverage.
The Giants will no doubt be counting on Beason to return to his Pro Bowl form now that he should be able to spend more time training and less time rehabbing.
A leader who brought energy to the locker room and passion for the game, Beason’s return is a no-brainer.
So what kind of money could Beason be looking at? My guess is that his new deal will average around $4 million per year, which, according to Over the Cap, would put him in right around the middle of the pack of NFL inside linebackers.
Much like the injury-ravaged offensive line, the Giants' running back unit is headed for an overhaul this offseason.
The team has already admitted that it can’t count on David Wilson, its first-round pick from 2012, since Wilson has elected to have a procedure described by the team as a fusion of the vertebrae to repair the herniated disc in his neck, surgery that he'll have on Jan. 16.
With Wilson a question mark for 2014, the team is almost certain to look toward a veteran in free agency—and not necessarily Peyton Hillis—to complement Michael Cox, the team’s seventh-round draft pick in 2013.
So why must the Giants re-sign Andre Brown despite his shaky injury history?
His red-zone productivity.
Ten of Brown’s 11 touchdowns scored over the last two seasons have come inside the red zone, making him the team’s leading red-zone scorer out of all the skill positions excluding kicker over that period.
To be more precise, 20 percent of the Giants' red-zone touchdowns over the last two seasons have been scored by Brown.
With that said, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” business, and Brown’s 2013 numbers did decrease from 2012.
He rushed for fewer than 45 yards in four of his last five games, and he only posted one touchdown over that stretch. However, that could be a result of the run blocking being so poor.
Brown also lost three fumbles in his last four games, a statistic that certainly couldn't have pleased the coaching staff.
So what kind of deal might Brown be worth?
I could see a short-term deal (no more than three years given his age and the lower-body injuries) for Brown falling in the $3-$3.5 million per-year range. The deal would include performance incentives such as rushing for 1,000 yards.
That kind of deal would pay him more than Wilson’s average earnings of $1,671,126 per year and should be more than fair enough for Brown should he be the starter in 2013.
It had to have been difficult for the Giants to say goodbye to a player who was such a huge part of sending the team to two Super Bowls—twice in overtime on the road, no less.
But that’s precisely what the Giants did when they decided to go in another direction last offseason at kicker, switching from Lawrence Tynes, whom the team acquired during the 2007 offseason in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs, to Josh Brown.
Even more curious, Tynes had a strong 2012 season. He posted an 84.6 percent field-goal conversion rate, his second-highest rate in his 10-year career. His kickoffs were also solid, the average distance being 62.6 yards.
Brown, who just finished his 11th NFL season, came to the Giants with a reputation for having a big leg.
He didn’t disappoint. In his first season, he made 88.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, his second-best mark in a 16-game season since 2004, when he converted 92 percent of his attempts for the Seahawks.
In addition, Brown also not only converted all of his PATs, he improved his average kickoff distance to 64.1 yards, boosting his career total to 114 touchbacks, 35 of which came in his first year with the Giants.
Brown was the biggest upgrade over Tynes in field goals of 40 or more yards. Brown nailed seven of eight field-goal attempts between 40 and 49 yards to boost his career percentage to 71.4. He has converted 63.8 percent of tries of 50 or more yards to Tynes’ 52.4 percent.
There’s certainly no reason the Giants can’t get another two or three years out of Brown, who could probably draw a deal paying an average of $1.5-$1.75 million per year.
Not that any confirmation was needed, but Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked the Giants’ offensive line as the 29th-worst in the NFL in 2013.
Within that ranking, the Giants, whose line was ranked 11th in 2012, finished 31st in pass blocking and 16th in run blocking.
Obviously injuries were a big factor, but the biggest contributor to the offensive line’s tumble in PFF’s ranking was the lack of depth to replace the injured players, a failure that can be laid at the feet of general manager Jerry Reese.
So why is Boothe a “must” on the re-sign list, even though he finished with a minus-11.3 overall grade and a horrific minus-12.5 grade in run blocking?
Because he can provide depth anywhere along the offensive line.
With David Diehl likely to call it a career, Chris Snee likely done in by injuries, David Baas no sure thing to return due to his injury history and $8.225 million cap number, and very few of the kids behind them having inspired any confidence that they can be the answer, Boothe's experience would be valuable during a transition.
Playing exclusively at left guard in 2012, the durable Boothe graded out with a 9.2 overall mark from PFF. Put better talent around him, and there should be no reason why he can't rebound from an off-year for him.
The last time Justin Tuck looked anything like a Pro Bowl defensive end was in 2010, when he recorded 11.5 sacks and was a force against the run.
Not coincidentally, Tuck was a Pro Bowl defensive end that season, his second Pro Bowl berth, to be precise.
A series of injuries that included neck and shoulder issues seemed to start Tuck, whose total sacks over the next two seasons combined didn’t come close to matching his 2010 production, on a decline.
Fortunately for the nine-year veteran, his body finally got healthy enough to focus on his training last offseason, and the difference was noticeable. After managing just 1.5 sacks through the first 11 games of the season, Tuck went on a tear, recording at least a half-sack in five of his last six games.
During that streak, he recorded four sacks against Washington to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“I feel like this season I have been more of a complete player,” Tuck told The Associated Press. “I feel like I’ve had games where I was in the backfield a lot, disrupting plays or was a half a second away from sacks.”
Tuck, who finished 2013 with 11 sacks and a bunch of disruptive plays not reflected on the stat sheet, has expressed a desire to continue his career.
"Oh, I’m definitely not retiring. I definitely will continue to play," Tuck told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger last month. "My body feels great. I definitely have a huge passion for the game, and we’ll see where everything stacks up at the end of the year."
While Tuck has shown he still has a lot of gas left in his tank, the Giants would presumably like to see Damontre Moore, their third-round draft pick, play a bigger role in 2014. They are obviously also hoping for a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul to return to form.
If those two things happen, that would theoretically reduce Tuck to a part-time player.
That might not be a bad thing. Tuck, who a few times this season was slow to get up after making a play, just might be able to squeeze another two or three years out of his career if his snaps are reduced each week.
With Mathias Kiwanuka and his $7.05 million salary-cap number in danger of being purged from the roster, it makes sense for the Giants to re-sign Tuck and add another young defensive end to the mix.
A three-year deal averaging around $4.5 million per season, which is less than the $6.2 million per season he averaged on his last contract, might be a nice way for Tuck to end his Giants career and for the Giants to ensure they have quality veteran depth at a key position.
You’ve probably noticed that I don’t have defensive tackle Linval Joseph on this list.
No, this wasn't an oversight on my part. Here is my reasoning.
Last year, the Giants put a heavy (no pun intended) premium on rebuilding their defensive interior. That included drafting Johnathan Hankins in the second round.
Hankins is very similar to Joseph. Although Joseph is two inches taller than Hankins, they are both around the same weight.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hankins, who earned snaps as a rookie, didn’t record a single negative grade in his 195 snaps. He finished with an 8.0 overall grade and a 9.5 grade against the run.
While Joseph obviously took more snaps—596 per PFF—he finished with a 9.9 overall grade and an 8.0 grade in run defense. He continuously ate up space and was a mountain to move inside.
Joseph, remember, replaced Barry Cofield, who went on to score a huge payday with Washington that averages $6 million per season.
Given how Joseph is a rising and young star, he certainly had put himself in a position where he can come away with a rich contract very similar to, if not better than, what Cofield earned.
If that happens, that type of contract will almost certainly be too rich for the Giants’ taste considering they have other needs to take care of.
The Giants also have targeted the offensive line as a high priority, one they might address in both the draft and free agency. Meanwhile, they have enough depth at defensive tackle to survive if Joseph signs elsewhere.
In a perfect world in which the team has loads of cap space, Joseph would be a no-brainer to re-sign. But this isn’t a perfect world, and the Giants don’t have as much cap money to hand out a rich contract to a player who, though he's worth it, is someone they believe they can replace with a younger, less expensive option.