Top 10 Biggest Issues Facing the New York Giants This Offseason
The New York Giants go into this offseason with a myriad of questions, none of which have easy answers.
Coming off their first losing season since Tom Coughlin became head coach in 2004, the team as a whole looked like a shell of the squad that won the Super Bowl just two years ago.
With aspirations of becoming the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium, the Giants promptly fell to 0-6 to start the 2013 season, becoming the first team in history to allow 30 or more points in the first six games. By the time the defense got it together, the offense couldn't do anything and was often overmatched.
Following years of success under general manager Jerry Reese, the Giants are now in a rebuilding stage. Many things have already changed since the end of the regular season and more change is on the horizon. This is a necessary stage if the Giants hope to recapture their competitive edge.
The following list highlights 10 areas the Giants need to focus on during this rebuilding stage. Fortunately they are in a better position than most teams that have to go through this process. Some of the issues presented can be looked at this offseason but are not issues that need to be immediately addressed.
Others are more pressing issues that the Giants must address immediately if they have any hope of being competitive in the upcoming season. Each issue was analyzed in the context of how urgently it needs to be addressed for success in 2014.
As uncharacteristic as the offensive struggles were for Big Blue, the lack of a pass rush was even more unusual.
A defensive line that fields three former All-Pro linemen (Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaun Rogers) managed to register only 34 total sacks, tied for 25th in the league. Tuck led the group with 11 sacks, recording 9.5 of them in the final five games of the season.
Despite his late-season surge, Tuck may have played his last season in New York. Reese decided to let the veteran leader test the free-agent market but is open to his return. This is due in large part to another pending free agent the Giants want to lock up: Linval Joseph.
Joseph is quietly one of the up-and-coming defensive tackles in the league and will be in high demand on an open market pretty thin at defensive tackle. The Giants would love to keep Joseph around to pair with Johnathan Hankins to form a solid young defensive line interior.
One of the biggest question marks on the defensive side of the ball focuses on how well Pierre-Paul returns from injury. JPP underwent back surgery shortly after the 2012 season. The recovery process put his 2013 season in jeopardy, but he made it back in time to suit up for the beginning of the season.
However, it was clear he had not fully recovered. He managed only two sacks in 11 games before missing the final five games of the season. The Giants need him to return to his 2011 form when he was a Defensive Player of the Year finalist and was an unblockable force. When healthy, he is easily one of the best defenders in the league.
The last question mark on the defensive line is 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore. After being considered a first-round prospect for much of his final collegiate season, Moore slipped to the third round. Occasionally, Moore flashed the big-play ability that had him rated as one of the best pass-rushers in the draft, but he had trouble moving up the depth chart.
If Moore can play up to his potential and JPP comes back from injury, it will go a long way towards helping the pass rush regain its former glory. Fortunately, this is the area of least need given the line's depth. It is more of an issue of the current cast playing up to its potential rather than any retooling.
This past season was the first in a few seasons where the cornerback position wasn’t decimated by injury.
And the results spoke for themselves.
The Giants quietly had the 10th-ranked pass defense in the league, a vast improvement from years past. While it isn't Big Blue's most pressing issue, the team does have to figure out the future of its defensive backfield if the success from last season is to be sustained.
One of the first things the Giants must determine is which of the three free-agent corners they should re-sign, if any of them.
Journeyman Trumaine McBride played very well down the stretch and looks to be the top choice for being re-signed. Terrell Thomas came back from two ACL injuries and also played well, specializing in the slot. There is a good chance Aaron Ross will be re-signed as well but only for depth as he is not starter material.
Another question mark in the secondary is what to do with Prince Amukamara. He is going into his contract year needing to prove he is cornerback of the future for the Giants. He has steadily improved every year he has been in the NFL and is a solid starter, but when you are picked 19th overall, you are expected to be more than just solid.
He has yet to really live up to the billing he had coming out of college. Because of this, the Giants have be linked 2014 first-round draft prospects Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard. At least one of these top-tier corners should be available when the Giants pick at No. 12 and could prove to either be a great complement to Amukamara or his replacement.
The receiving corps is slated to see its fair share of new faces.
Star wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is destined for free agency following a season in which he failed to reach the end zone and alienated himself from the Giants brass. Victor Cruz was on pace for his third 1,000-yard season but was injured late in the season which gave Coughlin and Reese plenty of time to see how the other receivers were developing.
Second year receiver Rueben Randle showed promise as he led the team with six touchdowns. However, he still was inconsistent and was on the wrong end of a number of miscommunications with Manning. The jury is still out on Randle, and the Giants could look to the draft for some more depth at the position.
Two possible early targets are Texas A&M’s Mike Evans or USC’s Marqise Lee. Coming in at 6’5”, Evans is an impressive physical specimen who would provide the Giants with the large-bodied deep threat they haven’t had since Plaxico Burress. Evans also showed impressive speed by running a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine.
Lee is coming off a down season but was one of college football’s most dynamic players in 2012. He is a threat after the catch and is an excellent kick returner, a position of need if David Wilson can’t return for the start of the season. Lee would be an excellent fit in the West Coast system the Giants are installing.
Despite the possibility of going wide receiver in the first round, this is not the most pressing need right now for the Giants. Cruz, Randle and Jerrel Jernigan are all 27 years old or younger. If the Giants draft a receiver, it most likely will be in the later rounds when the value is high, much like what they did with Jernigan and Randle.
West Coast Adjustment
Following an atrocious season offensively, everyone associated with or following the New York Giants knew change was on the horizon.
The biggest change that happened was the retirement of veteran offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. There were many who felt even before the debacle of 2013 that Gilbride’s play-calling had become stale and a change was needed.
The Giants replaced him with Ben McAdoo, who most recently served as the quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers. McAdoo intends to infuse the current Giants playbook with his own West Coast system.
This will mark the first time in Eli Manning’s professional career that he will have to learn a new offense. There is a lot of pressure on him to bounce back this year after a career worst season in 2013. The pressure is multiplied given that he will be learning a new system that features new faces.
The pressure is also on McAdoo to bring this offense back to the ranks of the elite. If he can do this, he will almost certainly seal his spot as the successor to Coughlin once Coughlin retires. McAdoo would be the logical choice as he was one of the most in-demand coaches this season and, given the way the Giants like offensive consistency, McAdoo could be in New York for the long haul.
This slide and the next go hand in hand in that they both encompass the team's long-term outlook as well as that of 2014. Some growing pains are expected, as is the case with most new systems put into place. As important as it is to find some measure of success next season with the installation of the West Coast system, it is more important to lay the foundation for the future.
As stated earlier, the biggest issue surrounding the QB position revolves around Manning’s ability to learn the new offense and bounce back in 2014. This is just the tip of the iceberg however as there are plenty of other questions to be answered.
One big issue is Manning’s future with New York. Towards the end of the season it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that Manning would get a contract extension to help ease his 20.4 million dollar cap hit. However, the Giants have yet to have any talks about going through with this. Logic would dictate that they would want to lock up their franchise quarterback while his stock is at an all time low.
For the record, there is no doubt the Giants are committed to Manning as their franchise quarterback. He gives them the best chance of winning and provides a strong, albeit quiet, leader in the locker room. Still, it is Reese’s job to look at both the present and the future and Manning’s future with the Giants is coming to an end at 33 years old and his current contract expires when he is 35.
If my prediction on the previous slide comes true and McAdoo takes over for the 2015 season, he will want his own quarterback to groom and eventually take over for Manning. This year’s draft is particularly deep at the quarterback position so this may be the time for McAdoo to hand-pick his successor to compete with Ryan Nassib.
One draft day candidate that could be a good value target is Georgia's Aaron Murray. He played in a pro-style offense and became one of the most prolific passer's in Georgia's history. Unfortunately he suffered an ACL injury that dropped his draft stock. He could be an excellent late round quarterback the Giants can take a chance on.
Out of all the receivers, the real question comes with the tight end position. In the past four years, the Giants have had four different starting tight ends and next year won't be any different.
Fortunately there are plenty of viable options out there.
In free agency, the number-one option for the Giants would be McAdoo’s former tight end in Green Bay, Jermichael Finley. Finley was one of the up-and-coming tight ends in the league but suffered a severe spinal injury that required surgery to fuse two of his vertebrae. Finley is the best option on the market, but his health makes him a big question mark.
If the Giants decide Finley isn’t right for them, they are in prime position to pick the best tight end in the draft, North Carolina's Eric Ebron. Ebron perfectly fits the mold of the type of tight end that is sweeping the NFL. He is a big, fast receiver who is a matchup nightmare and would provide an extremely useful weapon for Manning.
Another question mark at this position the Giants hope turns into an exclamation point is Adrien Robinson. Despite being a late fourth-round pick, big things were expected of the man who was referred to as "the JPP of tight ends."
So far Robinson has yet to meet these lofty expectations due to injury and an inability to climb the depth chart when healthy. If he plays to the level the Giants expect him to and New York can add another dynamic playmaker, a spot once thought to be a weakness could become a strength.
There is not a position more up in the air than the Giants linebacker corps.
It has been a position long in dire need of a talent upgrade but has yet to be legitimately addressed. This trend must be changed prior to the upcoming season, especially the Giants want to successfully defend the new age of tight ends.
The matter becomes all the more pressing given that they face Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Jordan Reed twice a year.
Many were surprised when the Giants completely disregarded the linebacker position in last year’s draft. Instead, Reese ended up making a trade for Carolina Panthers’ former All-Pro middle 'backer Jon Beason. Beason immediately came in and picked up a leadership role on the defense, helping to turn that unit around. Despite missing the first four games of the season with New York, he still was second on the team with 93 tackles.
All signs are pointing to Beason remaining a fixture in the middle as the Giants are placing his signing as a high priority. However, this leaves the other spots open. Mathias Kiwinuka is still a candidate to be a cap casualty. The other side has often been handled by a combination of Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams.
This is not a position the Giants are looking to address in free agency, as there are not a lot of stud linebackers on the market.
Instead, they will most likely hit the draft to fill in holes. The top prospect they could get would be Alabama’s C.J. Mosely. If he is off the board, they could look to UCLA’s Anthony Barr and use him much the way the Denver Broncos use Von Miller as a pass-rush specialist.
While the cornerback position was relatively spared by the injury bug, the running back position was not so lucky.
Six different running backs started for the Giants, with Andre Brown leading the pack with eight starts. Not a single runner topped 500 yards, and only Brown had more than 100 carries on the season. This position is in dire need of an upgrade for 2014, especially with the new offensive system being implemented.
Expectations were high for the Giants run game after it showed significant improvement after fielding the league's 32nd-ranked run game in 2011. With the combination of Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown and then-rookie David Wilson, the Giants ground game vaulted up No. 14 in 2012. Wilson showed so much potential that the Giants decided not to re-sign Bradshaw.
As high as the expectations were for the running game as a whole, they were even higher for the former first-round pick. Wilson came in at number three on NFL.com’s list of breakout players for 2013 and was expected to be the focal point of the offense.
However, things went very wrong very fast. Just one year removed from fumbling in his first NFL game, Wilson fumbled twice in his first game of 2013. One month after that, Wilson suffered a season-ending spinal injury that put his football career in jeopardy.
Once again New York's running game ranked as one of the worst in the league. Reese admitted that Wilson could not be relied on to be the Week 1 starter due to his injury history. Much like the offensive line, the Giants could look to free agency to fix this problem.
The most likely candidate would be Houston’s Ben Tate. He is still young, and his legs are even younger after splitting carries with Arian Foster. He will be one of the top running backs on the market. The O-Line far exceeds the team's need at the running back position, so the money may not be there for Tate. If that is the case, look for Reese to add James Starks who worked with McAdoo in Green Bay.
A more likely scenario is hitting the draft, possibly multiple times. There are a number of very solid running backs in this year’s draft including Ohio State's Carlos Hyde, Bishop Sankey of the University of Washington and Auburn's Tre Mason. One or more could be brought in to help bolster the backfield with some much-needed youth; the Giants started three running backs over the age of 27 last year.
Arguably the biggest problem last season was the abysmal play of the offensive line.
The unit allowed Eli Manning to be sacked a career-high 39 times, 16 more than his career average. Starting left tackle Will Beatty’s play regressed from a year ago, and his 2013 season with a severely broken leg.
The Giants also had to rely on 2013 first-round selection Justin Pugh to man the right tackle spot as veteran David Diehl was no longer fit for a starting role. While Pugh did do well, this is still an area that needs to be addressed if the new offense is to succeed next season.
Beatty’s struggles were especially painful as it seemed to confirm suspicions that the Giants overpaid the sixth-year pro when they gave him a five-year $38.75 million contract. Given his $7.4 million cap hit, Beatty may have to restructure or face the possibility of getting cut.
As mentioned, Pugh did a very good job given the situation he was thrust into. After being the first Giants rookie to start the entire season since Lawrence Taylor, Pugh graded out as the top rookie tackle per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He looks to be a mainstay on the offensive line for years to come.
Given the team's need at the position, one player who has to be at the top of its draft board is Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan. Lewan had a superb career at Michigan and followed it up with an excellent combine. He is a fast, athletic prospect with an intensity that the coaches will love.
Lewan could come in and be an immediate starter at left tackle. If this happens, it would most likely kick Beatty over to the right side which would allow Pugh to slide to guard, a position for which many observers feel he is best suited.
Interior Offensive Line
Despite the struggles at the tackle position, the biggest problem for the Giants offensive line on was on the interior.
Starting center David Baas and three time All-Pro right guard Chris Snee played in just six total games due to injury. The Giants fielded seven different starting combinations on their offensive line. So, restocking this unit is by far the most important issue the Giants face this offseason.
Reese and company are expected to hit free agency hard to patch up a offensive line ranked 31st in the NFL by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Free agency would be the team's best bet since the need is so urgent, and interior line players are not the highlight of this year’s draft. Also, the Giants are playing with nearly $20 million in cap space, a number that looks to increase substantially as Snee and Baas are expected to restructure their contracts or be cut.
The most likely targets on the Giants’ radar would be one of the Kansas City Chiefs’ two guards, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz. Denver’s Zane Beadles could also be in play. All three players are younger than 28 years old and could be mainstays on the line for a number of years.
The biggest prize of all would be getting Cleveland’s Alex Mack. A bulldozer in the running game, Mack would be just the player to build the offensive line around and restore the Giants' running game to among the league’s best.
Unfortunately, the new regime in Cleveland, according to Fox Sports Ohio, seems intent on keeping Mack, so it may just be a pipe dream.