In his first public comments made shortly after signing a contract that ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported to be for two years and $11 million, new Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck said what many people, myself included, thought upon learning the news that he had left the Giants.
“I did not see this coming; it wasn't on my radar,” Tuck said, via Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“But I am excited. I like the direction of this team and the history of the Raiders, and I just want to be a part of it.
Something tells me that the Giants' third-round, 2005 draft pick out of Notre Dame isn’t the only one who’s pinching himself over this unexpected development.
In fact, I know that to be the case judging by the slight bruising on my arm resulting from my checking to make sure that I wasn't dreaming.
Anyway, that is indeed the reality of the situation—just look at this article posted on the Raiders’ official website that includes a picture of Tuck sporting a Raiders team cap as he signs his new contract.
Let that sink in for a few minutes. When you’re ready to continue reading, I have some thoughts about what’s next for the Giants after this rather surprising development, and why the Giants were right to not match the offer.
Cost vs. Production: Why The Giants Didn't Match the Raiders’ Offer
Tuck might believe in his heart that it’s not downhill after 30, and to a certain degree he’s not wrong, considering there have been several successful 30-year-old-plus edge defenders who have been productive.
Per Pro Football Focus, some highly rated free agent edge defenders who are 30 or older and who had solid seasons in 2013 include Demarcus Ware, James Harrison, Red Bryant and Shaun Phillips.
However, it’s important to remember that age is just a number in the NFL, and it’s important to look at a player’s injury history.
For example, a 27-year-old player who has taken a pounding in his career could be an “old” 27, while a 30-year-old player who was mostly a reserve might have fresher legs.
Tuck has logged a bit of mileage in his career with injuries and his snaps. Per historical data at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has played 5,277 snaps of football (regular season and post season) since 2007, with an average of 753.85 snaps per season over that span.
On the surface, that’s not too bad considering his injury history since 2007.
Let’s focus on 2013, which was Tuck’s first relatively healthy season since 2010 and one in which he didn’t appear on the injury report.
In early December 2013, Tuck told reporters via a conference call that because his injuries healed, he was finally able to train the way he wanted to.
“Everyone knows my struggles to get healthy the previous two years and how that affected me on the football field, but this year I’ve stayed out of the training room and started eating the right things and trying to do the right things,” he said.
“Fortunately I’ve stayed healthy this year. I think that’s the biggest adjustment.”
For as good as he played in 2013, if we compare Tuck’s stats to 2010, his last Pro Bowl season and the last year he was really “healthy,” there is a noticeable decline in his production:
|Justin Tuck: 2010 vs. 2013|
|Game Snaps (regular season and post season, where applicable)||856||896||40|
|Sources: PFF, NY Giants 2010 and 2013 press kits|
Based on this data, despite playing 40 more snaps, Tuck's production has decreased in nearly every key defensive statistic (highlighted in yellow). This decline no doubt factored into the Giants’ decision not to match Oakland’s offer.
While a further breakdown of the game tape might reveal instances in 2013 where Tuck either had an influence on a play, or might have “just missed” making tackle or sack, the Giants don’t traditionally reward veteran players with rich contracts based on “almost” scenarios.
So What’s Next for the Giants?
Every NFL player who walks into the door brings something special and unique to a team. However, no one is irreplaceable in the NFL, certainly not as far as the Giants are concerned.
Think about that for a minute. Eli Manning eased the sting of the Giants parting with Phil Simms at quarterback.
Even middle linebacker Jon Beason, despite not playing a full season in his first as a Giant, gave fans their first glimmer of sunshine at that position following the retirement of Antonio Pierce after the 2009 season.
Tuck’s leadership on defense can be replaced—Beason and safety Antrel Rolle know a thing or two about backing up their words with actions and not being afraid to speak up when necessary. The Giants should be more than set there.
As for who will replace Tuck at defensive end, the current options boil down to second-year man Damontre Moore, who per The Star-Ledger, had offseason shoulder surgery, and Mathias Kiwanuka, the lowest overall ranked defensive end (subscription required) by PFF, based on players who took at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps in 2013.
The Giants could also consider moving defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins to defensive end and filling his spot with a veteran, as defensive tackles are generally more affordable than ends, but that would likely be a long shot.
Barring an unexpected free-agent signing—if the Giants weren't willing to match Tuck’s $11 million deal, it’s unlikely they’ll spend on someone such as Jared Allen—the Giants will almost certainly look to add talent at the defensive end spot via the draft.
In the interim, the most likely scenario is that Kiwanuka, who started 10 games for the Giants last season at right defensive end, will be the new starter entering camp until someone steps up to edge him out.