The Final Countdown: Free Agency Opens Today

The NFL is investigating alleged violations of the rules surrounding the legal tampering period that opened Saturday at noon, where teams and player’s agents are permitted to talk terms conceptually, but not exchange offers or agree to contracts. Anyone as plugged into Twitter as the average @Giants360 follower is aware that word of agreements have been bandied about since Saturday afternoon, with Ndamukong¬† Suh, the top player on the market, agreeing to a contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Anxiety among Giants fans has increased as no word of any agreement with any player and the team havimg been leaked to the press, however, this comes as no surprise to those of us who have been watching Jerry Reese operate since he became general manager in 2007. Advance word rarely leaks, and if it does, the source seems to be quickly located and plugged. The Giants, unlike the majority of the National Football League, intend to abide by the rules of the legal tampering period, and are not formally reaching agreements with players until 4 PM today, when the market opens. Or are at least taking steps to ensure that any verbal agreements remain firmly under wraps.

Calling Dan Williams at first signing to be announced

Calling Dan Williams at first signing to be announced

Does this mean no agreements have been reached? Not at all, one player that should be announced shortly after the deadline passes is former Cardinals defensive tackle/nose tackle Dan Williams, the top run defending interior defensive lineman on the free agent market. Whispers of the Giants interest have been clear since Saturday, and competition for his services seem to be minimal compared to other players the team has pursued. He is one of the players Giants360 identified in our free agent positional summaries as a possible target for the team, and you can find that information here.

Leaked information yesterday pointed to the team agreeing to a contract with Eagles free agent defensive end/outside linebacker Brandon Graham, but he has decided to return to Philadelphia rather than come to the Giants. Graham’s negotiation broke down because the Giants were only offering a one year deal and Philadelphia offered four years. There have been a few mentions of the Giants taking a look at Browns linebackers/defensive end Jabaal Sheard, another strong run defender, who would provide Steve Spagnuolo with the flexibility to use him in multiple formations and positions. The lack of continuity in this rumor makes me think it’s either very true, or very false, but not a drawn out and surprisingly public negotiation like Graham. Sheard is another Giants360 player advocated in the free agency series.

Adding Vereen will lead to buyer's remorse

Adding Vereen will lead to buyer’s remorse

The leading rumor over the past 15 hours has been the Giants interest in former Patriots running back Shane Vereen. Fresh off a big game in Super Bowl 49, his name bring excitement to the fan base, but a closer examination of his body of work reveals a surprising number of injuries for a 26 year old running back. Of the Patriots last 48 games, Vereen has played in only 37 while hamstring, wrist, foot, and groin injuries have prevented him from taking the field in the other 11. He is said to be seeking a contract that averages $3.5 million per season, which is far too high for a back that will have to have his role limited to stay healthy. Jacquizz Rodgers rates out similarly according to ProFootballFocus.com and will come at a much more reasonable price. If the Giants sign Vereen, they team will experience buyer’s remorse long before his contract expires. It should be noted there are no whispers of the Giants showing interest in Rodgers.

Adrian Clayborn has been linked to the Giants since Saturday afternoon, and the news has remained eerily quiet thereafter. This could be interpreted as an agreement being reached, but not announced, per the NFL’s express rules, or it could indicated that the talks broke down. Clayborn is a former 20th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft who has excelled at run defense when he’s been healthy. Having him on a defensive line with Jason Pierre-Paul, Hankins, and Williams would give the Giants a very strong run defending base defense.

Interest in Searcy indicated Moore is too expensive?

Interest in Searcy indicated Moore is too expensive?

Safety remains a top priority, but also a highly competitive position. With Devin McCourty off the market, Rahim Moore, they safety Giants360 has been advocating as the more reasonable alternative for almost a month, has vaulted into the top free agent slot. Ron Parker, the converted cornerback who played twelve games at free safety for the Chiefs is said to be a top target for the Giants, as is soon to be former Buffalo Bill Da’Norris Searcy. Interest in Searcy is likely an indicator of the salary ceiling for Moore climbing above the maximum the Giants are willing to pay.

Sleeping Giants Awaken at 4 PM Today

Sleeping Giants Awaken at 4 PM Today

What’s going to happen at 4 PM? The sleeping Giants awaken and announce a signing, Williams. Perhaps two, the second being Vereen, creating a buzz and excitement among fans, but drawing criticism in this space. A third and forth signing before tomorrow morning, from among Parker, Searcy, Clayborn, or Sheard would not be shocking, but then things will calm down until things settle down and salary demands begin their descent towards the veteran minimum. Those players who don’t sign within the first two weeks of the market opening will realize that a flood of cheap labor enters the market at the end of next month and will scramble to find a landing spot. That’s when the Giants will fill their roster with quality players at an affordable price.

With 16 million of cap space available following Jon Beason’s contract restructuring, announced yesterday evening, the Giants have enough room to add several players who can start and make contributions to the team in 2015. The Giants360 Twitter account will bring you breaking news first, with analysis to follow on this website. Send questions on Twitter or to footballgiants360.com, as we’re always pleased to interact with intelligent fans.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

 

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.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: Cornering the Market

In free agency last season, the Giants surprised many by signing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a 5 year, $35 million dollar contract. The cornerback proved worth the money, playing through hamstring, shoulder, and ankle injuries to turn in the best season among Giants defensive backs. Other cornerbacks didn’t share in his relative good fortune. Prince Amukamara tore a biceps muscle and missed 8 games. Fellow free agent Walter Thurmond tore a pectoral muscle in just his second game with the team. Trumaine McBride, his replacement as slot corner back, broke a thumb and needed surgery to repair it, ending his season after just six games. And so went the game of musical cornerbacks for the Giants in 2014.

Thurmond and The Giants are far apart on contract negotiations

Thurmond and The Giants are far apart on contract negotiations

Thurmond does not seem likely to return this season, as the two sides are far apart on his market value going into free agency. The Giants are wary of offering close to the $3 million they paid in 2014, given his injury history, and Thurmond is not inclined to accept the veteran minimum. Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara, and McBride will form a trio of talented cornerbacks on which the Giants will base the foundation of a strong secondary.

Joining them will be tendered exclusive rights free agent Chandler Fenner who played well in limited action, Mike Harris, a free agent emergency replacement, and Jayron Hosley, the 3rd round draft pick from 2012, who has coaches raving about his natural talent, but has never put it together on the field. The Giants hope Steve Spagnuolo can turn his career around as he did Corey Webster’s in 2007. Rookie Bennett Jackson, the team’s 2014 6th round pick, was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and will be in camp.

As the NFL continues to place a higher emphasis on passing, having a stable of talented cornerbacks becomes paramount in playing successful defense. This is especially true in the NFC East where the Philadelphia Eagles play Chip Kelly’s hurry-up spread-em-out style offense that is designed to isolate defenders and exploit bad match-ups. Look for the Giants to bring another free agent cornerback to replace Bowman and compete McBride for the nickel cornerback spot on Giants defense. There are several options the team should consider.

Can Spagnuolo turn Hosley's career around?

Can Spagnuolo turn Hosley’s career around?

When looking for a cornerback, coverage ability to first and foremost the skill needed to succeed. Anyone who say Hosley trailing five yards behind opposing receivers before he was benched can attest, if you can’t stay with your assignment, you won’t be on the field for long. Supporting in the run game is a bonus, as some cornerback relish the contact going up and taking on blockers and tackling opposing runners. Other shy away and are the difference is often what distinguishes a starter from a role player. Finally, if the cornerback can blitz successfully, it’s a bonus, and gives a defensive coordinator, especially one who like to bring heat like Spagnuolo, another option to use to confound opposing quarterbacks.

Performance information is compiled from profootballfocus.com, the independent website that analyzes every player, every snap, and assigns a grade. It’s are subscription site, but worth if for those who want to be able to evaluate player talent with a critical eye. Contract information is from overthecap.com.

Premier Options:

Brandon Flowers. Too Expensive?

Brandon Flowers. Too Expensive?

Brandon Flowers, 29, 5’10”, 190 lbs, 8th season, San Diego: A slot cornerback, Flowers has the cover skills to handle those jitterbug receivers that spray out from that position. He also provides run support and can blitz effectively. A knee injury in 2013 cost Flowers 3 games, but he started 14 games for the Chargers in 2014, and was highly effective, making the injury less concerning. With 20 career interceptions, Flowers has shown a nose for the ball. His salary, $3 million last season, might by too much for the Giants to fit under the their cap.

Kareem Jackson, 26, 5’10”, 192 lbs, 6th season, Houston: Coming off a sprained MCL, Jackson started 13 games in 2014 and played excellent pass coverage. He is also not afraid to take on blockers and make plays in run defense. His salary demands will be significant, as he will want an increase on his $4.3 million compensation from 2014, making him an unlikely match for the Giants, but that’s also what was said about Rodgers-Cromartie last year.

Byron Maxwell, 27, 6’0″, 202 lbs, 5th season, Seattle: Maxwell is coming off a bad year in 2014, but has shown to be good cover cornerback with below average run support skills. Considered one of the top cornerbacks on the free agent market, he has been linked with the Philadelphia Eagles following their salary cap purge this week. Given his injury history, lack of run support, and supposed salary demands, Giants360 is down with Maxwell being a member of the Chip Kelly version of the Eagles Dream Team II.

Limited Snap Options:

Javier Arenas, 27, 5’9″, 195 lbs, 6th season, Atlanta: Offering coverage skills and little else, the undersized arenas is a veteran minimum option who has previously played for Kansas City and Arizona. While not suffering any significant injuries in his career, Arenas has started only 12 of 69 career games and would be a passing down specialist.

Butler. A top slot cornerback.

Butler. A top slot cornerback.

Darius Butler, 28, 5’10”, 180 lbs, 7th season, Indianapolis: Considered one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL, Butler would be an ideal replacement for Thurmond. Another veteran of three NFL teams, Butler may be too expensive for the Giants, as his 2014 salary was $3 million. If Spagnuolo has doubts about McBride’s ability to man the slot cornerback position, structuring a contract to lower the 2015 cap hit and bringing in Butler would be the solution.

Davon House, 6’0″, 188 lbs, 5th season, Green Bay: A shoulder injury limited House to just 13 games for the Packers in 2014, but he provided good coverage, and started 4 of those 13 games he played. He’s doesn’t provide much in the way of run support, and only has two career interceptions, but would be a veteran minimum option to compete for a job in training camp.

Sterling Moore, 25, 5’10”, 190 lbs, 5th season, Dallas: Playing two seasons for the Patriots, and two for the Cowboys, Moore has seen his skills improve consistently every year. The only caution is that he may be a cover two cornerback and his skill set won’t translate to a different style of defense. He has the top coverage rating among the limited snap group, is not afraid to get his uniform dirty when opponents run the ball, and started 7 games for the Cowboys in 2014. A knee injury cut his 2012 season short, but it doesn’t seem to have slowed Moore down, and his 2014 salary of $645,000 shown that his salary demands would be reasonable, if the Giants this he would fit their scheme.

Veteran Options:

Veteran Ball had a down 2014. Bounce back?

Veteran Ball had a down 2014. Bounce back?

Alan Ball: 29, 6’1″, 176 lbs, 9th season, Jacksonville: Before a biceps injury cut his 2014 season down to just 7 games, Ball was struggling, but has shown himself to be a complete cornerback in the past, with good coverage skills and the ability to play the run. His 2014 salary of $1.3 million is affordable under the salary cap, making him an option worth exploring for the Giants. If he bounces back to his 2013 form, and he should, at only 29 years of age, he could provide a boost to their secondary.

Rashean Mathis, 34, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 13th season, Tampa Bay: Mathis played well despite his advanced age in NFL years and this highest rated of the cornerback in this group. A veteran minimum cornerback, he provided the Buccaneers with a top return on their investment. As Lovie Smith is another coach who favors the Tampa Two style of defense, that same scheme caution must be raised on Mathis as with Moore, but if the Giants coaches believe he can fit their style of defense, he is worth pursuing.

Tramon Williams, 31, 5’11”, 182 lbs, 9th season, Green Bay: Playing though a significant ankle injury in 2014, Williams turned in a solid season and managed to start all 16 games for the Packers. While no longer dependable in run support, Williams provides coverage ability and would be an asset to the Giants secondary. If he seeks to match his 2014 salary of $9.5 million and maintain his starting job, Williams and the Giants are not a match, however, if he is looking for a role and more reasonable contract, structured to be cap friendly with a team set to compete in 2015, Williams would be wise to consider the New York Giants.

If the Giants don’t add a free agent cornerback, they will take one in the 2015 draft. One of the lessons learned last season is that you can’t have enough quality depth at the position. Quality is also the reason that Zack Bowman and Chykie Brown won’t be re-signed. Neither acquitted themselves admirably last season, with Bowman often out of position and seemingly afraid of contact on running plays. Brown’s coverage skills were soft, for lack of a better term.

We started our review of free agency in the secondary with safeties and have come full circle to end back in the same place. With the “Legal tampering period” opening today at noon, the free agent market will start to heat up. On Monday morning, we will post our primer, with the 5 free agent we think the Giants should actively pursue from among the dozens identified in these articles. Keep watching this space, and the Giants360 Twitter for the latest news, notes, and rumors, as well as some wit and sarcasm about the NFL in general and your favorite team, the New York Giants.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: Running Nowhere?

There are running backs a-plenty available in free agency, and if you are a fantasy football player, NFL fanatic, or both, the list is filled with familiar names. Unlike a theory proposed for Giants division rival Washington, Jerry Reese doesn’t make his free agent decisions based upon players Madden Football ratings. When evaluating running backs, there are three key components that are vital to his success in the NFL. Surprisingly, the ability to pick up the blitz on passing plays prevents more rookies from seeing the field than any other skill. If a back misses a pickup assignment, it can get the quarterback sacked, cause a turnover, or injured.

Following your best run blocker is the path to success

Following your best run blocker is the path to success

The ability to run with intelligence and follow the blocking assignments on a given play is key to a successful ground game. Any veteran running back will tell you, that trusting your linemen to open the hole in it’s expected location is critical to a runner’s development. A stutter step or controlled acceleration and burst will more often lead to a big gain than running full speed into the line.¬† Top backs in the league are also threats to catch the ball out of the backfield, adding that dual threat that opposing defenses must guard against on a given play.

Durability is key to any longevity achieved at the position, and this trait is the rarest of them all. Subject to the most punishing of hits, both as ball carriers and blockers, running backs are among the least durable players in the modern NFL. Teams once featured a runner and fed him the ball 25-30 times per game when ahead, chewing the clock, and controlling the line of scrimmage. Most teams now mix two or three backs, alternating them on series to keep them fresh and reduce the punishment absorbed. Careers are still short, and long term, big money contracts rarely offered as the drop off in production often swift and dramatic.

Fullback is a dying breed in this league. Many teams no longer carry one on the roster and none feature one prominently as a ball carrier. Blocking is the most important skill for this position, clearing a path for the running back to make it through the line and past the second level for big gains. Receiving or short yardage skills are luxuries for a fullback.

Jennings proved to be a complementary back.

Jennings proved to be a complementary back.

The Giants drafted Andre Williams in the 4th round out of Boston College in the 2014 draft. An accomplished runner, he rarely caught a pass in college. Rashad Jennings was signed in free agency and won the starting job in training camp. Jennings excelled until a knee injury caused him to miss 5 games. Williams filled in admirably, but his rookie struggles were evident. Both runners suffered from the Giants offensive line’s run blocking deficiencies.

The third down receiving back role was filled by Jennings, and upon his injury, Michael Cox, a 2013 seventh round pick, who also struggled with injuries. Rookie Orleans Darkwa was signed as a free agent and showed enough promise that he will come into training camp this season with a chance to win the job.

Incumbent fullback Henry Hynoski is a free agent and remains unsigned as of this writing. He is a strong blocker, both in pass protection and the run game, but is just average as a pile mover and receiver. His missed the 2013 season with a shoulder injury and re-injured it in 2014. The Giants seem willing to let him test the free agent market and look at alternatives before deciding what direction to take with the position.

It’s unlikely the team will look to make a major move at running back in free agency. Williams will make a leap forward in his second season and have an opportunity to seize hold of the primary runner role. Jennings, while not suited as an every down back, is an above average backup. Giants360 has reviewed the free agent runners and found several that would fit well with the Giants. We will also comment on some of the recognizable names and why they are not ideal pick ups. Although that may change if they stay on the market and their asking price drops.

As regular readers are aware, performance information is based on the analytics from profootballfocus.com (PFF) and the contract information from overthecap.com.

Premier Running Back:

Would Murray have played through his hand injury if not in a contract year?

Would Murray have played through his hand injury if not in a contract year?

DeMarco Murray, 27, 6’0″, 214 lbs, 5th season, Dallas: The NFL’s leading rusher this season will hit the free agent market on Tuesday, damaging the prospects of the Cowboys repeating their improbable run to the divisional round of the playoffs. Murray carried the ball an eye popping 392 times can caught 57 passes, for a league high 449 touches, creating concern that he will start to break down soon and making teams less likely to offer him a long term, big money deal. This concern is heightened by Murray’s suffering of an injury in each of the past 4 seasons. While he didn’t miss a game in 2014, one wonders if he would have been as willing to play if he were not in a contract year. The injury concerns, contract requirements, and mileage, make Murray a poor option for the Giants. He’s also said if no team significantly exceeds what the Cowboys offer, he will return to Dallas, although that could be a negotiating ploy.

Premier Fullbacks:

Jerome Felton, 28, 6’0″, 246 lbs, 8th season, Minnesota: Felton voided his $2.4 million dollar contract after spending last season blocking for Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon when he expected to be blocking for Adrian Peterson. His biggest asset is his devastating run block ability, and Felton wants to ensure it will not be wasted on middle of the road talent. Having only carried the ball 46 times in 7 seasons and adding just 43 receptions, Felton adds little in the way of offensive firepower, but would pave the way for Williams to showcase his running talent behind an improved Giants offensive line. Commanding a salary between $2 and $2.5 million, Felton might be too expensive for the Giants budget.

John Kuhn, 32, 6’0″, 255 lbs, 10th season, Green Bay: With an intimate knowledge of the offense run by Ben McAdoo, Kuhn would add a dimension that was missing last season. A career 21 touchdowns on 176 carries and 76 receptions, Kuhn adds some offensive kick to his considerable blocking skills. Hamstring issues have limited his effectiveness in each of the past 3 seasons, possibly indicating that this 10 year veteran is starting to wear down. His 2014 salary of $1.05 million is only $50,000 more than the Giants paid Hynoski, making it feasible for the team to at least talk to him about their roster opening.

Receiving Backs:

Rodgers is a top receiving threat.

Rodgers is a top receiving threat.

Jacquizz Rodgers, 25, 5’7″, 190 lbs, 5th season, Atlanta: One can almost channel Bill Parcells talking about Joe Morris when looking at Rodgers stature compared to other NFL players: “He’s not small, he’s short,” is the infamous line the Hall of Fame coach uttered about the Giants’ 1980’s cannonball of a runner. Rodgers is not the ball carrier Morris was, but he is an outstanding receiver that can hold his own in blitz pickup. If the Giants coaching staff if not sold on the combination of Jennings and Darkwa as the third down receiving option, Rodgers is a below-the-radar option for the team to consider. His $1.5 Million salary for 2014 makes him a bit pricey for such a limited role, but if he remains on the open market for an extended period, he might be willing to consider a lower money contract.

Antone Smith, 29, 5’9″, 190 lbs, 6th season, Atlanta: In just ten games in 2014, with only 38 touches, Smith scored 5 touchdowns. An explosive runner with 4.37 speed in the 40 yard dash, Smith is a limited use weapon who could be deployed in key situations to try to make explosive offensive plays. Injury concerns are prevalent as Smith suffered nagging knee and hamstring injuries throughout his career that indicate he can’t handle a major role on offense. A broken leg ended his 2014 after 10 games. He could be signed for the veteran minimum.

Veteran Options:

Jackson: Some gas left in his tank.

Jackson: Some gas left in his tank.

Steven Jackson, 31, 6’3″, 229 lbs, 12th season, Atlanta: Still an effective runner, Jackson suffered from an injured and ineffective Falcons offensive line in 2014. An average receiver, Jackson excels at pass blocking, but with 2,743 career carries, he would best be suited for a complimentary role at this point in his career. If the Giants are looking to add a role player to their stable of running backs, and Jackson is willing to play for close to the veteran minimum, he’s an option the team should consider.

Frank Gore, 31, 5’9″, 215 lbs, 11th season: San Francisco: Gore is a good running back with questionable receiving skills who is being allowed to test the free agent market after a decade with the Forty-Niners. A dependable player and top pass protector, Gore has played through a variety of nagging injuries and not missed a game in the past three seasons. He may be looking to land a starting job, but it’s doubtful any team will be willing to make more than a one year commitment to a runner with his mileage. Gore has 2,442 career carried plus 342 receptions. He’s also has ball security issues with 36 career fumbles. His salary requirement would largely determine his suitability for the Giants.

John Conner, 27, 5’11”, 240 lbs, 6th season, Fullback, New York Jets: In training camp with the Giants last summer, Conner was beaten out for the fullback job by Hynoski and caught on with the Jets. A dependable blocker with average running and receiving skills, Conner is an affordable option with the advantage of being known to the coaching staff. That could be enough to get him invited back to camp in 2015 for the veteran minimum.

It’s most likely that the Giants add a running back in the middle or late rounds of the draft, or pick one up in the latter part of free agency, after the early frenzy dies down. Rodgers would seem to fit a role with the team, as would Conner, but given that few teams use a fullback, picking among the best coming out among the draft class might be the team’s plan.

There are several recognizable names among the available free agents, and Giants360 looked at them all and evaluated their feasibility. Ahmad Bradshaw won two super bowls with the Giants, but has not enjoyed an injury free season since 2010. He has played in just 12 games in the past 2 seasons, despite just 3 starts. His inability to stay healthy will drive him to retirement. The same may be said of Reggie Bush, who has had fibula, knee, groin, hip, and calf issues during his 9 year career. While he has managed to gut through a lot of the nagging injuries and play in 41 games over the past 3 seasons, he is breaking down and not worth the risk or the money he will demand.

Can Ingram handle a heavy workload? Sean Payton never gave it to him.

Can Ingram handle a heavy workload? Sean Payton never gave it to him.

Mark Ingram never took over the top running back spot in New Orleans and his limited pass blocking skills may be the culprit. A top runner, Ingram is also a poor receiver, but has been linked with the Eagles, post LeSean McCoy. Said to be seeking a relatively big contract, one would expect a complete back in return and Ingram in not such a back. Ryan Mathews has more complete skills, but simply can’t stay healthy, having missed games with clavicle, hamstring, and ankle injuries over the past three seasons. It’s buyer beware to any team that signs him.

The Raiders are moving on from Darren McFadden, and with good reason. The 8th year back is out of gas and rated among the worst running backs in the NFL. Suffering from a variety of ailments throughout his NFL career, McFadden’s skills have eroded and it will be a surprise if any team signs him. Knowshon Moreno tore the same right ACL he tore in 2011. It will be difficult for the 7 year veteran to bounce back from that injury.

Ridley's penchant for fumbling drove Belichick batty.

Ridley’s penchant for fumbling drove Belichick batty.

Stevan Ridley has looked highly effective in spurts in New England, and scored 22 touchdowns in his 4 year there, but he’s also been benched multiple times for fumbling. Coming off a torn ACL/MCL, that combination will make teams wary of him in 2015. Shane Vereen is the big name among receiving specialists, but close examination of his body of work reveals an oft injured back that has only played in 37 of the past 48 games for the Patriots. A poor runner, and just an average pass blocker, Vereen is said to be seeking a contract averaging $4.5 million per season, much too high for a limited role back that has struggled to stay on the field. The Giants would be wise to stay away.

That leaves us with C.J. Spiller, who reportedly turned down a $4.5 million offer from Buffalo prior to their LeSean McCoy acquisition. An explosive, but fragile runner, it’s difficult to imagine Spiller getting more money on the free agent market. He missed 6 games in 2014 with a broken collar bone, and had nagging shoulder and ankle injuries in 2012 and 2013. He may look back at that Bill’s offer longingly as he accepts a much less money from another team.

With only 5 days until the free agent market opens, Giants360 has only one more position review to complete. Cornerback. Look for it over the next two days, snow permitting, and a capstone article to prepare you for the free agent frenzy that starts Tuesday afternoon. Update on the Giants, general NFL happenings, along with rumors, discussion, wit, and frivolity are available by following @Giants360 on Twitter.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: Tight Ends

Under Tom Coughlin, the tight end position has been a revolving door. He inherited Jeremy Shockey, who talked his way out of town, and other than one season of Martellus Bennett in 2012, no player has distinguished himself. Kevin Boss was solid, but never spectacular, and everyone wants to forget the Brandon Myers experiment. Larry Donnell had a decent season in 2014, and has showed potential. The exclusive rights free agent will certainly be re-signed, but he’s not going to be confused with Mark Bavaro any time soon.

The Giants expect Donnell to further develop in 2015

The Giants expect Donnell to further develop in 2015

Bavaro is the gold standard by which all Giants tight ends will forever be measured. A tough, devastating run blocker, he paved the way for Joe Morris and Ottis Anderson’s finest season’s on the ground. When not knocking opponents down, he would run down the middle of their defense and haul in clutch passes from Phil Simms, none more memorable than the Monday Night in San Francisco when he dragged everyone but the groundskeeper with him before finally succumbing. Donnell is a big target, at 6’6″ and 265 lbs, and although relatively slow in the 40 yard dash at 4.91 seconds, creates mismatches with his height and the box out skills he learned on the basketball court.

Daniel Fells came to the Giants in 2014 after missing the 2013 season, not due to injury, but because he was unsigned. The 6’4″, 252 lbs, 7 year veteran quietly had a solid season, turning in good efforts as both a run blocker and receiver. He posted 16 receptions in 20 targets, with 188 receiving yards and 4 touchdown. While no one will confuse him with Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, Fells may be an under-the-radar solid second level signing in free agency and secure a low end starting role or share a spot with a young player as he did with Donnell. Reese will certainly attempt to re-sign him, but given the lack of quality players on the free agent tight ends on the market, that may prove a difficult proposition.

Robinson made it on the field last season

Robinson made it on the field last season

Adrien Robinson and Jerome Cunningham are also on the Giants roster. Robinson has never filled the potential advertised when he was taken in the 4th round of the 2012 draft. He was able to stay on the field in 2014 and make small contributions, but he was firmly the third tight end. Cunningham is an interesting, raw prospect out of Southern Connecticut State University, the 6’3″, 214 lbs rookie spent most of the season on the practice squad after impressing the coaches throughout training camp. If he takes a leap in his second season, he might supplant Robinson.

To be a truly elite tight end in the NFL, a Rob Gronkowski, a player must be able to block for the running game and present match up problems for opposing defenses. No player in this year’s free agency class meets that standard, and therefore there are no “Premium” players listed below. Now that everyone is thinking “What about Jordan Cameron? And Julius Thomas?” an explanation is in order.

Cameron has suffered a concussion severe enough to cause him to miss games in each of the past three seasons. Given the NFL’s added scrutiny of player head injuries following the legal action taken by former players (Lay the blame there, not on the owners, Roger Goodell, or the officials), signing Cameron comes with increased risk. He is also a horrific run blocker, which explains why the Browns running game has been lackluster despite a good offensive line. Cameron has started 29 games in the past three seasons and put up an impressive 124 receptions for 1,567 yards receiving and 10 touchdown despite the revolving door at quarterback in Cleveland, but he is not worth a long term contract or big money given his injury risk and lack of run blocking skill.

Julius Thomas entered the NFL in 2011, not 2013

Julius Thomas entered the NFL in 2011, not 2013

Julius Thomas came into the league in 2011, but no one heard of him until 2013 when he burst onto the scene with a huge opening night game against the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens. He missed the majority of the 2011 season with an ankle injury and then was stuck behind Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreesen on the depth chart in 2012. The coaching staff and John Elway started to notice him in late that season, which fueled his 2013 emergence. Thomas is almost as horrible a run blocker as Cameron and has continued to struggle to stay on the field with ankle injuries during the past two seasons. This combination of issues, and his high asking price, makes signing him a gamble, and one the Giants can’t afford to take.

With no “Premium” player on the horizon, we will start our review by looking at the the mid level free agents that can be brought in to compete to be role players on the team. Performance information cited in the article is gleaned from profootballfocus.com, while contract information is taken from overthecap.com. Both are solid resources for the serious NFL fan.

Limited Snap/Improving Players:

Green is a blocking tight end that would fit the Giants well

Green is a blocking tight end that would fit the Giants well

Virgil Green, 26, 6’3″, 248 lbs, 5th season, Denver: The opposite of Thomas, Green came into the league in the same draft class as the blocking tight end and has excelled in his role. An average receiver at best, Green has also bested Thomas in the injury department, staying relatively healthy over his 4 NFL seasons. Starting 14 of 41 career games, including 9 of 13 last year, Green would be a bargain signing in a league that pays for fantasy football statistics over a quality blocking at the position. He would complement Donnell and help power the Giants running game.

Luke Stocker, 26, 6’5″, 255 lbs, 5th season, Tampa Bay: Coming off a hip injury that saw him land in injured reserve for the 2013 season, Stocker did not transition well to the Lovie Smith regime in Tampa. After starting 11 games in 2012 and playing in all 16, Stocker was seen as an ascending talent. Those numbers dipped to 7 starts in just 13 games last year, and his performance dropped off commensurately. The Giants could sign him for the veteran minimum and attempt to revive his career.

Richard Gordon, 27, 6’3″, 262, 5th season, Kansas City: Having played very sparingly last season behind Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano, Gordon’s performance up ticked. Already a veteran of four NFL team in as many seasons, a series of nagging hand, hamstring, and toe injuries have slowed Gordon’s development. Another bargain basement player with potential, the Giants could bring Gordon in for a look-see for the veteran minimum and let him go in August if things don’t work out. The worst case scenario is an injury settlement, which is usually half of the player’s salary.

David Ausberry, 27, 6’3″, 235 lbs, 5th season, Oakland: Ausberry is a highly talented, but oft injured tight end who has been penciled in as starter for the Raiders each of the past 2 season before a shoulder injury ended his 2013 season and foot and knee injuries derailed 2014. In limited snaps, Ausberry rated out well as both a blocker and receiver, would be another veteran minimum contract player, and if he stays healthy might fulfill the potential the Raiders have seen all along.

Veteran Players:

Veteran Spaeth is a devastating run blocker

Veteran Spaeth is a devastating run blocker

Matt Spaeth, 31, 6’7″, 270 lbs, 9th season, Pittsburgh: A devastating run blocker, Spaeth is also a huge red zone target with average hands. He started 18 games for the Steelers over the past 3 seasons, and played in 35, as his 2013 season was cut short with a Lisfranc injury. Spaeth came back strong in 2014, playing in 15 games with 8 starts, and is just the kind of blocker needed to make the Giants running game purr like a content kitten.

Jacob Tamme, 29, 6’4″, 234 lbs, 8th season, Denver: Tamme is a receiving tight end who holds his own as a blocker. He followed Peyton Manning fro Indianapolis to Denver, and will therefore be hard to pry away from the Broncos, but given is relative good health, strong receiving skills, and veteran leadership, the Giants would be smart to look at bringing him in if Fells signs elsewhere. Tamme did suffer a concussion in 2011, but has not since, making the future risk seem minimal.

James Casey, 30, 6’3″, 235 lbs, 7th season, Philadelphia: Casey plays fullback in addition to tight end and signed a 3 year, $12 million contract with the Eagles before the 2013 season. Released last month in a salary cap move, he will not realize the last $4 million of that deal. Casey is an average blocker and good receiver with no serious injury history. Signing him would provide veteran leadership for Donnell and provide insight into the Eagles offense to Steve Spagnuolo. That’s worth at least $2 million, isn’t it? Or maybe $1.5?

A Pascoe return could replace Fells, if he moves on.

A Pascoe return could replace Fells, if he moves on.

Bear Pascoe, 29, 6’5″, 257 lbs, 7th season, Atlanta: Pascoe was with the Giants from 2009 to 2013 before signing with the Falcons for the veteran minimum last off season. A veteran minimum reunion would seem to be in order if the Giants need a replacement for Fells. Pascoe is known for his blocking skills, plays some fullback, and has not missed any games due to injury over the past three seasons. Plus Bear is a good nickname for a tight end; Pascoe’s given name is McKenna.

There are only about two dozen unrestricted free agent tight ends poised to hit the market when free agency open next Tuesday afternoon. With Larry Donnell’s emergence as a receiving threat, the Giants need is not as dire as it seemed a year ago at this time, but his lack of skill as a run blocker will hold their offense back from reaching it’s full potential. Blocking can be taught and Donnell is a willing student, bringing in a strong blocker like Spaeth, Pascoe, or Green will provide a role model and run down specialist to help push the pile. Keep an eye on Cunningham, he could be the next free agent surprise to burst onto the scene.

The author is interested in paid writing opportunities and can write about general NFL, Fantasy Football, and obviously, has a strong working knowledge of the Giants. Interested parties can contact him at footballgiants360@gmail.com.

Follow @Giants360 on Twitter for the latest news, notes, and analysis about your favorite NFL team. Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: Receiving Greatness

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.

Marcus Harris. The Forgotten Receiver.

Marcus Harris. The Forgotten Receiver.

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.

Ogletree was re-signed as a veteran option

Ogletree was re-signed as a veteran option

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.

Premier Options:

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.

Crabtree suffered from poor quarterback play.

Crabtree suffered from poor quarterback play.

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.

Pairing Torrey Smith with Beckham would keep defenders up at night

Pairing Torrey Smith with Beckham would keep defenders up at night

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.

Veteran Options:

Hartline would be a good option is his contract demands are reasonable

Hartline would be a good option is his contract demands are reasonable

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.

Nicks? How about No.

Nicks? How about No.

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.

Do you have a podcast or radio show about the NFL, Fantasy Football, or the Giants? The author will gladly appear as a guest in exchange for promoting his writing and Twitter (@Giants360) account. Contact footballgiants360@gmail.com to make arrangements.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: Guarding Eli

Richburg is thought to be the Giants starting center for 2015

Richburg is thought to be the Giants starting center for 2015

Going into training camp, Geoff Schwartz and Chris Snee were presumed to be the starting guards for the Giants, with veteran free agent J.D. Walton and rookie second round draft pick Weston Richburg battling for the starting center job in between them. Snee did heal sufficiently from his prior injuries, and Schwartz suffered a severe toe injury during the preseason, causing a line shuffling that affected the offense for the entire season. Journeyman John Jerry, an atrocious run blocker, started all 16 games at right guard, while Richburg was forced to move into the left guard spot for 15 games. He improved as the season wore on, but his growing pains were evident.

Jerry is a free agent, and won’t be re-signed. Veterans Adam Snyder, who started one game at left guard, and James Brewer, a 4th round draft pick, who has played both tackle and guard over his four year career will similarly be permitted to enter the free agent market. It’s possible that Brewer will return for the veteran minimum if he doesn’t catch on elsewhere, but he’s been a disappointment, and the team may be read to move on.

Dallas Reynolds, a versatile backup, who plays both center and guard was re-signed for the veteran minimum, and Brett Jones, a young, promising Canadian Football League Superstar centre (Canadian spelling) was brought in to compete with Richburg, and for one of the guard positions. Walton is still on the roster, although with a $3.6 million dollar cap number, that can be reduced to just $600,000 if he is released, the team should make a move on him before March 10th, whether it be an outright release or a renegotiation.

Pugh. Tackle? Or Guard? The Giants moves will tell us.

Pugh. Tackle? Or Guard? The Giants moves will tell us.

Justin Pugh has played right tackle since being drafted out of Syracuse in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. It is thought that he’s better suited to play guard professionally, depending on what moves are made between now and July, he may be asked to move inside. Last week, Giants360 looked at offensive tackles and compared to interior lineman, Orlando Franklin seems to be the best option available on the free agent market. Franklin plays both tackle and guard and could compete with Pugh for the right tackle position with the loser having dibs on the right guard spot. Richburg and Jones could then battle it out for the starting center position next to Will Beatty at left tackle and Schwartz at left guard.

The above combination would give the Giants their best starting five offensive lineman since 2011 and the kind of potentially dominating line that would allow them to run the ball with impunity and keep Eli Manning clean in the pocket while he executes Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense. Best of all, it would allow Jerry Reese to concentrate on defense in the draft and infuse it with the talent needed to quickly bring that unit up to NFL standards and vault the Giants into contention.

Looking at potential free agent interior lineman, we are going to break from out usual format of breaking the free agents into categories, as there were so few viable options to review. This speaks to NFL teams reluctance to let good offensive linemen hit the open market. Giants360 has identified three interior linemen that will be on the market starting next Tuesday at 4 PM.

Rodney Hudson, C, 25, 6’2″, 291 lbs, 5th season, Kansas City: The Giants do not find themselves in need of a center this season with Richburg, Jones, Walton, and Reynolds on the roster, but the team would be foolish not to at least look at Hudson, who started all 16 games for the Chiefs in 2014 and 31 of their last 32. He is solid as both a pass and run blocker, and would be available for a reasonable salary, having made just $1,115,577 in 2014. Given the Giants relative wealth at the position, bringing him in is unlikely.

Reitz is a versatile lineman that can play 3 positions.

Reitz is a versatile lineman that can play 3 positions.

Joe Reitz, G, 27, 6’7″, 256 lbs, 8th season (5th accrued), Indianapolis: Reitz is a flexible lineman who plays both guard positions and has played from right tackle in his NFL career. Somewhat of a journeyman, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Ravens in 2008 and has accrued just 4 seasons of service in 8 years of NFL play. While a better pass protector than run blocker, Reitz has been solid in both areas. He could likely be signed for the veteran minimum, his salary in 2014, and would compete for a starting guard position, but would more likely be a valuable backup who could play three positions alone the line if injury strikes.

Mike Pollak, G, 6’4″, 299 lbs, 8th season, Cincinnati: Pollak has played for the Colts, Panthers, and Bengals already in his NFL career, giving him young journeyman status. Rumors already have the Jets interested in the 41 game starter (in 58 career games), and it’s easy to see why, as he’s a solid pass and run blocker who will be available to a reasonable $2 to $2.5 million per season. He would be able to take over the right guard position for the Giants, leaving Pugh to play right tackle.

Iupati. His poor pass blocking doesn't justify his salary demands.

Iupati. His poor pass blocking doesn’t justify his salary demands.

Many readers and Twitter followers (@Giants360) have mentioned Forty-Niners free agent Mike Iupati as a player the Giants should sign. In reviewing the interior lineman, Iupati was eliminated due to his pass blocking struggles over the past three seasons. He is the most dominating run blocker among the impending free agents, but given the salary he is seeking, thought to be in excess of this 2014 salary of $4.6 million per season, his inconsistency in pass protection make him an undesirable option. That money is better invested in Franklin.

This week, we will finish up our look at impending free agents with a look at some of the position players on offense that could help take the Giants to the next level. It will be just in time for the opening of free agency next week as we anxiously await the moves Jerry Reese makes to bring the team back into relevance.

The author is interested in paid writing opportunities covering the Giants, the NFL in general, or Fantasy Football. Contact him at footballgiants360@gmail.com to discuss.

Giants Free Agency: Stuffing the Roster at DT

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.

Bromley's development is an unknown factor

Bromley’s development is an unknown factor

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.

Kuhn's minimum salary should be reallocated

Kuhn’s minimum salary should be reallocated

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.

Premier Options:

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.

Suh is the most talented and most troubled player on the free agent market

Suh is the most talented and most troubled player on the free agent market

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.

Pot Roast would look good in blue.

Pot Roast would look good in blue.

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.

Klug rushes the passer and excels on special teams

Klug rushes the passer and excels on special teams

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.

Veteran Options:

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.

Mosley is a veteran run defender

Mosley is a veteran run defender

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.

Back in Blue? Might Prodigal Giants Cofield Return?

Back in Blue? Might Prodigal Giants Cofield Return?

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?

Do you have a podcast or radio show and are looking for a guest? The author will gladly appear and discuss New York Giants in exchange for promoting his writing and Twitter account. Contact footballgiants360@gmail.com to make arrangements.

We will be resuming our popular feature, Superfan Corner right after the free agency frenzy dies down in mid March. If you are a Twitter follower and would like to be featured, contact me at the e-mail address listed above and tell me your Giants related story. Pictures are encouraged, to be included in the story, with bonus points for pets or children in Giants gear. In addition to a write up in a giants360.com article, you will get a shout out on Twitter when the article is posted. Sending pictures to footballgiants360@gmail.com is considered granting consent to publish them on this website and include them in a tweet. Be sure to include your Twitter handle in your e-mail.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Giants Free Agency: New Beginnings at Defensive End

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.

Moore need to learn discipline and run defense to gain playing time.

Moore need to learn discipline and run defense to gain playing time.

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.

Premier Options:

Pairing Hughes with Pierre-Paul. Expensive. Effective?

Pairing Hughes with Pierre-Paul. Expensive.

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.

Improving Players:

Clayborn. Affordable veteran option.

Clayborn. Affordable veteran option.

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.

Selvie. The run defender needed for early downs?

Selvie. Bargain veteran option. The run defender needed for early downs? Signing him would also weaken the Cowboys!

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.

Douzable. Another run defending option

Douzable. Another run defending option

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.

Veteran Options:

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.

Scott. Rotational player and veteran depth.

Scott. Rotational player and veteran depth.

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.

I do write good stuff! Willing to discuss paid opportunities.

I do write good stuff! Willing to discuss paid opportunities.

If you have a radio show or podcast and would like the author to appear as a guest to talk Giants football, e-mail footballgiants360@gmail.com to discuss arrangements. He is also interested in paid opportunities to write about the Giants or the NFL in general.

Giants360. All Giants. All Year Round.

Trading Ryan: Are the Giants Shopping Nassib?

As long as Eli Manning is healthy, he will be the starting quarterback for the New York Giants. Those that suffered through the Dave Brown, Danny Kanell, and Kent Graham eras of Giants football can attest to how fortunate we are to have a franchise quarterback of his caliber who has had sustained success in the most difficult market in sports. That didn’t stop both Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese from heaping praise upon backup quarterback Ryan Nassib when they addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine last week. In a year where the free agent market for quarterbacks is particularly sparse, and only two signal callers are considered first round caliber, the Giants could be quietly calling attention to the third year player with an eye towards fielding offers from quarterback needy teams.

Manuel was selected 98 spots before Nassib in 2013

Manuel was selected 98 spots before Nassib in 2013

Nassib was the Giants surprise fourth round draft pick out of Syracuse University, 110th overall, in the 2013 NFL draft. Considered by some to be first round quality, Nassib slid when his college coach, then Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone, passed him over for Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel. The Giants were unable to resist the value he represented when their turn to pick came up in the fourth round.

Although considered the most pro ready quarterback in the 2013 draft, Nassib barely saw the field in the 2013 preseason, attempting just 17 passes, completing 7, for 114 yards and throwing neither a touchdown nor an interception. It was in the 2014 preseason that he showcased his wares for the Giants and the NFL, when he went 44 of 68, a 65% completion rate, for 588 yards, with 5 touchdowns and no interception. He put up these numbers while learning Ben McAdoo’s new offense. The durable Manning prevented Nassib from making more than mop up regular season appearances in 4 games in 2014, where he completed 4 of 5 passes for 60 yards, and knelt down twice, losing 3 yards rushing.

That brings us to last week, where Coughlin first gushed effusively about Nassib’s development, work ethic, and film study, “I see him continuing to improve. He is a guy that works very hard below the surface and behind the scenes. He is in the weight room… pretty much four or five days per week. He studies on his own. He is very, very serious about being an outstanding football player.”

Reese’s comments were less detailed, as he simply said that Nassib has done “A nice job” and could “Win some games” for the Giants if Manning were “Dinged up.” But it’s telling that both men went out of their way to draw attention to and heap praise upon a backup quarterback that was largely a forgotten man for the second half of the season as Manning performed well in the McAdoo offense.

In order to acquire Nassib via trade, the Giants would want at least a third round pick, possibly a second rounder, whether outright or conditional, if he started ten games or more and met certain performance objectives. Why would a team want to surrender such a high pick for an unproven quarterback? Here’s list of the best impending free agent quarterbacks for 2015: Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Flynn, Blain Gabbert, Shaun Hill, Brian Hoyer, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, Josh McCown, Colt McCoy, Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez, Michael Vick. Need I say more?

Jameis Winston. Franchise quarterback or train wreck?

Jameis Winston. Franchise quarterback or train wreck?

Nassib’s salary for the next two season’s will be a team friendly $698,400 and $788,400 per overthecap.com. Very palatable numbers for a general manager to sell while trying out Nassib as the team’s quarterback of the future. With only Jameis Winston, who is loaded with equal parts talent and character concerns, and Marcus Mariota, who could be a product of the Oregon offensive scheme, as first round rated quarterbacks in the 2015 draft, another option in the market is timely, and potentially profitable for the Giants. But who would be a willing trade partner?

There are four teams in desperate need:

Buffalo Bills: New head coach Rex Ryan inherited a quarterback situation not much better than the one he left behind with the Jets. The aforementioned Manuel has done little to justify his first round draft status. He was benched in 2014 in favor of now retired (or is he?) journeyman Kyle Orton, who started 12 games for the Bills last season. Nassib would be an upgrade over either of them.

"Johnny Rehab" has fallen out of favor in Cleveland.

“Johnny Rehab” has fallen out of favor in Cleveland.

Cleveland Browns: Johnny “Football” Manziel finally supplanted Brian Hoyer as starter in Cleveland after 13 weeks on the bench and promptly fell flat on his face. To make matter worse, Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft, has checked himself into rehab for an undisclosed issue. His work ethic is as poor as advertised, he has alienated many a teammate with his off field antics, and now he’s possibly subject to the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Cleveland, already exasperated with him after just one season, has hosted McCown and is hoping to re-sign Hoyer. Nassib could become the savior of the franchise that Manziel was hoped to be.

New York Jets: Geno Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft, two rounds ahead of Nassib, and is not even the best quarterback on the roster. That honor goes to Matt Simms, son of Phil. He was given a mulligan his rookie year as the Jets has no weapons on offense, but last season they signed Eric Decker, drafted Jace Amaro, and traded for Percy Harvin mid season. Smith was still benched for an over-the-hill Michael Vick. The real question is if the Giants would trade a quarterback to their cross town rival?

Bradford's injury history has the Rams trying to move him.

Bradford’s injury history has the Rams trying to move him.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams have former first overall pick Sam Bradford on their roster, but he is coming off two consecutive seasons lost to torn left ACLs and the team is said to be shopping him around. The other quarterback on the roster is second year player Austin Davis, who was impressive as a rookie starter, but ultimately benched in favor of Shaun Hill and look to be no more than a career backup. The Rams, thanks to their three years of extra first round picks from the Robert Griffin III fleecing trade have a team ready to compete for a championship, but need one key component – a quarterback.

There are six additional teams might consider adding Nassib depending on how their off season program progresses:

Arizona Cardinals: Injuries to Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton derailed what started as an extremely promising season for the Cardinals. Palmer “shredded” his left ACL for the second time in his career and recovery from such a severe injury at 35 years old is anything but a sure thing. Stanton’s knee injury was less severe, but he’s also a lesser quarterback. After decades of struggling, Arizona appears to finally be on the right track as a franchise and adding Nassib to their quarterback mix would be insurance against Palmer’s slow recovery and provide a foundation for future success.

Can Houston re-sign Mallett?

Can Houston re-sign Mallett?

Houston Texans: One of the surprise contenders at the end of last season were the Texans, who started the well traveled Ryan Fitzpatrick for 12 games went through injuries to Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, and rookie Tom Savage on their way to a 9-7 record. Mallett is a free agent, and Houston is interested in bringing him back after they sent a conditional late round pick to New England for him last September. A pectoral injury cut his audition short, and will also limit what Houston is willing to pay. If negotiations break down, Nassib would be an alternative for a team ready to take the next step and compete at a high level.

Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker is a free agent and a failed 2011 first round draft pick. The Titans are said to be locked in on starting second year quarterback Zack Mettenberger, their 2014 6th round pick, who started 6 late season games before suffering a shoulder injury that ended his season. NFL Films executive producer and film watching junkie Greg Cosell raved about Mettenberger during the preseason, however, if he doesn’t develop as the Titans hope this off season, they might look to add Nassib for the future.

Jay Cutler. Overpaid Coach Killer.

Jay Cutler. Overpaid Coach Killer.

Chicago Bears: Part of former general manager Phil Emery’s undoing was the 7 year, $126 million dollar contract he gave to Jay Cutler in 2013. Cutler is inconsistent, viewed as a poor teammate, a locker room cancer, and doesn’t win in the NFL on a consistent basis. New Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox may want to absorb the enormous cap hit that would come with divesting themselves of Cutler and start over with a more reasonably priced alternative, like Nassib. Rather than release Cutler, they could look to recoup something of the investment by trading him to another quarterback needy team for a third day pick.

Is Mariota an NFL quarterback? Giants360 thinks not.

Is Mariota an NFL quarterback? Giants360 thinks not.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It seems a foregone conclusion that the Buccaneers are going to draft Jameis Winston first overall this coming April. However, upon completing their due diligence, if the team concludes that his questionable history that includes: a rape allegation, supposedly helping himself to a fountain soda without paying, reportedly taking off with $33 worth of crab legs from a Tallahassee supermarket, and jumping up on a table in a crowded cafeteria and shouting a sexually charged statement, are incidents that will not cease with the conclusion of his college experience, they may pass on him. Next up would be Marcus Mariota. There are many that believe his skill set does not translate well to the NFL. If Tampa Bay is among he Mariota skeptics, they could use their first overall pick to bolster their defense and trade for Nassib to solve their quarterback problem.

Washington Redskins: Head coach Jay Gruden was reportedly ready to move on from Robert Griffin last season, but backpedaled from that position, likely because owner Daniel Snyder is so smitten with the fourth year quarterback. After his rookie season, where he burst onto the scene in a big way, Griffin has struggled mightily with both injury and on field play. Fellow 2012 draftee Kirk Cousins has also fallen after he had several bad games last season, leaving free agent Colt McCoy as the Redskins best quarterback in 2014. But, would the Giants trade a quarterback to a division rival?

As free agency progresses and teams begin to fill out their rosters, keep an eye on where the “top” free agent quarterbacks land. Barring a big move to jump up in the draft, only the Jets are in good position to land Mariota if the Buccaneers draft Winston, as widely speculated. If a trade for Nassib is executed, it will be in the days immediately preceding or during the 2015 draft. The Giants would then use a late round pick to take another developmental quarterback to replace him and sign a veteran to back up Manning. It would be worth it to pick up an additional second or third round pick and justify the selection of Nassib that baffled so many two years ago.