Giants Nation, our minds ache as our soul’s search for a remedy from the albatross we witnessed this past season. Unrealistic expectations and a lack of communication, execution, and an all around massive implosion surrounded the 2017 New York Football Giants, but we must put this harrowing experience behind us and hope the remedy lies within the new regime of head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman. Free agency is one of the first big steps to the new beginning, where the Giants can replenish the holes on the roster and start rebuilding this team’s identity that was fractured last season. The Giants head into the off-season with 19 unrestricted free agents (C Brett Jones is a RFA – assuming he is tendered):
- QB Geno Smith (27 years old)
- RB Shane Vereen (28)
- RB Orleans Darkwa (26)
- WR Tavarres King (27)
- G Justin Pugh (27)
- G D.J. Fluker (26)
- C Weston Richburg (26)
- DT Jay Bromley (25)
- DE Kerry Wynn (27)
- OLB Devon Kennard (26)
- OLB Keenan Robinson (28)
- OLB Akeem Ayers (28)
- OLB Deontae Skinner (27)
- LB Jonathan Casillas (30)
- LB Kelvin Sheppard (30)
- LB Mark Herzlich (30)
- CB Ross Cockrell (26)
- CB Darryl Morris (27)
- S Nat Berhe (26)
Not only are the Giants tied for 2nd with the most UFAs in the NFL, but the average age of the players are 27.2, while 7 of them are coming from one position group – linebacker. This has been a position group that was notoriously neglected by former GM Jerry Reese. After the acquisition of LB Alec Ogletree and the release of Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, the Giants will sit below league average with just under $20 million dollars in cap space, according to Spotrac.com. That is not an ideal situation for a team with as many holes as Big Blue, so they must be prudent with how the allocate their funds. Before we get into the 5 free agents the Giants should pursue, we must look at 3 players the G-MEN must retain.
OLB Devon Kennard (26) 2017 Stats: 41 Tackles and 4 Sacks
Although he struggled through injuries early on in his NFL career, the former Trojan has only missed one game in the last two seasons. Kennard’s skill-set is more conducive to what defensive coordinator James Bettcher will be running than it was to Steve Spagnuolo’s base 4-3 defense. At USC, Devon ran in DC Clancy Pendergast’s hybrid front scheme, where he would predominantly play LEO/LB, and before that he played under Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, mostly as a defensive end. Kennard will offer positional versatility to a defense that is under a lot of change; he is capable of dropping into coverage, while also possessing the ability to rush the edge in a 2 point stance or even put his hand in the dirt and rush on passing downs. He won’t be garnering a large contract and at worst, he will be a valuable role player in Bettcher’s 3-4 base defense, which features a lot blitzing and hybrid looks.
CB Ross Cockrell (26) 2017 Stats: 37 Tackles, 3 INTs, 11 Pass Defensed
Ross was acquired by the Giants for a 7th round pick prior to the start of last season. He started 9 games, while playing in all 16 and exceeding expectations. The Giants secondary was under a lot of turmoil, with injuries, the Eli Apple saga, and the resentment the position group felt towards head coach Ben McAdoo, but Cockrell stepped in and played well. He received above average grades from Pro Football Focus and ranked as the #39 cornerback on the season. After his best season, he will be looking to earn a big check, but the Giants must try and retain Cockrell for a reasonable price. He can play both outside corner and the slot and that proves to be very valuable, especially with Dominique Rodgers Cromartie now a street free agent and the uncertain future of Eli Apple.
OG Justin Pugh (27)
I would love for the Giants to resign Pugh, but he is always dealing with an injury. He has not played a complete season since his rookie year and he may be in for a big contract, which is something the Giants must explore with hesitation. With that being said, his versatility cannot be understated; he is very effective at either guard position and he can play right tackle, which he was forced to do in 2017. The Giants may have to get creative in order to make the cap space work and there are other targets in free agency I would rather see the Giants explore, but Pugh has been a bright spot on an ineffective offensive line for years.
5 Free Agents the Giants Must Pursue
OG Andrew Norwell (26) – Carolina Panthers
Remember five seconds ago when I said there are other options I would like to explore in free agency? Well, here he is, but is he really attainable? That will be the question because he will be a highly sought after offensive lineman. The top free agent guards in the two previous years have received very nice paydays. Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele, signed a 5-year, 58 million dollar deal (11.7 average) in 2016 and Browns guard Kevin Zeitler signed a 5-year, 60 million dollar deal (12 average) in 2017. The Giants may have to get creative with how they manage their cap if they choose to pursue this valuable asset. Norwell hasn’t missed a game since 2015 and has been a very sturdy cog for a team that has finished top 10 in rushing since he arrived in 2014. In the video below, one can see his ability to get out in space and locate, while showing excellent flexibility in his lower half to open his hips and quickly transition to the twist in front of him, which opens up a huge rushing lane for Cam Newton. His violence and ability to finish blocks would appeal to the fan base of the Giants, while giving Eli Manning much more comfort in the pocket. Is he obtainable with their cap situation? We shall see.
DL DaQuan Jones (26) – Tennessee Titans
Jones is someone who is not getting much buzz, but could prove to be a very valuable, yet affordable piece to James Bettcher’s defense. He stands at 6’4” and 322 pounds, with very good movement skills and the ability to play as a 1-technique in a four down front or as a 5 technique in a 3-4 defense, which is the Giants new base defense. Jones recorded 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017 before he tore his bicep, which landed him on the IR in the beginning of December. Jones played in Dick LeBeau‘s 3-4 defense in Tennessee and would be a perfect fit for what the Giants are trying to do on the defensive side of the football. You can see him making plays as a 2-technique and 3-technique in passing situations below.
CB Prince Amukamara (28) – Chicago Bears
A possible reunion? I don’t see why not. Amukamara has bounced around since leaving the Giants and was a solid player for the Bears in 2017; he recorded 48 tackles and 7 passes defensed. I would love to drone on about Trumaine Johnson or other corners that outperformed Prince, but the reality of the Giants cap situation make these players a pipedream. With that being said, depth must be inserted into that cornerback group. There is too much uncertainty around Eli Apple, and Janoris Jenkins is coming off ankle surgery. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie is now a free agent and the Giants may be priced out of Ross Cockrell. Prince offers this depth and a reunion, even with a new regime, makes sense. In the video below, he does a solid job recovering on a route to knock the pass away in man coverage against Juju Smith-Schuster. In the second clip, Prince is in off coverage, in a cover 3 look, and he displays a good ability to plant and drive downfield on an out route, while getting his hands in the passing lane and disrupting the play. Amukamara may not be the player the Giants thought they were drafting in 2011, but he still has a lot of value here for them.
DL/LB Kareem Martin (26) – Arizona Cardinals
Not only has Martin been around James Bettcher since 2014, but he also provides the length, versatility, and special teams depth that the Giants are looking for with this new regime. Martin is 6’6” and 272 pounds, with 35” arms and 10” hands. Scheme versatility is something that Bettcher is going to employ with the Giants and Martin fits the criteria. Martin can play OLB and really use his length to disrupt passing lanes, while also threatening the edge as a DE. The Cardinals drafted Haason Reddick out of Temple last season and he offered the kind of versatility that Bettcher loves to have in his defense. While Martin isn’t quite as productive as Reddick, he knows the system, coach, and plays with the style that is desired by Bettcher. Martin played in 457 snaps for Arizona last year and he could prove to be a valuable addition to what the Giants are trying to do on defense. The video below shows him force a strip sack on Eli Manning, from a 3 point stance in a wide-9 alignment, where he utilizes very good bend and length to take advantage of his opportunity, while the second clip shows special teams value, as he makes a tackle on a punt return in open space. I expect the Giants to make a push for Martin, who should not garner much capital on the open market.
ILB Todd Davis (25) – Denver Broncos
Speaking of garnering capital, Davis may be pricing himself out of a possibility to wear Giants blue. Reports out of Denver are stating that Davis may command $8 million dollars annually, and that may be too steep for the New York Giants. Reports aren’t facts though and I believe Davis could be a solid edition to a team that has 7 unrestricted free agent linebackers, especially when you take into consideration the possibility that Ogletree may only be a Giant for 2018, due to a team option and an excessive price tag. Davis has played in over 1,200 snaps the last two seasons for Denver and he has compiled 179 tackles in that time span. While he makes splash plays vs the run, he doesn’t excel in coverage and Pro Football Focus has him as an “average” inside linebacker. Davis plays with excellent toughness and he would be a very good edition to coach Bill McGovern’s linebacking room, but the question will always be, can the Giants afford him? Watch him use his eyes (while over the bubble in the playside A-Gap), as he reads the play below and reacts to fill the A-Gap, while quickly transitioning to the B-Gap and finishing the tackle. In the second clip, he uses excellent timing and anticipation to shoot the opening on the backside of the play to deliver a punishing tackle behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and short to help the Broncos defeat the Chargers. The next two clips, he shows the ability to scrape over top and get to the ball carrier’s destination, while finishing with violence and authority.
Can the Giants afford all of these intriguing players? No, sadly the cap situation will not allow for a $200 million dollar spending spree like it did in 2016. That does not mean the Giants can’t find quality pieces to build towards a championship team. Some of the most productive Giants in recent memory came as free agents: Antrel Rolle was one of the best leaders the Giants have had in the last 10 years, Kareem McKenzie is a 2-time Super Bowl right tackle for the team, and Antonio Pierce was one of the last franchise linebackers for the Giants. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a football team, but brick by brick the Giants can keep compiling talent that buys into the system of a new regime. A regime we all hope will hoist the fifth Lombardi Trophy of the Giants illustrious history.
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