After Odell Beckham, Jr. exploded onto the NFL landscape with his three fingered touchdown catch again Dallas on nation television last November 23rd, the Giants faithful have been dreaming of the day when he lines up with Victor Cruz to form the best receiving tandem the New York Giants have even fielded. Throw in Rueben Randle, who’s play was elevated by Beckham’s emergence, and the Giants have the wide receivers have the potential to rank among the league’s most explosive. If Cruz recovers fully from the torn patellar tendon he suffered last season.
Jerry Reese has been careful to point out that while Cruz’s recover is going well, the Giants can’t count on him returning fully in 2014. Cruz is a speed receiver, running the 40 yard dash in 4.47 seconds, and if the injury robs him of his speed and elusiveness, his ability to create space will suffer accordingly.
The solution may already be on the roster, as Marcus Harris, who was on track for the third receiver spot last summer, while Beckham nursed his hamstring injury, will be returning from a torn labrum in his his hip. If he has another strong showing in the off season program and training camp, he will again be a candidate for a roster spot. Preseason superstar Corey Washington, who caught 4 touchdown in last summer’s warm up games, will also return, with a full year’s worth of training and an off season program under his belt. He achieved his success against third and fourth string defenders, but showed enough that the Giants didn’t want to expose him to waivers to add him to the practice squad.
Kevin Ogletree, a sixth year receiver added when Cruz was injured, was re-signed to a veteran minimum contract, and Preston Parker, the return specialist, who was surprisingly effective, although wildly inconsistent on offense, is also invited back to camp. Free agency is a mixed bag, with some premier options that each come with a risk that makes giving them a long term contract for big money an unwise proposition. The second level and veteran options are limited at best, making a mid round draft choice in a deep wide receiver pool a likely solution if the team is determined to add another option.
The performance information quoted is from profootbalfocus.com, a site that reviews game film and evaluates every player on every play and grades them independently. Contract information is from overthecap.com. The players are broken into category based upon performance history, future performance expectation, and, therefore, expected contract demands.
Giants Free Agent:
Jerrell Jernigan, 25, 5’9″, 181 lbs, 4th season: Jernigan was drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft to be the dynamic play making receiver missing from Giants offense. Late in the 2013 season, it appeared he might have broken out following a string of big games in the midst of the Giants worst offensive performance since the late 1970s. Prior to being placed in injured reserve with a mid-foot sprain in 2014, Jernigan’s ascension had halted and he now finds himself a free agent. The Giants could re-sign him for the veteran minimum and see if the issue was learning Ben McAdoo’s offense. If he continues to underwhelm, he can be released in August with no regrets.
Randall Cobb, 24, 5’10”, 191 lbs, 5th season, Green Bay: When Green Bay passed on franchise tagging the dynamic Cobb, who has been a top receiver for two of the past three season, despite being only 24 years old, he immediately vaulted to the top of the free agent list. His main advantage to the Giants is his intimate knowledge of the McAdoo offense as it’s the same one run by the Packers. The disadvantage is the $10 to $12 million dollar per year average contract Cobb will be seeking. It will price him out of the Giants stratosphere. Cobb has an injury history, as do all of the receivers in the premier category, as he missed 10 games in 2013 with a fractured fibula, but he’s otherwise been healthy, is young, a play maker, and can do everything but run block.
Michael Crabtree, 27, 6’2″, 215 lbs, 7th season, San Francisco: Crabtree also missed the majority of the 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon, but returned to start all 16 games in 2014 and seemed to suffer no ill effects. His statistics are the least impressive of this group, but that is a function of his quarterback, poor passer Colin Kaepernick. The Forty-Niners also featured a run heavy offense, limiting Crabtree’s opportunities. He’s a talented receiver, a red zone threat, a solid run blocker, and would benefit from stronger quarterback play. If the Giants are to add a top wide receiver in free agency, Crabtree would be their best option.
Jeremy Maclin, 26, 6’0″, 200 lbs, 7th season, Philadelphia: The Eagles opted not to franchise tag Maclin after he came out this past weekend and said he’s like to return to the team in 2015. He will certainly entertain offers from other teams, but comes with an injury risk tag, as he missed the entire 2013 season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Starting all 16 games, Maclin caught 85 passes and 10 touchdown last season, despite looking rusty early in the year, and players tend to rebound better in their second year back from ACL tears. However, re-injuring the knee is also a risk that will scare some teams away and might lower the ceiling for Maclin’s salary and contract length.
Improving Players/Limited Snap Options:
Dwayne Harris, 27, 5’10”, 200 lbs, 5th season, Dallas: Primarily a kick and punt returner, Harris has shown an ability to get open and run after the catch. Addressing the Giants need to a reliable returner that would keep them from using Beckham in that role, Harris would also benefit from the Giants ability to develop wide receivers. He would be available for little more than the veteran minimum and compete for a fifth or sixth receiver spot. Harris is also a solid run blocking receiver.
Torrey Smith, 26, 6’1″, 205 lbs, 5th season, Baltimore: Blessed with blazing speed, Smith runs the 40 yard dash in 4.41 seconds, and has caught 27 touchdown passes in the past three seasons. A starter for all 48 games for the Ravens, he would be a deep threat to pair with Beckham and terrorize defenses with a pass coverage dilemma. Also an excellent run blocker, Smith would come at a reasonable cost, having made $1.1 million last season. The Giants could likely sign him for a contract that averages $2 to $2.5 million for 3 to 4 years.
Kenny Britt, 26, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 7th season, St. Louis: Britt was taken on pick after the Giants took Hakeem Nicks in the 2009 NFL draft, and might have been their pick, if not for a string of off the field incidents that have raised character concerns. Despite a tumultuous quarterback situation for the Rams, Britt posted decent numbers in 2014, started 13 of 16 games, and improved his play after down years in his final seasons in Tennessee. Britt has a history of knee issues, having has two surgeries on his right knee following an ACL/MCL tear in 2011. But it’s the continued off the field issues that will keep the Giants from considering him. As recently as May 2014, Britt reportedly posted a sex video to his Instagram account, showing that his judgement has not improved with age. He has seemingly stopped his string of conflict the law enforcement, but his history of poor judgement, when combined with his injury history, will have the Giants looking elsewhere.
Brian Hartline, 28, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 7th season, Miami: After a breakout season in 2012, Miami shocked the football world by signing Hartline to a 5 years, $30.1 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed. Just two years later, they experienced buyer’s remorse, as Hartline had a down year, and he was waived to save $3.1 of his $7.3 million 2015 salary. Hartline is far from a superstar, but is a solid possession receiver who would fit in well with the Giants offense. As Dolphin’s head coach Joe Philbin came from Green Bay, Hartline would be familiar with the Giants offensive concepts. He’s a solid run blocker, and started 46 of 48 games over the past 3 seasons. The main questions will be his salary requirements. The contract he received from the Dolphins was out of line with his talent. If he is seeking another payday along those lines, the Giants will look elsewhere.
Eddie Royal, 28, 5’10”, 182, 8th season, San Diego: Royal is a poor man’s Wes Welker, who seems on the verge of breaking out every year, but is held back by various nagging injuries that cause him to miss games or slow his productivity. Over his seven year career, Royal has been bothered by groin, hamstring, toe, and ankle injuries, none of which are season or career threatening, but all of which will slow a wide receiver down and make him much easier to cover. An outstanding run blocker, Royal played in all 16 games last season and started 11. He earned $5 million in 2014, but given his history of injuries, would have to be willing to accept considerably less for the Giants to consider him, if they would look at him at all.
Among the nearly 4 dozen wide receivers that were slated to become free agents next Tuesday, two were effectively taken off the market when the Broncos franchise tagged Demaryius Thomas and the Cowboys, Dez Bryant. Neither is worth the combination of a huge contract and two first round draft picks as compensation for signing them away from their respective teams. Both would have been premier options and vaulted over Randall Cobb as the top wide outs on the free agent market.
Late last night, news broke that Andre Johnson has been give permission to seek a trade by the Texans, and his agent can’t find a team willing to take on his $16.1 million dollar 2015 contract, he will be released. Johnson’s performance dropped off considerably in 2014, which would be a function of his age, or of the Texans issues at quarterback. He is likely too expensive for the Giants, and still views himself as a starter. Regardless, given his price, performance risk, and injury history, the Giants would be wise to steer clear.
That leaves us with Hakeem Nicks, the former Giant who is a free agent following a year spent with the Indianapolis Colts. At one time, Nicks appeared destined for stardom, but nagging injuries and a seeming lack of motivation derailed him. He was injury free in 2014, but started just 6 of 16 games, catching 38 passes for 405 yard and 4 touchdowns, hardly justifying his $4 million contract. A reunion with the Giants is not in the cards.
If the Giants are to bring in a wide receiver as a hedge against Cruz returning to full health, Crabtree, Smith, or Hartline would seem to be their best options, if suitably team friendly contract can be negotiated. In a year when the draft is deep with receiver talent, Jerry Reese will not over pay for a veteran free agent, as there is an abundance of talent already on the Giants roster.
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