Best and Worst Moves Made by the NY Giants in Free Agency

Patricia TrainaFeatured Columnist IVMarch 25, 2014

Best and Worst Moves Made by the NY Giants in Free Agency

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    If you’ve been enjoying the New York Giantsbiggest and busiest free agency-signing bonanza in years, I have some bad news for you.

    Team co-owner John Mara, speaking to Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post at the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla., said that the Giants are “pretty much done”  signing veteran free agents for now.

    Hey, all good things must eventually end, right? 

    So while the Giants catch their collective breath and allow for their coaches to figure out how to deploy the 10 new players they signed, let’s look at the best and worst moves from the bunch.

     

    All contract details from Rotoworld unless otherwise noted. All player grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), unless otherwise noted.

Best: Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    When Giants CEO John Mara told Tom Rock of Newsday that the defensive secondary was “an area where we felt we had to improve a little bit,” he wasn’t exaggerating.

    Cornerback Corey Webster proved to be useless after struggling through his second straight injury-filled season, while Jayron Hosley is still trying to take a step forward.  

    Trumaine McBride was solid. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the best of the Giants corners earning a 57.4 NFL rating despite being targeted by opposing quarterbacks once every 11.9 passing attempts, the most of any Giants cornerback last year.

    However, the 5’9” McBride, one of the 10 Giants from last year who was re-signed, will always be a liability against taller receivers.

    That brings us to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, PFF’s fifth-best cornerback last year among those who took at least 60 percent of their team's defensive snaps.  

    Rodgers-Cromartie was a solid in coverage, allowing just 30 completions of 68 passes thrown against him for 453 yards and four touchdowns for a 67.8 rating.

    That figure was the second best among the Broncos cornerbacks last year, just behind Chris Harris Jr.'s 64.9 rating

    The real value of Rodgers-Cromartie is in his coverage ability. 

    With NFL offenses having figured out that the best way to stifle the Giants pass rush is to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. If the Giants secondary can better blanket receivers, that would force the opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting sacks. 

Worst: Center J.D. Walton

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    There was never any question that the Giants were going to part ways with former center David Baas, who seemed to spend more time on the injury report than he did on the field.

    However the decision to replace him with a player who spent all of 2012 on injured reserve and half of 2013 on the physically unable to perform list was particularly strange.

    If that wasn't bad enough,  in 2011, Walton's last full season played, he finished as PFF's worst-rated center.

    So why did the Giants go with Walton over better options such as Cleveland's Alex Mack, New Orleans' Brian de la Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith (now with Tampa Bay)? My guess is that the Giants don't view Walton as a long-term starter.

    Still, after losing several gambles on players with spotty injury histories, the Giants deciding to once again go down this path is perplexing.  

Best: Cornerback Walter Thurmond III

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    When it comes to guys who set the example by backing up their words with actions, look no further than cornerback Terrell Thomas.

    Twice struck down by an ACL injury, Thomas resolved to work harder than ever so that he could make it back to the field.

    He did just that last season, making it through a 16-game slate thanks to strategic management of his knee by the team’s medical staff. Despite all his hard work and dedication, Thomas’ inspiring performance wasn’t anywhere near what it had been prior to the 2011 season, when he suffered the first of his two most recent ACL tears. 

    To illustrate, in 2010, Thomas, then a starter at right cornerback, finished with an 87.1 passer rating against, the 21st-best mark among cornerbacks who played 75 percent or more of their team’s defensive snaps.

    Last year, Thomas, who played over the slot, finished with the worst passer rating against (106.0) among the Giants' cornerbacks. His worst single-game outing came against San Diego in Week 14, when Philip Rivers posted a 158.3 quarterback rating throwing against Thomas' coverage.

    As a member of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Walter Thurmond meanwhile finished 2013 with a 74.9 rating against, allowing 43 of 65 passes thrown his way for 376 yards and no touchdowns.

    Thurmond, 5’11, 183 pounds, can also start in a pinch if need be; last season he started the first three games for the Seahawks, posting ratings of 97.2, 59.4 and 76.5 respectively. His presence not only upgrades the slot cornerback spot but provides experienced depth should one of the starters be unable to play.  

Worst: Offensive Lineman John Jerry

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The loss of Kevin Boothe created the need for the Giants to grab an offensive lineman who could provide depth at guard and tackle.

    However, the decision to sign John Jerry, a two-year starter at guard for the Miami Dolphins, was curious considering that he was named in the NFL-commissioned Wells Report that investigated the alleged workplace harassment of former Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin. 

    It's not the the first time the Giants organization has taken a chance on a player with a checkered past, nor will it be the last.

    What is unusual in the team's decision to sign Jerry is that he could be disciplined by the NFL after the league concludes its review of the Wells Report, per Tom Rock of Newsday, though Rock later added that if Jerry is disciplined, it will "NOT be in the form of a suspension."

    Jerry is signed a one-year deal worth $770,000 with $25,000 guaranteed, which is not a lot of money were he to not pan out with the Giants. 

    Discipline issues aside, there's also the matter of just how good Jerry actually is. Per Pro Football Focus, Jerry was the 25th-ranked guard (out of 37) last season, finishing with a minus-2.9 overall grade.

    Also per PFF, Miami’s running backs averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on the ground when running behind Jerry.

    Again, he's a cheap signing, but somehow I doubt the Giants are going to stop looking for additional offensive line help. 

Best: Running Back Rashad Jennings

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    To understand just how much of an upgrade Rashad Jennings is over the duo of David Wilson, who might not be ready for training camp as he continues to rehab from neck surgery, and Andre Brown, who will not be re-signed, let’s look at some data provided by the advanced statistical site NumberFire.

    Using a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), numberFire's J.J. Zachariason determined that in 2013, Wilson put forth the worst Rushing NEP season of any running back with no more than 50 carries since 2000 (1,139 instances).

    Brown wasn’t much better. Zachariason reported that Brown’s NEP dipped by more than 24 points from his big 2012 season.

    Jennings, meanwhile, had a NEP of 11.8, the eighth highest among running backs, and the sixth-best mark among the 35 running backs who had 150 or more carries.  

    As noted by Pro Football Focus, of Jennings' 733 rushing yards last season, 456 of them came after contact, a 2.8 yards-per-carry average. He also forced 16 missed tackles.

    Jennings also brings to the Giants a receiving threat out of the backfield, which is something the team has lacked since the days of Ahmad Bradshaw.

    Want even more reasons to like this signing? Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger reached out to Liberty football coach Frank Hickson, who coached Jennings when he was in college. Hickson praised his former student-athlete for his ability to get the tough yardage:

    When you talk about the combination of the five qualities a running back has in order to be a complete running back, he has all five. We talked about that each and every day in our meeting room. Obviously, he can run the football but he's physical enough to execute all the important blocks in pass protect. He also has amazingly soft hands for a running back—he can be a force coming out of the backfield catching the ball.

    Regardless of what happens with Wilson, it sounds as though Jennings is going to be the main man in the running game.

    It also sounds like that if he stays healthy, he could provide the Giants with their most complete running back since Bradshaw.

Worst: Receiver/Returner Trindon Holliday

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    While there was no question concerning the Giants’ need to upgrade their return game from last year, their decision to add Trindon Holliday after signing Quintin Demps was a curious one.

    Don’t misread me—there’s nothing wrong with creating as much competition as possible at every position. However, every player who makes the final roster needs to be versatile enough to do more than one thing if he's going to be a starter.

    Listed as a receiver, the 5’5” and 170-pound Holliday has caught two passes for 17 yards in his four NFL seasons.

    The fact that Demps can at least serve as insurance in the event something happens to the other safeties would appear to make him more valuable than Holliday, who is unlikely to be able to contribute much to the passing game.

Best: Offensive Lineman Geoff Schwartz

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    Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

    One of the first signings made by the Giants this offseason, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz figures to be among the five starters lining up to protect quarterback Eli Manning.

    The question, though, is where will Schwartz take his opening day snaps?

    Currently, he’s projected to play left guard, the position held last year by Kevin Boothe, now with the Oakland Raiders, and then later James Brewer, whom Pro Football Focus graded as 112th-rated guard (out of 144) in the NFL last season.

    However, there is some uncertainty about left tackle Will Beatty’s status heading into camp. Beatty, remember, is recovering from surgery to repair a broken right tibia (the weight bearing bone) from an injury suffered in last year's regular-season finale.

    If Beatty isn't ready to go, the Giants could be looking to move Justin Pugh from right to left tackle, which would probably mean that Schwartz could get a look at right tackle, a position he played in Week 17 of last season. 

    Regardless of where he plays, Schwartz, whom Pro Football Focus rated as a top-10 player among guards with fewer than 500 snaps last season, is sure to bring to the Giants the firepower that wasn't available at every offensive line spot last season.

    That he's only costing the Giants an average of $4.2 million per year over four years could turn into one of the biggest steals of free agency if he maintains that high performance level.  

Worst: Receiver Mario Manningham

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Mario Manningham will always hold a special place in the hearts of Giants fans for his amazing fourth-quarter 38-yard sideline catch in Super Bowl XLVI that set up New York’s game-winning drive.

    However, the years since that unforgettable moment haven’t exactly been kind to the 27-year-old receiver.

    Manningham tore his ACL and PCL in his left knee in December 2012 as a member of the San Francisco 49ers

    He began last season on the PUP list and later had issues with that same knee, which landed him right back on injured reserve after just six games.

    In free agency, there weren't very many suitors linked to Manningham. The Giants, however, welcomed him back with a one-year, $795,000 contract, continuing their practice of gambling on players who are coming off injury.

    The question though is if Manningham is going to be healthy enough to compete with Rueben Randle to replace Hakeem Nicks

    Per Spotrac, his contract contains $65,000 in bonuses in addition to a $730,000 base salary, making it a minimum qualifying offer, not exactly a vote of confidence for a player who, if healthy, might have a big role on the team.

     

Best: Safety/Returner Quintin Demps

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Although Demps is presumably being brought in to compete for a return specialist job—he has 96 career kickoff returns for 2,630 yards and two touchdowns—he can also provide valuable depth at safety, where, besides the durable Antrel Rolle, the Giants have numerous question marks.

    We’ll start with Will Hill, the Giants’ other projected starter for 2014. Hill has already served two league-imposed suspensions related to two different league-policy violations. And, per the New York Daily News, he was arrested in December for allegedly missing a child support payment.

    In a separate report, NJ.com noted that the police officer who made the stop “detected the odor of burned marijuana" from within the vehicle which was owned by Hill but driven by another man.

    It’s not known if the league plans to take any action against Hill relating to that incident, but it’s something that bears watching.

    The team brought back Stevie Brown on a one-year deal. Brown, who is rehabbing from ACL surgery, will have his practice reps managed much in the same way as the Giants did with cornerback Terrell Thomas last year. 

    The other safety under contract is second-year man Cooper Taylor, who fought through injuries last year.

    Getting back to Demps, he's played in 64 games with six starts (all last year with the Kansas City Chiefs). He has 96 career tackles, 1.0 sack, seven interceptions and 22 pass breakups amassed as members of the Eagles, Texans and Chiefs.

    If disaster were to strike the starters and neither Brown nor Taylor were ready to go, Demps could presumably step into the lineup, perhaps even playing that third safety role if both Rolle and Hill were healthy.

Best: Linebacker Jameel McClain

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Giants didn't really have a veteran linebacker on their roster last year who could play all of the positions. outside.

    They seem to have that now, and his name is Jameel McClain, the former Baltimore Ravens linebacker released the week before the start of free agency.

    Last season, McClain appeared in 10 games for the Ravens in 2013, all of them at inside linebacker in Baltimore's 3-4 defense.

    Projected to be the strong-side starter for the Giants this season (what with Keith Rivers signing with Buffalo) McClain was in heavy demand by several teams, including the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings.

    McClain has played in 87 regular-season games with 55 starts over six seasons. He has 338 tackles (214 solo), 4.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He also has 60 special teams tackles.

     

    Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.