The 2009 New York Giants were rife with issues on both sides of the ball, with multiple positions (particularly in the defense) requiring major overhaul. Additionally, the Giants' offensive line is not getting any younger, and Brandon Jacobs' legs continue to pile on the miles. All in all, the Giants have a wide variety of issues they must address this offseason.
Amplifying these issues is the NFL's ongoing labor struggle, which, at this point, almost guarantees an uncapped 2010 season. It would also guarantee an offseason in which free agents with less than 6 years of service-time will become restricted free agents.
While unrestricted free agents require no compensation, offers to restricted free agents can be matched by their previous team. Furthermore, if the RFA signs with another team, draft pick compensation is often required, the price of which is dictated by the original club's offer.
However, the Giants' front office is one of the best in the league at finding the right solutions. As a fan, I have a great deal of faith that they understand the need for defensive help at every position (other than cornerback) and more depth at the running back and offensive line positions.
This urgency should lead the organization to not hesitate in negotiating with RFAs, possibly forfeiting draft choices if the move fits. With that, here is a selection (although not an exhaustive list) of free agents whom I would love to see in a Giants uniform and could very much help the squad.
Willie Parker: The sixth-year pro has lost considerable time to Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore in recent years, but still has fresh legs and could be a good complement to the Jacobs/Bradshaw tandem of "Ahm and Hammer" and can be a number one back if called up[on.
Chester Taylor: A great pass-catching back who can really help the aerial game on third downs. Taylor has proven to be a more-than-capable backup to Adrian Peterson and could be extremely beneficial to the offense as a shotgun-set back.
Chad Clifton: While he is just as old as the man he could potentially replace (Kareem McKenzie), he's a seasoned veteran who could very much sure up the right tackle position that has become somewhat unreliable with McKenzie's decline.
Mike Gandy and Levi Jones could also provide depth at the tackle spots.
Julius Peppers (UFA): While this fierce pass rusher may command a massive price-tag at upwards of $15 million per year, the Giants' organization has done a good job staying under the cap in the Jerry Reese era, and heading into a new stadium will have the money to spend, and a desire to fill this new field with star talent.
The one caveat is that Peppers has expressed desire to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. At this point, the Giants wouldn't consider playing him there, since they don't have one starter-caliber middle linebacker at the moment.
Richard Seymour (UFA): He has spent time (and gone to the Pro Bowl) as a 3-4 defensive end and a 4-3 defensive tackle. He could fill both spots depending on the game situation for the Giants (in the same way Justin Tuck does). He may be pricey, but I'm sure he wants to leave the football black hole that is the Oakland Raiders.
Ray Edwards (RFA): While not a star, Edwards is a capable end who the Giants could keep in rotation with Umenyiora, Tuck, and Kiwanuka. Considering Edwards' solid play alongside Jared Allen, he would likely benefit from being in a rotation and consistently kept fresh, something the Giants love doing with their defensive ends. Edwards could be a good compromise of a RFA that doesn't cost too much.
Vince Wilfork (UFA): This massive two-gap stuffer has held down the nose-tackle position in New England for the past six years. While New England will try to lock Wilfork down, he is unrestricted, and could fill the large shoes left by Fred Robbins, who is an UFA and almost certainly a goner at his old age.
Casey Hampton (UFA): While not as good as Wilfork, he's served the same role in Pittsburgh and could come at a cheaper price.
Karlos Dansby (UFA): The best available unrestricted linebacker, he has expressed interest in coming to New York (quoted as saying something along the lines of, "Why not?"). He has established a reputation as a very good outside linebacker, something the Giants haven't had since Jesse Armstead retired.
Keith Bulluck (UFA): One of the most athletic outside linebackers in the league, Bulluck is a seasoned veteran who could help both the Giants' rush and pass defense. He's solid against the run and quick enough to cover athletic tight ends and pass-catching running backs.
Elvis Dumervil/Shawne Merriman (RFA): Both of these AFC West outsiders are tremendous pass rushers. However, they will come with extremely high price tags, and Merriman has built up some baggage over the last few years between a domestic dispute and a disappointing season coming off a knee injury (the same sort of disappointment of Osi Umenyiora's 2009 season. Perhaps both will recover).
DeMeco Ryans/Barrett Ruud (RFA): Two extremely athletic middle linebackers who would be awesome replacements for Antonio Pierce. However, both will demand very high price tags and compensation.
Gary Brackett (UFA): The anchor of the Colts' improved defenses of the last few years, Brackett is a good, not great, linebacker who can be at least as good as Antonio Pierce was. However, the Colts likely will have a strong desire to keep him in Indianapolis in the middle of a defense that will get Bob Sanders back in 2010.
Kirk Morrison/D'Qwell Jackson (RFA): Two more young, high-ceiling middle men who are on bad teams and may have a desire to leave. They will demand lower compensation than Ryans and Ruud. The Giants' best chance to fill the MLB spot through free agency may be with one of these two.
O.J. Atogwe/Antoine Bethea/Roman Harper/Nick Collins/Dawan Landry/Melvin Bullitt (RFA): All young and extremely talented safeties that will come with big compensation price tags and whose teams will certainly want to retain their rights.
Darren Sharper/Jermaine Phillips/Will Allen (UFA): One great play-maker who is getting up there in the years (not to mention, he's Eli Manning's bane, with four career INT's against the Giants QB, three for touchdowns), and two solid safeties from Tampa Bay. One of Phillips and Allen will probably be available. And no, it's not that Will Allen.
In addition to the help the Giants will get in the draft (they have historically gotten a lot out of the draft under Jerry Reese), they certainly have the opportunity to improve in this free agent market.
Bonus-Possible New York Giants First-Round Draft Picks (No. 15 Overall)
Ronaldo McClain, ILB, Alabama (ESPN NFL Draft Grade: 94)
Earl Thomas, S, Texas (ESPN NFL Draft Grade: 93)
Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida (ESPN NFL Draft Grade: 93)
Brandon Graham, OLB, Michigan (ESPN NFL Draft Grade: 93)
Taylor Mays, S, USC (ESPN NFL Draft Grade: 92)
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