5 Tough Free Agents Decisions the New York Giants Must Make
The New York Giants front office has presumably concluded its evaluations of last year’s roster. Despite their 7-9 record last season, some of those decisions certainly couldn't have been easy.
For starters, there is the need to evaluate what direction new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo might be heading, with the answer potentially having an impact on players thought to be on the bubble.
There is also the matter of injuries—determining where projected key players are in their respective rehabs and trying to anticipate if or when they might be ready to play in 2014, especially if any are free agents.
Come opening day, the Giants are probably going to have a significantly different-looking roster next season.
Until then, here's a look at what I think are five of the most difficult and many decisions general manager Jerry Reese has to make.
Defensive End Justin Tuck
Following two straight seasons of fighting through injuries, defensive end Justin Tuck finally caught a break with his health and was able to spend most of his time training rather than rehabbing.
As a result, Tuck had one of his best statistical seasons since 2010, the year he recorded 11.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.
Last season, Tuck finished with 11.0 sacks and 63 tackles. He also recorded his first interception since the 2008 season and forced two fumbles.
By the time the season ended, Tuck finished as the fourth-highest graded defensive end (15.4) to have taken at least 75 percent of his team’s snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He recorded just two negative overall grades in his final 10 games, and played solidly against the run.
Thus comes the dilemma for the Giants.
First, the 31-year-old Tuck just finished his ninth NFL season and has a lengthy injury history. Even though he made it through 2013 without any issues, there were several times wen he was slow to pick himself off the ground after the whistle.
Tuck told reporters after the Giants season ended he as going to meet with the front office to discuss his future. That meeting must not have been encouraging, as last week Tuck told the New York Post he was set to test the free-agency market.
More recently, though, Tuck backed down a bit, telling The Post, “I honestly think the Giants are going to do everything in their power to make it work. They want me to be back. I think I want to be back."
The questions are on what financial and playing terms?
Certainly the Giants won’t be able to give Tuck a raise from his 2013 $4.5 million base salary, not if they hope to have Damontre Moore, last year’s third-round draft pick, take on a larger role on defense.
Tuck has never ruled out giving the Giants a hometown discount, especially given the opportunities off the field the city presents.
Certainly Tuck shouldn't be expected to accept the NFL minimum salary ($955,000) if he gets a short-term deal. The most likely scenario could be a contract loaded with incentives based on playing time and sacks.
Tight End Bear Pascoe
Back in December, I ran a Giants free agent “Keep ‘em, Dump ‘em” poll. When it came to tight end Bear Pascoe, 58.8 percent of those who voted wanted the Giants to move on from the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.
The decision to do so might not be so cut-and-dried, especially if the Giants void the remainder of Brandon Myers’ contract.
Besides Pascoe, the Giants have a pair of youngsters in Adrien Robinson, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, and Larry Donnell, an undrafted free agent from that year.
Thus far, both have been developing at the pace of a melting ice glacier, though to be fair, both dealt with injuries last year that stunted their respective growths.
While the Giants are likely to replace Myers with a more athletic tight end, a guy like Pascoe who can play backup fullback and the H-back spots in addition to being an in-line blocker has value.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Pascoe finished with an 1.8 overall grade, making him the 18th best tight end in the NFL out of tight ends who took at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.
That grade also puts him one spot ahead of former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, now with the Bears.
Pascoe caught 12 of 18 passes thrown his way for 81 yards and finished with a higher grade as a run-blocker (2.4) than Bennett (-3.8) based on tight ends who took at least 25 percent of their team's offensive snaps.
Ultimately the Giants might want to go in a different direction at the position, especially if neither Robinson nor Donnell work out.
That’s why having a veteran like Pascoe to step in in case neither of the two youngsters are ready isn’t as crazy of an idea as it might sound.
Running Back Andre Brown
There’s little reason to think Andre Brown isn't in the Giants' plans, unless his contract demands become outrageous. The question, then, is what role the Giants envision for Brown, a 27-year-old running back who has twice suffered a broken left leg in the last two seasons.
When Brown returned from the temporary injured reserve in Week 10 of the 2013 season, he recorded two 100-yard performances in his first three games.
However, his performance began to deteriorate to where he finished with negative grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in the passing game (-3.3) and as a pass-protector(-0.5) while just barely cracking a positive grade as a rusher (0.9) en route to a -4.6 overall grade.
While the offensive line wasn’t much help to the running game as a whole, the electric runs Brown had in his first three games quickly became a memory. In his final five games, he only rushed for more than 40 yards once (against San Diego when he ran for 81 yards).
He also lost three fumbles in his final four games, making just 13 defenders miss him on his 139 rushes for 494 yards.
His pass protection numbers dipped as well. Per PFF, he allowed two sacks in the final three games.
Can the Giants trust Brown to be their primary ball-carrier, especially given the uncertainty regarding David Wilson's recovery from neck surgery?
If they do, Brown, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, will almost certainly want a multiyear deal that pays him more than Wilson’s $1.671 million average per year and that included $5.382 million in guaranteed money.
If the Giants bring in a veteran free agent, which is the most likely scenario, things could get sticky with Brown’s negotiations, making the chances of his return 50/50.
Fullback Henry Hynoski
Fullback Henry Hynoski, who in 2012 had his best season of his short career, looked to be on his way toward becoming one of the top fullbacks in the NFL.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he graded out with an 8.0 overall mark, the eighth-best mark of all fullbacks. He also posted a 7.6 grade in blocking, the fifth-best grade of all fullbacks in 2012, blocking for 15 of the team’s 18 rushing touchdowns.
In pass protection, he allowed just one quarterback hit. As a receiver, he caught 11 of the 15 balls thrown his way for 50 yards and a touchdown.
However, a freak accident during the team’s first OTA of 2013 left him with a chip fracture of his lateral plateau and a MCL injury in his left knee. Those injuries required surgery and weeks of rehab.
Hynoski started training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but was determined to be ready by opening day. When he realized that goal and was on the field against Dallas in Week 1, he had his worst game as a pro.
He finished with a -1.5 mark from PFF in the 13 snaps he played, and missed a rare block on a defender who went on to cause one of David Wilson’s two lost fumbles in that game.
Hynoski, who never really looked like he had much of a burst, followed that game with overall grades from PFF that included 0.4 in Week 2 and 0.5 in Weeks 3.
The Giants brought in John Conner, who had been cut by the Bengals after training camp ended. Interestingly, Conner was signed to a two-year contract instead of the normal one-year deal most every other street free agent signed for depth received from the Giants last year.
Once Conner got a handle on the Giants’ offense, he did well, finishing with a 9.0 overall grade from PFF and a 7.0 run-blocking grade in 245 snaps.
He also caught six of the eight passes thrown his way for 31 yards, and, like Hynoski did in his first two years in the league, contributed on special teams (kickoff returns).
Thus the Giants' dilemma. The 26-year-old Conner is under contract for 2014, counting for just $740,000 per Over the Cap (the veteran minimum salary plus a $10,000 workout bonus).
He certainly didn’t do anything to ruin his chance to compete for a roster spot. Whether he'll be competing against Hynoski, a restricted free agent, remains to be seen.
The decision New York will have to make regarding Hynoski is whether to tender him an original round level (projected to be $1.389 million, per Joel Corry of CBS Sports), or try to sign him to a one-year “show me” deal at the veteran minimum salary.
Such a deal would be $645,000 for a fourth-year player, a contract in which they could also include a modest roster bonus in lieu of a signing bonus.
My guess is the Giants will try to accomplish the latter. New York not only has a lot of needs to fill, they traditionally don't spend spent big bucks on the fullback position.
That's understandable since the position usually doesn’t play more than 45 percent of the team’s snaps and is one that has been swapped out for a tight end in certain packages.
Given Conner is already under contract, it doesn't appear to make financial sense for the Giants to offer Hynoski an original round tender.
In an ideal scenario, the Giants will find a way to have both Hynoski and Conner compete for the starting job. Certainly with a new offensive coordinator, both will be starting from scratch in terms of leaning the playbook, so a competition between the two could be a fun one to watch during camp.
However, given all the needs the Giants have to fill this offseason, can they afford to bring two fullbacks into training camp?
More importantly, if Hynoski doesn’t get an original round tender, will he want to come back on a minimum qualifying offer, or will he have new agent Drew Rosenhaus try to get him a better deal with another team?
Cornerback Terrell Thomas
With all due respect to San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, the Associated Press’ 2013 "Comeback Player of the Year," bouncing back from poor play isn’t quite the same as coming back from a devastating and potentially career-threatening injury suffered in back-to-back years.
Thomas, as everyone no doubt knows, returned to the field in 2013 after missing two straight seasons to rehab a twice-surgically repaired ACL in the same knee.
The good news is he made it through 16 games. The bad news is there were times when Thomas didn’t look close to being the player he was before his forced leave of absence.
To be fair, an argument could be made that Thomas was shaking off a great deal of rust from being away from the game so long. Being a perfectionist, Thomas told me he still has a lot of work to do to get back to the level he was at before his injury, which is as a starting cornerback.
If he can make progress in his training, he has a legitimate chance should he return. Corey Webster is not expected to be back and Trumaine McBride, who filled in nicely for Webster, is an unrestricted free agent who, while likely to be re-signed, doesn’t have the ideal height for the position.
Thomas has always been grateful to the Giants for not giving up on him. However like anything else, money will be a factor.
Per Rotoworld, Thomas signed a one-year, $700,000 contract that included a $35,000 signing bonus and $500,000 in playing-time incentives for 2013. Per the Newark Star-Ledger, the deal also had a split salary of $358,000 in the event he landed on injured reserve.
Now that he's crossed the biggest hurdle, Thomas might want something a little more long-term with some guarantees.
To ensure that happens, he told Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger he planned to start early to polish areas of his game that might have been lacking last year.
“It’s time to get back to getting ready to be a starter and get back to my old ways,” he said.
I think the Giants will re-sign Thomas on a multiyear deal, but I don't think he’ll see anything close to the four-year deal he signed in the spring of 2012.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.