5 Available Free Agents Still Within the New York Giants' Reach
As the draft winds start to pick up intensity, caught in the cross breeze are those few remaining veteran free agents who, for one reason or another, have yet to find new homes for the 2014 season.
That’s not to say that some of these remaining veterans don't have a place somewhere in the league for 2014. Of course, with many teams now devoting the bulk of their efforts to setting up their respective draft boards, free agency has taken a back seat.
From the New York Giants' perspective, there are some veterans who could potentially fill a need, be it for the offseason and summer training camp or for the 2014 season until a younger player who still might be drafted is ready for a larger role.
Here’s a look at five such players who could probably help round out the depth for the Giants at certain spots.
Receiver Sidney Rice
Although the Giants added Mario Manningham to their receiver group, it would be surprising if he ends up being the guy who replaces Hakeem Nicks.
That role is instead projected to go to Rueben Randle, though as I’ve pointed out before, both head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese have sounded hesitant regarding whether Randle can replace what they lost in the 2011 version of Nicks.
Meanwhile Reese was a bit more direct in his criticism of Randle, saying at the combine back in February that they weren’t quite sure what they had in him yet.
That’s a big reason why the Giants are almost certain to add another veteran receiver.
One such player who could provide them with that firepower is free agent Sidney Rice, who earlier on Monday shared the good news via Twitter that he’s been medically cleared to participate in football activities.
Not surprisingly, the Giants were one of about six teams said to have interest in Rice, per Pro Football Talk.
With the Giants having just $4.060 million left under the salary cap per the NFLPA’s public report, it’s certainly possible for them to fit Rice in on a one-year incentive-laden contract given his extensive injury history.
If Rice doesn't check out medically, then the Giants do have another option...
Receiver Miles Austin
That other option for the Giants to consider at receiver is Miles Austin.
Interestingly, the 30-year-old Austin hasn’t drawn much interest since he was released by the Dallas Cowboys on March 11.
Whether that’s because he’s looking for more than the one-year minimum contract he’s likely to end up signing or because he has a smaller list of teams he wants to play for, only Austin knows for certain at this point.
Still, one can't help but wonder if Austin, who played his college ball at Monmouth University in New Jersey, might be open to playing for a hometown team.
The Giants, to date, have not been known to have expressed an interest in Austin, though it's presumed, since general manager Jerry Reese has told reporters numerous times that he investigates everything, Austin was considered, however briefly.
Austin’s best seasons for Dallas were in 2009 and 2010, when he had 1,320 and 1,041 receiving yards respectively. After playing in just nine games as a rookie in 2006, Austin went on to play in 16 games every year with the exception of 2008, 2011 and last year.
The only major concern with Austin is what appears to be an injury history that has seen him fight through a hamstring problem every season since 2011.
Certainly if Austin were open to a one-year deal and be willing to play as a situational receiver, that could help his cause.
If he has his heart set on being a starter, he could potentially put himself at risk of not finding a new team once the talent in this year's very deep receiver class starts to trickle out to NFL teams.
Tight End Jermichael Finley
I can’t help but wonder if unrestricted free-agent tight end Jermichael Finley were medically cleared to resume football activities following the neck surgery he had last fall, would he have been one of the first free agents the Giants contacted?
I think he might have.
According to Pro Football Focus’ top free-agent tight ends list found on the free part of their website, Finley began free agency as the third-best tight end, behind Jimmy Graham of the Saints and Dennis Pitta of the Ravens.
The problem with Finley is his health. NFL.com reported that although he has drawn interest from the Seahawks and Dolphins, both teams could be reluctant to offer more than a one-year, low-risk contract to the 27-year-old.
That’s if Finley finally receives medical clearance to return after having spinal fusion surgery, per Andrea Kremer of the NFL Network.
That clearance and subsequent return could be coming sooner than later. Per Josina Anderson of ESPN (h/t Pro Football Talk), Finley was to have had another X-ray done on his neck this week, with a MRI to follow within the next two weeks.
That timing might be too late for the Giants, who might have already decided to draft a tight end to mold into an offense that, as I wrote about last month, will blend what the Giants used to run with a little bit of the West Coast offense that the Packers currently run.
Still, you can't help but wonder what might have been if Finley had been healthy.
Running Back Chris Johnson
Despite head coach Tom Coughlin’s recent expression of optimism, as reported by NJ.com, about running back David Wilson’s possible return in 2014, the reality is that Wilson probably won’t be ready for training camp.
If that is indeed the case, that spells trouble for Wilson, who desperately needs all the on-field work he can get in both in terms of ball security and in pass-blocking.
The longer Wilson is unable to practice, the less likely he will contribute in 2014. That’s why the Giants have proceeded as though they won’t have him at all.
Already they have signed Rashad Jennings to a four-year contract, presumably to carry the workload that Wilson, the Giants’ first-round draft pick in 2012, was supposed to have assumed full-time by now.
They also re-signed Peyton Hillis to go along with Michael Cox, who is entering his second season as a pro.
They’re more than likely not done at this position. It would be a major upset if the Giants didn't draft a pro-ready running back somewhere between the third and sixth rounds to provide additional depth and competition.
However, if the Giants want a veteran and are willing to shell out more than just a one-year minimum contract—very unlikely at this point—they could get in the mix for Chris Johnson, whom the Titans recently cut.
However, Pro Football Talk reported that Johnson could be coming off the market soon, thus making the already slim chances of the Giants getting him virtually non-existent.
Quarterback Matt Flynn
Even before the news of quarterback Eli Manning’s ankle surgery and subsequent six-week minimum recovery period was announced by the team, the backup quarterback position was shaky looking.
Per Spotrac, the Giants re-signed Curtis Painter to a one-year minimum qualifying offer which really wasn’t surprising considering he apparently fit in well last year with Manning and then-rookie Ryan Nassib.
Speaking of Nassib, it was disappointing that by the end of last year, he didn’t make enough progress to pass Painter on the depth chart.
Certainly, general manager Jerry Reese made it perfectly clear after the team traded up to draft Nassib in the fourth round last year that they hoped Nassib never had to play, per USA Today.
However, as the Giants' offensive line deteriorated around Manning last season, it seemed like only a matter of time before the team would have to call on its backup quarterback.
Unfortunately for the Giants, they had to call for the backup at least twice. And unfortunately for Nassib, his was not the number called by the coaches, as he was inactive for every game.
Now comes word via the New York Daily News that that the Giants are looking at a pair of veteran quarterbacks, Josh Freeman, most recently with Minnesota, and Matt Flynn, who spent the bulk of his career as the backup in Green Bay, to serve as a temporary replacement for Manning as he recovers from his surgery.
Of the two, I think Flynn makes more sense. At the start of free agency, I opined that it might behoove the Giants offense to bring in a former Packer who had worked with McAdoo in Green Bay because that person would have an advanced understanding of the parts of the Packers offense McAdoo planned to install with the Giants.
Who better to accomplish that objective than Flynn, who worked with McAdoo for a bit when the latter was his position coach?
While we're on the subject of the quarterbacks, Kimberly Jones of the NFL Network reported that Giants, who last year had to keep three quarterbacks, hope to keep two quarterbacks this year. One of those two will be Manning, barring any kind of season-ending injury.
Will the second be Nassib? That remains to be seen as if Painter and/or the winner of the Freeman/Flynn workout outplays the former Syracuse star, the Giants will have on their hands yet another mid-round bust.
In other words, even though one from the Freeman/Flynn duo might appear to be "temporary," there's always a chance of extending the welcome.