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New York Giants: A Unit-by-Unit Rundown of the Depth Situation

Patricia TrainaContributor IFebruary 5, 2014

New York Giants: A Unit-by-Unit Rundown of the Depth Situation

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    The upcoming renovation of the New York Giants roster is probably the most extensive one that Jerry Reese has had to undertake since assuming his general manager role in 2007—and with good reason.

    After finishing with 9-7 records in 2011 and 2012—the 2011 season yielding a Super Bowl championship—the Giants dipped to 7-9 in 2013, their first losing season under Reese and their second under head coach Tom Coughlin since 2004.

    Last season, age and injury appeared to have caught up with the Giants, especially on offense. All of that, combined with some underwhelming performances by key players thought to be part of the franchise’s core will result in the Giants roster having a much different look in 2014.

    Here is a rundown of where each unit stands and the potential direction the team could be taking to improve in each area.

Quarterbacks

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    Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY

    Eli Manning, Curtis Painter (UFA), Ryan Nassib

    Despite his poor season in which he threw a career-high 27 interceptions and 18 touchdown passes, his lowest 16-game total as a starter, Eli Manning will be back under center in 2014.

    The Giants shook up their offensive coaching staff, bringing in Ben McAdoo to jump-start what had become a stale offense. They also hired Danny Langsdorf to help Manning fix his mechanics that became flawed playing behind a Swiss cheese offensive line.  

    The big question with Manning is what the Giants will do with his contract. Per Over the Cap, Manning has a $20.4 million cap figure for 2014, which includes a base salary of $15.15 million. He also has two years remaining on his current contract.

    The sensible thing for the Giants to do would be to extend Manning’s contract three years and convert some of the 2014 base salary into upfront money to lessen his cap hit.

    Remember, a player’s original signing bonus can only be spread out a maximum of five years on a contract. In 2015, Manning’s prorated bonus dips from $4.75 million to $2.25 million, that latter figure a result of a restructuring he agreed to earlier in his current contract’s life as opposed to the prorated signing bonus hitting. 

    If Manning is in line for an extension, his deal could resemble what Tom Brady of the New England Patriots got, which is a fully guaranteed five-year, $60 million deal that included a $3 million signing bonus.

    Brady’s base salaries do not exceed $8 million in any one year of the deal, making him cap friendly enough to where the Patriots likely won’t have to approach him for restructurings for the rest of the contract’s life.

    Moving to the backup spot, a big question at this position is where Nassib is in his development. Last year as a rookie, he was inactive for all 16 games.

    Did he make enough progress to ascend to the primary backup role? Logic would seem to dictate that if Manning regressed, perhaps Nassib didn’t get a chance to develop as rapidly as the team had hoped.

    If true—remember the media isn’t allowed to watch practice during the season—will the Giants look for a veteran backup quarterback to be Manning’s understudy in 2014?

    Certainly, we can expect the Giants to add at least one, if not two, more arms for training camp, regardless of what they do with Painter, an unrestricted free agent who’s unlikely to be retained.

    However, before we label any quarterbacks they do bring in as camp fodder, remember that last year, Painter wasn’t given much of a chance to win a roster spot, and he surprised everyone by beating out longtime backup David Carr.

    In the end, I think the Giants will keep two quarterbacks, and Nassib will be the primary backup.

Running Backs/Fullbacks

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    David Wilson, Andre Brown (UFA), Peyton Hillis (UFA), Michael Cox; FB John Conner, FB Henry Hynoski (RFA)

    The good news is that this unit showed a few flashes. the bad news is the injury history is a concern.

    Wilson underwent neck surgery last month, and the team has said repeatedly that it’s optimistic that Wilson will be able to resume his career. However, what isn’t known is when or if he’d be ready to go in 2014.

    It’s also not known how he might respond when he begins to absorb the physical punishment that comes with paying that position. Will he, for example, be able to square his shoulders to plow through piles, or is he subconsciously going to end up guarding his neck?

    Brown, meanwhile, has had three significant injuries to his legs—injuries that include a broken fibula in his left leg in 2012 and 2013 and the ruptured Achilles suffered in his rookie year.

    While he’s bounced back from each injury, the unrestricted free agent seems to peak early in the year before dropping off.

    In 2012, his “breakout” season, he recorded just one 100-yard rushing game—Week 3 against Carolina.

    In 2013, he posted two 100-yard games in his first three back from temporary IR. After that, the closest he came to 100 yards was in Week 14 at San Diego, when he ran for 81 yards.

    He also lost three balls in his final four games after showing pristine ball security in 2012.

    With that all said, Brown has value on this team, as a short-yardage/goal-line back, a role he did so well in 2012 when he recorded eight rushing touchdowns.

    Is that worth a contract that would pay him in the neighborhood of $3 million per year? Probably not. That's why his return isn't a sure thing, unless he's willing to return at a lower per-year rate.

    Hillis turned out to be a pleasant surprise as a runner and in pass protection. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry, and, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he averaged 2.1 yards after contact.  

    Hillis is just 28 years old and probably has a few years left before his tank runs out of gas. With a full year to learn the playbook, he could probably be that much better.

    Having bounced around the league since his breakout season with Cleveland in 2010, Hillis would likely be a bargain to re-sign if he is indeed a fit for Ben McAdoo’s new offense.

    I do think the Giants are going to bring in another running back via free agency, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Wilson’s neck.

    As I’ve noted recently, Houston’s Ben Tate is an intriguing option, though I still am holding out hope that the Lions don’t tender Joique Bell, a restricted free agent, and he becomes available.

    Earlier this week, I wrote about the Giants' dilemma at fullback. I believe that if Hynoski isn’t coming off a season in which he dealt with two significant injuries, he probably would have received an original-round tender given his impressive 2012 season.

    However, with a healthy Conner under contract for the veteran minimum, it doesn’t make sense for the Giants to tender an original-round tender to a player coming off an injury-filled season.

    The upside of doing so, though, is if a player tendered doesn’t make the team, 100 percent of the tender is credited to the club’s current cap space.

Tight Ends

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Brandon Myers, Bear Pascoe (UFA), Larry Donnell, Adrien Robinson

    The common belief is that Myers, who, last year, signed a four-year contract that had three voidable years, will indeed have his deal voided by the end of this week.

    Even though new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo comes from a West Coast offensive system, per the Green Bay Packers' regular-season ending stats on NFL GSIS (login required), the tight end position only accounted for 63 of the Packers’ 366 pass completions and was only targeted 90 times, per the data culled from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Without knowing what exactly McAdoo plans to run, my guess is that the Giants might look to re-sign Pascoe, a versatile player, and see who from the Donnell and Robinson duo is finally ready to step up and contribute.

    I do believe they’ll bring another tight end into the mix—Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, whom safety Antrel Rolle admitted to trying to recruit per the New York Daily News (h/t Pro Football Talk), has been mentioned as a possibility assuming he's cleared to return after dealing with a neck injury.  

    Regardless of what happens there, I wouldn't be surprised if they decide to draft at that spot.

Receivers

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Hakeem Nicks (UFA), Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan, Louis Murphy (UFA)

    The odds of Nicks returning are not very good.  

    Although he’s still relatively young, his inability to make it through a full season combined with his disappointing production last year certainly couldn’t have sat well with management.

    What I think will happen is that the Giants will let Jernigan and Randle compete to join Cruz in the starting lineup. The runner-up at that position will likely be the third receiver in the offense.

    I also don’t think Murphy will be back—he never did pan out to be the “knife” that general manager Jerry Reese said he thought he might become during an interview last year with SiriusXM’s NFL Radio (h/t New York Daily News).

    I think the Giants might look to add depth to this position via both the draft and free agency, but I don’t think the Giants will splurge in free agency because if they were to bring in a big name, that would probably mean Randle and Jernigan don't get much of a chance to advance in their respective developments.

    A young veteran who could provide free-agency depth is Kevin Ogletree, currently with Detroit. The 27-year-old Ogletree, who burned the Giants in a game two seasons ago when he was with Dallas, was courted by New York in 2012.

    Ogletree, who signed with the Lions after being released by Tampa Bay last season, has 78 career receptions for 999 yards and six touchdowns.

    He also has experience returning kickoffs and punts, two other areas the Giants are in desperate need of upgrading, which would make signing him an exceptional value.

Offensive Line

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    OT Justin Pugh, OT Will Beatty, G/C Kevin Boothe (UFA), C David Baas, C/G Jim Cordle (RFA), OG Chris Snee, OG James Brewer, OG Brandon Mosley, OG Eric Herman

    There’s little doubt that by the time Jerry Reese gets through making personnel changes this offseason, the offensive line is going to look a lot different than it did in 2013.

    If the Giants’ mantra is to get younger and healthier along this unit, then there is a very good chance that Baas and Snee won’t be in the plans moving forward.

    Let’s start with Baas, who since signing with the Giants as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, has been unable to stay healthy.

    He will be 33 years old in September and is coming off a year in which he had multiple surgeries, including the season-ending knee surgery he had back in October.  

    As I’ve previously noted, Baas has dealt with a neck issue that last season cost him three games. Thus far the issue has resolved itself through rest. However, his injury history at KFFL shows that he's been listed on the Giants’ injury report with a neck ailment in two of his three seasons with the team.

    With an $8.225 million cap figure for 2014, it makes it rather difficult to gamble on Baas making it through a season.

    It also probably doesn’t make much sense for the Giants to restructure his contract at this point, considering his contact ends in 2015 and there is probably little to no chance he's extended.

    My guess is that Baas will be a salary-cap cut, which would enable the Giants to gain the $1.775 million savings.

    Snee presents another sticky situation. As of this writing, no announcement has been made as to whether the 10-year veteran, who had surgical procedures on each hip and one elbow in 2013, plans to retire.

    If the Giants are truly committed to getting younger and healthier along the line, it would make sense to move on from Snee, a Pro Bowl guard in 2012.

    On the other hand, if the surgeries allow Snee to move the way he did that season, and if the team feels good about him potentially finishing out the 2014 season, he could provide the veteran presence along a line that is expected to become significantly younger moving forward.  

    For Snee to remain, the Giants will need to work with him to reduce his $11.3 million cap figure for 2014, the final year of his contract.

    What New York could do with Snee is tack on a voidable year in order to justify a reduction of his $6.75 million base salary with the reduced base being converted into bonus money spread out over a two-year period. 

    If Snee ends up as a salary-cap cut, the Giants would save $6.8 million, per Over the Cap.

    Beatty, who had a disappointing 2013 season after signing his new contract last winter, could be a target for a restructure, especially considering he's trying to come back from a broken leg suffered in the regular-season finale.

    The problem is, according to the details of his contract as provided by Rotoworld, Beatty’s second-year base salary of $4.85 million is fully guaranteed, so I'm not sure if the Giants can—or will—touch Beatty's contract. 

    As for the rest of the offensive line, I think the Giants will look to add one free agent. I also think the odds are high for them drafting an offensive lineman in the first two rounds, and I could see them picking up another veteran maybe after training camp cuts are announced.

    As for the positions they might be targeting, in free agency and the draft, the Giants actually have some flexibility, thanks to Justin Pugh’s versatility.

    Pugh’s ability to play anywhere along the offensive line, including center, will allow the Giants to be a little more judicious regarding what they target.

    For example, if the Giants do cut Baas and they are unable to afford Alex Mack of the Browns, don't be surprised if Pugh moves to center and the Giants instead target a tackle in the draft. 

Defensive Ends

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    Peter Morgan/Associated Press

    Justin Tuck (UFA), Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Damontre Moore

    With all the talk about Tuck potentially being allowed to test the free-agency market, I think in the end he’ll return to the Giants.

    As I noted in my last article, Tuck probably won’t see a base-salary pay raise from the $4.5 million he earned in 2013.

    What I think could make sense for him and the Giants is to have him back in a reduced role. Instead of taking the majority of the snaps on defense as he did in the final few weeks of 2013, he could serve in a rotation.

    A part-time role, I believe, will help keep Tuck, who despite making it through last season, had a few instances where he picked himself up off the turf very gingerly, fresh.

    I initially thought that Kiwanuka might be in danger of being a salary-cap casualty given his $7.05 million cap figure for 2014. With Tuck not a lock to return, I think the Giants instead might look to restructure Kiwanuka’s contract to lower his $4.375 million base salary a bit.

    The Giants cannot assume that Moore will be ready for a starting role in 2014. While that’s certainly their goal, Moore was twice dinged in his rookie season and ended up missing chunks of time, setting his development back some.

    Hopefully for all parties involved, that’s not a sign of what’s to come.

    I think the Giants will look to add another player to this unit. Regardless if they keep Tuck and/or Kiwanuka, both players are now on the wrong side of 30.

    Thus, look for the Giants to begin acquiring and grooming some younger talent for the not so distant future.

Defensive Tackles

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Linval Joseph (UFA), Cullen Jenkins, Shaun Rogers (UFA), Mike Patterson (UFA), Markus Kuhn, Johnathan Hankins

    While the thought of a starting tandem of Joseph and Hankins sounds extremely appealing, it’s not likely to happen as Joseph, who is just entering his prime, is certain to attract several suitors on the free-agent market.

    Indeed, that’s a big reason why the Giants probably drafted Hankins, who in many ways is similar to Joseph when he was in his second NFL season.

    Rogers, who ended his career on the injured reserve list for the second year in a row, is not expected back. Patterson could be back if he’s willing to take another one-year deal. and Kuhn is not expected to go anywhere.

    If Joseph does leave as is believed, the Giants will probably look to replenish the lost depth, most likely via free agency.

Linebackers

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Jon Beason (UFA), Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger (RFA), Mark Herzlich (RFA), Keith Rivers (UFA), Allen Bradford, Marcus Dowtin

    There’s probably little doubt that Beason is the Giants' top free-agent priority this offseason. After all, once he was inserted into the defensive lineup, the Giants realized just what it was they had been missing prior to his arrival.

    Simply put, Beason’s leadership in getting everyone lined up and on the same page and cutting down on blown coverage and mistakes that led to their surrendering a league-high 182 points in the first five games of the season prior to Beason’s arrival.

    “On defense, you don’t think that you need a quarterback, but you do,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell told the New York Times.

    “You need someone who can come in and command the front and relate to the back row, and Jon has been able to do that. He is very good at understanding situations, being able to talk to his defensive players and playing the game at a fast tempo.”

    Beason has all along expressed a desire to re-sign with the Giants, and the two sides have had preliminary discussions about his return in 2014 and beyond, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.

    As Beason pointed out, though, it’s a business and a potential deal has to work for both parties. “I know it’s something that we both want to get done,” he said. “We’ve expressed interest that they want me back and I told them that we want to be back. … Though you anticipate that it will, you never know.”

    In addition to Beason, the Giants have two restricted free agents, Paysinger and Herzlich. Of the two, Paysinger, who was solid as a starter, is likely to receive an original-round tender.

    Paysinger could potentially compete for the strong side, as it’s highly unlikely Rivers will be re-signed. Last year, Rivers’ primary responsibility was to play the run, and that happens to be one of Paysinger’s strengths.

    Herzlich will be an interesting case. He has three times had a chance to win the starting middle linebacker job but has failed to hang onto the job.

    After his most recent demotion from the starting lineup, he settled in on special teams, leading the Giants' special teams in tackles by the end of the season.

    What the Giants need to determine, though, is if Herzlich is worth an original-round tender. Do they feel comfortable with him as the primary backup at middle linebacker for an extended period, or has Bradford made enough progress to take over that spot?

    My guess is Herzlich will be signed to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum as the Giants have far more pressing needs to address with the limited cap space they are projected to have when the new league year starts on March 11.

Cornerbacks

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride (UFA), Terrell Thomas (UFA), Corey Webster (UFA), Aaron Ross (UFA), Jayron Hosley

    The cornerback position is in need of a massive overhaul in terms of both the starting lineup and its depth. About the only sure thing at this point is Amukamara, who last year was solid as a starter.

    McBride, who stepped in for the injured Webster, did well in that role, but his diminutive stature is always going to be an issue, especially as these taller receivers continue to populate the league. 

    Thomas could potentially challenge McBride for a starting job next year, but the Giants might want to start looking ahead toward the future at this spot.

    I think they are going to let both Ross and Webster walk and look to draft a prospect perhaps as high as the third round with an eye toward the long-term future.

    Hosley, meanwhile, continued to have trouble staying on the field in 2013. He will get another chance this coming year as the Giants rarely give up on draft picks, but time is starting to run out on his candidacy.

Safeties

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Antrel Rolle, Will Hill, Stevie Brown (UFA), Ryan Mundy (UFA), Cooper Taylor

    On paper, this group should be set for next year as Rolle and Hill will be the starters and Brown and Taylor likely the backups.

    However, it’s not as clear-cut as it looks. For starters, Rolle is entering the final year of his contract, which will account for $9.25 million against the cap.

    While you can certainly make a legitimate argument for Rolle being one of very few players who has earned his paycheck week in and week out, the Giants are more than likely going to need to lower his 2014 cap figure.

    That means that the 31-year-old Rolle is likely going to get a contract extension, which should lower his $7 million base salary and hence his overall cap figure.

    Hill took over the starting job for Mundy after he completed his second four-game league-imposed suspension. The problem with Hill isn’t his talent but rather his checkered past off the field.

    Hill has been trying to clean up his act, but his off-field shenanigans, as detailed by NJ.com, seem to make him too much of a risk to fully trust to this point.

    The Giants will, in all likelihood, re-sign Brown, who is coming off ACL surgery. Brown will be put on a closely monitored schedule as far as practice and game reps, perhaps similar to what Terrell Thomas went through last year.

    However, the Giants have had some bad luck of late with guys coming back from initial ACL surgeries—both Thomas and former receiver Domenik Hixon suffered partial tears of their previously surgically repaired ACLs, ending up missing consecutive seasons.

    While that’s not to say that the same fate will befall Brown, the Giants will probably want to have additional depth to go along with Taylor, who will be entering his second season, just in case.

    That depth will probably not be Mundy, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Mundy is entering his prime and got a taste of being a starter last year, a role that he might want to continue, if not here then with another team.

Special Teams

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    P Steve Weatherford, K Josh Brown (UFA), LS Zak DeOssie

    Brown, the only one of the three specialists to have a one-year “show-me” deal, did well enough with his tryout to earn a new contract with the Giants.

    However, he told me at the end of the season that he was hoping to get a longer deal with the Giants, a sentiment he more recently reiterated to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.

    Raanan reported that Brown expected to meet sometime this week with the front office to discuss a return engagement. 

    “I have three children and a wife and I just want to support my family that way as long as I can in this league,” he told Raanan.

    “My exit meetings were great and I know they are doing evaluations and the things they need to do. I look forward to talking with them very soon.”

     

    All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.

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