5 Big Splashes the NY Giants Could Realistically Make in Free Agency
How about calling it a free-for-all?
I kid, I kid. In my opinion, the NFL free-agency period, which kicks off this year at 4 p.m. ET on March 11, is one of the most exciting annual events on the NFL's offseason calendar.
The first step by teams looking to upgrade their rosters, the results of free agency can often affect what the team does in the draft and beyond.
The other element I like about free agency is the unexpected twists. For example, quite often a team will make a surprise cut of a player under contract, a move that can potentially reshuffle the market at that player’s position.
Who among New York Giants fans could forget how, in 2009, the Arizona Cardinals decided to cut safety Antrel Rolle in a salary-cap-related move? If that move isn’t made, then perhaps the Giants would have gone in a whole other direction at the safety position that year.
With a little more than a month to go before the start of free agency, here is an updated look at five potential splashes that could be of interest to the Giants in their rebuilding of a roster that finished a disappointing 2013 season at 7-9.
Center Alex Mack, Cleveland
As I noted in my preliminary draft needs analysis, the Giants face a difficult decision regarding what to do with center David Baas.
Do they hang onto their injury-prone and aging center another year and hope that all of the surgeries he had in 2013 have finally made him right? Or do they go in a totally different direction?
If the Giants are going to spend the money on the center position, it probably makes sense to spend it on a younger and healthier candidate. Enter Browns center and two-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack, who has yet to miss a game since being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft.
At 6’4” and 311 pounds, he has ideal size as well as the intelligence to orchestrate the line calls. He is also said to have a solid work ethic that coaches love to see—per his NFL draft bio, he is usually the last offensive lineman to leave the field because he always finds something to work on to improve his game.
Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, and I’ve seen suggestions that new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo might want to see some of the players he worked with during his time in Green Bay come over to the Giants.
However, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported that the Packers could be looking to keep Dietrich-Smith from hitting the open market.
Running Back Ben Tate, Houston
The Giants running back situation is in a state of flux.
Incumbent starter David Wilson is currently recovering from a surgical procedure that he had on his neck on January 16, a procedure which Wilson reported some recent good news:
Healing like a champ thanks for support http://t.co/i4fkgpZYVk— David E. Wilson (@4stillRunning) January 26, 2014
Even so, Giants general manager Jerry Reese has noted on multiple occasions that, while there is optimism among the team's medical staff that Wilson will be able to play in 2014, they can’t count on him being ready for the start of the season.
The rest of the Giants running back situation is crying out for new blood. Brandon Jacobs has announced his retirement after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in mid-December, which, per an announcement by the club was a procedure to repair osteo-arthritis in his left knee.
Peyton Hillis will be an unrestricted free agent, and while he told me that he would love to re-sign with the Giants, the chances for his return are 50-50 at best.
Andre Brown is also an unrestricted free agent who, over a two-year period, has twice dealt with a broken leg.
Brown, who started the 2014 season with two 100-yard rushing performances in his first three games, saw his production sharply decline each week thereafter, rushing for more than 40 yards just once in his final five games. He also lost three fumbles in his final four games.
As a result, the team might be reluctant to give Brown a hefty contract, which could result in him shopping around for a better deal.
Michael Cox will be entering his second season, though given the retirement of Kevin Gilbride and the hiring of McAdoo as the offensive coordinator, he, along with the rest of the returning members on offensive, will be starting from scratch as far as learning a new offense.
Since the Giants have traditionally been reluctant to put a rookie running back onto the field until he can demonstrate an ability to pass block, all signs seem to point toward them pursuing a veteran running back who has the pass-blocking experience they seek and who can run and catch the ball out of the back field.
Ideally, I would love them to go after Detroit’s Joique Bell, but he is a restricted free agent who may or may not be tendered, depending on what the Lions decide to do with Reggie Bush. Not surprisingly, Bell is listed as the highest-graded pending free-agent running back with a 15.1 overall grade, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so he could be in demand if the Lions choose to tender him at a low level.
An unrestricted free agent the Giants might pursue is Houston’s Ben Tate. Named to USA Today's “All Joe Team,” Tate is coming off an injury-filled 2013 season that he gutted out with four broken ribs despite the Texans’ disastrous 2-14 season.
Just 25 years old, Tate could be in line for a rich payday that the Texans might not be able to match considering they have Arian Foster counting for $8.5 million of cap space for 2014.
Tate has played in 40 games, making nine starts. He’s rushed for 1,992 yards on 421 carries (4.7 average) and has 10 career rushing touchdowns.
As a receiver, he has 58 catches for 287 yards. However, he’s also posted 10 career fumbles, six of which have been lost; and his negative-3.6 PFF rating is the third lowest of the pending free-agent running back class, just above Andre Brown (-4.6) and Oakland’s Darren McFadden (-9.8).
Guard Jon Asamoah, Kansas City
David Diehl has already announced his retirement; meanwhile, Chris Snee is still trying to decide if he wants to play an 11th season.
Regardless of his decision, the Giants need some depth at guard. As I recently noted, James Brewer, who played seven games at left guard and four at right guard in 2013, was inconsistent to the point where he probably didn’t put himself in the lead for a starting job.
The team will probably look for more out of Brandon Mosley and Eric Herman, but otherwise, there is no solid veteran depth at the guard position (unless Kevin Boothe, a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, is re-signed).
If the Giants are looking for a quality veteran guard who can come in and start, Jon Asamoah is an intriguing option. Last season, Asamoah played 12 games at right guard, finishing with a 7.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Asamoah, who will be 26, is entering his prime. According to his draft profile analysis—he was a third-round pick out of Illinois—the four-year veteran is said to have the “intelligence to play on either side of the center.”
In terms of talent, Asamoah would certainly be a nice addition to an offensive line that was one of the worst in recent memory. Asamoah excels in pass protection, where he has shown the ability to handle the bull rush.
A PFF “Secret Superstar,” Asamoah has been one of those under-the-radar types who, according to B/R’s BJ Kissel, was a big reason why, in 2012, the Chiefs running backs had such great success running the ball.
Tackle Tyson Clabo, Miami
Pop question: Who, in 2014, would be the first man off the bench for the Giants if either Justin Pugh or Will Beatty can’t play?
If you answered “TBD,” give yourself a gold star.
Right now, the Giants depth at offensive tackle is, well, nonexistent.
Brandon Mosley played tackle in college; he’s been groomed for a guard/center position. James Brewer has also played some tackle, but he is better suited for guard spot, where although he’s been inconsistent, he’s shown flashes.
While it would not be surprising to see the Giants draft at this position, it would also not be a shock if the team were to look for a veteran Sean Locklear type (or the man himself, since he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent).
If the Giants are indeed in the market for an experienced veteran, Miami Dolphins right tackle Tyson Clabo could be an option. Clabo would be entering his 11th season in 2014 and could be a nice transition should the Giants be planning to draft younger talent at that position to develop.
What’s more, Clabo could probably be signed to a one-year minimum qualifying offer, which means his entire salary wouldn’t count against the 2014 cap.
Signing Clabo wouldn’t exactly qualify as a free-agency “splash,” but sometimes the smaller transactions are just as important as the bigger ones.
Tight End Dante Rosario, Chicago
Tight end Brandon Myers’ contract is expected to be voided shortly after the Super Bowl. Bear Pascoe will be an unrestricted free agent whose chance of returning at this point is 50-50.
In addition, it’s not known if the Giants truly know what they have in youngsters Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson, both of whom dealt with lower-body injuries at some point during 2013.
If the Giants are going to mix in new offensive coordinator McAdoo’s schemes, which could have a heavier-than-usual West Coast offense flavor with the power game they’ve run in the past, they’re going to need a tight end who can be a solid in-line blocker and who can also exploit the seam.
Per Over the Cap, the Bears, who currently have $119.995 million committed to their 2014 cap, have former Giant Martellus Bennett set to count for $6.025 million in 2014.
If Rosario, whom the Bears acquired in a trade with Dallas at the start of the 2013 season, is not in the Bears’ plans moving forward, then the seven-year veteran could probably be signed for a reasonable contract to provide veteran depth while Robinson and/or Donnell develop.
Rosario has played in 106 games and has 100 receptions for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 29-year-old played in just 186 snaps in 2013, finishing with a 4.9 overall grade.
That grade makes him the third-best pending free agent among tight ends, behind Graham and Carolina’s Ben Hartsock.
If the Giants believe that Donnell and/or Robinson are the future, they’ll obviously continue developing them. Until one or both of them are ready for an increased role, a veteran will almost certainly be necessary at this position.
However, don't look for the Giants to spend a huge amount of money on a position that historically doesn't come close to matching the production of either of the team's top two receivers.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.