New York Giants: A Position-by-Position Primer to Free Agency
It’s been quite a while since the New York Giants have had so many question marks at so many different positions.
Gosselin noted that in 2013, the Giants lost six 16-game starters from the 2012 season—safety Stevie Brown, offensive linemen David Baas and Chris Snee and fullback Henry Hynoski being among those starters lost.
Injury bug aside, the Giants will also have 23 unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents, creating some glaring holes up and down the roster.
So when general manager Jerry Reese told the media at the end of last year that the front office has “some work to do,” he’s not kidding.
Fortunately, the annual free agency sweeps will offer the Giants—who currently have $116.507 million committed to 2014’s cap (per Over the Cap)—opportunities to fill some holes.
The Giants won't necessarily make a big-money splash—they rarely do. However, there are a number of quality free agents who, as of this writing, are not locks to re-sign with their current teams, and who could provide depth at cap-friendly prices for the Giants.
Here is my look at what positions I think the Giants will target in free agency, and the players that I think might be a fit for the openings.
The Giants’ decision on what to do with oft-injured center David Baas is a tricky one.
Per Over the Cap, the Giants would only save $1.775 million if they were to cut Baas this offseason.
That might not sound like much, but with Baas expected to count for $8.225 million against the 2014 cap, can they really afford to take a gamble on him making it through a 16-game season when he's only done it once in his three years thus far as a Giant?
Baas will be 33 years old next September. He is coming off several surgeries—most recently, a knee operation. Will he be able to fully train for 2013, or will he need to devote part of this offseason to continue his rehab?
Since signing with the Giants in 2011, he has developed a history of neck issues that, fortunately for him, have resolved themselves with rest.
Going back to what Jerry Reese said about the neck being tricky (a comment made in reference to running back David Wilson’s recent neck surgery), it’s certainly possible that all of Baas’ surgical procedures have made him better physically. But can the Giants afford to go into 2014 with Baas as their starter?
It's a gamble and I'm not so sure the risk is worth it, even though when healthy, Baas is a solid player.
What the Giants could do, if they don't want to cut Baas, is ask him to take a pay cut from his scheduled $4.75 million 2014 base salary, and with that, accept a role as a backup.
If Baas can be kept fresh, that could potentially extend his career. It would also give the Giants solid veteran depth at both center and guard.
As for a replacement, earlier this month, I wrote about Cleveland center Alex Mack being a potential free agent target.
Before the Browns fired their coaching staff, Mack told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that he was interested in returning to the Browns and that he “liked the coaches.”
He also said in that article published on Dec. 26, 2013 that he would give the Browns a chance to match any offer he received in free agency.
It's unknown if Mack still feels the same way. Moreover, the longer the Browns coaching search takes, the more uncertainty it creates as far as whether he's in the new coaching staff's plans.
It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out that when team CEO John Mara expressed unhappiness with the offensive line depth, he was specifically looking at the interior.
Certainly, members of the offensive interior didn't give their boss much to smile about last season. James Brewer, a fourth-round pick in 2011, was so inconsistent in both run and pass blocking that he finished with a minus-8.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Brandon Mosley, playing in his first full season after spending his rookie year on injured reserve, flashed some talent at the end of the year. However, he was unable to jump ahead of a struggling Brewer and David Diehl, which is a bit concerning.
Youngsters Stephen Goodin and Eric Herman weren’t added to the 53-man roster until very late in the year, even though the line was falling apart at the seams well before then.
No wonder why Mara has declared upgrading this unit to be a top priority.
This year, longtime veterans David Diehl and Chris Snee are unlikely to be back. Kevin Boothe will be an unrestricted free agent, and while he could be back on a short-term deal—surrounding him with better talent could help his performance—the Giants might want to get younger.
An intriguing unrestricted free agent is 26-year-old Jon Asamoah, who played right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. Asamoah graded out with a 6.6 mark overall from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), his strength apparently being pass blocking, an area in which he graded out with a 4.6.
A PFF 2012 Secret Superstar, Asamoah allowed one sack in 2013 and just 13 quarterback hurries, earning himself a 97.4 pass blocking efficiency grade—the seventh best among NFL guards in the NFL this season.
B/R's BJ Kissel did an analytical breakdown of why Asamoah is so worthy of his high PFF grades, especially in run blocking where he's been effective in space:
He's not on the level with the best guards in the NFL right now, but he's just now entering his fourth year, only his third as a starter, and there's reason to believe that he could be even better.
It would be surprising if Asamoah hits the open market; if he does, the Giants owe it to themselves to take a close look at him.
Currently, the Giants only have two running backs (David Wilson and Michael Cox), and one fullback (John Conner) under contract for 2014.
Wilson, of course, recently had successful neck surgery on Jan. 16, though general manager Jerry Reese told WFAN’s Mike Francesa that, while they remain optimistic Wilson will be able to play in 2014, “necks and backs are tricky.”
Andre Brown is also coming off his second-straight injury-interrupted season, having again suffered a broken left leg, landing him on the temporary injured reserve list.
After starting out his 2013 season strong upon his return from injured reserve, Brown saw his production decline. He finished with three consecutive overall negative grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and lost three fumbles in his final four games.
Brown will likely be re-signed, though it is unlikely he will get a rich, long-term deal. There’s little reason to think that Brown can’t contribute as part of a rotation.
Peyton Hillis, whose play was impressive enough to warrant a return engagement in my opinion, isn't a lock to be brought back. Instead, I think the Giants might look for a younger runner with fresh legs to carry the bulk of the workload if Wilson isn't ready.
The most intriguing option who matches the "young runner, fresh legs" description is Joique Bell of Detroit.
A restricted free agent, Bell finished with a 15.1 overall mark from PFF, the ninth best grade of all running backs last year. He also posted a 9.4 grade as a receiver out of the backfield and a 4.9 grade as a runner.
In three seasons, Bell has 1,064 rushing yards on 248 carries and 11 touchdowns. As a receiver out of the backfield, he has 1,032 yards on 105 receptions with nine receptions of 20 or more yards.
Bell also has limited experience returning kickoffs, having returned three career kickoffs for 58 yards.
The Lions might not be able to retain Bell given their cap situation. Per Over the Cap, Detroit has over $131.5 million committed to their Top 51 total for 2014—a number that exceeds the projected $126.3 million cap.
Even if the Lions were to tender Bell at a minimum qualifying offer, because he was an undrafted free agent, if another team were to sign him, they would not be required to surrender a draft pick to the Lions.
If Detroit doesn’t tender the 27-year-old Bell at a minimum second-round level, the Giants should most definitely see if they can arrange a visit with this underrated and durable running back.
The Giants' free-agent tight ends will include Bear Pascoe and Brandon Myers, the latter of whom is likely to have the final thee years of his contract voided.
While the team still apparently remains high on youngsters Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson, they will need to add another option at this position who can block and be a receiver.
Jermichael Finley has been mentioned as an option considering he played for Green Bay, which is where new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo came from.
However, Finley suffered a serious neck injury on Oct. 20 that, per Fox Sports, left him temporarily paralyzed. Per that same report, Finley did regain movement in his body, and underwent surgery on the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck.
If the Giants are squeamish about David Wilson being ready to play after having neck surgery, how willing might they be to take a gamble on another player, who (before his injury) finished with a minus-2.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—a mark that included a minus-5.2 run blocking grade?
I’m thinking that at this position the Giants instead look to developing a young player from the draft—Georgia’s Arthur Lynch is a very intriguing player and could be an upgrade over what they have now.
If they’re looking for a short-term veteran solution, the Ravens have a couple of unrestricted free agents who might be available on the cheap—those being Dennis Pitta, who missed a large chunk of the 2013 season with a dislocated hip, and Ed Dickson.
It’s unlikely the Ravens will re-sign both players. If Pitta is the one that hits the open market, he would definitely be worth taking a look at, assuming his hip is no longer a problem.
Both are solid run blockers and receivers. Chandler, at 6'7", 265 pounds, caught 53 passes for 655 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Ballard, whom the Giants lost to the Patriots in 2012 when they tried to slip him to injured reserve following ACL surgery, caught 43 balls for 647 yards and four touchdowns for the Giants in 2011.
It’s certainly no surprise that Hakeem Nicks is unlikely to be offered a contract to remain with the Giants in 2014 and beyond.
Before the NFL Network reported that Nicks was fined multiple times in 2013 for repeated tardiness and missed treatments (h/t New York Daily News), the first signs of Nicks’ disenchantment with the organization came when he decided to skip the organized team activities.
The reason for his absence, as he told WFAN radio last year, was that he had to “take care of some things”—things that make one wonder if he could have taken care of them before the workouts started in April.
Nicks went on to tell WFAN morning show hosts Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton in that interview that his contract and health were not issues before going on to contradict himself, saying, “I think health-wise I’m 100 percent, I’m full-go. But my goal coming into the spring was to be ready and be full-go for training camp.”
Add to the mix Nicks' inability to stay healthy, and it just doesn't make sense to bring him back or pay him the money he likely wants.
Besides Nicks, it’s unlikely that Louis Murphy will be brought back after being signed by the Giants last year because of his ability to stretch the field. That would leave New York with just three receivers under contract: Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan.
A potential free-agent target (if he’s healthy), and one that I wrote about earlier this month, is Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had his best season in 2010 under former head coach Andy Reid’s West Coast offense.
Not surprisingly, the Kansas City Star quoted former agent turned NFL salary cap expert Joel Corry as identifying Maclin as a potential free agency target, noting that Maclin, who is coming off an ACL injury, could probably be had for an incentive-laden contract.
If the Giants are looking to incorporate elements of the West Coast offense, a receiver such as Maclin would probably be a perfect fit if his knee checks out.
The Giants have yet to field the same starting linebacker unit under head coach Tom Coughlin. Don’t expect 2014 to be the year that that changes.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason is an unrestricted free agent, but the good news is that he has said numerous times, most recently to the New York Daily News (h/t National Football Post) that he is interested in returning.
Keith Rivers will be an unrestricted free agent, while Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are both set to be restricted.
I wrote about the decision the Giants have to make regarding Herzlich yesterday, so I won’t rehash that. Instead, I’ll look at outside linebackers Paysinger and Rivers.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Rivers, who was a two-down linebacker specializing in run defense, finished with a 0.4 overall grade and a 3.7 grade against the run.
When he was pressed into pass coverage duties, he showed good athleticism in being able to make plays. All that was missing was consistency.
Paysinger, who has improved every year, began the season as a starter, finishing as the best of the Giants’ outside linebackers with a 1.3 overall grade from PFF.
He also topped Jacquian Williams, with whom he shared the weak-side linebacker spot as the year went on, in coverage, finishing with a NFL rating of 72.0 to Williams’ 94.6 in coverage.
If the Giants want to try taking a flyer on an up-and-coming linebacker who could hit the open market, former fifth-round pick Stevenson Sylvester (6'2", 231 lbs) of Pittsburgh might be a player to look at.
A four-year veteran, Sylvester has 34 combined tackles in 50 games. While at Utah, the 25-year-old Sylvester was described, per the NFL draft review, as a “highly productive player” with “excellent instincts” and “high energy.”
Although he hasn’t started any games—he backed up Vince Williams at left inside linebacker for the Steelers—Sylvester sounds like he is a player with some good tools to work with. He also might be available for a very cap-friendly contract.