Free agency has been open for just over two days and the Giants have been among the most active teams, re-signing three of their own free agents and bringing in five players from other NFL teams. The biggest name among those signed is Shane Vereen, the third down back who will add a dimension to the offense missing since Tiki Barber abruptly retired nearly a decade ago. The natives grow restless as this team still has needs, the most glaring of which, safety, came back into focus last night when Antel Rolle signed a three year contract with the Chicago Bears.
The Giants have one inexperienced presumed starter on their roster, second year man Nat Berhe, and he’s joined by only Cooper Taylor, the talented, but oft injured 2013 draft pick. Two of three top free agent safeties have already signed, and the third will command big money as a result of market scarcity. Jerry Reese doesn’t overpay for players, but may be forced to increase his ante in order to fill a critical position of need. Or will he? Giants360 dug deep into the free agent lists and found a even dozen available safeties, some are potential starters, and others will serve as stop gaps, men who can step up for at least one season and provide depth at the position.
There are walking wounded among the men identified, but, if healthy, they should come at a reasonable cost, and, if paired with one of the Giants identified targets, would form a basis for a good transitional secondary. Adding a draft pick into the mix would be prudent.
The Former Giant:
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 Giants brain trust agrees with this assessments as they made a push to sign Brown before he became a free agent on Tuesday afternoon and are still attempting to bring him back into the fold.
Devin McCourty never made it to free agency, spurning advances from both the Giants and the Eagles in favor of re-signing with the Patriots before he hit the open market. He signed a $47 million contract and will count $6 million against the Patriots salary cap this season. There were reports that he turned down more generous offers from both NFC East rivals to stay in England. Da’Norris Searcy signed a $24 million contract with the Tennessee Titans and will count nearly $4 million against their 2014 salary cap. The sole remaining premier option is Rahim Morris, the Giants360 preferred choice from the start, and his price will fall somewhere in between McCourty and Searcy.
Rahim Moore, 25, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 5th season, Denver: 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. He was permitted to leave in free agency by the cap strapped Broncos who have also lost offensive lineman Orlando Franklin and tight end Julius Thomas. Moore has been making the rounds, visiting the Texans, and talking with the Eagles and the Giants. He is the biggest remaining prize on the free agent safety market.
Update: Moore signed a 3 year, $12 million contract with the Texans. Four million dollars is fully guaranteed. Cap charges are $3 million, $4.35 million, and $4.65 million. This is a reasonable contract, and if the Giants were truly interested, one the team could have afforded.
Ron Parker, 27, 6’0″, 206 lbs, 5th season, Kansas City: A late name surfacing as a top candidate in the safety field, Parker is a converted cornerback who started 15 games for the Chiefs in 2014. While played well in coverage, but struggled to support in run defense, Parker appeared to grow into his new role as the season went on. His upside is the reason teams have been pursuing him, including Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the Giants. Parker attended Newberry College, the same school as Giants wide receiver Corey Washington, although at different times. The two men are also workout partners during the off season and Washington has been trying to recruit Parker to the Giants. Given their need at the position, they can use all the help they can get.
Update: Parker has re-signed with the Chiefs. The preliminary contract is reported by his agent to be 5 years, $30 million.
Players with a knowledge of the Giants defensive coordinator’s system, and of whom he has intimate knowledge, both of these players have a history with Spagnuolo.
Darian Stewart, 26, 5’11”, 214 lbs, 5th season, Baltimore: Originally identified at a potential Giants target in our free agent preview series, 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. Our theory was confirmed when news broke that the Giants are pursuing him.
Update: Stewart signed a two year contract with the Denver Broncos, financial details are not available.
Jeromy Miles, 27, 6’2″, 214 lbs, 5th season, Baltimore: Another player who flourished in Spagnuolo’s system, Miles took big jumps in both pass coverage and run support from 2013 to 2014. Another undrafted free agent in 2011 by the Bengals, Miles has bounced between Cincinnati and Baltimore during his 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. There’s been no word of Giants interest, but as option dwindle, don’t be surprised if his name pops up on the Giants radar.
Limited Play Options:
These plays don’t have a lot of experience, but have shown well when they have gotten opportunities. Young, and still on the upside of their career, these men are either ready to take the next step or will grow into a starting position. Given the Giants need, some Miracle Grow will be needed to get them ready by September.
Jeron Johnson, 26, 5’10”, 212 lbs, 4th season, Seattle: 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.
Update: Johnson has a visit scheduled with the Washington Redskins.
Kurt Coleman, 26, 5’10”, 192 lbs, 5th season, Kansas City: 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.
Update: Coleman signed a two year contract with the Carolina Panthers on Monday, March 16th.
Josh Gordy, 28, 5’11”, 195 lbs, 6th season, Indianapolis: Gordy is a box safety who is good in run support and average in coverage. He’s started 11 of 59 career games, but just one in 2014, Gordy would fit nicely at strong safety as a stopgap measure. He would come at the veteran minimum and provide quality depth.
Taylor Mays, 27, 6’3″, 231 lbs, 6th season, Cincinnati: Mays is a classic ‘tweener,’ suited to play strong safety or linebacker, but not a top option at either position. He has had some success as a box safety and had held his own in pass coverage. Another stopgap option, Mays has started 10 of his 66 career games and could be signed to provide safety depth.
Update: The Redskins have also been reported to have interest in Mays as a potential replacement for the retired Ryan Clark.
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.
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
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. He’s another stopgap option.
Usama Young, 29, 5’11”, 186 lbs, 9th season, Oakland: Young has been an effective safety for a long time in the NFL, but his last two seasons have been cut short by neck (2013) and ACL/MCL (2014) injuries. The Giants will need to do their due diligence on his recovery, but, if healthy, Young would be a cap friendly veteran option to serve as a transitional player in the secondary. Rehabbing a knee at 29 is a tricky proposition, but is successful as often as it’s not, and those 50/50 odds are worth exploring.
Bernard Pollard, 30, 6’2″, 225, 10th season, Tennessee: Pollard is coming off an Achilles tendon tear and has a reputation as a bad seed in the locker room, but he’s an above average safety with a world of experience, and, if healthy, would solve the Giants secondary issues for a season or two until a permanent solution can be found. With 106 starts under his belt, Pollard should be a mentor to both Berhe and Taylor, although his history as selfish teammate does not support this assertion. Beggars can’t be choosers, and with safety options dwindling faster than snow in the suddenly temperate New Jersey climate, Pollard deserves a look see.
What should the Giants do? Signing Moore is still their best option, but he’s likely pricing himself out of their market. Parker seems to be the name to watch, with his Giants connection to Washington, but he’s spent a lot of time with the Bears. Rolle’s signing may diminish Chicago’s interest and help the Giants land him. Stewart has become a hot name over the past 24 hours, and his connection to Spagnuolo makes him a viable candidate who will plug and play quickly in the Giants defense. In a perfect world, both Parker and Stewart would sign, with one pairing up with Berhe to start, and the other battling with Cooper for the third safety spot on the roster. In the imperfect world we live in, one of them will be signed, sometime in the next five days, and one of the Limited Snap or Veteran options will be added later to sure up the position.
We are only two and a half days into free agency and still five months away from training camp. Tom Coughlin is a compulsive planner and as sure as spring is coming, he has met with Reese and has multiple contingencies laid out for the position. Fret not, Giants fans, the situation at safety is not as dire as it seems, there are still a multitude of viable options for the taking. There’s also the NFL draft, as bereft of safety options as it may be.
Coverage of free agency continues ongoing on the Giants360 (@Giants360) Twitter account breaking news, and detailed information with analysis provided here at www.giants360.com. Your perfect source for all your New York Giants needs.
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