When a football team finishes its season 7-9, it’s hard to designate many, if any free agents, who contributed to that record as players who must be re-signed.
But hey, I love a challenge. I also like to think outside of the box when trying to answer questions that on the surface have an obvious answer.
In the case of the New York Giants, the obvious answers to the question of who they "absolutely must re-sign" would probably include linebacker Jon Beason, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and running back Andre Brown.
Another popular choice that's been discussed by my B/R colleagues, Brad Gagnon and Kevin Boilard, is defensive end Justin Tuck. I thought about adding my two cents on Tuck's importance moving forward, but then after reading Brad and Kevin's arguments, there's really not much else I think I can add.
So I decided to go outside the box with my pick, which is safety Stevie Brown.
Yes, the same player who spent the 2013 season on the injured reserve list with a torn ACL and whose market demand might not be as robust as perhaps he and his agent might have hoped.
Why should the Giants make re-signing a player who is coming off a major season-ending injury a priority?
I'll give you three reasons: cost, depth and production. Read on.
When it comes to forecasting which players are likely to be re-signed, cost is probably the top factor in the equation, regardless of if the player is coming off a season-ending injury.
Brown is going to be 27 years old and is coming off ACL surgery.
Because of the injury, Brown, who last year signed a one-year restricted free-agent tender that paid him $2.023 million (the second-level RFA tender), can probably be re-signed for a one-year, cap-friendly deal similar to what cornerback Terrell Thomas received last year.
That deal consisted of the NFL minimum base salary with playing time incentives and a split salary in the event he ended up on injured reserve, a $785,000 signing bonus and $35,000 workout bonus.
If Brown makes good on a one-year "show me contract," then both he and the Giants end up as winners, Brown for having re-established his market value post-injury and the Giants for having managed to retain a key piece of the puzzle at an extremely reasonable cost.
Ideally, the Giants carry four safeties during the season. For 2014, they'll have three already under contract: Antrel Rolle, Will Hill and Cooper Taylor. However, a closer look at each player unearths some potential concerns.
The first and most obvious concern is Hill, the extremely talented but troubled safety who last year moved into the starting lineup after completing his second four-game league-imposed suspension in as many years.
Hill has been trying to straighten out his life by addressing past demons that have included marijuana use. During training camp last summer, he told reporters that he was part of an outpatient program to help him deal with his prior issue and the social pressures that led to them.
“Everyone was reaching their hand out thinking I’m an ATM, and people who think you owe them something,” he said.
“It was just a situation where I was visiting back to my hometown and a guy pulled a shotgun on me right then and wanted money. How do you deal with those situations? I really can’t so I dealt with it the best way I knew how.”
While he appeared to make progress, he was arrested in December on a warrant related to child support. The New York Daily News, citing a police report of that arrest, revealed that marijuana was also involved in Hill’s apprehension.
It’s not known just how many more chances the Giants are going to afford Hill, whose troubled time line was documented by NJ.com in December.
It would be shortsighted if, given his history so far, they were to ignore his history, at least until he proves himself to be more reliable off the field.
Taylor, who will be entering his second season in 2014, was the Giants’ fifth-round draft pick last year, a player who joined the team with loads of promise related to his height and athleticism.
Unfortunately, the rookie out of Richmond never really got going. Thanks to shoulder and hamstring injuries, he was limited to just five snaps on defense, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Instead, he tried to make his mark on special teams, where his highlight was his scoop and score of a blocked punt against the Raiders on Nov. 10 before the hamstring injury ended his season.
The Giants will be looking for significant growth out of Taylor in 2014. Given the practice time he missed as a rookie, it remains to be seen just how far he can realistically progress on defense.
Despite his $9.25 million 2014 cap figure, Rolle has proved that he can perform at a very high level. However, he is advancing in age—he’ll turn 32 next December.
While there is no reason right now to expect a decline in Rolle’s production, there is going to come a point where the Giants simply can’t continue to give him a raise in his base salaries. That point could be coming sooner than later.
This year, Rolle will once again earn $7 million in base salary, the same figure he earned last year. It would not be surprising if the Giants attempt to lower that figure in order to create additional cap space given all their other needs.
If they do so, they'll either look to extend Rolle's contract, or if they don't want to commit many more years to him, they can add some voidable years to offset upfront money, a tactic they used with tight end Brandon Myers.
We’ve seen through the years solid Giants players like offensive lineman Chris Snee and former tackle Kareem McKenzie go from having banner seasons to all of a sudden showing a decline in skills, be it due to an injury or some other factor.
Given that a drop-off can happen with little to no warning, the Giants need to be wary about shelling out too much money on any player who is on the wrong side of 30 and who is only one piece of the puzzle.
Mundy isn't under contract for 2014, and certainly there might be some who are in favor of making him a higher priority than Brown.
The problem is that Mundy, who got a taste of being a starter last year, might want to continue in that role, an opportunity he's not likely to have with the Giants.
The 28-year-old Mundy is just now entering his prime, and if he can go to a team willing to pay him like a starter, he would be foolish to turn down the offer to return to the Giants for what could conceivably be a one-year veteran minimum deal.
There is always a chance that Mundy could return for the Giants if the market demand isn't there. However, the Giants haven't been known to sit around and wait for many players, and it's doubtful they'd sit and wait for Mundy to fully explore his options on the open market.
|New York Giants: Defensive Interceptions|
|No. INTs||Team Leader|
|2012||21||S. Brown (8)|
|2013||17||A. Rolle (6)|
|NFL GSIS (login required)|
If there’s one thing the Giants defense really missed by not having Brown in the lineup, it was his ball-hawking ability.
In 2012, he led the Giants with eight interceptions for a league-high 307 return yards. His eight picks also represented 38 percent of the Giants' 2012 total (21), which, by the way, was 3.9 percent of opposing quarterbacks' pass attempts.
In 2013, those figures declined. The team leader in interceptions was Rolle, who had six, or 35 percent of the Giants’ 17 total interceptions.
New York picked off 2.8 percent of the opponents; passes, another decline from the previous season.
Also worth noting is the Giants finished tied for 12th in the NFL (with Denver and New England) in interceptions last year. That’s a significant drop from the third-place spot they shared with Washington in 2012.
Certainly, the Giants have many other pressing needs to address in free agency. However, if Brown returns and is able to contribute a fraction of what he contributed in 2012, just think of how much better last year's eighth-ranked defense might be moving forward.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.