Calm Before the Storm: Giants Free Agency Primer


Tomorrow at 4 PM, all hell breaks loose as hundreds of NFL players are up for grabs in the annual rite known as the Free Agency Frenzy gets under way. Since Saturday at noon, when the “Legal Tampering Period” commenced, rumors have been circulating about which teams are linked with varying players and what level of interest exists from both sides. Giants360 is attempting to cut through the noise and bring you a concise list of 5 1/2 players the Giants should be considering signing, as well as the names of those players most frequently linked with them over the weekend.

Jerry Reese enters the off season with a plan and sticks to it to build the team he fields in September. Various alternatives have been proposed, but based on the rumors coming out of the Quest Diagnostic Training Center this weekend it that plan is taking shape. The defense will be infused with some new blood in free agency, starting with safety and the defensive line. While the team has other needs, those areas will be addressed first. Keep in mind that the Giants are notoriously tight lipped, and there have been surprise signings, with last year’s addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, being the most recent example.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Giants360 series of free agents by positions, you will be familiar with these names. Through all the players we identified, it’s boiled down to a handful of primary targets. There are 5 slots, but 6 names, as one is an either/or, one player to address a glaring hole on the team, and it’s first on the list.

Dallas re-signed the wrong lineman
Dallas re-signed the wrong lineman

1. Offensive Line: Jermey Parnell, OT, Dallas or Orlando Franklin, OT/OG, Denver: Dallas re-signed Doug Free on Saturday, leaving the younger, and higher rated player in 2014, Parnell to hit free agency. Some would wonder what the Cowboys football people know that outsiders don’t, but Jerry Jones is an oil man, not a football man, and might have made this choice with his heart. Parnell won’t come cheap, but would complete the Giants offensive line, stepping in at right tackle and pushing Justin Pugh inside to right guard. Franklin can play right tackle or right guard, but will carry a higher price tag than Parnell. The highest combined run/pass blocker that will hit the market, expect Franklin to be heavily pursued. He has a reputation as being a the nasty road grader that the Giants need. Either player would push the Giants offensive line to the next level.

Update: Franklin may no longer be a viable option for the Giants, as there are late breaking rumors that he has agreed to terms with the San Diego Chargers on a five year contract.

Update II: Jermey Parnell is reportedly telling people he plans to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2. Rahim Moore, S, Denver: Reports are running rampant that the Giants are showing strong interest in Patriots safety Devin McCourty, but there have also been rumors of overtures toward the highly talented, but more affordable Moore. McCourty is the higher rated player, mostly on the strength of his run support. A former second round pick, Moore is a dependable coverage safety that would fill the void left by departing veteran Antrel Rolle if McCourty’s salary demands prove too steep for the Giants limited salary cap. Update: McCourty has re-signed with Patriots, making Moore the next man up at Safety. If the Giants have been smart and looking at him all along, they will have a leg up in bringing him to East Rutherford.

Versatile run defending linebacker Sheard would fit the Giants well?
Versatile run defending linebacker Sheard would fit the Giants well?

3. Jabaal Sheard, LB, Cleveland: One of the most accomplished run defenders in the free agent market, Sheard also has 23 sacks in 50 career starts. The type of flexible player Steve Spagnuolo values., Sheard has played down lineman as well as linebacker, so he would be a candidate for a role in the NASCAR pass rush packages he deploys. A full time starter in his first three NFL seasons, Sheard started just 5 games in 2014, making him want a fresh start, something the Giants can offer. He has upside potential, but could be signed to a reasonable contract.

4. Terrance Knighton, DT, Broncos: “Pot Roast” is a run stuffing force rumored to be following former Broncos defensive coordinator from Denver to Oakland, where Del Rio is now head coach, as he followed Del Rio from Jacksonville to Denver. As a perfect player to pair up with Jonathan Hankins, it would be a diligent move for the Giants to talk to Knighton about his Super Bowl aspirations, something he got a taste of in Denver, but did not realize, and will not see come to fruition any time soon in Oakland. A more cost effective alternative to Ndamukong Suh, and the run stopping presence the Giants need in the middle of their defense, Knighton would be a perfect fit.

Former 20th overall pick Clayborn played like he was drafted by these Bucs
Former 20th overall pick Clayborn played like he was drafted by these Bucs

5. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Buccaneers: A former first round pick, 20th overall, Claybourn never lived up to that hype in Tampa. He has been linked to the Giants through free agency rumor, but Giants360 had already selected him as one of our five and a half players to target, showing that his joining the Giants is meant to happen. Before tearing a biceps muscle and missing 15 games last season, Clayborn also missed 13 games in 2012 with a knee injury. When healthy, he managed to put up a 7.5 sack season in 2011. With his injury history, Clayborn will be able to be signed to a team friendly contract and anxious to rehabilitate his career. If Spagnuolo can work his magic, he could be a hidden gem of this free agent class, and if deployed correctly, a force on the Giants defensive line, alternating with Robert Ayers to form a run/pass platoon that keeps both players healthy and productive.

Rumors, rumors everywhere, but which are true? It’s difficult this time of year to separate the chaff from the wheat as agents often float rumors to drive up interest in their clients, and team to drive up the cost of their opponents signing or re-signing individual players. There have been several names that have come up multiple times as Giants potential targets, whether true or not, they won’t be able to sign them all unless Eli Manning, Prince Amukamara, and/or Jason Pierre-Paul sign long term extensions prior to free agency opening on Tuesday.

The Giants were interested in two of the top names expected to hit the market, S Devin McCourty and DE Jerry Hughes, however, both re-signed with their respective teams, New England and Buffalo, yesterday. As is most often the case, top talent is not permitted to make it all the way to free agency. Their agents use the legal tampering period to gather offers and leverage it back to their current team and maximize the offer on the table. The names associated with the Giants are being broken down into two categories – those identified in our free agent series as potential Giants targets, and the surprises.

The Giants360 Identified Targets: In our free agent series, Giants360 sought to identify value players who would fit the Giants well, but come with a cap friendlier contract that the flashy names at the top of the free agent list. Several of those names have been linked to the team through rumor (Not started by us):

Dan Williams, DT, Arizona: Williams is the best run stuffing defensive tackle on the free agent market by a wide margin, but injury concerns would limit him to a role player on the Giants defense. He started just 6 of 16 games in 2014 and 40 of 70 in his career, he would be a run stuffing partner on first and second down lining up next to Jonathan Hankins, but come off the field in pass rush situations. He can hold his own if an opponent opts to pass on the early downs, and his sack opportunities were limited from playing nose tackle in Arizona, but Williams is best suited for a run stuffing rotational role.

Spanguolo is familiar with McPhee
Spanguolo is familiar with McPhee

Pernell McPhee, OLB/DE, Baltimore: Another versatile player, McPhee managed to rack up 7.5 sacks and 56 quarterback hits and pressures combined, despite not starting a game in 2014. Also an accomplished run defender, McPhee is a player Spagnuolo is familiar with from his as an assistant coach in Baltimore, and their interest in him indicates that the Giants defensive coordinator sees him as a player ready to take another step. His signing would likely mean the release of Jameel McClain from the team, as McClain underwhelmed playing out of position and McPhee would play a similar role and is said to be seeking a “generous” contract. It unlikely the Giants will be able to afford both.

Update: McPhee reportedly agreed to terms with the Chicago Bears.

Brandon Graham, OLB/DE, Philadelphia: There is a theme developing among the player the Giants are seeking in free agency. Flexibility on defense. The Eagles cleared a boat load of cap space by trading LeSean McCoy, and releasing Trent Cole and Todd Herremans, but have no made a move to re-sign Graham. Some Eagles defenders complained last season about the Eagles up tempo practice habits making their legs rubbery for games days, and Chip Kelly is said to be purging them from the roster. Given Graham’s solid ratings, it leads one to believe he’s among those being purged for not being on board with the Kelly program. Not only would be boost the talent on the Giants linebacking corps, but would weaken the Eagles, a double bonus for the Giants.

Update: Reports have Graham returning to the Eagles. Those up tempo practices not as bad as they seem.

Antone Smith, RB, Atlanta: Smith is an explosive player who scored 5 touchdowns in just 38 touches last season before a broken leg ended his season. Injuries are the knock on Smith, who has struggled with hamstring and knee injuries during his 5 year career, but the 4.37 speed in the 40 tantalizes coaches. Smith scored one of his five touchdowns, a 74 yard catch and run, against the Giants in their week 5 win over the Falcons, and the coaching staff took note of Smith’s explosiveness. He would be a play to deploy in limited situations to protect his healthy, but a signing that could pay huge dividends.

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Buccaneers: See write-up above.

The Surprises: These players slipped past us during our initial review, but have been linked to the Giants, causing us to go back and take another look.

Parker is a converted cornerback.
Parker is a converted cornerback.

Ron Parker, SS, Chiefs: Parker saw his most significant playing time in 2014 for Kansas City after very limited use on defense for Oakland, Seattle, and Carolina earlier in his four year career. A journeyman already in his four NFL seasons, the 6’0″, 206 lbs, cornerback converted to strong safety rated poorly in both pass and run coverage last season. He had some good games, and his overall struggled could be attributed to playing out of position, something the Giants must believe if they are pursuing him. Of his 16 career starts, 15 came for the Chiefs last season, he never seemed to get comfortable, and his game by game ratings were inconsistent throughout. To make matters worse, his special teams ratings were especially poor. The Giants looking into adding him to the roster is an indicator of the shallowness of the overall safety market.

Brooks Reed, LB, Texans: Brook Reed had a good 2014 season, not a great one, after he suffered through an abysmal 2013 season along with most of his Texans teammates, J.J. Watt excluded, of course. It was this dramatic plunge in his ratings that cause Giants360 to pass over him in our free agent review. With 14.5 career sacks, Reed adds some pass rushing ability to his run defending prowess. At 28 years old, the 6’3″, 255 lbs Reed is a five year veteran that has room to improve under the Giants coaching staff’s keen eye. Just average in pass defense, he would likely be a two down linebacker. His limited time on special teams does not provide insight into what he would add in that critical arena. He would be a value addition to the Giants linebacking crew.

Update: Reed is said to be leaning towards signing with Atlanta when free agency opens tomorrow.

The Giants like the versatile Helu
The Giants like the versatile Helu

Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: A fourth year player, with superior receiving skills, Helu has caught 129 passes in his three active seasons. Missing all of the 2012 season with a toe injury that saw him placed on injured reserve, Helu has been otherwise healthy and would provide a third down weapon out of the backfield for the Giants. He can also run the ball, averaging 4.4 yards per carry on 255 career carries, although most of those came during his rookie year. With Andre Williams limited effectiveness as a receiver, and Rashad Jennings ability to stay healthy a concern, Jerry Reese is looking to add another back to his stable of runners, and Helu has risen to the top of list. Giants360 prefers Jacquizz Rodgers, but Helu’s versatility appeals to the Giants coaching staff and he’s leapfrogged over the superior receiving former Falcon.

Of the eight non-premier free agent rumored to be of interest to the Giants, five had been profiled for you in the weeks leading up to the legal tampering period. As free agency heat up over the few weeks, we will continue to monitor the rumors and bring you the latest information on Twitter (@Giants360) with opinions and analysis to follow here. Your best source for Giants information.

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