Why the New York Giants Should Pass on Recently Released NFL Veterans
As sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, every time an NFL player is released from his team during the offseason, questions about the New York Giants' potential interest in the player pop up on my Twitter timeline throughout the day.
Generally, I try to give everyone who asks me a question on Twitter a personal response, but sometimes it’s hard to explain why the team should or shouldn’t make a move when your replies are limited to 140 characters.
That’s the beauty of having a forum to put down my thoughts without a character limit, and that’s what I’m going to do here in the next few slides as I explain why it doesn't make sense for the Giants to look at several players who have been released or are about to be released according to media reports.
Before I jump into my analysis, though, I have often believed that if a team cuts a player under contract, it's usually because said player's production was not commensurate with his pay.
When that team is coming off a losing season, as was the case with the St. Louis Rams in 2015, I am always skeptical about why they would cast aside "good players" instead of keeping them as part of the foundation.
The answer can often be found by going deeper into the statistics and weighing a player's performance against their projected salary-cap value.
However, there are exceptions. Is the player’s failure to yield a strong return on investment due to a change in scheme? Could it be because of an injury from which he’ll recover or something else altogether?
Let's take a closer look at the names and stats and determine why the following players are probably not worth an initial roll of the dice at this time.
DE Chris Long, Rams
With defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers both headed toward free agency and Owa Odighizuwa still relatively unknown at this point, the Giants need pass-rushers badly.
So what about Chris Long, who was drafted by the Rams in 2008 and racked up 54.5 sacks for them since then, including back-to-back double-digit sack seasons in 2011 and 2012?
Those big years were before the injuries, so let's focus on Long's recent production as compared to his now former teammates at defensive end.
Of all the Rams defensive ends who logged at least 200 pass rushes last season, per Pro Football Focus, Long posted the lowest pass-rushing productivity (4.9) out of the four players.
His run-stop percentage wasn’t that much better. Again, out of the four Rams defensive ends who played in at least 100 run-game snaps, Long’s run-stop percentage of 3.0 was the lowest of the group, as were his five recorded stops for zero or negative yards.
If the Giants are turning over a new leaf in terms of how they build their roster moving forward, they might want to keep in mind how Jon Beason came with so much promise only to see his physical ailments leave a gaping hole on the defense.
ILB James Laurinaitis, Rams
With Jasper Brinkley currently set to hit free agency and Jon Beason retired, the Giants need a new face at middle linebacker.
Might that new face be Rams inside linebacker James Laurinaitis, who has yet to miss a game since entering the NFL in 2009 and who has posted at least 100 combined tackles and at least a half-sack in each of those seasons?
Before answering that question, let's look at why the Rams might have cut Laurinaitis to begin with.
Out of 19 inside linebackers who took at least 75 percent of their team’s snaps last season, Laurinaitis finished dead last in Pro Football Focus’ run-stop percentage metric.
Laurinaitis’ run-stop percentage was a measly 3.8, meaning that 3.8 percent of his tackles in the running game were difference-makers (tackles for zero or negative yardage).
According to the breakdown, Laurinaitis played in 422 run snaps, the fourth-most among the 19 inside linebackers with 75 percent or more of their team’s snaps, yet came up with just 16 stops while finishing tied for fourth with Preston Brown (Buffalo), Brian Cushing (Houston) and NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco) for the most missed tackles (seven) of that group.
What about coverage? Here, Laurinaitis fared a little bit better, finishing fourth among the sample group. He was targeted 56 times, allowing 43 catches for 498 yards, 345 after the catch. He also came up with one interception and allowed no touchdowns.
How does all that compare to Brinkley?
Brinkley only played about 25 percent of the Giants’ defensive snaps since he came in after training camp and needed to get caught up in the defense.
Still, in his limited snaps, Brinkley posted a 7.3 run-stop percentage (14 stops), while allowing completions on 25 of 28 pass targets against him for 267 yards (188 after the catch) with no touchdowns or interceptions.
If the middle linebacker in the Giants base defense is going to be a two-down player, it truly doesn’t make sense to invest top-dollar in this position unless there is another Luke Kuechly type who excels against the run and the pass.
TE Jared Cook, Rams
The third player to come out of the Rams' 2016 salary-cap purge is tight end Jared Cook, a third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2009 who moved over to the Rams in 2013 as a free agent.
Per Pro Football Focus, Cook has allowed just eight career quarterback pressures as a pass-blocker in his career, which isn’t bad for a part-time player.
As a receiver, he’s caught 273 balls for 3,503 yards and 16 touchdowns but has also been on the end of 17 pass targets that went for interceptions, 34 dropped passes and six fumbles.
Cook’s potential value would probably be as a run-blocker, but to be frank, when a player is one-dimensional like that, it makes it so much easier to defend against him.
Last year, the Rams averaged 3.5 yards per carry running to the left and 1.9 yards per carry running to the right, neither of which were very good averages.
Those numbers aren’t solely the result of Cook’s contributions (or lack thereof), but he still had a hand in 272 of the Rams run-game snaps.
While there are those who think the Giants would be better off with a veteran tight end added to an otherwise young and relatively unproven group consisting of Larry Donnell, Will Tye, Jerome Cunningham and Matt LaCosse, count me among those who think the Giants have what they need in this four-man group.
Tye showed all kinds of potential when he was given the chance to step in for Donnell following his season-ending neck injury in 2015.
After an initial drop, Tye steadied himself and showed that he had good hands as a receiver, catching 42 passes, 32 of which came in Week 10 onward, while also managing to get open against some good competition.
As a blocker, Tye also showed improvement on a weekly basis, which was encouraging to see. In fact, it wouldn’t be stunning if Tye overtook Donnell, a restricted free agent who should be back this year, as the starter.
Another player who has loads of promise despite getting few chances to show it on the field is LaCosse, who was initially signed as an undrafted rookie free agent last year.
Unfortunately, a hamstring injury set off an odyssey that saw him get cut, have a short stint with the Jets and then find his way back to the Giants. But now that he’s here, this reputed strong run-blocker most certainly has a chance to stick on the roster.
In college, LaCosse played in-line, H-back, fullback and even lined up in the slot. While he's not particularly fast, his blocking is solid enough that it wouldn’t be stunning if the Giants decided to stop carrying a pure fullback on the team and instead had a tight end like him take on those duties.
DT Paul Soliai, Falcons
Sometimes a player is cut from a team not so much because of performance, but because of a change in scheme.
Such is the case for Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Paul Soliai, according to NFL.com's Kevin Patra.
As a result of the change in direction, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Falcons and Soliai couldn’t agree on a contract restructure and that the defensive tackle will be released at the start of the new league year on March 9.
Given the timing, Soliai’s name is probably going to get lost in the mix when Giants fans start looking at potential additions to the defensive interior, but in the interest of being preventive, Soliai’s skill set does not appear to be a fit for the Giants' scheme.
As Patra noted, Soliai excelled as a true 2-gap nose tackle, which was not carried over to new head coach Dan Quinn’s penetrating 4-3 defensive front.
The Giants would probably be much better off pursuing Malik Jackson of the Denver Broncos, who comes from a 3-4 defensive front, was more productive and could take the interior of the Giants defensive line to new heights alongside Johnathan Hankins.
Unless otherwise noted, advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
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.