Many expected the New York Giants would select a tight end—specifically, North Carolina's Eric Ebron—in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. But even if the G-Men didn't take a tight end 12th overall (Ebron was gone two spots ahead of their 12th pick) few figured they'd go seven whole rounds without taking a player at that position.
That, however, is exactly what happened.
And now the Giants, who let veteran Brandon Myers walk after one disappointing season in blue, are left with a post-free agency/draft void at a very important offensive position.
Maybe the Giants front office doesn't see it that way, because this is an organization that has shown a glaring lack of appreciation for players at that position ever since the Jeremy Shockey era came to an end in 2008.
Myers was the team's fourth starting tight end in as many years. They signed him to a bargain basement contract last offseason after losing Martellus Bennett on the free-agent market. Bennett had come off a superb season, both as a receiver and a blocker.
The year before that, it was Jake Ballard, who started 13 games and had over 600 yards. But Ballard tore up his knee in the Super Bowl and they let him escape to New England. And Kevin Boss had similar numbers in the same number of starts in 2010 before leaving to join the Raiders.
|Giants: Starting tight ends since 2010|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now they're looking for a fifth starting tight end in half a decade, but, with four tight ends on the roster, they weren't about to go out of their way for another one in the draft.
"We weren't going to force any players or overvalue anybody just because people may think we need a tight end," Giants VP of player evaluation Marc Ross said, according to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano. "That's just not the way we operate."
Fine, but the fact is we're talking about one of your 11 starters. And if indeed this franchise is serious about protecting quarterback Eli Manning better than it did in 2013, it's important to have reliable players lined up on the end of the offensive line.
Let's review Big Blue's options...
The 2012 fourth-round pick has been on the field for a total of three snaps in two NFL seasons. Nobody's questioning his athleticism, but there's a reason the Giants haven't given him any responsibilities thus far.
We knew Robinson would likely be a long-term project at this level, since the guy never had more than 200 receiving yards during his four seasons at Cincinnati. He was drafted because he's 6'5", 264 pounds and runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. He remains raw, but the ceiling is still quite high.
There's no way the Giants know right now whether they'll be able to trust him to start Week 1, but they'll hopefully get a feel for that soon, because Robinson is the best tight end on this roster.
An undrafted free agent from 2012, Donnell performed well on special teams in 2013 while also catching three passes for 31 yards. He certainly doesn't appear ready to be a starting tight end on a competitive team like this one, but Donnell will likely make the roster.
Davis is a good blocking tight end, which won't matter much if the Giants go with a lot of three-receiver looks. Considering that they spent a first-round pick on Odell Beckham, we're not expecting to see a lot of two-tight end sets. We know for sure now that the 28-year-old can't be turned into a pass-catching tight end, so there's no way he's the solution here unless the Giants decide to literally eliminate a weapon from Manning's arsenal.
Same deal as Davis, really. He's been typecast as a blocker, but nobody's expecting the 30-year-old journeyman to go from being out of football in 2013 to the Giants starting lineup in 2014.
Per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, Giants general manager Jerry Reese did note on Sirius XM NFL Radio Monday that they think Robinson and Donnell "can handle the tight position." That's a strong indication they'll stick to the status quo, but if they have second thoughts, there are some options on the open market.
Reese has also noted that tight ends haven't exactly played a prominent role in the Giants offense the last few years, but it's not as though that model has been successful. And besides, this'll be a new offense, run by former Packers tight ends coach Ben McAdoo.
So McAdoo coached Finley during his first four seasons in this league. Thus, it's easy to make the connection here between the Giants and the athletic 27-year-old with 48 career starts under his belt.
The concern, of course, is that Finley is recuperating from surgery after suffering a serious spinal injury in 2013. His football future is very much up in the air.
Just like Finley, Keller is only available because of health concerns. He tore up his knee in August, and he won't likely find a job until he can prove he's ready to contribute. If that can happen, though, the 29-year-old would be a nice summertime addition. Also, like Finley, he has 48 career starts under his belt.
And he'd also come cheap, which is pretty nice considering he was a first-round pick in 2008 and has four 500-yard seasons on his resume. The Giants have just over $4 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com, which would be enough to sign Finley or Keller along with their rookie class.
|Giants: Current depth chart at tight end (career stats)|
|1. Adrien Robinson||2||0||0||0||0|
|2. Larry Donnell||1||1||3||31||0|
|3. Kellen Davis||6||39||50||561||12|
|4. Daniel Fells||6||30||92||1086||8|
|Pro Football Reference|
The Giants are one of only five NFL teams that haven't drafted a single tight end before the 100th pick in the last 10 years. And sure, they've won two Super Bowls during that span, but they've also missed the playoffs in four of the last five years, and their aging franchise quarterback needs as much support as he can get.
If I'm the Giants, I'm not leaving Robinson and Donnell to do the job. Bring in a proven veteran like Finley or Keller and see what happens. Maybe those guys can't stay healthy, but maybe they can and maybe Robinson and Donnell aren't ready, in which case you've protected yourself. If the opposite happens, and Robinson finally starts living up to that "JPP of tight ends" draft hype, at least you have someone with starting experience in case things go awry.
But I'm fully expecting Reese to stick to what he's got, which would be a shame. Yes, it could work out just fine, but there's a reason the rest of the league is adding emphasis to the tight end position. Reese's stubborn mentality here borders on hubris, and it's the type of thing that could get Manning hurt.
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