Just like that, the first wave of free agency is over.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been rather impressed with the moves the New York Giants have made.
The Giants appear to have improved their defensive backfield thanks to the addition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; they added two solid return men in Trindon Holliday and Quintin Demps; improved part of the offensive line's interior with Geoff Schwartz; and added a little firepower at running back with Rashad Jennings.
This Giants team is indeed going to look very different in 2014, just as general manager Jerry Reese promised.
However, before anyone goes and books a travel package to the next Super Bowl, the obvious needs to be stated, and that is championships are never won in March.
It's never been about the quantity of free agents brought in, but the quality. While the quality of this group is very promising, it remains to be seen how the pieces of the puzzle fit into the bigger picture.
The other thing one has to remember is that free agency is part of the overall roster-rebuild process. The next, and perhaps just as big, part comes up in May when teams use the draft to fill in additional holes and create depth for the future.
Because free agency and the draft go hand-in-hand, there are often times several draft clues one can glean from the various moves made and not made in free agency by a team.
Let's take a look at what some of those clues might be in the Giants' case.
Perhaps the most glaring decision made by the Giants in free agency was their decision not to address the tight end spot with a veteran.
With Brandon Myers gone—he signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay—and Bear Pascoe apparently no longer in the team’s plans, the Giants' tight ends consist of Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell, both entering their third seasons, and both of whom have combined for three career receptions for 31 yards.
New York also has 30-year-old Daniel Fells, a six-year veteran who, after being cut by the Patriots last summer, was out of football last season. Fells has played in 71 games and has recorded 92 catches for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns in his pro career.
While it’s possible the Giants might be looking at Fells and perhaps one from the Donnell-Robinson duo to fill two of the three projected slots, the third member's identity is still to be determined.
The 2014 veteran free-agent tight end class, which Pro Football Focus has on its public site, really didn’t offer much to get excited over, with perhaps the exception of Jimmy Graham of the Saints, who everyone knew wasn’t going anywhere, and Dennis Pitta of the Ravens, who re-signed with Baltimore.
The best remaining unsigned options, per PFF’s grades, are Carolina’s 34-year-old Ben Hartsock, New York Jets’ Kellen Winslow and Pascoe. None of those three appears to be an option.
There’s also Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley, but the 27-year-old, who suffered a neck injury last year requiring single fusion surgery to the C-3/C-4 vertebra in his neck, is still not medically cleared, according to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky:
He's going through his medical situation. He had a serious injury. I know there is a lot of excitement, based on what I've been told. I haven't seen him work out, but I guess his workouts have gone really well. He's in great shape. I know he feels good. The reality is this injury is going to take some time. We'll continue to watch it.
So what might the Giants do as far as the draft? Even before North Carolina’s Eric Ebron turned in a shaky pro day, I began to get a sense that he was not a tight end the Giants were looking at.
Instead, the candidate I think they might be eyeing for Day 3 in the draft is Georgia’s Arthur Lynch.
Lynch, a pure blocking tight end who can also contribute as a receiver, should be sitting there waiting to hear his name called on Day 3.
The wild card in trying to guess what kind of tight end the Giants might draft is that we don't yet know how new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo plans to deploy the position in the offense.
Based on historical data pulled from Pro Football Focus regarding how the last three Giants starting tight ends have been deployed in the Giants offense, we get the following information:
|2011-2013: Giants' Use of the Starting Tight End|
|Season||Player||Pass||Run Block||Pass Block|
|via Pro Football Focus (subscription required)|
What this data reveals is that with the exception of Myers, the tight end is asked to run block almost as often as he is to go out in a pass pattern.
Thus, if in-line blocking isn't a strength of Ebron's, whereas Lynch can handle that role as well as go out into a pattern and be had later in the draft, it might make more sense to go in that direction, assuming the Giants still plan to use their starting tight end to run block just as much as in the past.
For clues as to what the Giants might do along the offensive line, which by the way happens to be a deep class at all three positions in this year’s draft, let’s start by reviewing what their current situation looks like.
|New York Giants 2014 Offensive Line Depth|
|* Coming off surgery, season-ending injury|
After viewing this chart, does anyone out there still think that, because the Giants added Geoff Schwartz and J.D. Walton to presumably start, this unit is set?
The fact is that the offensive line still has several question marks to which we probably won't have answers for months.
Can Chris Snee make it back and hold up to the demands of a 16-game schedule? Will the light switch finally go on for James Brewer?
Can Walton be effective after not playing much over the last two years? Can Will Beatty bounce back from a horrible 2013 season?
Like I said, there are too many questions and not enough answers right now.
So what does this mean for the draft?
Let’s start with the reserves. Brewer and Dallas Reynolds are both entering the final year of their respective contracts.
In Brewer’s case, he had a golden opportunity last year to nail down a starting job moving forward. However, he was inconsistent and at times soft in his play, earning negative overall grades (subscription required) from PFF in five games played last season, four of which he started.
Brandon Mosley and Eric Herman didn’t show all that much either. Even when the players ahead of them on the depth chart were struggling, the coaches resisted putting either man in until they were left with no choice.
In Herman's case, he wasn't even added to the roster until very late in the year when the team was out of options and out of money.
Now let’s look at the starters. Love him or hate him, Beatty isn’t going anywhere this year, assuming he’s medically cleared to return.
For those holding out hope that the Giants cut Beatty, it's not happening.
Per Over the Cap, their “savings” would be minus $8.1 million, and they’d be slammed with $19 million in dead money that, even if they were to designate him as a post-June 1 cut, it still wouldn’t yield a savings.
Then there is Walton. Per Rotoworld, his two-year, $5 million deal includes $3 million guaranteed, including his $1.25 million signing bonus and his first year’s base ($1.25 million).
Interestingly, Walton has a $250,000 roster bonus in 2015, the second and final year of his deal. Only $500,000 of his $2.25 million base salary in 2015 is guaranteed.
What does the structure of Walton’s deal suggest? There is a strong possibility that he might not be on the roster next year, something that would come to fruition if the Giants draft a young center to develop as the future starter.
Now for the biggest unanswered question: Who might the Giants draft from this year's very deep offensive line class?
A solid prospect that could be on the Giants' radar, and who could benefit from having a full year to develop as a pro, is Florida State’s Bryan Stork (6’4”, 315 pounds), who is projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick by NFL Draft Scout.
Stork, interestingly, has drawn comparisons to Saints unrestricted free agent center Brian De La Puente, a player who, per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, was initially linked to the Giants.
As I noted in my recent “Risers and Fallers” piece, because the Giants have committed themselves to Walton at center for 2014 thanks to the his base salary being fully guaranteed, that ensures that a young center, if drafted, would be a developmental project in his first season.
If that player were to be Stork, he could potentially serve as a jumbo tight end in order to get his feet wet with the new offense while he works to improve his lower body strength.
One other position I need to mention from the offensive line is tackle, which currently is downright scary—and not in a good way.
Besides projected starters Justin Pugh and Beatty, the depth at tackle consists of Brewer, Mosley and John Jerry.
Brewer and Mosley are likely better at guard, which would leave Jerry as the swingman guard/tackle.
However, Jerry's immediate future still needs to be resolved thanks to his alleged participation in the Miami workplace harassment scandal.
Per Jordan Rannan of NJ.com, there has been conflicting information as to whether or not Jerry is definitely going to be disciplined by the NFL. If he is disciplined and has to miss time during the season, what do the Giants do if something happens to Beatty or Pugh?
The answer is they look toward the draft, and no later than Day 2, in my opinion.
A prospect that I haven’t previously mentioned is Virginia’s Morgan Moses, 6’6”, 314 pounds.
Projected to go in the second round by NFL Draft Scout, Moses has ideal size to play tackle on either side at the pro level, though he probably projects to the right side in the NFL.
He has a nice long wingspan and strong leg drive, but his agility and quickness are of a concern, as he sometimes plays heavy-footed. With a solid year of pro-level coaching, Morgan just might be able to develop into a solid contributor.
Another unit where the depth is of concern is at defensive tackle, this thanks to the departure of Linval Joseph via free agency.
Currently, Johnathan Hankins is projected to be the starter alongside of Cullen Jenkins, but the only depth that’s under contract and that has NFL experience is Markus Kuhn, as both Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers are currently unsigned.
That’s not exactly a settling picture, especially after the Giants placed such a premium on defensive tackles the year prior in order to beef up the run defense.
That the Giants haven’t made a move to replace any of the lost depth at the defensive tackle position suggests that they probably have their eye on someone in the draft.
The obvious prospect, assuming he falls to No. 12, is Pitt’s Aaron Donald, 6’1”, 285 pounds. Per NFL Draft Scout, Donald is the top-rated defensive tackle and a projected first-rounder who is the 16th-best prospect on their board.
Donald, who at the combine was clocked at 4.68 in the 40 and who benched 35 225-pound reps, had 26 sacks over the last three seasons playing defensive tackle for the Panthers.
While not as heavy as Joseph or Hankins, Donald has a quick first step off the snap and has shown an ability to beat his opponent with that quick first step.
If the Giants are committed to the pass rush, they need to rebuild the defensive line, particularly the interior. A prospective pass-rushing (NASCAR) package featuring Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore at the ends, and Donald and Hankins at tackle could create some matchup nightmares for opponents.
For added depth, don’t be surprised if the Giants re-sign Patterson after the draft to a one-year contract. Per Pro Football Focus, Patterson was highly effective in run defense, though his pass rush was the worst of a trio that included Joseph and Jenkins.
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