The release of Mathias Kiwanuka on Tuesday afternoon severed the last remaining connection between the Steve Spagnuolo coordinated defense that won Super Bowl 42 and the one that will take the field this coming September. It was the correct move by the Giants as Kiwanuka’s best days are behind him, serves as a reminder that the NFL is a business model that pays only for future results, and gives us the opportunity to focus on changes coming to the Giants defensive line.
On or before Monday at 4 PM Eastern Standard Time, Jason Pierre-Paul will be franchise tagged as the Giants hold on to the 25 year old talented defensive end’s rights for the 2015 season while trying to negotiate a long term deal. Pierre-Paul is the top run defending defensive end on the free agent market, has the most batted passes and quarterback pressures of the quality defensive ends poised to his free agency, according to profootballfocus.com (PFF), and would be heavily pursued if he were allowed to to leave the Giants. Franchise tagging him is the right decision for Jerry Reese.
Damontre Moore and Robert Ayers are will be line for additional playing time at defensive end with Kiwanuka’s release, but both come with issues that create a need to add talent at the position to round the unit out.
Moore is not an accomplished run defender and is still considered an undisciplined player, both of which make him a pass rushing, limited snap option.
Ayers, who plays both end and tackle, can defend the run and rush the passer, but is injury prone, and cannot handle the rigors of being an every down player. He is an ideal rotational option and will surely figure prominently in Spanguolo’s defensive line rotation, but not as a fixture like Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck were in Spagnuolo’s first tenure as defensive coordinator.
Fortunately for the Giants, the 2015 draft is said to be ripe with front seven options, and those will be explored once the free agent frenzy has quieted and draft needs for all 32 teams clarify. There are also several defensive ends worth exploring in free agency. As with our earlier examinations of the free agent market, we are categorizing the players by their desirability and experience. The ratings are from PFF, and salary information from overthecap.com.
Jerry Hughes, 26, 6’2″, 253 lbs, 6th season, Buffalo: Hughes, who plays some linebacker as well as defensive end, started all 16 games for the Bills this past season and tallied 10 sacks in each of his past 2 seasons. He is a solid run defender in addition to being a top pass rusher, and will command top dollar on the market. Pairing Hughes with Pierre-Paul would give the Giants a set of book ends on the defensive line that would strike fear in the hearts of opponents. Having two defensive ends making more than $10 million dollars per season would be a challenge under the salary cap, but one in keeping with a strategy the Giants have employed in the past – allocating defensive resources to the line and pressuring the opposing quarterback into making mistakes.
Greg Hardy, 26, 6’4″, 279 lbs, 6th season, Carolina: Hardy is unquestionably talented, but comes with major character concerns. Included on this list as he is one of the top defensive ends in the NFL, it is highly improbable that John Mara would ever sign off on bringing Hardy to the Giants. With 34 career sacks, Hardy is the top pass rusher on the free agent market, and he is also stout in run defense. He regularly logged quarterback hits and pressures for the Panthers, who franchise tagged him in 2014, but he only played one game after being convicted on a domestic violence charge last spring. While the conviction was being appealed, and was ultimately dismissed, when the complaining witness could not be located to testify, Hardy was on the Commissioner’s Exempt List and ineligible to play. He was also required to surrender his legally registered six automatic weapons and three shotguns to police while the matter was being resolved, painting a public picture of Hardy that, when combined with the description of the violent attack alleged to be perpetrated in this domestic violence matter, is not in keeping with the Giants franchise image.
Adrian Clayborn, 26, 6’3″, 281 lbs, 5th season, Tampa Bay: A first round pick in the 2011 draft, Clayborn never reached the heights predicted when he came out of Iowa 20th overall. He started all 36 of his career games before tearing a biceps in the opening game of 2014 and missing the rest of the season. An accomplished run defender, Clayborn will be looking to rehabilitate his career outside of Tampa Bay and would be a prime candidate for some Steve Spagnuolo magic while pairing with Ayers and Moore as the early down run defender. If Spagnuolo can tap into his potential, Clayborn could be the hidden gem of the free agent class, and can likely be signed for a reasonable, cap friendly veteran deal averaging $2 million for 3 or 4 years with club options to terminate at the beginning of the season if Clayborn doesn’t perform.
Ricardo Mathews, 27, 6’3″, 294 lbs, 5th season, San Diego: Mathews offers the versatility that the Giants covet as he plays both defensive tackle and defensive end. Considered more of a backup/role player, Mathews is a better pass rusher than run defender, but was solid in both areas in 2014. A starter of only 7 of 64 career games, Mathews would bring quality depth across the defensive line, while solidifying one of the weakest area on the Giants, their special teams, where he excels. He would also be able to be signed for the veteran minimum.
George Selvie, 27, 6’4″, 247 lbs, 6th season, Dallas: A strong run defender, Selvie does not offer a lot as a pass rusher, but did improve in this area, having 20 quarterback hits and 50 pressures in the past 3 seasons. A rotational player, Selvie would able to play run defense on early downs before giving way to the pass rushing ends on second and third down passing situations. He played for the veteran minimum in 2014 and would be a bargain option.
Limited Snap Options:
Demarcus Dobbs, 27, 6’6″, 275 lbs, 5th season, Seattle: Dobbs is a big bodied run defender that eats up space. With no starts in his 49 career games, Dobbs is a role player who also excels at special teams and would fill a need for the Giants at a reasonable cost, playing short yardage and goal line packages, and improving the quality of special teams.
Leger Douzable, 28, 6’4″, 305 lbs, 7th season, New York Jets: Douzable is another flexible player, logging time at both defensive tackle and defensive end during his career. A more accomplished run defender than pass rusher, Douzable would be a candidate for the run stuffing role to pass rushing specialist Moore. He is not the asset on special teams some of the other players identified are, making him a less desirable signing. His 2014 total salary was a reasonable $1,000,000, making him an affordable option if a run stopping role player needs to be added.
Cory Redding, 34, 6’4″, 285 lbs, 13th season, Indianapolis: With 35.5 career sacks and 146 starts under his belt, Redding is an accomplished NFL player nearing the end of the line. He is no longer a dependable run defender, but would give Spanguolo another fresh rotational pass rusher rusher to bring into the game. In order to be a realistic option for the Giants, Redding would have to be willing to accept less than this 2014 salary of $4.4 million in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle and contending for a championship. If he hopes for another big payday, it won’t be in Giants blue.
Anthony Spencer, 31, 6’3″, 261 lbs, 9th season, Dallas: Spencer was a rising star, franchise tagged by the Cowboys in both 2012 and 2013 before microfracture surgery on his left knee derailed his career in October 2013. He is a run stopping threat more than a pass rusher at this point in his career, but two years removed from the surgery, would have some upside, and the Giants could offer a better contract than the always cap strapped Cowboys, who paid him just $1.3 million in 2014. He’s not a special team player, nor a starter, but he would be a run stopping rotational player and a veteran asset to the team.
Trevor Scott, 30, 6’5″, 256 lbs, 8th season, Chicago: Another potential victim of the Bears switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme, Scott is more of a pass rusher than a run stopper, but was solid, if unspectacular in both areas in 2014. He would be a rotational player for the Giants, and available at the veteran minimum. Providing depth and competition along the defensive line, Scott is a below average special teams player and could not be counted as an asset in that phase of the game.
Unless the Giants want to make a big splash early in free agency and try to pair Hughes with Pierre-Paul, and defensive line free agent signings will be role players or depth additions. Robert Ayers was viewed at a depth signing last season and wound up being a steal, and Giants360 has attempted to identify the next Ayers in this article. We will examine defensive tackles next, with an eye toward finding a big run stopper to pair with emerging star Jonathan Hankins.
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