Would it be a mistake to retain WR Hakeem Nicks?
Everyone is talking about the moves they'd like to see their favorite team make this offseason, but what about the potential offseason mistakes that teams simply cannot afford to make?
New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has been praised throughout the first six years of his tenure, during which the personnel he assembled claimed two Lombardi Trophies. However, since Reese inherited a relatively stable team from Ernie Accorsi following the 2006 season, the Giants GM has not faced a rebuilding project more urgent than the one facing him in 2014.
Neither head coach Tom Coughlin nor quarterback Eli Manning is getting any younger, so the time to win is now. The margin for error when it comes to Reese's upcoming team-tweaking is slim.
This article will highlight four mistakes that the Giants must avoid if they wish to get their rebuilding project on track and return to the game's biggest stage.
DT Linval Joseph will likely demand a large contract.
Managing the cap is always a tricky situation, but the Giants can avoid getting into financial trouble by not overpaying their own impending free agents.
The Giants ran into this problem last year, when left tackle Will Beatty reached free agency. With limited options on the open market for a replacement, New York offered Beatty a five-year contract worth $38.75 million. According to the New York Post, Beatty attributed a poor 2013 season to the pressure associated with signing such a massive deal.
The two soon-to-be free agents with the most pull to demand big contracts in March are wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
On no other player's performance does the Giants' offense hinge than that of Nicks. When the 6'0", 210-pound receiver is healthy and on his game, a la New York's playoff run in January of 2012, the Giants offense is nearly unstoppable. Big Blue's withering offensive production since that run can easily be attributed to Nicks' waning effectiveness.
The desire to keep the gear that turns New York's offense is understandable, but the Giants should not be fooled into paying for past production. In his first three seasons, Nicks averaged 67 catches, 1,011 yards and eight touchdowns per year. The now 26-year-old receiver hasn't eclipsed 60 catches or 900 yards in either of the past two seasons.
After his touchdown total dipped to just three in 2012, Nicks was held without a score for all of 2013.
Nicks is clearly on the decline in New York, and the Giants need not break the bank for a former Super Bowl star. The Star-Ledger reports that an agreement being reached between Nicks and the Giants is "highly unlikely," as another team is much more likely to outbid New York for the pass-catcher's services.
Joseph is a different case, as his impact at defensive tackle has only ballooned since being drafted in 2010. In fact, the powerful defensive tackle has probably progressed beyond the Giants' price range.
The East Carolina University product is not a stat demon, as he has averaged only 33 tackles and three sacks as a starter over the last three years. He is, however, a nasty space-eater who often requires double-teams in the trenches.
And he's durable; Joseph has sat out only one game since 2011.
There will be several teams across the league with better salary-cap situations than the Giants this spring. It is likely that Joseph, being among the top D-line talent slated to become an unrestricted free agent, is lured away from New York to a franchise with a fatter wallet.
Other Giants approaching free agency who could plausibly command a richer deal elsewhere are defensive end Justin Tuck, cornerback Terrell Thomas and running back Andre Brown. While New York should be interested in retaining the services of each of these players, it must be done so at the right price.
Can RB David Wilson shed the bust label in 2013?
The Giants should enter this May's draft with a sense of urgency, as the main focus must be to acquire young athletes ready to make an immediate impact. New York can no longer afford to draft projects that require years to go from raw athlete to NFL-ready player.
In the past, New York has swung-and-missed on several early-round draft picks. Second-rounders Clint Sintim (2009) and Marvin Austin (2011) were both cut from the team before their rookie contracts expired, accruing just 38 games played between the two of them.
While the drafting of Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round of the 2010 draft was well worth the pick, other time-consuming projects like third-rounders Jerrel Jernigan (2011) and Jayron Hosley (2012), as well as fourth-rounders James Brewer (2011) and Adrien Robinson (2012), have been particularly slow to develop.
A recent first-round selection, cornerback Prince Amukamara (2011), has rebounded nicely from a rocky start to his career, but the following year's top pick, David Wilson, may not be as lucky. After recording just over 500 yards rushing in his first two seasons, the former first-rounder is beginning to flirt with the dreaded bust label. A complicated back condition currently blurs the backflipping back's future in the NFL.
The Giants must ignore the allure of upside and raw athletic ability and select a few sure-fire contributors in the early rounds of the 2014 draft. They did a good job of this a year ago, when the Giants passed on several intriguing prospects to reel in offensive lineman Justin Pugh of Syracuse. Pugh ended up starting all 16 games at right tackle in 2013.
It is essential for New York to draft more players like Pugh, as opposed to Wilson-type athletes or even Pierre-Paul-type prodigies. The Giants' impending rebuild will rely upon the immediate contributions of its youngest players. If the 2014 draft picks do not produce right away, their next opportunity to do so may be under a new regime, as patience is wearing thin for a Giants team that has qualified for postseason play just once in the past five seasons.
The championship window hasn't yet closed on head coach Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, but they can ill afford another season like the one they limped through in 2013. General Manager Jerry Reese can expedite the turnaround with a focus on acquiring young, NFL-ready talent in the draft.
However, getting stuck with another poor draft will only set the rebuilding process back even further. If that's the case, things may get worse than 7-9 before they get any better.
The O-line must be built around RT Justin Pugh.
The Giants' main objective this offseason should be to rebuild the offensive line. The erosion of New York's O-line in 2013 was responsible for the downfall of the offense and, more importantly, the team.
Two aging starters along New York's offensive line, guard Chris Snee and center David Baas, ended the season on injured reserve. Snee and Baas, both 32, were aging veterans heading into the season, yet there was no viable contingency plan in place to fill their absences. 33-year-old David Diehl—who retired earlier this month—battled through injuries, and Baas' replacement at center, Jim Cordle, also ended his season on injured reserve.
Luckily for New York's suddenly decrepit O-line, left guard Kevin Boothe was able to slide over to center and anchor the Giants' offensive front for the rest of the season. Boothe is a free agent this year, and what his future is with the team will be among the tough decisions general manager Jerry Reese and the rest of Big Blue's brain trust will be forced to make in the coming months.
Snee, whose multiple surgeries have clouded his future, was a stalwart in both Super Bowl XLII and XLVI; Kevin Boothe was on the roster for both championships, and both he and Baas were starters in the second Super Bowl win. There is significant Giants history tied to these once-formidable blockers, so reshaping the offensive line will likely involve at least one tough call.
It is not unfamiliar territory, though. Following the 2010 season—in which New York slumped to a 10-6, postseason-less finish—the Giants underwent a minor overhaul of their offensive line. Center Shaun O'Hara and left guard Rich Seubert were cut quite unexpectedly before the 2011 campaign. O'Hara and Seubert had accrued 16 seasons between them; both linemen had started in Super Bowl XLII.
Constantly under duress due to a shaky O-line, quarterback Eli Manning was sacked a career-high 39 times last season. When Manning was able to shake a would-be sacker, the pressure alone often caused interceptions, as the Giants' franchise wrist-flicker also finished the season with a career-high 27 picks.
While the edges may be set with both Justin Pugh and Will Beatty starting all 16 games at right and left tackle, respectively, the Giants must shore up the interior of the line. Such a pressing need cannot be put off for another year; the acquisition a starter both early in the draft and through free agency should be considered necessary.
Failing to do so would only prolong the misery that was Manning's worst season as a professional and put the health of the team's most valuable player in jeopardy.
WR Victor Cruz missed OTAs last year.
This is the only potential mistake New York can make that wouldn't be the fault of management.
The players are, of course, held responsible for staying in shape and out of trouble during the offseason, but this year's key players cannot afford to do what last year's did—miss practice time.
During organized team activities, both Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, New York's two star wideouts, missed valuable practice reps. Cruz's absence was due to a highly publicized a contract dispute, while the motive behind Nicks' mysterious disappearance was never disclosed. Compounding the disintegration of the offensive line in 2013 was a lack of chemistry between quarterback Eli Manning and his favorite targets.
If this in-season disconnect truly stemmed from missing offseason workouts, Giant players best not repeat the same mistake. While Cruz and Nicks apparently still managed to fall behind in a Kevin Gilbride-orchestrated system with which they were quite familiar, imagine the damage that would be done by missing a few of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's early workouts.
The Giants are under new offensive leadership, and all players on New York's offense are starting on the same page: page 1. Expected to bring in a new-look West Coast offense, McAdoo is going to be introducing original ideas and concepts that even Manning, a 10-year veteran, will likely find unfamiliar. Missing OTAs and other early practices will only stunt the progression of Big Blue's brand new offense.
Perhaps the players were a bit too distracted to practice last year.
Last summer, general manager Jerry Reese addressed the media, putting everyone on notice and installing a Super Bowl countdown clock, which ticked away the days until Super Bowl XLVIII was to be held in the Giants' home stadium. New York was planning on becoming the first host city to also have a team playing in the Super Bowl.
Those motivation tactics clearly fell short of their intended purpose, as the Giants stumbled to an 0-6 start after a sloppy offseason. They finished 7-9, short of the playoff race for the fourth time in five seasons.
This year, Reese should leave the motivation to his trusted head coach and focus on assembling a rejuvenating cast to supplement the core of carryovers from 2013.
And, hopefully, they all show up to practice.