There's been any number of big stories floating through the NFC East this offseason. The cap trouble in Dallas that led to the release of defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
Those are the moves that have grabbed the headlines, but it's what the New York Giants have been doing in the background that's going to have the biggest impact on the NFC East race in 2014.
The Giants, you see, have turned their usual free-agent frugality on its head—and then beat it senseless with a wiffle ball bat filled with marbles.
Granted, you wouldn't necessarily know that from the Giants' most recent signing. According to ESPN.com's John Clayton, the Giants agreed to terms on Wednesday on a two-year, $4 million contract with defensive end Robert Ayers.
In and of itself, it looks like the sort of mid-tier, reasonable free-agent signing the Giants have made in recent years. After all, Ayers only has 12 career sacks in five NFL seasons, with last year's 5.5 a personal best for a single campaign.
However, Ayers is far from the only player the Giants have added since the offseason began.
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||CB||5 years, $35 million|
|Jon Beason||LB||3 years, $16.8 million|
|Robert Ayers||DE||2 years, $4 million|
|Jameel McClain||LB||1 year, $4.5 million|
|Walter Thurmond||CB||1 year, $3 million|
|Quintin Demps||S||1 year, $1 million|
|Zackary Bowman||CB||1 year, TBA|
|Stevie Brown||S||1 year, $2.75 million|
According to Ralph Vacchiano of The New York Daily News, the Giants have invested over $110 million in new contracts for 23 players. The vast majority of that money has been poured into the defensive side of the ball.
It's a spending spree unheard of in the Jerry Reese/Tom Coughlin era, one that Bart Hubbuch of The New York Post called a "remarkable blitz."
The Giants took a buzzsaw to the secondary. In addition to bringing back safety Stevie Brown, who had eight interceptions two years ago before losing all of 2013 to an ACL tear, the team doled out nearly $40 million to land cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond.
The front seven wasn't ignored either. Ayers was brought in to complement youngster Damontre Moore and help compensate for the loss of Justin Tuck. The team rewarded linebacker Jon Beason for his solid first year in New York with a three-year deal.
Add it all up, and what you have (on paper, anyway) is the best defense in the NFC East.
And it isn't close.
Not only are the Giants the only team in the NFC East who finished in the top 10 in total defense in 2013, but they're the only team in the division to finish in the league's top half a year ago.
They're also the only team in the division that's really done anything about getting better in that regard. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys, who fielded the NFL's worst defense last season, look headed for whatever happens after "train wreck."
Granted, the Giants didn't play as well defensively as their ranking indicates at times last year, especially early in the season when they struggled to generate a pass rush. However, it's also worth mentioning that when a defense is constantly put in a position to fail it should hardly be considered a shock when that's exactly what happens.
There's still work to be done, but more than a few draftniks believe that the Giants will continue the defensive overhaul right into the first round of the 2014 draft.
Two of the experts at CBS Sports, including Pat Kirwan, see Pitt's Aaron Donald as a more-than-adequate replacement for the departed Linval Joseph.
"He (Donald) led the nation's defensive tackles with 11 sacks last season," Kirwan wrote. "He has a non-stop motor, and the Giants lost DT Linval Joseph in free agency."
Who will win the NFC East in 2014?
Of course, all the defensive upgrades in the world aren't going to help if quarterback Eli Manning keeps handing out interceptions like cheese samples at Costco, or if the Giants can't run the ball in 2014 or replace wideout Hakeem Nicks.
With that said, though, the Giants' eyebrow-raising aggressiveness in free agency hasn't been limited to defense, either.
Now, some will call this free-agent spending spree ill-advised, a panic move borne of an organization watching the championship window for its franchise quarterback rapidly closing.
I call it realism, because guess what? The championship window for its franchise quarterback (and head coach) is rapidly closing. Manning turned 33 in January, and a rebuild at this point is all but an admission that Manning's two Super Bowls are all he's going to get.
If the Giants are going to make a run, now is the time to make it.
Assuming that the Giants can cut down on the turnovers that annihilated the 2013 season, there's plenty of talent on that offense for the team to move the ball. No, they aren't the 2013 Denver Broncos, but they also aren't the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, as things stand right now, the Giants appear set to field something this season that they and they alone possess in the NFC East.
An above-average (or better) defense, capable of making a critical stop late in an important game.
That's due in large part to Big Blue's shopping spree, and it wouldn't be even a little surprising if New York's improved defense plays a pivotal part in another division title for the Giants in 2014.