Defensive Tackle Jonathan Hankins had a breakout year in his first as starter for the Giants, but the team still struggled mightily to defend the run. The lack of a another run stuffer at defensive tackle is a big part of the issue, along with linebacker, and one that can be addressed in free agency, with multiple options available to fill this need.
Mike Patterson started 8 games at defensive tackle in 2014, and did not defend the run well, his primary role for the team. He is a free agent and not expected to be re-signed. Veteran line mate Cullen Jenkins accept a salary reduction to return, but is viewed as a pass rusher and has never been a strong run stuffing tackle. Second year player Jay Bromley was raw as a rookie, and while he will be given a chance to step up and claim the starting job next to Hankins, the team must be prepared if he is still not ready after being picked in the third round last May out of Syracuse. He was widely viewed as a reach with potential at that point in the draft.
Markus Kuhn rounds out the returning defensive tackles for the Giants and, as regular readers are aware, Giants360 is calling for him to be released and his salary cap dollars reallocated. We have identified fourteen free agents for your consideration, although two are only listed due to their name recognition. Some will fill the run stuffing role identified as missing from the Giants roster as it is currently configured, other would provide competition for Jenkins as the pass rushing tackle. Free agents are broken into categories based on their experience, performance history, and therefore, anticipated cost to the team. Performance information is gleaned from watching NFL football and from profootbalfocus.com, while salary information comes from overthecap.com.
These are players in their prime that are hitting the free agent market and will command bigger contracts. Some will be starters, others will be highly compensated role players that will fill a need for the Giants, if acquired.
Ndamukong Suh, 28, 6’4″, 207 lbs, 6th season, Detroit: The top defensive tackle on the free agent market, Suh may also be the top overall defensive free agent. Unquestionably talented, both as a run defender, and beastly pass rusher, he comes with many character red flags. As recently as week 17 of this past season, Suh had an incident where he stomped on Aaron Rodgers injured calf. While claiming it was inadvertent, his history raised doubts and he was in danger of being suspended for the Lions playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. A starter of all 78 of his career games, Suh has an astonishing 36 career sacks, all from the defensive tackle position. He also regularly harasses the quarterback, having almost 50 quarterback hits and 120 quarterback pressures in the past three seasons alone. His $22.4 million salary in 2014 puts him in the quarterback stratosphere, while his questionable character will scare away many teams, including the Giants. Suh is not a Tom Coughlin type of player and would be a poor influence on Damontre Moore. There is also an outside chance Detroit franchise tags him to the tune of $27 million for 2015.
Nick Fairley, 27, 6’5′, 291 lbs, 5th season, Detroit: Suh’s partner in mayhem, Fairley comes with his own set of warning signs as his work ethic has been questioned since he entered the NFL in 2011. He has started only 30/46 career games, and only 8 in 2014, missing half the season with a knee injury. The talented defensive tackle is strong against both the run and the pass, with 13.5 career sacks. A more financially reasonable option to Suh, the buyer must be beware, as receiving a long term contract might demotivate Fairley in the style of Albert Haynesworth. If the right coach can tap his unreached potential, he can be a much better player than he’s shown, although he’s undoubtedly benefited from playing next to Suh, who draws attention from opponent’s blockers. Fairley is another player that does not fit the Giants mold.
Terrance Knighton, 28, 6’2″, 295 lbs, 7th season, Denver: You know him as “Pot Roast,” but he’s also known as a run stuffing force that will be leaving Denver as a free agent. The rumor is he will follow former Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to Oakland where Del Rio is now head coach, as Knighton followed him from Jacksonville to Denver, but given the need the Giants have for a strong run stuffing presence, they would be wise to reach out to Knighton’s agent. If Pot Roast wants a Super Bowl ring, he’s unlikely to get it as a member of the perpetually rebuilding Raiders, and might consider an alternative offer. A starter of all 16 games in 2014 and 81 of 93 in his career, Knighton will not come cheap, and will be looking to top his $2.75 million dollar salary for 2014. A 3 to 4 year deal averaging $4 to $5 million might pry him away from Del Rio and pair him up nicely with Hankins and clog up the middle of the Giants defense.
Dan Williams, 27, 6’2″, 330 lbs, 6th season, Arizona: Far and away the best run defender available on the free agent market, Williams also holds his own against the pass. He struggled with a foot injury in 2014 and only started 6 of 16 games for the Cardinals, and has started just 40 of 70 career games. Williams would be viewed as a role player, starting games and playing next to every down player Hankins on run defending downs and then giving way to Steve Spagnuolo’s NASCAR pass rushing package in long yardage situations. Still young, he would likely seek a contract averaging $2.5 to $3.5 million per season, but has room for continued development as a player.
Stephen Paea, 26, 6’1″, 306 lbs, 5th season, Chicago: Williams polar opposite, Paea brings pass rushing skill, but struggles against the run. He started all 16 games for the Bears last season, but could be displaced as the Bears are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-3 under new head coach John Fox. A younger option to Cullen Jenkins, and probably sign-able to the same $2 million per season, Paea is a player the Giants might want to explore. Competition breeds success in the NFL and almost one third of the salary needed could be found by releasing the ineffective Kuhn.
Improving Players/Limited Snap Options:
Kenrick Ellis, 27, 6’5″, 346 lbs, 5th season, New York Jets: Ellis is strong run defender, but not accomplished rushing the passer. Playing only defensive tackle, he has only one career sack, and 5 starts in 47 games, with none in 2014. Talented, but stuck behind some premier players one the Jets defensive line, Ellis comes with potential and will be looking to improve upon his $797,500 salary for 2014. He may follow former Jets head coach Rex Ryan to Buffalo. Ellis has a limited history on special teams, an area he would need to contribute there as a role player on the Giants.
Karl Klug, 26, 6’3″, 275 lbs, 5th season, Tennessee: Klug is a pass rusher that plays both defensive end and tackle. With 5 starts in 64 career games and none in 2014, Klug is an inexpensive option to bring in to compete with Jenkins. His flexibility will appeal to Spagnuolo, as will his 14.5 career sacks, while his veteran minimum salary will appeal to Jerry Reese. Klug’s spectacular special teams play would be a welcome addition to the team.
Jared Odrick, 27, 6’5″, 301 lbs, 8th season, Miami: An accomplished pass rusher who held his own against the run in 2014, Odrick started all 16 games for the Dolphins last season. He has played outside linebacker and defensive end, in addition to defensive tackle throughout his career, offering the flexibility similar to Mathias Kiwanuka that Spagnuolo covets in a defensive player. His 2014 salary of $2.8 million would have to be viewed as a ceiling rather than a floor, given his history of ankle injuries, but he is more than a veteran minimum player. He would also need to improve his special teams play.
D’Anthony Smith, 28, 6’3″, 280 lbs, 6th season, Seattle: Smith is an extremely limited snap option that has shown promise as a run defender and also plays linebacker, end, and tackle. Born in Berlin, Germany, Smith could replace Kuhn as the German born player on the roster, if the Giants are determined to have one. However, in Smith’s case, his potential would remain in front of him. A veteran minimum player, Smith would need to contribute on special teams, something that’s he’s not historically done, in order to make the Giants roster.
Some have been released due to salary cap concerns, while others have played out a contract and seek to continue their career by catching on with another team. These veteran player’s ascending days are behind them, but they can still contribute, most likely in a limited role capacity, and are past the point in their career of seeking a big money contract.
C.J. Mosley, 31, 6’2″, 314 lbs, 11th season, Detroit: Mosley is a stronger run defender than pass rusher, but has 14 career sacks in his career. Another player than may have benefited from playing next to the dominating Suh, Mosley started the 8 games last season that Fairley missed due to injury. He could be signed for the veteran minimum and would be a strong contributor on special teams.
Henry Melton, 28, 6’3″, 280 lbs, 6th season, Dallas: One of the multiple free agents that may be coming out of Dallas as the cap strapped Cowboys try to find enough room to fit Dez Bryant’s $12.8 million under the salary cap. The coming week will be very telling as Jerry Jones again maneuvers to mortgages the future and try to win now. Melton is a spectacular pass rusher who struggles to defend the run, and has had knee injuries end each of his past two seasons. In 2013, he tore an ACL and missed 13 games, while his 2014 season ended before the Cowboys improbable playoff run when a bone bruise saw him go on injured reserve last December. Melton is highly talented, and, when healthy, a force to be reckoned with on passing downs. He played for $2.6 million in 2014 and has 20.5 career sacks as a defensive tackle. He would be a rotational player as his snaps need to be limited to preserve his health, and the Giants would need to consider him as competition for Jenkins roster spot.
Chris Canty, 32, 6’7″, 286 lbs, 11th season, Baltimore: A former Giant and Cowboy, the oft injured Canty left New York for greener pastures in Baltimore and picked up another Super Bowl ring in the process. A salary cap cut this past week, Canty made a statement that he does not intend to retire, and is still an effective run defender. He started 11 games for the Ravens in 2014 and appeared in 35 of 48 over the past three seasons, but has had eye, calf, and knee injuries over his career than have limited his game day availability. If he were to sign, for the veteran minimum or slightly more, Canty would be a run stopping role player who, like Melton, would need to be on a snap count to keep him healthy.
Barry Cofield, 30, 6’3″, 305 lbs, 10th season, Washington: Another former Giant who left for a big money contract in 2011, Cofield suffered a high ankle sprain that limited him to just 8 games and 3 starts in 2014, and was released in a salary cap move by the Redskins. Playing nose tackle for the Redskins, Cofield was a more effective pass rusher than run stuffer, but was effective as both for Spagnuolo in his first stint as defensive coordinator, and a reunion might prove fruitful, if Cofield’s contract demands are reasonable.
Kendall Langford, 29, 6’5″, 275 lbs, 8th season, St. Louis: A solid run defender who has played only defensive tackle since 2012, Langford was a salary cap cut by the Rams. He started just 4 games in 2014, and Jeff Fisher could not justify his high salary, which was $6 million in 2014. As a role player, Langford would have to accept a more reasonable $2 to 2.5 million, which still might be more than the Giants are willing to pay, considering some of the other veterans that have hit the market in the past few days. Langford’s history of poor special teams play would also work against him.
With multiple options available on the free agent market and more being added, seemingly by the hour, it makes sense for the Giants to add defensive tackle depth and competition in free agency allowing them to concentrate on filling their needs at linebacker and defensive end in the draft. Plucking two of the men off this list not named Suh or Fairley, one a run stuffer, and one a pass rusher, would round out the group coming into camp and provide strong competition. If Jay Bromley makes a leap forward in his second season, this group could go from relatively weak to a team strength in short order. Ideally, Knighton and Cofield would be those names, but we never seem to live in an ideal world, do we?
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