5 Potential Free Agents New York Giants Should Pursue This Offseason
In less than a month, the annual NFL free-agency sweeps will be upon us.
In case there’s any doubt among the readers out there, yes, it’s safe to expect the New York Giants to be major players in free agency, though the Giants, as has been their past practice, will want to make sure the money they’re investing yields the best-possible return on investment.
There are lots of possibilities out there for the Giants to consider, but based on some of their most pressing needs, here’s a look at some unrestricted free agents from other teams who, if they do reach the open market, might just be worth more than just a Big Blue cursory glance.
OLB Bruce Irvin, Seattle
The Giants need upgrades to both their pass-rushing package and their linebacker unit. Seattle’s Bruce Irvin is a player who can potentially solve both of those issues and then some.
Let’s start first with his ability to rush the passer. Out of 15 4-3 outside linebackers who took a minimum of 60 percent of their team’s snaps last season, Irvin’s five sacks qualify him for third among that group, per Pro Football Focus.
Now let’s look at coverage, which was a big deficiency among the Giants linebackers last season. Again, using the same core 15 outside linebackers who played at least 60 percent of their team’s snaps, Irvin finished with a 80.7 NFL rating, per PFF—fourth in the group and a mark better than top outside linebackers such as Carolina’s Thomas Davis, Dallas’ Sean Lee, and Minnesota’s Anthony Barr.
Because Irvin can rush the passer and play coverage almost as equally well, his presence on the field would give defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo some flexibility regarding the personnel packages and the various wrinkles in each.
A first-round pick by the Seahawks in 2012, the 6’3”, 245-pound Irvin is only 28 years old. While he’s yet to play through a 16-game season in his career, it’s hard to ignore his production when he’s on the field.
As for where he would fit in on the Giants, Irvin would probably make a good fit on the strong side, which in turn would push Devon Kennard, the incumbent, inside to the middle. The middle, in fact, might be a better fit for the injury-prone Kennard, whose body type might make him a better fit for that spot.
Thus the possibility of adding Irvin to the mix at whatever the price could potentially solve three needs for the Giants.
DE Olivier Vernon, Miami
The Giants are going to have a decision to make at defensive end. Do they re-sign both Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers Jr., both of whom are set to be unrestricted free agents? Or do they let one or both walk and go in a completely different direction.
The smart money says one of those two will walk, and the likely candidate to leave is Pierre-Paul, who save for the one good season he had in 2011, hasn’t really showed much to make a strong case for a mega deal typical for premier pass-rushers.
To be fair, Pierre-Paul had injury issues in 2012 and part of 2013, but in 2014, he was presumably healthy, yet couldn’t muster up much, if any, production until the end of the season during “garbage time” against lesser opponents.
Then there is the matter of his mangled right hand—do the Giants really want to tie up upward of $17 million associated with the franchise tag, according to the New York Daily News' Ralph Vacchiano, on a player who may or may not ever return to his 2011 level again? It’s too much of a risk.
Assuming the Giants let Pierre-Paul walk and manage to re-sign Ayers, who is on the wrong side of 30, they’ll probably look to draft a young pass-rusher this year to add to a group that also includes Owa Odighizuwa.
As Odighizuwa missed his rookie season, a young veteran who is probably worth a look is Miami’s Olivier Vernon, who in his contract year saw his numbers jump off the charts.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vernon’s 30 quarterback hits last season topped his production in his category in his first three years in the league. Just 25 years old, Vernon has yet to miss a NFL game, another plus in his favor, and has racked up 29.0 sacks over his four-year career.
A pass-rushing defensive end rotation consisting of Vernon, Ayers, Odighizuwa and a still-to-be-determined draft pick might just be what the Giants need to get their sluggish pass rush back on track.
CB Sean Smith, Kansas City
Sean Smith admittedly comes with a little bit of a checkered past—per KCTV-5 in Kansas City, Smith was arrested for DUI in June 2014. He managed to plea-bargain his penalty down to two years of probation, but not before the NFL suspended him for the first three games of the 2015 season.
Smith just might be worth it considering in each year of his career, he has yet to allow more than 58.7 percent of the targets thrown against him to be completed, and he doesn’t allow much in the way of yards after the catch.
Also, Smith has proved to be durable, missing just one game in his career prior to the three-game suspension last season related to his DUI arrest.
S David Bruton, Denver
The popular consensus among fans is the Giants need to land a solid free safety to complement Landon Collins, with names such as Eric Weddle of San Diego and Tashaun Gipson of Cleveland being among those frequently mentioned.
However, the Giants might view their safety situation a little differently.
Remember, they were willing to roll the dice last year with youngsters like Nat Berhe, fifth-round draft pick Mykkele Thompson and Bennett Jackson as a potential complement to Collins, this all taking place before injuries wiped out Berhe, Thompson and Jackson for the season.
Assuming the Giants have not given up on any of those three—and it would be surprising if they have—New York might be looking at a complementary type of safety who can play both spots and contribute on special teams.
If that’s the case, a potential free-agent target who made Pro Football Focus’ list of top-10 free-agent safeties is David Bruton of the Denver Broncos—a little known backup player who last season played in 497 defensive snaps for the Super Bowl champions.
Bruton has experience at both strong and free safety and when it came to coverage, he made the most of his limited snaps.
Per PFF, Bruton’s 69.6 NFL rating consisted of allowing just one touchdown while picking off two passes and breaking up three in coverage.
That might not seem like gaudy numbers—they’re not given that Bruton wasn’t a starter.
However, he contributed to a pass defense that, per Real Football Network, allowed just 60 percent of the pass attempts against it to be completed (3 percent less than the NFL average) and also allowed fewer touchdowns and had more interceptions than the league averages.
Bruton was also a solid special teams player for Denver, recording six solo tackles and one assist, the fourth-best on the team, per Pro Football Focus.
The one question mark regarding Bruton, the Broncos’ third safety, involves the status of the broken fibula he suffered in December—an injury he played through in the game in which the injury occurred.
If Bruton’s injury checks out and the Giants are committed to moving one of Berhe, Jackson or Thompson into a larger role for next season, it makes sense for the team to look at a young veteran with a solid history of contributing but who probably won’t cost a premium contract.
WR Jermaine Kearse, Seattle
Other than Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants receiving corps didn’t exactly blow anyone away with its collective performance.
Soon-to-be free agent Rueben Randle ran hot and cold; veteran Hakeem Nicks brought the enthusiasm but just didn’t have the speed; rookie Geremy Davis disappeared from the landscape; Myles White ran hot and cold; and Dwayne Harris, who was brought on board to help spark the special teams, delivered, even though the added work as a slot receiver ultimately took its toll on him.
Without a healthy Victor Cruz and a consistent Randle on the field, the Giants had one legitimate and consistent receiving threat, that being Beckham. When you factor in the inconsistencies of the tight ends, it’s a miracle quarterback Eli Manning had the kind of numbers he did in the passing game.
With questions still remaining about Cruz, who earlier this month told Jordan Raanan of NJ Advance Media that he was working toward getting to the point of being able to run again (h/t Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk), the Giants could use another receiver to help take some of the attention away from Beckham.
A nice option is Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse, who, per Pro Football Focus, produced a 126.1 passer rating when he was targeted—the fourth-best for any NFL wide receiver.
In addition to being listed as the fifth-best free-agent prospect by PFF, it’s noted that Kearse’s 7.4 cumulative grade earned from Week 14 onward (including playoffs) was the seventh-best for wide receivers.
With Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett ahead of him, Kearse could be the odd man out of the equation. If so, he’s someone the Giants should definitely take a close look at adding given his consistency in the short- to medium range where the Giants tend to target their passing game.
Stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus, unless noted otherwise.
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.