The Giants have several “bubble” free agents whose return could go either way. Here's a look at the three that, in my opinion, could go either way.
Defensive End Justin Tuck
Regardless of what the Giants plan to do in the draft at defensive end, I think they need to bring Tuck back in 2014 based on their current depth.
Jason Pierre-Paul is coming back from a shoulder issue for which he didn’t have surgery.
While there is optimism that he’ll be okay moving forward, if the injury was bad enough to keep him out of five games out of concern that it would get worse, there has to be some concern that one wrong hit might re-aggravate it.
Damontre Moore, meanwhile, did have a surgical procedure on his shoulder for an injury he suffered in training camp.
While the prognosis is encouraging, as is usually the case with players coming back from surgery, they often have to spend a significant amount of time with rehabbing, which cuts into training.
Even if he wasn’t coming back from surgery, Moore was not assured of a starting spot in 2014.
Mathias Kiwanuka is healthy and under contract, but he didn’t have one of his better years last season. Early on, I thought he could be a salary cap cut, but given Tuck’s situation and the recovery of Moore and Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka appears to be safe for this year.
This is why the Giants need Tuck. He’s relatively healthy, and he did post one of his better seasons in 2013.
While I don’t think the Giants should break the bank for him, I do think if they can get him back for a reasonable two-year deal averaging around $3 million per season, they would be foolish not to.
Running Back Andre Brown
The Giants’ running back situation is a mess. Other than David Wilson, whose exact return date remains a mystery, and Michael Cox, who is entering his second season, this team has no experienced running backs under contract.
Brown is currently an unrestricted free agent, who, due to injuries suffered by the guys in front of him the last two seasons (Ahmad Bradshaw and Wilson), was thrust into the No. 1 running back role with mixed results.
In 2012, before suffering his first broken leg, Brown started off strong, having his breakout game in Week 3 against Carolina when he ran 20 times for 113 yards.
Unfortunately for him, his carries after that dipped to single digits, and with that, his yardage totals.
In his final game of that season, Brown, who had been reduced to a third-down back and goal-line rusher, carried the ball 13 times for 64 yards.
His pass protection, though, wasn’t always a strong point, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), who gave him a -1.8 pass blocking grade for that season.
In 2013, it was more of the same. This time, Brown missed the first half of the season due to a broken leg suffered in the preseason.
When he returned, he was sporting a protective shin guard as he assumed the role as the Giants No. 1 running back.
He started out with two 100-yard performances in his first three games, this behind an offensive line that was already deteriorating due to injuries.
In his last five games of the season, Brown’s rushing yardage only exceeded the 40-yard mark once (81 yards on 16 carries against San Diego).
More alarmingly, though, is that he lost three balls in his final four games while also leaving some yards to be had on the field.
So where does that leave Brown on his quest to return to the Giants? If New York doesn’t view him as a No. 1 back—and based on his injury and production history, they might not—they’re not going to pay Brown a premium per-year salary.
Currently for 2014, the Giants have committed $3,489,520 toward the running back position (including fullback), per Over the Cap.
Brown’s average-per-year worth probably falls somewhere between just shy of $2 million per year if the plan is to return him to being the change-of-pace and goal-line back while making a still to-be-determined free agent the bell cow.
Kicker Josh Brown
At the end of last season, the 34-year-old Brown, who was one of about a dozen players signed to a one-year minimum qualifying offer, told me that he was interested in returning to the Giants, but only if a multiyear deal could be worked out.
Brown certainly made a strong case to earn such a deal. Last season, he made 88.5 percent of his field goal attempts, his second-best showing in 16 games played since 2004 when, as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, he converted 92.0 percent of his attempts.
Brown, who last year made $1.040 million between his base and bonus, also finished 2013 having made all 31 of his PAT and made eight out of 10 field goal attempts of 40 or more yards.
While not a league leader in any of those categories, his solid kicking was likely good enough to earn him at least a two-year deal that I estimate will average a little more than the $1.040 million per year he made last year.