What's in store for QB Eli Manning.
The New York Giants are about to enter a transitional period.
The 7-9 team that staggered through the 2013 season aims to look much different next fall. No one knows what exact changes are to come—but I can offer my best guess.
A few of these predictions may be classified as a gut feeling rather than an educated guess. That's the thing about the NFL offseason—studying trends and team tendencies can get us so far, but, ultimately, there's bound to be a few surprises. This offseason has the potential to be particularly wacky, as evidenced by New York's coaching carousel in January.
My predictions for these 2014 Giants will begin with the offseason—starting with free agency, continuing through the draft and even plunging into training camp, preseason and the regular season.
Several of these predictions will not come to fruition for several months, so be sure to bookmark this page. That way you can return throughout the offseason and marvel at my foresight...or revel in my foolishness.
Also, don't forget to leave your own predictions in the comment section below.
WR Hakeem Nicks is as good as gone.
My first prediction involves New York's two highest-profile impending free agents: wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
I predict that neither Nicks nor Joseph will be retained by the Giants.
Nicks still considers himself "one of the top receivers in this league," even after a touchdown-less season, per the New York Post. His preference would be to prove that statement as a recently re-signed member of the Giants, as Connor Orr of The Star-Ledger reported earlier this month.
General Manager Jerry Reese did not deny Nicks' natural ability, but he did question Nicks' focus and ability to stay healthy, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News on Twitter. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports that Nicks' return is unlikely, while also shedding light on "multiple" fines from the 2013 season.
Joseph was quite possibly the Giants' best defensive lineman in 2013. Staunch against the run and disruptive in the passing pocket, Joseph is expected to command "at least $35-40 million" on the open market, according to Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger. To return to New York, however, the massive D-tackle may need to accept a hometown discount.
Some will say losing Joseph to free agency provides a larger obstacle to overcome than does losing Nicks. The Giants will have second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins waiting in the wings, though, while an Eli Manning offense without a proven outside threat is virtually unknown.
LB Jon Beason will likely return for 2014.
Some carryovers from the 2013 season will again be with the team next fall; few will be playing under a renewed contractual agreement.
Some impending free agents did enough in last year's miserable season to warrant their return. I predict linebacker Jon Beason, whom the Giants acquired midseason via trade with the Carolina Panthers, will be among those select players.
The Giants reaped the immediate benefits of the Beason addition. After allowing more than 30 points in each of the first five games of the season, New York allowed only one team—the San Diego Chargers in Week 15—to eclipse 30 points in the 11 games following the infusion of Beason.
At the turn of the New Year, Jordan Raanan of The Star-Ledger reported that there is a "strong likelihood" of Beason being re-signed through 2014. The contract he signs will be a reasonable one for a 28-year-old with a considerable injury history.
Some players who are reportedly likely to return for 2014 are safety Stevie Brown (via NJ.com), kicker Josh Brown (via NJ.com), tight end Bear Pascoe (via The Star-Ledger) and running back Andre Brown (via The Star-Ledger).
Other conceivable options include cornerback Terrell Thomas—who wants to be a starter, but not specifically with the Giants, per Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News—offensive lineman Kevin Boothe and defensive lineman Mike Patterson.
You may have noticed one notable omission: defensive end and team captain Justin Tuck.
Although the team stuck by Tuck throughout two consecutive subpar seasons, amid which he sometimes contemplated retirement, the one-time All-Pro promises to test the waters of the unrestricted open market, as he elaborated on in a Metlife promotional interview, per the New York Post.
Speaking to reporters in December after practice, he also said he isn't interested in succumbing to any sort of "hometown discount" the Giants may offer.
Tuck's championship ties to New York are strong, so I'm hesitant to believe he isn't more reluctant to leave than he is letting on. I will reserve my prediction on Tuck's fate.
OL Branden Albert could earn a big deal with the Giants.
The Giants don't normally make a big splash in free agency, and this year probably won't be much different. But I wouldn't be surprised—and it wouldn't be totally atypical—if the Giants signed one big free agent and paid him like a starter.
In 2005, the Giants acquired both linebacker Antonio Pierce and wide receiver Plaxico Burress through free agency. The Pierce and Burress contracts commanded more than $50 million combined, as both players became integral starters through the team's championship run of 2007.
Then, in 2010, New York broke the bank to reel in safety Antrel Rolle, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. His five-year, $37 million deal made him the highest-paid safety in NFL history at the time. The Giants have effectively milked Rolle's worth, utilizing him in safety, cornerback and even linebacker-type roles.
The Star-Ledger estimates that the Giants will have about $20 million to spend in 2014 free agency, but they can maximize that figure by extending the contracts of Rolle and Eli Manning. This all depends, of course, on how aggressive an approach the Giants decide to take when tackling the open market.
If the Giants want to make a single blockbuster signing—like the one involving Rolle in 2010, or the Burress and Pierce signings five years before that—it would not cripple the cap. While the team is likely to sign the usual stopgaps and reclamation projects that compete for starting duties, it wouldn't be unusual for Big Blue to shell out some clams for a real superstar.
Considering New York's need for able-bodied offensive linemen, tackle Branden Albert (Kansas City Chiefs) and center Alex Mack (Cleveland Browns) should be on the team's radar as realistic free-agency options.
Or, perhaps the Giants look to replace veteran Corey Webster and attack a deep cornerback market that includes Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins), Aqib Talib (New England Patriots), Tim Jennings (Chicago Bears) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Denver Broncos).
The options are ripe for the plucking, but it's uncertain what these Giants are looking to harvest in the 2014 unrestricted free agency.
OL Greg Robinson can start immediately in the NFL.
As I stated in the last slide, the Giants have an obvious need for offensive linemen primed to make an impact. That's why I predict they'll select one in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Almost no rookies earn the right to start immediately under head coach Tom Coughlin, and so the Giants rarely draft with the intention of acquiring a player who's fit to contribute right away. However, that's exactly what the Giants need in this year's draft, especially along the O-line.
Right tackle Justin Pugh was able to start all 16 games of his rookie season in 2013, establishing himself as one of the team's more satisfactory offensive linemen along the way. This fact should be encouraging for the old-school Coughlin, whose reluctance to start youngsters may fade a bit as his offense heads in a new direction.
All of the top offensive line prospects in the 2014 draft, regardless of specific position, should be on the team's radar. The tackle situation—although both Pugh and left tackle Will Beatty started all 16 games last season—is far from set in stone.
Longtime Giant David Diehl's retirement leaves the aging trio of him, right tackle Chris Snee and center David Baas shorthanded on the inside (and it's no guarantee Snee and Baas return either). Versatile blocker Kevin Boothe is set to become an unrestricted free agent in about a month, as well.
Atop the Giants' big board this spring should be tackles Jake Matthews of Texas A&M, Greg Robinson of Auburn, Taylor Lewan of Michigan and Cyrus Kouandjio of Alabama. Stanford guard David Yankey and Arkansas center Travis Swanson should not rank far behind.
Protecting Manning should be paramount in 2014, one season after he was sacked a career-high 39 times. Adding any of these linemen should drastically improve the Giants' current situation.
DB Dontae Johnson could be a late-round sleeper.
General Manager Jerry Reese will be determined to assemble a solid draft class, especially after putting himself—as well as the rest of the team—on notice last offseason. The Giants' 7-9 record and lack of a postseason berth in 2013 should have Reese on his toes—especially during the later rounds of the draft.
Always looking to get ahead, Reese will be searching for a late-round sleeper in this year's draft. I predict Reese will select his finest gem since he took Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round of the 2007 draft.
Bradshaw came to the Giants in the final round of Reese's first draft class as New York's GM. The young running back emerged late in the team's 2007 Super Bowl run. After tugging the starting running back job from Brandon Jacobs' grasp in 2010, Bradshaw racked up over 4,000 rushing yards as well as 35 total touchdowns.
Across the league, we see late-round talent thriving as starters in the NFL.
Just last weekend, on the game's biggest stage, the Seattle Seahawks showcased several late-round selections in the Super Bowl. Daunting defensive backs Kam Chancellor (2010) and Richard Sherman (2011) were both fifth-rounders, while the title game's Most Valuable Player award went to a seventh-rounder, linebacker Malcolm Smith (2011).
So it can be done. The safest bet seems to be selecting a running back, but the Giants' 2011 project, Maryland product Da'Rel Scott, ultimately failed. The updated project, now involving the 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox of UMass, is still underway. Perhaps New York should branch out.
If the Giants attempt to mimic Seattle's strategy, North Carolina State's Dontae Johnson could fit the bill. A 6'2", 199-pound cornerback, Johnson has steadily improved over the past two seasons with the Wolfpack. He is now projected to be selected in Rounds 4-6, according to WalterFootball.com. He competed for the North team in the Senior Bowl.
Reese is due to sniff out a sleeper in this year's draft.
WR Jerrel Jernigan could run away with a new contract.
Much of GM Jerry Reese's 2011 draft class has underperformed. I predict that will change for at least one member of that draft class in 2014.
These players are now in the final year of their rookie contracts. Their final chance to showcase their NFL worth will occur this season.
The front-runner is wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan. In the final three games of the season, the 2011 third-rounder hauled in 19 passes, ripping them off for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He also added a 57-yard touchdown rush on an end-around in the season finale versus the Washington Redskins. The 5'9" Jernigan could easily squeak his way into a new-look offense.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara and linebacker Jacquian Williams are two players looking to make the next step.
Amukamara has become a consistent starter on the outside for the Giants, but he has intercepted just three passes in as many years of professional service. Starting all 16 games was a major step for Amukamara in 2013; the former first-rounder's next step is to increase his interception total and become a feared shutdown corner.
Williams, on the other hand, is the classic "will-he, won't-he" prospect for the Giants. Equipped with all the physical tools, Williams has struggled to overcome his own inexperience, as well as injury trouble during his tenure in New York. Although he may never grade out as an every-down linebacker, the 2011 sixth-round selection could sell himself as a valuable situational commodity.
The dark horse in this race is former fourth-round selection James Brewer, an offensive lineman from Indiana. Although he is New York's largest offensive lineman at 6-foot-6 and 323 pounds, Brewer has hardly progressed in three years as a pro. He played in all 16 games last season, mostly appearing as a Jumbo TE. His experience as a starter has been abysmal.
One of these four—be it Jernigan, Amukamara, Williams or Brewer—will thrive with a new deal on the line in 2014.
QB Eli Manning hands off to RB David Wilson.
I predict, under this new McAdoo regime, quarterback Eli Manning will have a resurgent season; running back David Wilson, a 2012 first-round selection, will not be as lucky.
Manning, in his final season under Gilbride, had his worst season as a pro in 2013. He completed only 57.5 percent of his passes, tossing just 18 touchdowns compared to 27 interceptions, a career high. McAdoo may implement a more controlled West Coast offense, which may simplify some of the passes Manning will need to make in 2014.
Manning has twice before thrown for 20-interception seasons (2007, 2010). He successfully bounced back from both of those mistake-riddled seasons with two of the cleanest years of his career, significantly cutting into his previous turnover totals in '08 and '11. With the help of McAdoo, Manning can pull off a similar turnaround yet again.
Tabbed explosive, as a running back Wilson's ignition has been stuck.
In two NFL seasons, Wilson has rushed for a meager 504 yards, scoring five rushing touchdowns and coughing up three big fumbles. Wilson's 1,533 kick-return yards as a rookie displayed his outstanding playmaking ability and earned him an All-Pro honor. That big-play potential will spoil, however, if it doesn't translate to his play in the offensive backfield.
Now, complicating Wilson's waltz with a draft-bust label is a serious neck condition. Like Manning, Wilson will be given a fair shake to redeem himself in 2014. Unlike Manning, Wilson does not possess a positive track record of making that type of turnaround.
Maybe McAdoo can make something of the troubled young runner, but I wouldn't recommend holding your breath.