New York Giants' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
In a little less than one month, the New York Giants have signed 13 free agents who were with other teams last season.
That's their second-highest highest number of imported talent in the Tom Coughlin era since 2004 when, per the information kept by Big Blue Interactive, the Giants signed 19 free agents who contributed to a 6-10 record that season.
This time around, the Giants are hoping that the talent they have brought for 2014 produces a far better record than that first year under Coughlin—and certainly a better record than last year's 7-9 results.
For as much as the Giants have accomplished in free agency, they still have a few remaining holes on their roster.
Here’s a look at five such positions where another player or two could be added for depth, and some suggestions via either the draft, free agency, or both, who might be fits.
A glance at the tight ends for the Giants shows a lot of potential but not much production.
There’s Adrien Robinson, the team’s fourth-round draft pick in 2012, and Larry Donnell, an undrafted free agent from that same year. Those two players have combined for three receptions, all by Donnell.
Then there’s 30-year-old Daniel Fells. While possessing experience—he has been in 71 games, catching 92 passes for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns—Fells was unable to make a New England Patriots team last season that was in dire need of depth at the tight end position.
Perhaps the Giants are waiting for the draft to address this critical position—Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, Georgia’s Arthur Lynch and North Carolina's Eric Ebron are just a few of the candidates who could definitely fill this need.
Or maybe the Giants have their eye on free agency, where names such as Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley and Ed Dickson still remain unsigned.
Whatever the case, the Giants New York cannot go into 2014 with its tight end situation as it currently stands and expect to be competitive.
Regardless of the type of tight end that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is seeking, there needs to be at least one more competitor added to this group.
Although the Giants have signed center J.D. Walton to presumably take over the starting job, the depth behind him needs a boost.
First, let's look at Walton. He has started 36 (out of 36) games played, his last appearance coming in 2012 as a member of the Denver Broncos. That year, he played four games before suffering an ankle injury that kept him sidelined all of last season.
Walton’s backup at the moment is guard/center Dallas Reynolds, a third-year player whom the Giants picked up last year off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Reynolds, who had been an exclusive-rights free agent, re-signed earlier offseason. The 29-year-old has played in 19 career games, starting 14 in 2012 for the Eagles.
In a pinch, the Giants could also move Chris Snee, who’s taken snaps at center in practice throughout the years, to that spot.
However, Snee, who in this the final year of his contract (and perhaps his career), is not a sure thing to make it through the season as he continues to recover from two hip procedures and elbow surgery that he had in 2013.
Seeing that the Giants didn’t go for one of the perceived “blue chip” free-agent centers such as Cleveland’s Alex Mack, Evan Dietrich-Smith (formerly with Green Bay now with Tampa Bay) or New Orleans’ Brian De La Puente, they will probably add depth at this position via the draft.
The top prospects who could find their way to the Giants include Arkansas’ Travis Swanson and Florida State’s Bryan Stork.
Of the two, Swanson might be a little more pro ready at this point, though Stork, who probably needs a full year in an NFL weight program, would seem to have a little better athleticism especially when it comes to getting to the second level.
Although the Giants added Mario Manningham to a receivers group that already includes Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan, the question as to who will replace Hakeem Nicks, now with the Colts, is far from being settled.
Presumably, Randle is the early favorite, but head coach Tom Coughlin, speaking with Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post, noted that the organization is looking for Randle to mature as a pro:
Coughlin on Reuben Randle: “We have very high expectations for him. He’s got to continue to be a better pro and show consistency."— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) March 26, 2014
Jernigan, who flashed at the end of last season playing in place of the injured Cruz, creates some questions regarding whether he has the size and durability to hold up if he plays on the outside. He'll get an opportunity to compete for a spot, but despite his late-season success last year, he's not a given moving forward.
Per Spotrac, Manningham signed a one-year veteran minimum deal to return to the Giants.
While Coughlin told Hubbuch that Manningham has “physically and mentally matured,” the Giants have to be holding their breath regarding Manningham’s problematic knee that cut short his 2012 and 2013 seasons.
That brings us to the draft, which is so deep in quality receivers that the Giants could probably grab one in each of the first three rounds if they wanted.
Texas A&M’s Mike Evans would be very hard to pass up if he’s there in the first round—a big “if.”
With the receiver class being so deep—NFL Draft Scout projects that there could be as many as 18 receivers being worthy of being selected in the first three rounds—the Giants could conceivably acquire a quality wide out in the first three rounds.
If Texas A&M’s Mike Evans (6’5”, 231 pounds) happens to be sitting there at No. 12, he’d be very hard to pass up. If the Giants have their hearts set on Evans, they might even have to trade up to get him.
In the second round, Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief (6’2”, 221 pounds) should be sitting there, as should Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin (6’4”, 240 pounds).
Whatever direction the Giants do go in regarding receiver will tell us a lot about how the depth chart might be shaping up, especially if they do go with Evans in the first round.
Although there is optimism that running back David Wilson, who’s currently recovering from neck surgery from Jan. 21, will be able to return in 2014, B/R Sports Medicine Lead Writer Will Carroll points out that there is still a lot of unknowns in Wilson’s situation.
“Neck surgery is not like knee surgery where you can see him run. Everything appears stable, but we really don’t have much of a football sense of where he is,” Carroll said.
Carroll also notes how Wilson, by virtue of the position he plays, is going to be subject to hits from all angles, hits that will put pressure on his neck. While Carroll agrees that Wilson should be able to come back, he also ponders there might be a hit in Wilson’s future that is going to reaggravate his neck issue.
The long-term uncertainty about Wilson might just be the reason why the Giants signed former Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings to a four-year deal that Spotrac reports is worth $10 million.
The team also re-signed Peyton Hillis to a two-year deal, presumably to be a change-of-pace back and to work in third-down packages.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hillis tied with Alfred Morris of Washington as the 10th-best running back in pass protection, with a pass-blocking efficiency score of 95.8. (Hillis pass blocked more than Morris despite taking fewer overall snaps on passing downs).
The Giants also have Michael Cox, who is entering his second season after being drafted in the seventh round last year.
Per PFF, Cox took 38 snaps on offense. Of the 14 that were passing plays, Cox was asked to pass block only three times, a stat that suggests that he wasn’t effective as a pass-blocker.
While the Giants will probably continue to develop Cox, I'd be surprised if they also don't bring in competition for that roster spot.
Although Cox ran behind a porous offensive line last year and averaged 2.0 yards per carry, his 1.3 yards after contact stat wasn't very impressive.
If the Giants are indeed looking for a young running back to compete with Cox, I think they’ll look to address this need on Day 3, perhaps as soon as the fifth round.
I really like Wisconsin’s James C. White (5’9”, 204 pounds) whom NFL Draft Scout described as “the Badgers’ best all-around back.” Per Draft Scout's analysis, White has good burst and power, despite his smallish size, and is “attentive and competitive” as a pass-blocker.
Since offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has said that he wants running backs who can protect the quarterback, any college prospect who has an understanding of how to execute those blocks and do so with any degree of consistency would probably earn some extra points on the Giants’ value board.
Although the Giants signed Robert Ayers to what the New York Daily News reported to be a two-year contract to boost the depth at defensive end, a team can never have too many pass rushers.
Currently, the Giants have four defensive ends with NFL playing experience—Ayers, Mathias Kiwanuka, Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore. While on paper this position seems set, all it takes is one training camp injury and the Giants can suddenly become thin.
That’s why I think they’ll look to add a developmental prospect via the draft, a player who probably won’t see much if any in the way of defensive snaps in his rookie season, but who could potentially move into the defensive end rotation in 2015.
Remember, next season Pierre-Paul is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent—if he has a monster 2014 season, his price tag is likely going to skyrocket.
In addition, Kiwanuka will be entering the final year of his contract in 2015, a year in which he’ll be due a $4.775 base salary, per Over the Cap. That amount that could see him end up as a salary cap cut unless he has a solid year in 2014.
A Day 3 prospect that I like for the Giants is Stanford’s Ben Gardner (6’4”, 277 pounds), who last fall suffered a pectoral injury.
As Matt Miller notes in the above video, Gardner is going to need to add strength and bulk in order to turn into a legitimate edge protector.
If he were to join the Giants either as a late Day 3 draft pick or as an undrafted free agent, he would likely get a full year to work on that while possibly cutting his teeth on special teams.
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