Recapping the New York Giants Weekend Free Agency Rumor Mill
In case you’ve been otherwise preoccupied this weekend—and congratulations if you have, as that means you have a life, unlike yours truly, who has been monitoring the latest New York Giants free agency rumors—the NFL’s annual “legal" tampering period began at Noon ET on Saturday.
Not surprisingly, there’s been very little to come out of East Rutherford, home of the New York Giants.
That doesn’t mean that general manager Jerry Reese and company haven’t been busy trying to line up prospects to help eradicate the disappointment left by last year's 7-9 underachieving group.
No, the front office has been engaged in discussions with the agents representing players from other teams who are about to hit the market on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET in order to get an idea as to who might be a potential fit.
Although the parameters of the legal tampering period—teams can’t talk or meet with the players, nor can contracts be executed—sound restrictive, NJ.com reports the Giants are expected to move quickly once the official start of free agency gets underway.
Until then, let's take a look at some names from other teams who have been linked to the Giants and how these players might fit into the Giants' landscape.
Running Back Ben Tate
When it comes to the Giants running back situation, about the only thing we know at this point is they have two halfbacks currently under contract, David Wilson and Michael Cox.
That’s not a very settling picture. Wilson, as we already know, is rehabbing from a surgical procedure to his neck he had on Jan. 21. While he’s been said to be making rapid progress, head coach Tom Coughlin at last month's scouting combine pumped the brakes on an ESPN report claiming the third-year running back would be ready for training camp.
Cox, meanwhile, only saw 38 snaps on offense last year as a rookie, starting one game due to injuries at that position. In that game, Week 8 against Philadelphia, Cox had 12 snaps, nine of which were rushes for 19 yards.
If new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is looking for an experienced running back who can pass protect, chances are that Cox, who now has to learn a new offense from scratch, might not be that guy.
What to do?
The answer is to look at the veteran market, where a player who has experience in pass protection can come right in and be the bell cow.
One name that has been widely believed to be an answer for the Giants if Wilson is not ready for training camp is Houston’s Ben Tate.
Tate has played in 40 games and has rushed for 1,992 yards on 421 carries (4.7 avg.) with 10 touchdowns. As a receiver out of the backfield, he has 58 catches (out of 81 targets) for 287 yards.
Those are decent stats, but the stat that really sticks out like a sore thumb is his nine career fumbles as a rusher, four of which came last season.
Ball security issues aside, there are a couple other concerns regarding Tate, a former second-round pick by the Texans in 2010.
First, he has made no secret of the fact that he considers himself an elite running back, per Fox 26 in Houston.
That means he’s going to want to be paid like an elite running back, an expectation the Giants are unlikely to be able to fill given their numerous needs and their estimated $18.085 million cap space, which is going to dip once the numbers of linebacker Mark Herzlich's new deal are made known.
While the Giants are in dire need of an experienced running back, I can’t see them splurging big bucks on one, not if they think they still have a chance of having Wilson—their first-round draft pick from 2012, whom they probably looked at as a future bell cow—back at some point.
Second, if people are reluctant to see Andre Brown get big bucks based on his injury history alone, does it make sense to throw $3 to $4 million per year at Tate, who has had trouble staying healthy despite his limited snaps as Arian Foster’s backup?
If the Giants are going to gamble on a player, I think it makes a lot more sense to do so on another career backup who might just be ready for his spotlight and who might be more cap friendly, such as Minnesota’s Toby Gerhart.
Tate is an intriguing player who will probably get his pay day. I'm not convinced it will come from the Giants unless New York is planning to free up a lot more cap space to get him.
Defensive End Arthur Jones
When I began looking at free agency in January, one guy that caught my eye, but who I honestly didn’t think would see the open market, was Baltimore Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones.
I never put Jones on any of my lists for two reasons. One, I was convinced defensive Justin Tuck would work out a new deal with the Giants.
Second, I didn’t know about Damontre Moore’s offseason shoulder surgery, which was recently reported by Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger.
Fast forward to the present. Per NJ.com, Tuck received an offer from the Giants within the last week. However, that offer wasn’t enough to lead to signed a contract, which means the Giants defensive co-captain is headed to free agency.
Meanwhile, down in Baltimore, the Ravens haven’t locked Jones up to a new deal, which means he’s also going to hit the market. And according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, the Giants are interested.
New York Giants have also expressed interest in Arthur Jones, according to a source.— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 9, 2014
The sentimentalist in me would like to see the Giants work something out with Tuck so he can finish his career as a Giant.
However, if they’re going to spend big money at the defensive end spot—and they might have to as in addition to Moore’s recovery from surgery, Jason Pierre-Paul is rehabbing from what amounted to a season-ending shoulder injury for which he declined to have surgery—it makes more sense to go with a guy that can potentially play both inside and outside.
Jones, 6’3”, 313 pounds, has a fairly stable injury history, missing games due to a head injury in 2011 and illness last season. When he’s been on the field, he’s amassed 117 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Poised for a breakout, Jones could bring some versatility to the Giants for when they go to their 3-4 alignment, as Newsday’s Tom Rock notes:
Could be a Chris Canty-type. 3-4 DE to 4-3 DT. RT @RavensInsider: Giants have also expressed interest in Arthur Jones, according to a source— Tom Rock (@TomRock_Newsday) March 9, 2014
Versatility. There’s that word again. And that’s why a potential investment in Jones makes a lot of sense if they can pull it off.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner
At the start of free agency, there was no question that the Giants would be looking to upgrade their cornerback depth.
They really had no choice. Corey Webster is gone, his contract having been voided.
Terrell Thomas and Trumaine McBride are both unrestricted free agents. While both played well last year, neither is likely the long-term solution as a potential starter opposite of Prince Amukamara.
Thomas, who made it back from three ACL surgeries, including two consecutive ones, has made an attempt to hide his desire to become a starter again, per ESPN.
However, there are still questions about his health. If he had to have practice reps managed all of last year, would he need even more management if he were to take on an expanded role as a starter moving forward? And if so, how would that affect his ability to prepare?
McBride’s biggest vice has always been something out of his control: His diminutive stature. While the 5’9” McBride didn’t back down against taller receivers, it is a gamble to anoint him as the starting cornerback to play against a league filled with taller, more physical receivers capable of outmuscling him.
Jayron Hosley has had two injury-filled seasons that have stunted his development and Charles James is raw.
Sure, the Giants could look to the draft to address this position—if they don’t land a top-flight cornerback in free agency, I could see there being a good case for taking Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert if he’s there at No. 12 (yes, even ahead of tight end Eric Ebron).
Even if Gilbert isn’t there, it looks like it’s deep class at cornerback this year. However, the lower the pick, the less certainty the player is going to be ready to step into the starting lineup on Day 1.
So that brings us to the Giants' apparent desire to acquire a top-flight cornerback.
According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, the Giants had interest in Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields, who ended up re-signing with the Packers what was reported by ESPN to be a four-year, $39 million deal.
That brings us to Alterraun Verner, an unrestricted free agent most recently with the Titans. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Verner’s NFL rating was 55.8, the second-best mark (behind Seattle’s Richard Sherman) of NFL cornerbacks who took at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps last season.
The problem, of course, is when you can claim to be mentioned in the same sentence as Sherman, Miami’s Brent Grimes and Shields, your price tag is going to reflect that, as Vacchiano noted.
Vacchiano also reported Verner is likely to sign with a new team shortly after free agency officially beings Tuesday. If the Giants aren’t in his price range, then I can’t imagine they’ll be a team he plans to meet with let alone be in the final running.
For now, free agent CB Alterraun Verner is not planning any visits. Source says he'll likely sign shortly after market opens on Tuesday #NYG— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) March 9, 2014
While it would be great for the Giants to pick up a shutdown corner to complement Amukamara such as Verner, given the vast number of needs they have elsewhere, I’m not certain they’ll be able to afford a top cornerback unless they're planning to clear more salary cap space.
I believe they might have to wait until the second and/or third wave of free agency to address this position, and if no one is available, then I could see them looking at the draft, again with Gilbert potentially being a target if he's there at No. 12.
Linebacker Jameel McClain
Unlike the majority of the free agents already linked to the Giants, Jameel McClain is free to strike his next contract at any time since he was released by the Ravens last week prior to the start of the legal tampering period.
The common belief is by adding McClain to the mix, the Giants would be protecting themselves in case they can’t strike a deal with middle linebacker Jon Beason, who is headed to the open market.
It’s never a good sign when a prospective free agent walks out the door without at least agreeing to terms, which was the case with McClain.
However, per NJ.com, the team has left the door open regarding the 29-year-old McClain, who is doing his due diligence with visits to all these clubs.
While the NJ.com opines that interest in McClain would probably fade if the Giants strike a deal with Beason, given McClain’s versatility, he could easily slide over to the strong side, where unrestricted free agent Keith Rivers is not a lock to return.
Tight End Jermichael Finley
It’s also no secret the Giants are in need of a tight end to replace Brandon Myers, whose contract was voided.
It’s also not surprising one of the first veteran players at that position to draw interest from the Giants is, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley:
Assuming the Giants interest is indeed there, I think it’s safe to assume nothing is going to be done until Finley, who is rehabbing from neck surgery, is medically cleared.
Assuming Finley is cleared—hopefully he is—he would pose a similar dilemma for the Giants as Wilson in that no one will really know for sure where he is in his recovery until that first big hit.
For that reason, I'm not convinced Finley, who has 2,785 yards on 223 receptions and 20 career touchdowns, would be the answer as a No. 1 tight end, though he might have value as a No. 2 tight end who might potentially be a replacement for unrestricted free agent Bear Pascoe.
The longer it takes for Finley to receive clearance, the more likely the Giants go in another direction at the position.
That direction will most likely be the draft where they could look at Ebron at No. 12 if he’s there (and assuming they resolve their cornerback situation).
They could also wait until Day 3 to grab Georgia’s Arthur Lynch, a strong blocking tight end.