Ranking New York Giants' Top Offseason Moves Following 2014 NFL Draft
The New York Giants organization certainly underwent a lot of change this offseason. The current roster looks a lot different than the 2013 version, mainly due to the team inking 14 unrestricted free agents from other teams this offseason and drafting seven new players earlier this month.
With the offseason wheeling-and-dealing all but done and OTAs set to start on May 28, now is a great time to recap the best moves New York has made since the conclusion of last season. The following slides will list the moves in ascending order based upon the impact they figure to make on the team in 2014.
We’ll start with the signing of a player that should help revitalize last year’s stagnant running game.
6. Signing Rashad Jennings
The Giants were a bad running team last year, and a porous offensive line was only partly to blame.
It also didn’t help that their starting running back entering 2013, David Wilson, was put on injured reserve after hurting his neck in Week 5. In addition, his eventual replacement, Andre Brown, missed the first eight games of the season due to a fractured leg which he suffered in the final preseason game.
Even upon his return, Brown faltered down the stretch after averaging 102.7 yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry during his first three games. In New York’s last five games of the season, Brown mustered only 2.6 yards per carry and broke 50 yards rushing in a game just once. He also lost three fumbles, which was the first time he had put the ball on the ground in his career.
All of that is why Big Blue gave Rashad Jennings 10 million reasons early on in free agency to help change the fortunes of the team's rushing attack. The former Raider has averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better in three of his four NFL seasons and is coming off his best year as a pro. In 2013, the 29-year-old had a career-high 733 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
However, he is not a one-dimensional running back. Jennings is also an able pass-catcher, as evidenced by his 97 career catches while rarely being a featured back.
Therein lies the one problem with Jennings, though, and it is part of the reason he brings up the rear on this list; he is still somewhat unproven. Last year was the first time Jennings had more than 150 total touches and 1,000 total yards. While he has been solid as a part-time player, it remains to be seen if he can handle 200-plus touches in a season without losing effectiveness or getting injured.
He is also the least impactful player on this list—in regards to affecting the team’s 2014 performance— because Jennings won’t be able to make good on his new contract without improved play from the offensive line.
5. Drafting Weston Richburg as the Present and Future Starting Center
Rookie center Weston Richburg should be one piece to help the aforementioned offensive line go from being a liability to an asset for the Giants this upcoming season (how about that segue!).
Last week, I broke down all of the reasons why the second-round pick should be an instant starter for Big Blue. If Richburg realizes my prediction by starting every regular season game in 2014, that would be a far different script than what the center position wrote last season.
In 2013, three different players—Jim Cordle, Kevin Boothe and David Baas—started games at center for the Giants. None did so with any effectiveness, as they combined for a minus-12.2 rating, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Richburg should bring stability and strong play back to the most overlooked position on the offensive line. His lack of NFL experience, though, precludes him from being the best addition to the offensive line this offseason. That honor goes to the man on the next slide.
4. Signing Geoff Schwartz
At the top of the wish list to help fix the position was inking a young free agent with a track record of success. That wish was fulfilled with the signing of the 27-year-old Geoff Schwartz, who was signed away from the Kansas City Chiefs just hours after free agency started.
Schwartz started eight games with Kansas City last year, playoffs included, and mustered an impressive 18.2 PFF rating over 632 snaps, primarily at right guard. It wasn’t his only strong season in the NFL, though; in 2010, as a member of the Carolina Panthers, Schwartz posted a 19.2 PFF rating over 1,016 snaps as a starter at both right tackle and right guard.
The 6’6”, 340-pound behemoth told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News that he believes he’ll play left guard for the Giants in 2014 due to the presence of Chris Snee on the right side. However, his prior experience suggests he’ll be able to handle multiple positions for the team along the offensive line.
Along with Richburg, Schwartz will be vital to the offensive line’s expected revival in 2014. Both players also rave about an offensive line academy they are a part of called “LB O-Line Performance,” which is run by former NFL player LeCharles Bentley.
It will be all the better if the academy plays a role in a strong 2014 performance by the two new teammates.
3. Re-Signing Jon Beason
Re-signing Jon Beason was a key move for New York, even though it actually occurred in the middle of the 2013 season, less than two months into his tenure with the team.
There are two reasons why the Giants needed to retain him so badly. First, along with Antrel Rolle, Beason instantly became a leader on the defense upon his arrival from Carolina. Also, not so coincidentally, the Big Blue run defense improved once he was on board.
Before Beason was traded by the Panthers to New York last October, the Giants defense allowed 126 yards rushing per game, five rushing touchdowns and 3.9 yards per carry over the first five games of 2013. With Beason as their middle linebacker, they surrendered a more reasonable 101 yards per game, seven touchdowns and 3.8 yards per carry over the final 11 games of the year.
Most importantly, New York was 0-5 without Beason and 7-4 with the eight-year veteran in the fold.
The Giants were also able to keep the 29-year-old on a reasonable three-year contract that only includes about six million guaranteed.
While Beason should once again help anchor New York’s defense in 2014, he won’t be as integral to the success of the team as the man featured on our next slide. The reason why is because this next player could change the fortunes of the entire Giants offense.
2. Replacing Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride with Ben McAdoo
Kevin Gilbride wasn’t as bad of an offensive coordinator as many Giants fans have come to believe throughout his seven-year tenure with the team. No, really.
Under Gilbride, the Giants ranked within the top 10 in the NFL in points per game five times and yards per game four times. They also won two Super Bowls on his watch, with both victories in the big game coming on long touchdown drives in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
Last year, however, was an utter disaster, as the team's lackluster output clearly demonstrated that it was time for Gilbride to go.
The fact that the Giants ranked 28th in the league in both total yards and points per game was bad enough. The constant miscommunication between Eli Manning and his receivers, though—which was partly to blame for the signal-caller’s NFL-leading 27 interceptions—made the offense look dysfunctional and downright embarrassing.
Former Green Bay quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo’s system, which relies more upon Eli Manning to read the coverage and react instead of the receivers, should make the offense more efficient and less mistake-prone. It also figures to improve the team's red-zone offense. Green Bay has been, for the most part, excellent in the red zone over the last six years, and McAdoo will largely be using the same system he implemented there.
However, I think the biggest benefit of the McAdoo hire is that it should be a wake-up call for the offense—particularly for Eli Manning.
Instead of going through the motions in offseason workouts and training camp with a system that he knows inside and out, Manning will be taken out of his comfort zone a bit with a new offense in place, and it is never a bad thing to wake up a veteran quarterback who is coming off his worst season with some significant change.
1. Signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s $35 million contract was easily the largest deal handed out by the Giants this offseason. There is definitely some sense behind these dollars, though.
In recent years, New York has been known as a team that can make big plays in the passing game and generate a healthy pass rush on opposing quarterbacks.
Last season saw the script change.
Big Blue had an average passing attack that was bogged down by a porous offensive line and plenty of interceptions. In addition, they only mustered 34 sacks, which placed them near the bottom of the league in this category, as they finished tied for 25th.
In short, the Giants were missing an identity, and it was a big reason why they posted a losing record for the first time since 2004. The Rodgers-Cromartie signing, along with the signing and re-signing of numerous other secondary contributors, has afforded New York exceptional talent and depth at both cornerback and safety.
The unit is now the undisputed strength of this team, and it should be what they’re known for in 2014.
Along with Rolle, Rodgers-Cromartie figures to be a leader on this unit. The 28-year-old had an exceptional 2013 season as a member of the AFC Champion Denver Broncos. Some of the highlights were a 13 PFF rating, which ranked him fifth among cornerbacks in the league, and a stingy 44.1 percent completion rate against, which was second only to his new teammate Trumaine McBride.
When Rodgers-Cromartie signed with Big Blue, the team suddenly had an identity again. In 2014, they should feature a top defense with a secondary that even the league’s best quarterbacks will find difficult to beat.
For this reason, the signing of DRC is the single best move the Giants made in the offseason. The team and its fans can only hope he provides the right style of play to lead the Giants back to the playoffs and possibly another deep postseason run.