Buying or Selling: Latest Buzz on the NY Giants Free Agency Rumor Mill
What was once a matter of months has finally swindled down to a matter of hours.
I’m talking about the start of the NFL free-agency sweeps, the all-important first step teams take to rebuild their roster.
For the 7-9 New York Giants, to say they have a lot of work to do is stating the obvious. With more than two dozen free agents, there are bound to be a few surprises over the next few weeks regarding who stays and who goes.
So as we get ready to celebrate the start of the 2014 league year in the NFL, let's take a look at some of the Giants' key unrestricted free agents and try to determine how the front office might view their respective values.
Receiver Hakeem Nicks
Side note: Apparently there was no such doctor’s note issued for his abdominal strain, the only injury that caused him to miss practice time before the Giants’ biggest game of the 2013 season (against Dallas), a game in which Nicks was also inactive.
You’d think an injury he said bothered him “on and off” last season, per ESPN’s Dan Graziano, would have been one that came with a doctor's note as well, but such was not the case.
Anyway, Mortensen also reported that Nicks is receptive to returning to the Giants and is willing to “weigh a one-year contract to prove his past two seasons were aberrations.”
Good luck with that approach, Hakeem.
Although he never admitted anything, it was widely believed that Nicks' absence from the Giants OTAs last spring, the first such time in his career that he skipped the voluntary program, was because he was concerned about injuring himself in his contract season.
Yet during the regular season, save for the abdominal injury which seemed to come up out of the blue, Nicks was listed on the weekly injury report just three times, per KFFL.
One of those times was listed as "personal" and the other two being for the abdominal strain.
What it all sounds like to me is that Nicks regrets how his contract year played out, and by being willing to accept a one-year contract somewhere, is looking for a do-over.
He’ll probably get that opportunity. But I doubt it will be from the Giants, and it sounds like Nicks knows it based on his latest comments shared with Josina Anderson, also of ESPN:
I want to go to a team where I'm the missing link. There are a number of teams that I have my eye on once I hit the market. I know if I went to a place like Indianapolis I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck. I can see myself catching passes from Cam Newton or even Philip Rivers. ... I just want to make it clear that I want a long-term deal and I want to be happy.
He might have to do more than that to convince teams he has a renewed passion for the game, as Pro Football Talk recently reported that teams have concerns about whether Nicks really wants to play at a high level.
Like I said, good luck, Hakeem.
Linebacker Jon Beason
Right from the start, it was clear that Beason was a top priority for the Giants. So when NJ.com recently reported that the Giants were concentrating all of their efforts on re-signing the middle linebacker, the news came as no surprise.
However, the two sides have yet to strike a new deal, and it appears Beason, according to The Star-Ledger, fired agent Drew Rosenhaus and is now representing himself, and has informed other teams that come Tuesday, they should talk to him, according to ESPN.
What does this mean for his chances of returning to the Giants? It’s too soon to say, but usually in contract negotiations, a typical sticking point is guaranteed money, which wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the holdup in getting a deal done.
Certainly the team recognizes the 29-year-old inside linebacker revitalized a linebacker unit that, prior to his arrival via trade with Carolina, resembled a ship without a rudder.
What kind of an impact did Beason have? As Jordan Raanan of NJ.com pointed out, the Giants allowed an average of 36.4 points in the first five games of the season before Beason's arrival following his trade form Carolina for a seventh-round draft pick.
Once the linebacker was inserted into the lineup, that average dropped to 18.3 points the remainder of the way, as New York finished with the league's eighth-best defense.
The downside, however, is that last year was Beason's first healthy season. Certainly the Giants have some concerns given his physical condition, just as they probably do with other players coming off serious injuries such as cornerback Terrell Thomas and safety Stevie Brown.
Understandably, the Giants don't want to end up sinking a lot of guaranteed money into a player whose not that far removed from his injuries.
I still think Beason and the Giants will work out a deal that benefits both sides. However, I could see this one coming down to the wire.
Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph
There were very few players on the Giants who have been consistent week after week, season after season.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph is one of those players. And he's about to be rewarded handsomely for that effort.
Since entering the starting lineup in the 2011 season, the former second-round draft pick from 2010 has been nothing short of a rock.
He’s only missed one game in the last three seasons, that happening this past year.
He was a big reason why the Giants' run defense was able to shut down some of the NFL’s top rushers in 2013 such as Alfred Morris of Washington, Adrian Peterson of Minnesota, and Jamaal Charles of Kansas City.
In addition to his run-stopping ability—he has 175 tackles through four seasons—the 25-year-old Joseph is athletic enough to break into the offensive backfield. He’s recorded 9.0 sacks over the last three seasons, and has forced two fumbles while recording three pass breakups.
With his star continuing to rise and youth being on his side, Joseph, who is the 10th-best unrestricted free agent on MMQB’s Top 100 list, is probably going to draw a very rich pay day the Giants will not be able to match.
That’s a big reason why they drafted Johnathan Hankins last year. The plan was to groom Hankins as a potential replacement should Joseph, who replaced Barry Cofield when he left for Washington under very similar circumstances, leave.
Interestingly, MMQB believes Washington could be planning to pounce on Joseph, just as it did with Cofield four years ago, but that remains to be seen.
While conventional wisdom says the Giants should definitely buy into this player for another four or five years, with so many needs and only so much money plus the presence of Hankins, the chances of that happening just don’t look good.
Running Back Andre Brown
The first thing that needs to be said about the Giants running game is that it had very little chance to succeed behind last year’s offensive line.
However, the backs—and there were a lot of them thanks to the injuries—weren't blameless in the Giants averaging 83.3 rushing yards per game.
Take for instance Andre Brown. Injuries aside—he suffered a second straight broken leg that cost him the first eight games of 2013—he started out strong only to limp toward the finish line.
The scary thing is that 2013 was the second straight season Brown got worse instead of better as the season wore on.
After spending the 2011 season on the practice squad, Brown finally made the roster in 2012. That year saw him post his breakout game in Week 3 against Carolina when he ran 20 times for 113 yards.
While his carries were reduced the next several weeks, in his final game that season before suffering the first of two consecutive broken legs, Brown, who had settled into a role as a third-down and goal-line back, carried the ball 13 times for 64 yards.
Why didn't Brown have a larger role as injuries to Ahmad Bradshaw started to slow him down? One reason could be pass protection.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown's pass protection was inconsistent, which earned him a -1.8 pass-blocking grade for that season.
In 2013, Brown again set out to be the guy in the running game. Unfortunately, he suffered another broken leg, this time in a preseason game that caused him to miss the first half of the season.
When he returned, he was inserted into the lineup as the No. 1 back what with David Wilson on injured reserve. Brown went on to post two 100-yard performances in his first three games, this behind an offensive line that was already deteriorating due to injuries.
Also in those first three games, Brown was credited by PFF with making nine defenders miss him on tackle attempts.
Instead of getting better, Brown’s totals once again dipped. With the exception of a 16-carry, 81-yard performance against the San Diego Chargers, he was unable to rush for more than 40 yards after those first three games.
In his final four games, he also ended up losing three fumbles, something that certainly didn't go over well with the coaches. And after breaking nine tackles in his first three games, he only managed to break four more in the last five games played.
If Brown has dreams of earning a big pay day with the Giants, that’s unlikely to happen given this performance history.
He could still return on a low-ball offer, but certainly he's going to see what is out there in free agency, and the longer he looks the less likely he returns.
Kicker Josh Brown
There hasn’t been much said about the status of Josh Brown, who after signing a one-year deal with the Giants last season is now an unrestricted free agent.
As I’ve noted in the past, Brown told me at the end of the 2013 season he would very much like to return to the Giants, but he wasn’t interested in signing another one-year deal because he didn’t want to uproot his family from their Seattle home for what amounted to a possible temporary assignment.
Given that Brown made 88.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, his second-best showing in 16 games played since 2004 when he converted 92.0 percent of his attempts for Seattle, he made a strong case for a multi-year deal.
Signed for his big leg, Brown didn’t disappoint the Giants in that regard, converting eight out of 10 field-goal attempts of 40 or more yards, while also converting all of his PAT attempts.
If Brown is willing to accept a slight pay bump, there’s certainly no reason why he and the Giants can’t work out a two-year deal to keep him around, as his kicking last year earned him that new contract with the team.
Tight End Bear Pascoe
Bear Pascoe might not be the most physically gifted tight end in the NFL, but you can always count on his durability, his preparedness and his versatility, all of which makes him an understated value to a football team.
Since joining the Giants in 2009, Pascoe has filled multiple roles on the offense, including in-line blocking tight end, backup fullback and H-back.
As a receiver, he’s caught 38 of the 59 balls thrown his way for 333 yards and one touchdown, and has converted 17 first downs. He’s also been impeccable with the ball in his hands, having never lost a fumble.
While Pascoe will probably never be mistaken for a No. 1 tight end, bringing him back for at least another season could be one of the underrated moves the team makes in free agency.
That’s because the Giants still don’t seem to know exactly what they have in Adrien Robinson, who lost most of last year due to injuries, or Larry Donnell, two guys who are entering their third seasons.
Certainly the Giants will look to address the tight end position in both free agency and in the draft. Being that the current free-agent class is not one of the most attractive ones, it might pay to bring Pascoe back as a transitional type of player at the position and use the draft to boost the depth for the future.
The good news is this can probably be done inexpensively where Pascoe is concerned.
Last year as a restricted free agent, he accepted a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum. If he’s willing to accept another one-year veteran minimum deal, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be a good addition to a roster where the position is so unsettled.
Safety Stevie Brown
With some careful management and planning, the Giants medical staff came up with a schedule that allowed cornerback Terrell Thomas to return action and play a full season after suffering two straight ACL injuries.
So imagine what the medical staff might be able to do for safety Stevie Brown, who told Pro Football Talk during Super Bowl week his rehab from ACL surgery is ahead of schedule.
Brown, who also revealed his agents have had some preliminary discussions with the Giants about a new contract, told PFT he does want to return to the Giants.
Certainly thanks to his injury, such a return wouldn’t cost the Giants much, as they could probably give Brown a deal similar to what they gave Thomas, which was primarily the veteran minimum with some incentives.
Another benefit of having Brown back, assuming he can pass a physical, would be for his experience. Although the Giants drafted Cooper Taylor last year, they still don't know what they have in him given he missed chunks of his rookie season due to injuries.
Brown's presence would offer insurance in the event something happens to projected starting safeties Antrel Rolle and Will Hill.
Last summer, Rolle suffered an ankle injury, and while he didn’t miss any games he did have to miss a some practice time, a scary reminder that for as durable as he is, he is not immune to the injury bug.
It’s unclear just how many more chances the Giants plan to give the extremely talented Hill, for whom they hope has put all of his issues behind him.
Certainly with two league-imposed suspensions and the arrest on his record, it wouldn’t be surprising if his next slip-up were his last as a member of the team.
Defensive End Justin Tuck
The thought of defensive co-captain Justin Tuck possibly wearing another team’s uniform in 2014 isn’t exactly settling given how few “faces” of the franchise the Giants have these days.
Per a report by NJ.com, Tuck hasn’t accepted the Giants’ most recent offer and appears headed for free agency.
Although the Giants defensive end situation is unsettled due to the ongoing recoveries of Damontre Moore and Jason Pierre-Paul, and the decline in skill by Mathias Kiwanuka, there might be a light at the end of the tunnel if Tuck were to leave.
Like Tuck, Jones can play at end or at tackle. The difference might very well be that whereas Tuck only moves inside to tackle on obvious pass-rushing downs, Jones might provide the flexibility to move around on other situations.
As we saw last year, the versatility of defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, another two-way guy, was like having two guys for the price of one.
Jones could potentially bring that value, despite the fact he’s likely to come with a high price tag.
The trade-off, though, is that at 27 years old, Jones is three years younger than the 30-year-old Tuck, which means he’s in his prime.
Jones also has a cleaner injury history, per KFFL, than Tuck, the latter of whom despite making it through last season without any major issues, at times was slow to rise from the turf after a play, especially by the end of the season.
If Tuck, who per Over the Cap made a base salary of $4.5 million in 2013, is seeking a raise, he’s not going to be back with the Giants, nor should he.
Quarterback Curtis Painter
There’s no way the Giants should bring back Curtis Painter, who last year was Eli Manning’s backup, right?
Not so fast.
Yes, there is the elephant in the room, Ryan Nassib, whom the team traded up to get last year in the draft.
Presumably, the plan is to groom Nassib so the Giants can go back to the good-old days when they had a two-quarterback system.
That might still be the plan down the road, but before they can get to that point, they need to have confidence that Nassib has reached a point where he can step in for Manning.
You'll recall how last year, when things were crumbling around the Giants, the coaching staff never once contemplated activating Nassib ahead of Painter, not even late in the season.
I have a theory as to why that was.
With Eli Manning’s mechanics getting worse every week because of the crumbling offensive line combined with the fact that Sean Ryan, his position coach really wasn’t qualified to help him, what chance did Nassib really have to develop as a rookie if all resources eyes were on trying to help Manning?
That brings me to Painter. The Giants typically like to carry three quarterbacks into camp. Since there probably won’t be much, if any of a market for Painter, it makes sense to bring him back on another one-year minimum qualifying offer.
If Nassib shows enough progress, then the team can cut Painter at the end of camp. If Nassib doesn’t show enough progress, they have a veteran quarterback who is familiar with one-half of the system that will be run, and who has already worked with Manning for a year.
Cornerback Terrell Thomas
Regardless of how you thought Terrell Thomas played in 2013—and there were some rough spots—that young man deserves a world of credit for never giving up his dream of returning from back-to-back ACL surgeries.
That he was willing to work on a managed practice schedule created just for him by the Giants’ medical staff speaks volumes about the patience Thomas had with what had to be the longest two years of his life being away from the game he loves.
So what does the future hold for Thomas? While he was obviously relieved to be able to make it through a 16-game season without any setbacks and now has his eyes set on competing for a starting job, per ESPN, I’m not sure he’ll get that opportunity with the Giants.
If Thomas had to be managed from start to finish for the limited reps he took last year—per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he took 588 of the defense’s 1,089 snaps (53.9 percent)—is he realistically going to be able to handle a full-time practice workload in addition to an average of 68-75 snaps per game?
There’s certainly a chance he could do it, but as late as November of last year, according to Tom Rock of Newsday, Thomas was still icing down his surgically repaired knee to reduce swelling from his limited game snaps.
Thomas certainly deserves another shot to come back and be a part of the Giants in 2014, but if he’s going to look to be a starter and earn starter’s money, that’s a transaction the Giants probably won't make.
The Rest of the Key UFAs
Here's a quick look at some of the remaining Giants' unrestricted free agents:
Running Back Peyton Hillis, Verdict: Buy
For a guy who came in cold last year off his couch, Hillis got better as the season wore on.
For starters, he was open to playing any role asked of him, which is what he did last season despite having to learn the playbook on the fly.
Hillis rushed for 247 yards on 73 carries, but he was also valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, coming up with 13 receptions for 96 yards.
In addition to the above, Hillis showed he could pass block, which is something I’m sure pleased new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo when he looked at the tape.
Hillis could also probably play a little fullback in a pinch, a position he played earlier in his career, with his versatility making him worth another one-year minimum investment.
Safety Ryan Mundy, Verdict: Sell
Earlier I wrote about Stevie Brown bring a player the Giants should look to bring back as insurance just in case something happened to Antrel Rolle and/or Will Hill.
While it would certainly make more sense to choose Mundy over Brown, my reasoning in picking Brown boils down to economics.
I think Brown would provide the Giants with a cheaper option. I also think Mundy, having proven he can be a starter in the NFL, is going to want to find a place where he can compete for a starting job, something he won’t get with the Giants.
Offensive Lineman Kevin Boothe, Verdict: Buy
There’s a lot to be said about having a versatile offensive lineman able to play multiple positions. Boothe is one such player with that ability.
If the Giants can get him back on a reasonable short-term contract—a very realistic possibility—Boothe could be the first man off the bench at guard or tackle in the event of injury and assuming that his starting left guard spot goes to a younger free agent acquisition.
Defensive Tackle Mike Patterson, Verdict: Buy
With Shaun Rogers likely headed for retirement and Linval Joseph likely headed out the door, if the Giants can get Patterson back for another season, that would be a plus.
Patterson can not only provide veteran depth, he showed he can still play at a high-enough level. especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations where he was a staple.
Linebacker Keith Rivers, Verdict: Sell
At times last season, Rivers showed why he was a top-10 pick in the 2008 NFL draft. At other times, he looked old and slow.
Since he plays a position that comes off the field on passing downs, the Giants can probably look to move on from him and plug in a cheaper alternative, such as Mark Herzlich or Allen Bradford unless a better option comes along in the later stages of free agency.
Cornerback Trumaine McBride, Verdict: Buy
When pressed into a starting job last year, McBride actually very performed well.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), his NFL rating was a very impressive 57.4, as he allowed just 32 of the 73 balls thrown at him to be completed for 369 yards.
The problem is his 5’9” height is just not going to get it done against the bigger, more physical outside receivers he'll face in this league.
Where McBride could potentially have a role is as a nickel cornerback, especially if the team doesn’t re-sign Terrell Thomas.
While the Giants would probably like to see Jayron Hosley develop as the nickel, Hosley has twice been bitten by the injury bug, an occurrence that has set him back in his development.
McBride had some injury issues last year, but he fought through them. If he comes back healthy, there's no reason why he probably couldn't be back on another one-year veteran minimum contract.