Giants Free Agency: Safety First


Each NFL draft is like a gold mine, with each position being a vein of gold that the miner taps continuously for seven rounds until that vein runs dry. The depth of each position, or vein of gold, varies by draft, and in 2015 the safeties wein is reported to be quite shallow, with only one deemed worthy of first round consideration, Alabama’s Landon Collins, and just three more thought to be second round prospects (Virginia’s Anthony Harris, Mississippi’s Cody Prewitt, and TCU’s Chris Hackett).

Safety is one of the New York Giants greatest position of needs going into the 2015 off season, with their three top starters from 2014 set to enter free agency, and all three of them performing below NFL standards of excellence. Fortunately, for Jerry Reese, options abound in free agency, including the re-signing of his own players. Let’s explore those options, broken down into categories, and the pro and cons of each. Performance information is based on the ratings compiled by our friends at ProFootballFocus.com. It requires a subscription, but provides a wealthy of information on every player in the NFL.

Returning Giants Veterans:

Normally, the advantage of re-signing one’s own free agents is their familiarity with the system in place, but as the Giants have replaced defensive coordinator Perry Fewell with his predecessor, Steve Spagnuolo, and none of the departing trio played for him, this does not apply. The Giants secondary was atrocious in 2014, burned for multiple big plays, with players often out of place, but in fairness, the safeties were burdened with an inconsistent pass rush and musical chair cornerbacks, thanks to multiple injuries. The three players Reese, head coach Tom Coughlin, and Spagnuolo are evaluating are:

Antrel Rolle, 32, 6’0″, 206 lbs, 10 year veteran: Rolle has been a team leader and fixture in the Giants secondary since he signed as a free agent in 2010. He solidified the Giants secondary immediately, and was a key component to the successful Giants run to Super Bowl 46. However, his play dropped off drastically in 2014 and his penalties have increased from 2 to 6 to 8 in the past three seasons. It’s time to move on from Antrel Rolle. The NFL is a business and pays for results, not history, nor leadership. Rolle will likely find, as have many before him, that the market for his services is highly limited and the best he can hope for is a veteran minimum contract with no signing bonus. It may be time for him to retire.

Quintin Demps, 29, 5’11”, 208 lbs, 7 year veteran: Demps was signed to bolster the Giants return game in 2014 and serve as safety depth only. Will Hill’s relapse and subsequent release, Stevie Brown’s slow healing from his ACL tear, and Cooper Taylor’s preseason injury forced him into the lineup and the results were not pretty. And, unfortunately, Demps was also ineffective as a kick returner. He will likely get a chance to catch on with another team as a kick returner only, but it won’t be the Giants.

Brown, 2 years post ACL surgery should bounce back.

Brown, 2 years post ACL surgery should bounce back.

Stevie Brown, 27, 5’11”, 221, lbs, 5 year veteran: Brown was a rising star before he tore his ACL before the 2013 season. The thing to remember about ACL tears is that players often bounce back fully the second season after the injury and Brown showed some signs of improving towards the last year. In 2012, he was a highly effective coverage safety and a ball hawk, with 8 interceptions. The Giant should offer him a another one year contract for between $1 and $1.5 million and let him come into training camp and play for his job.

Cooper Taylor is back from his foot injury, along with promising 2014 draft pick Nat Berhe, who would form a trio of incumbent safeties. To join them, Giants360 has identified the following impending free agents:

Premier Options:

These three players were far and away the top performing safeties in 2014 that may be available on the free agent market. Listed in the order that Giants360 believes the Quest Diagnostics Center brain trust should consider them, McCourty and Moore are substantially ahead of the third option, Searcy, but all three should be able to come in and start opposite Stevie Brown.

 

McCourty, if not franchise tagged by the Patriots, will be the top safety on the market

McCourty, if not franchise tagged by the Patriots, will be the top safety on the market

1. Devon McCourty, Patriots, 5’10”, 195 lbs, 27, 5 year veteran: McCourty, if allowed to hit free agency, will be the crown jewel of the safety class. Excelling in both pass coverage and run support, McCourty was a key ingredient in the Patriots Super Bowl 49 victory. While there is a strong possibility he will receive the franchise tag, however, the Patriots have a Revis problem. Cornerback Darrelle Revis has a $20 million contract number and the team has to release him, renegotiate, or fit it under the salary cap, all while juggling McCourty. Likely commanding a contract at or in excess of the extension Earl Thomas signed in 2014, McCourty’s price tag will be 5 years, $40 million dollars with half guaranteed at a minimum, but he will make everyone forget Rolle in short order.

2. Rahim Moore, Broncos, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 25, 4 year veteran: Coming from another team with salary cap woes, Moore is a consistent coverage safety that struggles to support the run. Originally a second round choice in 2011, Moore has been a fixture in the Broncos secondary, starting 48 of his 57 career games. Given that wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, and offensive lineman Orlando Franklin are also free agents, John Elway has hard decisions to make, and Moore will likely be allowed to walk. A 5 year contract averaging $3.5 to $4 million per season will be his likely asking price.

3. Da’Norris Searcy, Bills, 26, 5’11”, 216 lbs, 4 year veteran: After a down 2013, Searcy bounced back in a big was under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2014. Showing both outstanding coverage skills and run support last season, Searcy will be difficult to pry away from Buffalo if they want to retain him as the Bills are flush with cap space and have a new owner that want to impress the fan base. Given his inconsistency, if the Bills decide to part ways, a 3 year, contract averaging $2 to $3 million would probably land him.

Spagnuolo Disciples:

Two players thought worthy of signing consideration have a history with Steve Spagnuolo. He’s coached them, knows them, and can recommend or dissuade Jerry Reese from pursuing them. Spagnuolo’s history gives the Giants a knowledge advantage over all but the other teams who have coached these players during their 5 year careers. If they are signed, it’s an indication that Spagnuolo expects them to blossom.

Stewart played for Spagnuolo. Twice. Three times the charm?

Stewart played for Spagnuolo. Twice. Three times the charm?

1. Darian Stewart, Ravens, 26, 5’11”, 214 lbs, 5 year veteran: Stewart played for Spagnuolo in St. Louis in 2010-2011 and followed him to Baltimore where Spagnuolo was Assistant Head Coach and Secondary Coach last season. An undrafted free agent, Stewart has had an up and down career, but has started 33 of 70 games and bounced back significantly in 2014 under the new Giants defensive coordinator’s tutelage. He know Spagnuolo’s system, is solid in run support, but struggles in pass coverage. He’s still a work in progress, but one Spagnuolo seems to think is worth completing.

2. Jeromy Miles, Ravens, 27, 6’2″, 214 lbs, 5 year veteran: Another player who flourished in Spagnuolo’s system, Miles took big jumps in both pass coverage and run support from 2013 to 2014. Originally an undrafted free agent in 201 by the Cincinnati Bengals, Miles has bounced between Cincinnati and Baltimore during his 5 year career, starting only 3 of his 70 career games. Spagnuolo must have seen something, because 2 of the starts were last season, and he rated out well.

Limited Play Options:

These players have lacked substantial playing time in their NFL careers, but showed promise in the time they did appear on the field. The advantage in signing one of these players is they will come at a more reasonable price, but the downside is the largely unknown quantity of their play. All four players are young, improved in 2014, and if introduced into the Tom Coughlin environment, will be given the opportunity to continue to develop the promise shown last season.

Johnson is a junior member of the Legion of Boom

Johnson is a junior member of the Legion of Boom

1. Jeron Johnson, Seahawks, 26, 5’10”, 212 lbs, 4 year veteran: Johnson has been a backup member of the Legion of Boom for 4 seasons and has been above average in his limited opportunities on defense. With Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas at safety, Seattle provides few opportunities for others to get on the field. The Seahawks have shown an ability to find and develop defensive backs under Pete Carroll, and Johnson could be a diamond in the rough.

2. Sergio Brown, Colts, 26, 6’2″, 217 lbs, 5 year veteran: An undrafted free agent by the Patriots in 2010, Brown played in New England for 2 years before moving on to the Colts in 2012. He has improved steadily each year in Indianapolis and was solid in both pass coverage and run support in 2014. Brown started only 11 of 71 career games, but that includes 8 last season.

3. Kurt Coleman, Chiefs, 26, 5’10”, 192 lbs, 5 year veteran: A seventh round pick by the Eagles in 2010, Coleman followed Andy Reid to Kansas City last season and it was a shrewd move on his part. While a poor to mediocre performer in Philadelphia, Coleman improved markedly in both pass coverage and run support last season for the Chiefs. Part of the issue in evaluating defensive players for the Eagles is the pressure the Chip Kelly offensive puts on the defense in terms of number of plays and time on the field, both are increased by the extreme pace of the Eagles offense. Part of Coleman’s struggles in Philadelphia may have been attributable to that distorting effect.

4. Isa Abdul-Quddus, Lions, 26, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 4 year veteran: A solid, if unspectacular performer, Abdul-Quddus bounced back along with the entire Lions defense in 2014 as a result of the scheme change brought in with new head coach Jim Caldwell. The danger in signing a player like Abdul-Quddus is that he may fit that particular scheme, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin runs a 4-3, and Caldwell has Tampa-2 roots, and he may struggle in another.

Veteran Options:

There are several veteran players who, despite their advanced age in NFL terms, had solid 2014 seasons. The Giants could sign them for slightly above veteran minimum one year deals after the free agent market cools off and hope they have enough gas left in their tank to solidify the secondary for another season.

Landry played will in a moribund 2014 Jets secondary.

Landry played will in a moribund 2014 Jets secondary.

1. Dawan Landry, Jets, 6’1″, 212 lbs, 32, 9 year veteran: The Jets secondary was much maligned last season, but their issue was at cornerback. Landry turned in a solid season, both in pass coverage and run support despite having junior varsity players rotating in at cornerback through the year. That alone makes in an immediate upgrade to Antrel Rolle. Landry has started 126 of 130 career games, including 14 of 16 in 2014

2. Mike Adams, Colts, 5’10”, 195 lbs, 33, 11 year veteran: Adams has started 89 of 162 career games, including all 16 in 2014 and excelled in pass coverage last season. Average against the run, Adams has been an up and down player throughout his career.

3. Danieal Manning, Texans, 32, 5’11”, 212 lbs, 9 year veteran: Solely a pass coverage safety, Manning will provide little in the way of run support. Having started 96 of 128 career games, but only 5 in 2014, Manning will have relatively fresh legs should the Giants need to reach deep into the veteran pool of safeties and pull out this coverage specialist.

4. Jim Leonhard, Browns, 32, 5’8″, 188 lbs, 10 year veteran: An undersized, coverage only safety, Leonard is the ultimate journeyman, having played for 6 NFL teams in 10 seasons. Lacking the size to provide run support, Leonhard still played the pass well, even at age 32.

As surely as Americans will file a tax return on April 15th, the Giants will be signing some free agent safeties in 2015. One of the Premier Options would be idea, along with a Spagnuolo Disciple, and combined with a Stevie Brown return and the addition of some younger players to compete, would give the team a solid corps of safeties going into the 2015 season. And hopefully fewer 20 plus yard plays surrendered.

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