5 Moves That the New York Giants May Regret This Offseason
When a football team is coming off a 7-9 season, it’s only natural to expect an overhaul of the roster.
That’s exactly what New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has begun doing as he tries to make the team more competitive for 2014.
Thus far in free agency, Reese has been the busiest he's ever been in his time as general manager. He's signed 13 free agents from other teams, the most since 2004 (per Big Blue Interactive) when his predecessor, Ernie Accorsi, signed 19 players to help get head coach Tom Coughlin’s tenure off in the right direction.
Yet, for as impressive as the Giants’ 2014 free-agency scorecard (a version of which has been kept by Inside Football) has looked, some of the decisions made have still been curious ones.
Here's a list of five questionable decisions the team has made.
At the start of free agency, there was little doubt that the Giants were going to go in a different direction at center after questions arose as to whether former starter David Baas would be ready for 2014.
The Giants got their answer, which unfortunately was not the one they were hoping for, and Baas was removed from the roster, designated as “waived/failed physical.”
So what did the Giants do to replace Baas?
Despite a report by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News that the team expressed an interest in veteran Brian De La Puente (formerly with the Saints), who started 44 games in the last three seasons, the Giants went in a different direction.
That direction was to replace Baas, who started 19 games over the last two seasons, with J.D. Walton, who started four games over that same period for the Denver Broncos before suffering an ankle injury in 2012 that kept him sidelined all of last season.
Based on the contract that Walton received—per Over the Cap, his two-year, $6 million contract will pay him like a starter in the first year ($1.25 million base salary that’s fully guaranteed, as is his $1.25 million signing bonus)—the Giants might very well be looking at Walton as a stop-gap solution.
The long-term plan might very well be to get a center in this year’s draft with the goal of developing him to compete for the starting job next season.
The big question is can Walton shake off the rust and be effective short term on a revamped Giants offensive line that is far from being settled. If he struggles or has any setbacks with his ankle, the Giants' offensive line could be looking at even more reshuffling than first anticipated.
Letting Defensive End Justin Tuck Leave
There comes a time in a man’s career when he has to move on.
However, when that man has been a loyal employee with a visible presence in the community and someone who has played at a high level despite an injury history, when he moves on, it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
That’s what happened with defensive end Justin Tuck, who, per Steve Serby of the New York Post, signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Oakland Raiders after the Giants offer was, as Serby reported, to be “approximately half” of what the silver and black put up.
Although Tuck's skills are starting to diminish, he was healthy for the first time in years last season, and his production peaked. He finished as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best 4-3 defensive end among those who participate in at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps on defense last season.
Pass rush aside, Tuck was also strong against the run. Per Pro Football Focus' signature stats (subscription required), Tuck was responsible for a stop on 7.6 percent of his defensive snaps, making him the ninth-best run defender (out of 18) who played against the run on at least 60 percent of his team’s snaps.
With Tuck gone, the Giants signed Robert Ayers, who was with Denver last season. Per PFF, Ayers finished with a 10.7 run-stop percentage (based on 149 run snaps).
Although he finished with the same pass-rushing productivity grade (10.4) as Tuck, Ayers’ 62 pass-rush snaps pale by comparison to Tuck’s 483.
What will be interesting to see is whether Ayers actually replaces Tuck in the starting lineup or if the Giants instead go with second-year man Damontre Moore, who last year showed flashes as a pass-rusher, but who was limited against the run.
If Ayers and Moore don't work out, there's always Mathias Kiwanuka, who took a pay cut to remain with the Giants.
However, there's a reason why Kiwanuka was PFF's lowest rated 4-3 defensive end last season, and that's because Kiwanuka had his share of struggles winning one-on-one matchups.
The early incumbent to fill the starting job is Ayers, but certainly Moore and Kiwanuka will work into that rotation as well. Whether they'll be as effective as Tuck remains to be seen.
The Tight End Search
It’s been quite a while since the Giants had a dual threat at tight end, a player who could block and contribute to the passing game. It could very well be a while longer, depending what they decide to do in the draft.
There was hope last year that Brandon Myers, who had a breakout season the year prior for the Raiders, but who was never really regarded for his blocking abilities, would be a suitable replacement for Martellus Bennett, who was the last Giants tight end to produce as both a receiver and a blocker.
Based on the stats, Myers didn’t come anywhere close to filling Bennett’s shoes. Per Football Outsiders, Myers finished as the 36th-best receiving tight end while Bennett finished as the 16th best in the NFL.
So how are the Giants planning to improve their tight end production now that they have parted with Myers and his backup Bear Pascoe, who wasn't much of a receiver either? So far, it looks like they’re hoping that at least one of the duo of Adrien Robinson and Larry Donnell steps up with a breakout season.
Davis started five games for Seattle last year, including the conference championship game, though he was a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. Known more as a blocking tight end, Davis had three receptions last year for 32 yards and one touchdown.
Might the Giants have been able to do better than Davis if they had acted earlier in free agency?
Other than Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Dennis Pitta of the Baltimore Ravens, both of whom never had a chance to hit the market, the free-agent tight end class was iffy-looking as far as finding guys in their prime who might be able to contribute for more than a year.
That’s why the Giants will probably look at the draft to reinforce this position, perhaps rolling the dice on Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas or Georgia’s Arthur Lynch.
Not Finding a Solid Replacement for Receiver Hakeem Nicks
After two straight disappointing seasons in New York, receiver Hakeem Nicks said via a conference call with reporters, that the Giants didn't bother to offer him a "show me" deal to prove that he could reproduce his performance from 2011, when he posted a career high in receiving yards (1,192).
Instead, the Giants decided to go in a different direction in addressing their No. 1 receiver spot.
They signed old friend Mario Manningham, who spent the last year-and-a-half in and out of the trainer’s room thanks to a torn ACL suffered late during the 2012 season. He started last season on the PUP list, played a few games, and then landed back on injured reserve.
Manningham signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum with up to $65,000 in bonuses.
In the press release distributed by the Giants announcing Manningham’s return, the veteran receiver admitted his knee still isn’t 100 percent. “It’s coming along and I just have to work on getting stronger and getting my strength back and trusting it more,” he said.
They also have receiver Rueben Randle, who is entering his third season. Last offseason, Randle looked so good after being able to take advantage of the absences of Nicks and Victor Cruz from the spring programs.
Randle led Giants receivers with six touchdown receptions, but as the 2013 season played out his performance became erratic at times. He was the intended target on eight of quarterback Eli Manning’s interceptions.
Randle’s inconsistency was probably the reason why general manager Jerry Reese, speaking to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine, admitted that the team still isn’t sure if Randle is “a one, if he’s a two, if he’s a three (receiver).” That’s also probably why Reese said he expects Randle “to grow and be a more mature player and be a strong contributor for us.”
Will the Giants ultimately regret passing on more productive free-agent receivers such as Eric Decker and Golden Tate?
It's no secret that this year's draft class is deep at receiver. In theory, the Giants could probably get a quality player by the end of Day 2.
Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC's Marquise Lee, the latter of whom NFL Draft Scout compares to Victor Cruz, are two intriguing possibilities if they're still on the board.
Firing Tight Ends Coach Mike Pope
The roster wasn’t the only target in Reese’s crosshairs due for a shakeup.
The coaching staff, particularly on offense, was sure to undergo a refresh after team CEO John Mara famously labeled it as “broken” in his season-ending press conference.
The natural assumption of many was that offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride would not be back in 2014. That came to fruition when Gilbride announced his retirement just days after Mara’s scathing comments.
What came as a surprise, though, is that long-time tight ends coach Michael Pope was let go as part of a shakeup that also saw running backs coach Jerald Ingram relieved of his duties.
While it’s true that Pope didn’t get much out of his personnel—Adrien Robinson, a 2012 fourth-round draft pick, has come along at a snail’s pace; Larry Donnell's game has been rife with inconsistencies; Brandon Myers simply wasn’t cut out to be a blocker, and Bear Pascoe never really got a chance to settle down in one role—the coach's reputation and past success were hard to ignore.
Instead, Kevin M. Gilbride, the son of the former offensive coordinator, will move from his post as the team’s receivers coach to tight ends.
Gilbride, who last coached tight ends in 2006 when he was an assistant at Georgetown, had similar production issues with the Giants receivers.
Hakeem Nicks was a colossal disappointment; Rueben Randle was inconsistent; Louis Murphy was nonexistent, and Jerrel Jernigan couldn’t get on the field until late in the year when injuries and the lack of cap space made it a necessity.
Let's look at some basic stats pulled from NFL.com. In 2013, the Giants’ receivers averaged 14.0 yards per reception, the tight ends 10.2 yards. In the case of the receivers, their average only one-half yard better than the group’s 2012 average, a season in which Nicks fought through injuries.
To be fair, PFF credited Giant receivers with 226 catchable balls to the tight ends’ 67. However, a closer look at the individual percentages reveal that Nicks (11.11 percent) and Randle (10.87 percent), the Giants’ first and third receivers respectively, had the highest drop-rate percentages of the receivers.
Myers, the starting tight end last year, had a six percent drop rate.
The point is that while Pope didn’t get the most out of last year’s tight end group, neither did Gilbride from the receivers. Yet Gilbride survived the cut and Pope was sent packing, although he landed on his feet with the Dallas Cowboys.
With the tight end position still a question mark for the Giants, can Gilbride succeed where Pope failed in terms of getting something out of Robinson and Donnell, plus working with any new talent the Giants might bring in via the draft?