Ranking the 7 Biggest Upgrades Made by the New York Giants This Offseason
Following a 7-9 season, the New York Giants had little choice but to turn over the majority of their roster if they were to have any chance of avoiding a second straight season finishing at or under .500.
So they did something they really haven’t done much of since 2004, which was head coach Tom Coughlin’s first season.
The Giants went on a massive spending spree, which included what Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News estimated to be more than $100 million in total contracts on new players on both sides of the ball.
This one-time spending spree, which team co-owner John Mara told Samuel is not going to be the norm in future offseasons, has yielded several players who, at least in the early part of training camp, look to be key components for the team going forward.
Here’s a look at the seven biggest upgrades made by the Giants, in descending order of potential impact.
7. Linebacker Jameel McClain
He is a versatile force who has 215 career tackles in six seasons (all with Baltimore), and his experience in a 3-4 defensive alignment, in which he played inside linebacker, is coming in handy for the Giants this summer.
That’s because the projected starting inside linebacker, Jon Beason, suffered a broken sesamoid bone in his foot during an OTA. Although no surgery was required, the injury will take at least 12 weeks of rest before it’s fully healed.
With Beason starting the summer on the PUP list, McClain has been filling in for him in the middle.
The bad news is the McClain suffered a foot issue of his own during the team’s first practice of camp, getting carted off the field.
Although the X-rays were negative, Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger reports that New York will probably scale McClain back a bit over the next few days, though he was able to return to practice the following day.
6. Safety Quintin Demps
When the Giants signed safety Quintin Demps to a one-year, $1 million deal to compete for their kickoff returner job, it initially raised some eyebrows.
The reason was because New York also brought in Trindon Holliday, a noted return specialist. Meanwhile, at safety, the Giants seemed set with Antrel Rolle and Will Hill as the projected starters and Stevie Brown and Cooper Taylor as the depth.
It was later revealed that Hill, the extremely talented safety, had once again violated a league policy on substance abuse. This misstep ultimately caused the Giants to give up on being able to trust him.
When Hill was released in May, the signing of Demps became even more prominent.
These days, Demps is competing not only for the kickoff return job, but he’s also the third safety in Perry Fewell’s three-safety set.
As the third safety, Demps is also probably the next man up should disaster befall either Rolle or Brown.
5. Center Weston Richburg
Although offensive lineman Weston Richburg wasn’t a part of the free-agency spending spree, he’s still a new face who is looking more and more to be a key addition to a still unsettled offensive line.
To recap, longtime right guard Chris Snee announced his retirement at the start of camp, and John Jerry, who was one of the players projected to compete for Snee’s spot, is still limited in what he can do as he works his way back from offseason knee surgery.
If that’s not enough to cause worry, Brandon Mosley, who appeared to be the early favorite to replace Snee at right guard, had a rough start to training camp. He was carted off the field due to what the team announced as an upset stomach related to the high heat and humidity.
So where does that leave Richburg? Although he was drafted to be the team’s future at center, he’s also been working at both guard spots during the spring, where he was pressed into action with the starters after Mosley went down with his ailment.
If Mosley and Jerry both can’t stay on the field, don’t be surprised if Richburg sneaks up and wins that starting right guard spot this season.
4. Left Guard Geoff Schwartz
Speaking of the offensive line, the Giants made a hard push in the offseason to boost their left guard spot, which was previously filled by Kevin Boothe (now with Oakland) and James Brewer.
The Giants are hoping that Schwartz, who will be part of a revamped interior on the offensive line, will help keep quarterback Eli Manning upright and blow open holes for a running game that last year averaged 83.2 rushing yards per game, good enough for 29th in the league.
Although Schwartz mostly played on the right side for the Chiefs, he’ll move over to the left side for the Giants. In addition to bringing his expertise to the position, he stands to add another very important element to the offensive line that walked out the door when Chris Snee retired.
That element is leadership, though the ever-modest Schwartz insisted that leadership wasn’t something that would be automatically given to anyone.
"I think you have to earn the respect of your teammates before you can be a leader," Schwartz told Tom Rock of Newsday. "You don't really say 'I'm a leader now' and expect everyone to follow you. You have to do it by actions on the field, and that's the position some of us are in right now with Chris being gone. I think we're ready to accept that role."
3. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
If there was anything we learned about last season, it’s that for as good as receiver Victor Cruz is, he can’t work his magic alone.
Because the Giants didn’t have a steady second receiving option to help draw some of the double coverage that Cruz was receiving—both Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle were inconstant, while the tight end production in the passing game was virtually non-existent—getting the ball to Cruz was like trying to pull teeth with a string.
How bad was it for Cruz? His 13.7 average yards per reception was the lowest among the Giants receivers despite the fact that he led the unit in receptions.
He also posted a career-low four touchdowns, all of which came in the first four games of the 2013 season.
The Giants, recognizing the need to add some firepower, made receiver Odell Beckham Jr. their first-round pick this year.
According to his draft profile at NFL.com, Beckham’s strengths include “quick hands and feet to slip the jam” and an ability to “change gears to separate” and to “create after the catch.”
That is when he is able to play. In Tuesday’s practice, Beckham, who had nursed a sore hamstring during the spring, cut short his route, resulting in an interception and some very stern words from head coach Tom Coughlin afterward.
"He's got some work to do, just like they all do," Coughlin told reporters. "We've seen enough in the spring to know what he can do. Hopefully, we'll see it again soon."
Beckham, who did indeed tweak that same hamstring, could be sidelined a few days, according to Coughlin, who told reporters that he didn't know what to expect as far as the rookie was concerned.
2. Running Back Rashad Jennings
As previously mentioned on the Geoff Schwartz slide, the Giants' 2013 rushing game averaged 83.2 rushing yards per game, good enough for 29th in the league.
A closer look at the Giants running game doesn’t make the 2013 picture any better.
While injuries were a big part of the decline, what also helped sink the unit into the depths of despair was a lack of big-play runs (defined as runs of 15 or more yards). Only 12 of the Giants' 381 rushes (about 3 percent) went for more than 15 yards, per Pro Football Focus.
That means that no single Giants runner had a breakaway percentage of more than 30 percent.
Rather than hope for some of the injured Giants rushers to bounce back and try again, New York made some changes, notably adding free agent Rashad Jennings on a four-year, $10 million contract.
Last season in what was a breakout year with the Raiders, Jennings carried the ball 163 times for 733 yards (4.5 average), with six touchdowns. That’s far better production than any of the Giants’ 2013 running backs.
In addition to 2014 fourth-rounder Andre Williams and the return of David Wilson from a 2013 season-ending neck injury, Jennings should give the Giants a nice three-man rotation of firepower in their offensive backfield, as Art Stapleton of The Record noted.
If all three stay healthy, the rushing game has nowhere to go but up.
1. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
The NFL has long had a reputation as being a copycat league, with teams looking to find success by incorporating elements from other successful teams.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Giants put such a heavy emphasis on rebuilding their defensive secondary, especially at cornerback, by adding prized free-agent acquisition and former Denver Broncos star Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
A look at the performance of the 2013 Giants cornerbacks—starters Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride—doesn’t tell a pretty picture.
According to data compiled from Pro Football Focus, the combined NFL rating for the Giants cornerbacks last year was 82.1. While not bad—the lower the number for defensive backs, the better—it was still an area in which the team felt it could improve.
Per that same data, the Giants cornerbacks also allowed 58.5 percent of the passes thrown at them to be completed.
Enter Rodgers-Cromartie, who finished as PFF’s sixth-best cornerback last year. He allowed 47.1 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed for 565 yards and four touchdowns while breaking up 12 passes in 472 coverage snaps.
Although the Giants won’t come right out and admit it, one of the reasons behind their struggles to get sacks and pressures on the opposing quarterback was the other team being able to get rid of the ball so quickly.
With a tandem of Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara patrolling the defensive backfield, the hope is that the team will be able to enjoy far more sacks, especially of the coverage variety, than they have in recent years.