Reassessing NY Giants Offseason Plan and Breaking Down What's Left to Address
Since March 11, the New York Giants have signed 25 free agents. Ten of those free agents were re-signed to new contracts after spending the 2013 season with the team; the other 15 spent last season elsewhere.
The Giants had a clear plan of attack before this spending spree took place. The two most pressing needs were to acquire a reliable running back and to rebuild the offensive line. They also displayed a somewhat surprising focus on improving their secondary.
Now, with the free agency flurry in the past, New York must re-group and finish off the offseason strong.
This article will reassess the Giants' plan for the remainder of the offseason, highlighting concerns that the team must further address.
Kevin is a New York Giants Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here. All statistical information courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless specifically noted otherwise.
Find a Proven Pass-Catching Tight End
On Friday, April 4, the Giants finally signed a tight end in 28-year-old Kellen Davis, according to NBC's Pro Football Talk.
A fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan State in 2008 (158 overall), Davis spent his first five NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears. Last season, he was a member of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Davis is not the long-term solution at tight end, though. Known as good blocking tight end, Davis is likely a replacement for Bear Pascoe, a valiant blocker who remains on the open market due to his ineffectiveness as a receiving threat.
Davis does have 50 career catches for 561 yards and 12 touchdowns, but in 2013, the Bears brought in former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett to replace Davis, who was disappointing as a pass-catcher. Davis was a healthy scratch for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl last season.
Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells round out the Giants remaining depth at tight end. Both Robinson (6'4", 264 lbs) and Donnell (6'6", 269 lbs) are both athletic specimens, yet they have just three catches combined to show for it. Fells, on the other hand, is a 30-year-old veteran. Although he did not play in 2013, Fells has caught passes as a member of the St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.
The Giants will likely target this position in the draft. Many fans would like to see the team select North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron with the 12th overall pick, but New York may not be willing to spend a first-rounder on a position as specialized as tight end.
While Ebron is undoubtedly the most talented pass-catching tight end in this year's draft class, the Giants can land a more-than-serviceable starter after the first round has passed. Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz and, though he's not expected to fall into the second round, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro should be on New York's short list.
Quarterback Eli Manning has relied on a productive pass-catching tight end throughout his career. From Jeremy Shockey to Kevin Boss to Jake Ballard, tight ends have starred in Manning's arsenal. Even recent stopgaps Brandon Myers and Bennett have had successful statistical seasons with Manning throwing them the ball.
The Giants front office cannot afford to deprive its 33-year-old quarterback a weapon at this valuable position as he begins his first year under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Locate a Franchise Left Tackle
The Giants are paying 29-year-old Will Beatty like a franchise left tackle, but that doesn't mean he is one.
Last season, following his signing of a five-year, $38.75 million contract, Beatty was abysmal, blaming his poor play partially on the pressure the new deal placed squarely on his shoulders. A nasty fracture of his right leg, suffered in a rain-soaked season finale, will only set Beatty back further.
While Justin Pugh (6'4", 301 lbs) played well as a rookie at right tackle, he lacks the elite size needed to thrive as a blindside protector in the NFL. Backup tackles, such as fourth-rounders Brandon Mosley (2012, 131st overall) and James Brewer (2011, No. 117 overall), have shown little promise or progress in recent seasons. With few options outside of Beatty, the Giants have taken an aggressive approach in free agency when it comes to adding O-line talent.
The most lucrative contract New York doled out to an offensive free agent went to former Kansas City Chiefs lineman Geoff Schwartz. Although he has the experience and size necessary to play left tackle for the Giants, Schwartz projects to play guard in 2014. When with the Miami Dolphins, the newly acquired John Jerry spent some time at left tackle, but most of his experience came at right guard. Another signing, Charles Brown, started 14 games at left tackle for the New Orleans Saints last season, but he was eventually benched after head coach Sean Payton had apparently seen enough.
So with the left tackle position still a major question mark, the Giants must look to solidify this position in the draft. Shoving a rookie into the starting lineup, especially at a position as essential as left tackle, comes with considerable risk. It may already be too late for New York to land a franchise left tackle for the 2014 season, but it can at least select one to groom for future seasons in this year's draft.
CBS Sports draft analyst Dane Brugler refers to Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews as "arguably the safest prospect" in this year's draft and sees him falling into New York's lap at No. 12 overall. But given Matthews' pedigree and NFL readiness, that scenario is unlikely. Michigan's Taylor Lewan (6'7", 309) has the size NFL coaches look for in top-notch left tackles, but character concerns could lead the Giants to pass on Lewan.
Perhaps an under-the-radar tackle presents himself to New York: North Dakota State's Billy Turner, a dominant FCS prospect, should be available in the middle rounds.
Solidify the Defensive Line
The Giants were fairly staunch down the stretch defensively last season, but that is not certain to carry over into 2014 given the shakeup New York's defensive line has experienced this offseason.
Without these consistent producers, much will be up in the air for New York's defensive line in 2014. Once one of the league's most dominant defenders, end Jason Pierre-Paul has been a shadow of his former self ever since he had severe back issues arise midway through the 2012 season.
Mathias Kiwanuka was hit or miss last season, after shifting back and forth from defensive end to linebacker several times since he has been drafted back in 2006.
Will Cullen Jenkins play primarily on the inside, or will he contribute on the edge more often with the loss of Tuck? Will defensive end Damontre Moore and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins be able to make much-needed leaps as second-year professionals?
New York has done very little to counter this uncertainty. They did sign former first-round selection Robert Ayers (2009, No. 18 overall), who never fulfilled his draft-day potential as a defensive end with the Denver Broncos. Also, they re-signed defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who provided solid depth in the interior a season ago.
Still, the Giants can afford to do more to bolster this unit.
And they can do this in the draft. Both Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwin of CBS Sports, as well as The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, mocked Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald to the Giants at pick No. 12. Statistically speaking, Donald is a more impressive prospect than even Ndamukong Suh was as the second overall selection in 2009.
It would be typical of the Giants to select a defensive lineman in the first round, but they may instead target one later on in the draft. If that's the case, New York could in the middle rounds land quality D-linemen such as defensive ends Kareem Martin of North Carolina or Oregon's Taylor Hart.
Monitor David Wilson's Progress
Running back David Wilson is the question mark of 2014.
Yes, the Giants signed former Jacksonville Jaguar and Oakland Raider Rashad Jennings to likely be the featured running back for 2014; and, yes, they can still draft yet another running back in May; but, no, none of this should change the intrigue surrounding Wilson, a 2012 first-round selection, and his return from a serious neck condition.
In his first season-and-a-half, Wilson was a dynamic playmaker, one with the capability to take the ball to the house anytime it is in his hands. He proved this as a second-team All-Pro kick-returner during his rookie year. He showcased the ability to single-handedly take over a game with his record-setting performance against the New Orleans in Week 14 of that same year.
Now, maybe in a modified or limited role, Wilson can be even more dangerous. Without the pressure to become the team's every-down back bearing down on him, the 22-year-old lightning rod might finally be able to spark a lasting flame. With fewer touches, his issues with ball security will be less of a liability too.
But it's not even certain that Wilson will play at all in 2014. His diagnosis of a herniated disc in his neck and spinal stenosis is usually considered career-threatening, due to the risk of paralysis. The condition required a surgical fusion of his vertebrae—according to a Tweet by Ralph Vachiano of the New York Daily News—a procedure he underwent in January. It is somewhat encouraging that head coach Tom Coughlin fully expects Wilson to be in attendance at training camp, per a Tweet by Jordan Ranaan of NJ.com.
If healthy, a new role could be just what the doctor ordered for Wilson. He can still be a dynamic playmaker if the Giants can find a way to get him 10-15 touches per game in space, whether as a ball-carrier, receiving option or return man. He will remain a legitimate threat to score without having to be relied upon to carry the offense as the team's No. 1 back.