If the New York Giants are indeed planning to keep the franchise tag on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they are taking a huge gamble that, if it doesn’t pan out, could potentially trigger the complete rebuild of the team and coaching staff as we know it to be.
While the initial logic to tag Pierre-Paul made sense, he’s since experienced a significant event as a result of some ill-advised interaction with fireworks that not only left him without his right index finger, but also necessitated skin grafts and the repair of a broken thumb on that same hand.
There has been a lot of debate regarding how well Pierre-Paul will be able to function once his hand heals, the concern not so much about the missing index finger, but rather the thumb.
Former Giants offensive lineman David Diehl, who played with Pierre-Paul for four years and who was critical of his former teammate’s maturity during a spot on SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Pro Football Talk), also questioned how Pierre-Paul’s recovery from a broken thumb might affect him moving forward.
Fireworks injuries are by definition blast injuries that typically don’t cause isolated damage. With enough force to necessitate index finger amputation, what does that mean for the neighboring thumb?
Reports indicate a thumb fracture that was pinned in surgery. ... The hope is the pin was used to treat a simple fracture that could not be casted due to the skin wounds. If the pinning was for a comminuted fracture or joint instability, this would indicate a longer recovery. Any long-term thumb issues make JPP’s return to play more difficult.
Suddenly that $14.8 million franchise tag has become a precarious proposition, much like putting up the cash for a waterfront property sight unseen that, for all the investor knows, could in fact be overlooking a swamp.
The Giants obviously will get a chance to have their doctors examine the 26-year-old Pierre-Paul before anything is signed between the two parties.
Despite reports by NFL Media’s Kim Jones that Pierre-Paul should be healed in six weeks, the fact remains that allowing the franchise tag to stand even if Pierre-Paul does check out medically is probably not the best use of the team’s money.
Why? The strongest of the "keep him" arguments is that the Giants must win this year if they are to avoid a major housecleaning at the end of the 2015 campaign that would likely include the coaching staff. To do so, they need players like Pierre-Paul to make that happen.
That is the argument that Tadd Haislop of the Sporting News makes:
New York can't afford to lose its best defensive player. The two-time Pro Bowler led the team with 13 sacks, 49 stops and four passes batted at the line last season, but Pierre-Paul's value extends beyond the obvious.
Haislop then goes on to cite some statistical evidence from Pro Football Focus supporting the idea that Pierre-Paul was the defense’s best player last season, that Pierre-Paul’s 577 pass-rushing snaps topped any other Giants defensive end and that more than 88 percent of those snaps came from the quarterback’s blind side.
If one player made that much of a difference, then the Giants should have been undefeated last year thanks to Odell Beckham Jr.
The reality is that one player, however good he might be, doesn’t make that big of a difference.
This is especially true when that player hasn’t been in the classroom on a daily basis to learn the new defense, hasn’t set foot on a football field since the end of last season and has had any final training planned abruptly put on hold due to a lack of better judgement.
In retrospect, Pierre-Paul, who admittedly has had his share of injuries, hasn’t looked anything like he did in 2011, when he was a one-man wrecking crew.
While it’s true that Pierre-Paul blew his teammates away last year with his sack total, nine of his 12.5 sacks came against five non-playoff opponents who, with the exception of one team (Philadelphia), were ranked toward the bottom of the league, according to Football Outsiders.
Here’s the breakdown.
|JPP's 2014 Late-Season Sack Surge|
|Team||OL Pass Block Rank||No. Sacks Allowed by OL||JPP’s Sack Total vs. Opp.|
|Sources: Football Outsiders, NFL.com|
Looking at Pro Football Focus’ grades, Pierre-Paul wasn’t even the highest-graded defender on the team last season—that honor went to defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (20.2), followed by Robert Ayers Jr. (17.6) and then Pierre-Paul (16.9).
Run defense? Yes, Pierre-Paul was good, but Hankins was better, doing more with fewer snaps, no less.
The pass rush? Glad you asked. Pierre-Paul finished fourth in PFF’s grading, behind Ayers, Hankins and Cullen Jenkins.
Is that kind of production worth tying up $14.8 million to gamble that the 2011 version of Pierre-Paul will suddenly re-appear after all he’s been through?
Is it worth it to gamble that Pierre-Paul will even be ready to go after he heals?
Thus far, the Giants appear to think so, given that they haven’t rescinded the franchise tag from Pierre-Paul. Nor will they until they have their doctors examine Pierre-Paul, until they actually sit and hear from the player to gauge where he is mentally after having suffered such significant trauma.
It is not the Giants’ way to cast aside one of their own—it never has been.
But business is business, and the fact is that Pierre-Paul’s production since 2011, regardless of health, has been deceiving. Combine that with his lack of judgement, and the franchise tag is no longer a sound investment.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.