It's another offseason, and the New York Giants are in need of yet another tight end.
The Giants have fielded a different starting tight end in each of the past four seasons. Since Kevin Boss manned the position from 2007 to 2010, stopgaps Jake Ballard (2011), Martellus Bennett (2012) and Brandon Myers (2013) have created a rotating door at starting tight end.
And through it all, quarterback Eli Manning has found his tight end—whomever that may be—with remarkable consistency. In each season since 2010, Manning has completed at least 35 passes to his tight end, racking up no less than 500 receiving yards and four touchdowns in any one season.
|NY Giants Tight End Production Since 2010|
The one constant—besides Manning—has been tight ends coach Mike Pope. That will change in 2014, as New York has ushered in a new offensive ideology to be masterminded by new coordinator Ben McAdoo. With nearly every offensive coach from last season either terminated or reassigned, Pope's 13-year run with the team that began under Jim Fassel in 2000 (he was also on staff from 1983 to 1991) came to an end.
For Myers, it was not enough to just maintain the standard set by previous Pope-coached tight ends. As general manager Jerry Reese made perfectly clear in a postseason radio interview with Mike Francesa of CBS New York, Myers did not meet expectations in 2013 (h/t Big Blue View):
We brought Myers in, he caught a bunch of balls out in Oakland. We thought he'd be quarterback friendly. He gave us the same production we've had for the last couple years. We hoped he'd be an improvement for us, but that didn't happen for whatever reason. It's disappointing.
Even without Pope's services, the Giants can tap their next tight end to reach a new level of production under McAdoo. Before coaching the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks (2012 to 2013), McAdoo spent six seasons as the Packers tight ends coach (2006 to 2011).
Two of McAdoo's former tight ends in Green Bay are scheduled to hit free agency in less than a month. They are former third-round selection Jermichael Finley and his backup, Andrew Quarless.
Because of their familiarity with McAdoo's system, Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger has recently named both Finley and Quarless as plausible free-agent targets for the Giants to pursue. The remainder of this article will highlight the potential fit of these two tight ends in New York's offense.
The first concern, when it comes to Finley, is his health.
He is not your standard reclamation project with a laundry list of tweaks, tears and minor surgeries; Finley is coming off a 2013 season that was shortened to just six games after suffering a bruised spinal cord versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. The injury was initially thought to be so severe that many believed Finley would never see the field again.
|Jermichael Finley Career Stats|
Finley had spinal fusion surgery a couple of weeks following his original injury, after being placed on injured reserve. No player wishes to face the open market coming off such a serious injury, but the word from Finley's camp has been optimistic. His player rep told the New York Post that Finley's current workouts have not been unlike those he had before the neck injury.
The injury has not hampered Finley's confidence. Despite missing 10 games last season, the University of Texas product has no interest in taking a discount to stay in Green Bay; perhaps Finley will warm up to Antrel Rolle's unofficial offer to join Big Blue in 2014.
From a production standpoint, Finley's statistics dwarf those of recent New York tight ends.
In three of his six NFL seasons, Finley has eclipsed 650 receiving yards three times—a yardage total not met by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey accumulated 891 during his Pro Bowl season of 2005. Finley's eight-touchdown mark set in 2011 hasn't been matched by a Giants tight end since Mark Bavaro's 1987 All-Pro campaign.
With 223 catches, 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns through six seasons, Finley is one of the most productive players of any position expected to reach free agency. He is, indeed, expected to agree upon a one-year deal—not with the Packers—to prove that he can still add to those career totals, even after a threatening neck injury.
Or the Giants can settle on Finley's backup, Quarless, who is also slated to reach free agency in March. Quarless' health is less in question than Finley's, although the former fifth-round selection out of Penn State did miss the entire 2012 season with a serious knee injury.
|Andrew Quarless Career Stats|
Quarless, however, did bounce back from that injury, playing in all 16 games last season. He logged a career-high 10 starts in place of the critically injured Finley. Even without the prolific Aaron Rodgers in the lineup at quarterback, Quarless made do with a mix of Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn for much of the 2013 season.
Although he did not miss a game, Quarless only caught 32 passes, barely eclipsing 300 receiving yards while hauling in just two touchdowns. His numbers weren't any better than Finley's, despite remaining healthy for the entire season. That's nothing new for Quarless; he has just 56 career catches for 586 yards and three touchdowns.
With second-year tight end Brandon Bostick also getting into the mix in the wake of Finley's 2013 neck injury, Quarless rarely stood out in a single game.
He did put together a solid two-week stretch, however, when he registered identical 6-66-1 stat lines in Weeks 14 and 15 against the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. If brought in as a starter, Quarless will be expected of that type of production on a near-weekly basis.
Quarless, perhaps a more celebrated blocker than Finley, may also be the safer pickup. His knee is still a legitimate concern, but a significantly lesser one than Finley's neck. At 25 years old, Quarless is still a year younger than Finley—he also measures an inch shorter (6'4") and five pounds heavier (252 lbs).
Finley is the proven product, and he probably has the higher ceiling in New York. His past statistics already stack him up against the greatest to play the position for Big Blue. Considering his recent injury and uncertain future, however, Finley should be approached with a healthy dose of trepidation.
Quarless, on the other hand, could become the underrated signing of the spring. McAdoo is familiar with his ability, and he should come considerably cheaper than Finley. If the Giants are confident enough, they can lock him up to a multiyear deal, potentially solving a consistency issue that has plagued New York's starting tight end position for four years.