Identifying the New York Giants' Biggest Offseason Needs
The New York Giants have begun to pick up the pieces of a shattered 6-10 season that has ushered in a new regime under rookie head coach Ben McAdoo.
As McAdoo continues to assemble his coaching staff, he and the front office are also conducting a top-to-bottom evaluation of the team’s personnel to determine what their needs are moving forward.
Which positions absolutely, positively need to be addressed either through free agency or the draft?
Here is my list, presented in no particular order, of those positions that need the most help and why they made this list. In upcoming articles, I'll look at some potential candidates from free agency and the draft.
Although injuries were a big problem for the Giants at the safety position, the bigger issue is that even before the injuries hit, a strong argument could be made that the Giants had a bunch of box safety types and no true deep center fielders of which to speak.
While the team would like for everyone to believe that the young players who landed on injured reserve were the answer, if that were true, then why pursue veterans like Devin McCourty and Ron Parker in free agency?
The answer is simple. The kids are unknown entities who were bound to have their growing pains in a “win or else” season.
Even Landon Collins, a second-round draft pick for whom the Giants traded up, had his share of issues in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s multifaceted defensive system.
“Rookie,” was how safeties coach David Merritt described Collins’ play during the Giants’ bye week, adding, “He’s coming along very slowly right now.”
While Collins struggled with the speed of that first season, the Giants surrounded him with veterans like Brandon Meriweather and Craig Dahl, both of whom are on the back end of their respective careers and who played as such.
There was also Cooper Taylor, who was cut from the roster at one point, only to be brought back.
Any way you slice it, there’s no question that the overall play of the Giants safeties was nowhere near where it needed to be, which is why an infusion of more—and hopefully younger—talent is vital moving forward.
Remember when people thought former general manager Ernie Accorsi was nuts for stocking up on pass-rushers?
Given how poor the Giants’ pass rush was in 2015—they fished 30th in the league in sacks—it looks like Accorsi got the last laugh.
Without a pass rush, the back end of the Giants defense was promptly abused. In fact, the lack of a consistent pass rush is probably a big part of the reason why New York’s pass defense finished last in the league.
Right now, the pass -rushing picture isn’t very pretty. Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers are both set to become unrestricted free agents. Of course, Pierre-Paul is still trying to adjust to a right hand that was so badly damaged in a fireworks accident that he had to wear a protective club over it when he finally did return to the team.
With Pierre-Paul having told reporters that he’s in for more surgeries on that right hand, can the team be certain that the big protective club Pierre-Paul wore in 2015 won’t be a part of his game-day uniform again?
What about Robert Ayers, who per Pro Football Focus, finished as the team leader in sacks with 10? Ayers, who turns 31 in September, is an unrestricted free agent as well.
Beyond that, the Giants have Owa Odighizuwa, a pass-rushing specialist who lost the bulk of his rookie season due to injuries. Even if the Giants manage to bring back either Pierre-Paul or Ayers, they’re still going to be in need of a dynamic third pass-rusher to rotate into the system.
At receiver, there’s Odell Beckham Jr., and then there are a lot of question marks, many of which need to be answered sooner than later.
As the Giants found out, life without Beckham wasn’t pretty.
So imagine for the moment what life would be like if Beckham were to maybe tweak a hamstring and end up missing a month.
Pretty scary thought, right?
Well, it should be because the Giants don’t have a sure solution at their No. 2 receiver.
Let’s start with Victor Cruz, who has now missed two seasons due to injury and who may or may not ever be the explosive, dynamic force on the field that he once was. If general manager Jerry Reese wasn’t willing to put all his eggs in Cruz’s basket last year, why should that change this year?
Rueben Randle? He’s an unrestricted free agent as of March 9.
Per Pro Football Focus, Randle once again led the Giants receivers as being the intended target on the highest number of Eli Manning interceptions. While he has the tools to be a very good receiver, his lack of consistency combined with his endless inability to get on the same page as his quarterback is frustrating.
Dwayne Harris? He did well as a slot receiver when injuries struck, but he didn’t really convince anyone that he’s worthy of No. 2 status.
Geremy Davis? The sixth-round draft pick couldn’t jump ahead of Myles White or Ben Edwards, both undrafted players who joined the roster after training camp began.
Hakeem Nicks? He has the heart of a Giant, but unfortunately, injuries to his legs have taken their toll on his ability to separate.
If the Giants learned any lessons from 2015, it’s that they can’t put all their eggs in Beckham’s basket.
There is good news for Giants fans: New head coach Ben McAdoo is apparently a fan of linebackers.
The first part of his answer? “I liked the outside linebackers. I liked Greg Lloyd and I liked Kevin Greene, who I had a chance to coach with [at Green Bay].”
Say what you want about McAdoo’s fashion sense—or lack thereof. When it comes to football sense, apparently McAdoo has an appreciation for the men in the middle of the defense. They play positions that, for whatever the reason, the Giants have refused to address in the first two days of the draft since Jerry Reese became the general manger in 2007.
(Yes, Clint Sintim was drafted in the second round of 2009, but he came from a 3-4 defensive scheme in college and wasn’t able to make the conversion to a 4-3 outside linebacker with the Giants.)
For the most part, the Giants have cut corners at this position, and it shows in the defense’s play.
Among the approaches they’ve taken to fill this still-important role includes signing undrafted rookie free agents (Mark Herzlich, Uani Unga), claiming guys off waivers (Jasper Brinkley) and signing undrafted free agents (J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas). The Giants also acquired Jon Beason via a midseason trade to complement Devon Kennard, a fifth-round draft pick from 2014.
So what do they have to show for their cutting corners at the linebacker position?
Kennard, whose stock might have fallen due to his injury history, has yet to make it through 16 games.
Beason, the best of the bunch when healthy, can’t stay healthy.
Brinkley showed some promise, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and might not be the long-term solution.
Herzlich has been a stellar comeback story and a model citizen in the community, but he is more of a special teams player than a starter.
The same could be said of Unga. Despite a strong start to his first NFL campaign, he showed the cracks in his game.
The jury is still out on Casillas and Thomas, two athletic linebackers who didn’t make many impact plays. But to be fair, each of them also dealt with injuries.
The bottom line is the bandage approach the Giants have taken at linebacker isn’t working and hasn’t since the days of undrafted free agents Chase Blackburn and Antonio Pierce.
If McAdoo is a fan of linebackers, let’s hope that this trend of trying to get value on Day 3 of the draft stops in 2016.
It might have taken the Giants a year or two too long to begin addressing their offensive line, but hey, better late than never, right?
Thus far, the Giants have secured three definite starters in left tackle Ereck Flowers, center Weston Richburg and left guard Justin Pugh.
On the right side of the line, the Giants will have some decisions to make.
Is Bobby Hart ready for a larger role at right tackle or right guard? In limited snaps as a rookie, he looked like he belonged out there.
What about Brett Jones? The Canadian Football League import spent all of last year on injured reserve. Does he have a shot for a starting job?
Do they stick with Geoff Schwartz, who has lost two seasons to injury?
Would Will Beatty take a pay cut to remain or will he roll the dice, reject a potential pay cut and try to get left-tackle money from some team in need of a left tackle once free agency begins?
The bottom line is the offensive line is still far from being set. Even if Beatty and Schwartz are around in 2016, the Giants have to do a better job with their depth. Guys like Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry just aren’t going to cut it.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.