Setting Odds for New York Giants Signing Their Top 10 Free-Agent Targets
What are the odds?
We'll be asking that question a lot in the coming month, as the New York Giants prepare for the approaching bazaar of NFL talent better known as unrestricted free agency. The bidding will begin on March 11 at 4 p.m. EST.
Teams have the advantage of attempting to sign their own impending free agents before they hit the open market. In addition to five outside free agents the Giants cannot court until mid-March, I've included five of New York's most significant soon-to-be free agents.
In this article, I play Vegas oddsmaker and set the odds for the Giants signing their top 10 free-agent targets. They are ranked from least likely to sign to most likely to sign.
WR Hakeem Nicks: 50/1
Dating back to last offseason, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been one of the most talked about talents set to hit unrestricted free agency in 2014.
Hampered by injuries throughout 2012, all eyes were on Nicks coming into the 2013 season. The fact that he was mysteriously missing from some early-offseason workouts only heightened the intrigue surrounding the former Super Bowl champion. Would Nicks be able to replicate the numbers he put up during New York's most recent title run?
Nicks would not.
The most notable aspect of his 56-catch season was that not one went for a touchdown. He did approach 1,000 yards, eclipsing his 2012 receiving yardage total by more than 200 yards. Still, after hauling in an average of only 3.7 catches per game—the lowest average since his rookie year—Nicks was still clearly on a decline in 2013.
Some team will surely be interested in Nicks' pedigree as a Super Bowl champion and former first-round selection, but it won't be the Giants. General manager Jerry Reese recently criticized Nicks' focus, leading some to believe the team won't even attempt to re-sign the receiver, via Ralph Vacchiano and Ian Rapoport on Twitter.
DT Linval Joseph: 40/1
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was the big man in the middle for New York last season.
Effectively plugging up the middle in 15 of 16 games in 2013, Joseph anchored the league's sixth-stingiest run defense, in terms of average yards per carry (3.8). He also added three sacks, as the 323-pounder generated a formidable interior pass rush.
The only reason New York's chances to re-sign Joseph are so slim is because of how well he has played. He has been a solid starter since the Giants' 2011 Super Bowl season, missing only two games along the way. Now, NFL.com ranks Joseph as the No. 1 D-tackle free agent and the 13th-best overall.
Much like the way Joseph replaced Barry Cofield, who walked as a free agent in 2011, the Giants will probably expect second-year man Johnathan Hankins to replace Joseph as the starter. In that case, New York can comfortably allow another suitor to sweep Joseph away with a $35 to $40 million deal—a figure estimated by The Star-Ledger.
C Alex Mack: 12/1
The center position was easily one of New York's most troublesome in 2013.
David Baas, who was signed before the 2011 season to be the starter, played in just three games last season. Jim Cordle, his replacement, landed on injured reserve, as well. That dragged Kevin Boothe over from left guard to fill in for the remainder of the season.
Although Baas' contract situation is a complicated one (cutting him before June 1 saves the team only $1.8 million, while the cap hit will be in excess of $6 million), the Giants could benefit from bringing in a new center off the open market. Five-year veteran Alex Mack, who has always played for the Cleveland Browns, would be a good fit.
The expectation, according to ESPN.com, is that Mack tests the open market. He ranks first among free-agent centers and 18th overall, according to NFL.com. He has never missed a start in five seasons with the Browns, so the Giants could finally land some consistency at the position by bringing in Mack.
WR Mario Manningham: 10/1
Would you like to see wide receiver Mario Manningham, one of Super Bowl XLVI's most celebrated heroes, back with Big Blue?
Manningham was drafted out of Michigan in the third round by the Giants, the team with which he spent his first four seasons in the NFL. In Manningham's final contest as a Giant, he caught five passes for 73 yards, including an iconic sideline grab that ultimately led to his team's triumph over the New England Patriots for a Lombardi Trophy.
Then, Manningham landed in San Francisco as a free agent, alongside running back Brandon Jacobs. The 49ers went to the Super Bowl in Manningham's first season with the team, but neither he nor Jacobs participated in their return to the game's biggest stage. Manningham was lost to a torn ACL after 12 games, while Jacobs was suspended.
Now, Manningham will once again be a free agent—this time coming off an invisible, nine-catch season. The Giants could reel in a familiar wideout for cheap in Manningham, as the effort to replace Nicks may be addressed in free agency.
OT Branden Albert: 8/1
The Giants need to do all they can to improve the offensive line, and bringing in a sure-starter through free agency is a necessity.
If they can somehow lure Branden Albert to New York, you can expect the offensive turnaround to be immediate. Considering the Kansas City Chiefs' first-round selection of offensive tackle Eric Fisher in last year's draft, Albert is now expendable after playing the 2013 season under the franchise tag. ESPN.com does not expect Albert to be re-signed by the Chiefs.
Landing Albert is no small order for the Giants.
He is ranked by NFL.com as the top free-agent talent at tackle and the seventh-best overall. The acquisition of Albert would also require a positional shuffle. In his second season, Justin Pugh would likely need to move inside, while Albert mans one of the tackle positions—if it's on the left side, then Will Beatty would also need a new home.
The Giants will need to make cap room in order to sign a player like Albert, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2013. That can be done through extending the contracts of safety Antrel Rolle or quarterback Eli Manning.
RB Ben Tate: 6/1
The Giants need to solidify their running back situation, and Ben Tate could be the back to provide the team with a bit of consistency.
Running back David Wilson is no sure thing, as he attempts to recover from back surgery. Even if Wilson does pull off a healthy return, his effectiveness at the NFL level has yet to be displayed with only 504 yards in two seasons. His counterpart, Andre Brown, has missed 14 games since he became relevant in 2012, and his injury history goes back even further than that. Brown is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Tate did not get many chances to start with the Houston Texans behind one of the league's premier backs in Arian Foster (just nine starts in three seasons). He will certainly compete for starting duties if signed by the Giants, as Tate will look to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the first time as a pro. From a reserve role, he recorded 942 yards in 2011 and 771 last year.
Perhaps frustrated by his limited opportunities, Tate says he's done with the Texans, according to John McClain on Twitter. The Giants can be the team to finally give Tate the chance he deserves.
TE Jermichael Finley: 2/1
Of all the outside talents expected to hit the open market, tight end Jermichael Finley has the best chance to resurface in New York.
Finley has had an up-and-down career in Green Bay. His high point may have been the 2011 season, when he racked up 767 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, while his low point was probably the bruised spinal cord he suffered last season. Not only did the injury end his 2013 season, many believed it was serious enough to be career-threatening.
Now, Finley is coming off spinal fusion surgery, but that doesn't mean he's willing to consider a hometown discount just to stay in Green Bay, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. New Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who last coached the Packers quarterbacks, should implement a system that is somewhat familiar to Finley.
If you think the connection is worthy, so does safety Antrel Rolle. Finley and Rolle reportedly watched the Super Bowl together and spoke of the possibility of the tight end joining the Giants through free agency. New York's starting tight end from last season, Brandon Myers, recently had his contract voided.
DE Justin Tuck: Even Money
Since his breakout campaign in 2007, when he played alongside Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, defensive end Justin Tuck has been the headman of Big Blue's defense.
Now, Strahan and Umenyiora are both long gone; Tuck could be next. In the final year of his contract, Tuck bounced back from a pair of subpar seasons to record 11 sacks. From 2007 to 2010, Tuck registered three double-digit-sack seasons and two Pro Bowl appearances. In 2011 and 2012 combined, however, he brought down just nine passers in the regular season.
So, Tuck's 11-sack season of 2013 was rather unexpected—a flashback of a vintage No. 91. The sudden success has bloated Tuck's confidence to new levels. In November, he told Steve Serby of the New York Post that his desire to stay in New York was "an obvious 'yes,'" but now he promises to test the open market and deny the option of a hometown discount.
At 30 years old, Tuck's best playing days are easily behind him, and his true value is relatively unknown. We'll presumably figure that out in a month, when he either decides to stay in New York or play elsewhere.
LB Jon Beason: 1/2
The Giants were in dire need of a linebacker last season, and a midseason trade with the Carolina Panthers delivered a solid one in Jon Beason.
The team's turnaround—from 0-6 start to 7-3 run to close out the season—was spurred by the acquisition of Beason. The Giants defense, after allowing 30 points in each of its first five contests, was revived by Beason's infusion into the unit. Unfortunately for New York, he did absolutely nothing for the limping offense.
Beason recorded 93 tackles for the Giants, just five tackles shy of the team lead despite playing the first four games of the season in Carolina. His strength is in run defense, as the athletic former first-rounder excels from sideline to sideline with the play in front of him. The Giants lost a mere seventh-round selection in this spring's draft to acquire the linebacker.
The Giants would be smart to lock up Beason through 2014. Jordan Raanan of NJ.com believes there is a "strong likelihood" of his return, and the New York Daily News reports that contract talks are already underway.
K Josh Brown: 1/5
This one is a near-lock.
Kicker Josh Brown, who joined the team just last season, should return for another one in 2014. Longtime Giant Lawrence Tynes provided a tough act to follow, but Brown did just fine in one season with Big Blue. After spending seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Cardinals and one with the Cincinnati Bengals, the 34-year-old hit 23 of 26 field-goal attempts (88.5 percent) and all 31 extra-point attempts.
Brown's biggest games came in Week 8 versus the Philadelphia Eagles, when he accounted for all of New York's points in a 15-7 victory, and in Week 16 versus the Detroit Lions, when he hit all three of his field-goal attempts, including a season-long 52-yarder and a game-winner in overtime.
Moving forward, the Giants could use the services of an efficient kicker like Brown. The team is reportedly interested in retaining Brown and a deal is not far off, according to Raanan of NJ.com. He could be the first impending free agent New York officially locks up through 2014.