Last season for the New York Giants proved to be their most trying time under the leadership of head coach Tom Coughlin, and GM Jerry Reese. Starting off the season going 0-6, the G-Men were able to salvage what ever was left of 2014 winning 7 of their last 10 games finishing the season 7-9, and still putting themselves in position for a top 15 draft pick (12th to be exact). What seemed to be the issue for big blue? Almost Everything.
Despite a late strong showing on the defensive side the pass rush wasn't what fans expected of the once dominant defensive force, the secondary was torchable most times, and offensively Eli Manning & Co. were mistake magnets. Injuries on both sides also plagued this team, and kept any bright spots from truly shining throughout the season.
However going into the free agency period reports of need based signings on the horizon for the Giants surfaced, and made it clear that New York is still a very attractive landing spot for free agents. Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin, and the Giants front office made sure to capitalize on that factor bringing in players who can (and most likely will) fill in the glaring needs. So here's what the G-Men did so far in the 2014 Free Agency period:
Who They Lost:
*Note all the players who left were UFA's (Unrestricted Free Agents)
Before getting into the additions it's equally important to note who the Giants didn't retain. Starting defensive tackle Linval Joseph would leave agreeing to a five-year, $31.5 Million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Joesph's impact on the inside will be missed, however the New York's front office felt his asking price was to steep for what they wanted to do this off season.
Safety Ryan Mundy, and tight end Brandon Myers would find new teams to join as well Mundy with the Chicago Bears, and Myers with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both Mundy, and Myers were never able to truly fit in the Giants schemes despite the high hopes when they arrived.
Line backer Keith Rivers (Buffalo Bills), and versatile guard Kevin Boothe (Oakland Raiders) (who also played center) also would depart. Center David Baas who's time in New York was plagued with injuries was cut.
Still none of the players mentioned left a bigger role to be filled more than ex-defensive captain Justin Tuck. Tuck agreed to a two-year, $11 Million deal with the Oakland raiders stating he's looking forward to a fresh start going into the latter years of his career. The two-time Super Bowl champion defensive end (both with the Giants) was not only a leader/force on the field, but also a driving force in the community funding multiple charities for NYC children.
Retain, Retain, Retain:
Restricted Free Agents- Full Back Henry Hynoski, and line backer Mark Herzlich would be brought back adding depth to those positions. Hynoski is set to have a pre-season battle for the starting full back spot with John Conner who showed immediate impact in that role last season when acquired.
Back up QB Curtis Painter returned, agreeing to a one-year deal. Kicker Josh Brown was brought back on a two-year deal, Brown was efficient for the G-Men last season going 23-26 (88.5 %) of his field goal attempts, and going 31-31 of his extra point attempts totaling 100 points on the season. Corner Trumaine McBride who played an important role for the Giants secondary will also be back in New York, agreeing to a two-year $2.875 Million deal. McBride was a key part of the secondary when injuries plagued the unit, and impressed the coaching staff with his play.
And perhaps the three most important re-signings: Jon Beason, Peyton Hillis, and Stevie Brown all agreed to deals with the Giants. Beason who's leadership, tackling, and smart play helped lift the Giants defense agreed to a three-year, $16.8 Million deal. It is also expected that Jon Beason, and safety Antrel Rolle will share defensive captain duties. Peyton Hillis also known as the Madden 12 cover player, came to the Giants mid-season providing some tough running to the rushing attack. Hillis also made an impact in pass protection, he would agree to two-year, $1.8 Million deal.
And finally Stevie Brown, the safety was easily the Giants most impactful play-maker in the secondary in '12 with 8 interceptions. Injuries plagued his '13 season completely, but with reports stating his health is on the rise skill set is highly coveted by the G-Men. Brown agreed to a one-year, $4 Million deal.
Fresh Faces For The Empire State:
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond, Trindon Holliday in past 24 hours. Giants acting like they know the pressure is on...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2014
Over the last several years the Giants were a conservative front office in regards to bringing in outside talent to help the team. This off season has been the complete opposite, and just like the very busy Adam Schefter tweeted it seems Jerry Reese knows the window to get younger, and build a playoff team was closing in on them. However not only do these moves insure the filling in of needed roles, and quite frankly upgrades we are also witnessing a pretty important draft strategy from the Giants.
Ex-Baltimore Ravens line backer Jameel McClain agreed to a two-year, $4.5 Million deal with the G-Men. McClain brings more talent, and depth to the Giants line backing core to go alongside with the other expected starters Jon Beason, and Spencer Paysinger. Ex-Denver Broncos center J.D. Walton also joins the Giants, he started in Denver for some time before injuries hit.
Adding more versatility to the offensive line the Giants agreed to a four-year, $16.8 Million deal ($6.2M guaranteed) with ex-Kansas City Chiefs guard Geoff Schwartz. The coaching staff, and Schwartz himself expect him to start at left guard. Ex-Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings adds to the rushing attack for Big Blue, he ran for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns last season.
The Giants lack of a return game had the fan base, and even the team worried. With the additions of Quintin Demps formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, and ex-Denver Broncos kick returner Trindon Holliday the return game for the G-Men suddenly has the potential to be one of the very best in the NFL. Holliday is known for his explosiveness, and big time plays with the punt return unit. Demps who also can provide safety depth behind Rolle, and Stevie Brown was behind only Cordarelle Patterson in kick returner rankings last year w/+7.1 grade.
The secondary would get a boost, specifically at the corner position. Prince Amukamara is the unquestioned starter at corner for the Giants, but other than that the core lacked overall speed, and man to man coverage skills. Jerry Reese knew this signing ex-Seattle Seahawks stand out Walter Thurmond III who provided big time play for the defending champions when injuries, and other factors occurred. And Thurmond III's work in the slot has the Giants organization excited as his 0.85 yards per slot snap in coverage allowed was the 5th lowest of all the CB's in the NFL.
And with the biggest signing of their free agency period the Giants were able to win the battle of NYC/NJ vs the New York Jets for the services of shut down corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Cromartie was the top corner for the Denver Broncos last season, and given his relationship with defensive captain Antrel Rolle (former teammates) the battle was never really in doubt for the Giants.
In 2013, when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was on field, Broncos allowed 14 TD, had 13 INT. With him off field, they allowed 15 TD, had 4 INT— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 17, 2014
DRC provides that shut down corner to go opposite of the opposing team's best receiver possessing the speed to run with the likes of Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, and DeSean Jackson the opposing NFC East prime time receivers. With Amukamara on one side, DRC commanding the other, and the likes of Walter Thurmond covering the slot the flexibility in play calling for the Giants defensively could be at an all time high.
It also gives the safeties Rolle, Stevie Brown, and Demps the chance to sit back and make plays instead of being used heavily in coverage schemes like they have been. In recent years the defensive theme for the Giants was a dominant pass rush, it looks like the new term we'll hear from this team will be "coverage sack" as this secondary has the potential to be on of the NFL's very best.
How It Impacts The Draft:
This free agency period has been kind to the Giants. Key signings that will fill vital roles, but also provide a spark to a team that had such a problematic 2014 season. However not only did those signings affect who's on the team now, but they may have deeply effected who's name will be called as the first pick for the Giants on May 8th. Due to the fact that Jerry Reese, and his front office patched up some glaring issues the Giants have the room to pick not just based on need, but on talent as well. That's an option Big Blue hasn't been able to enjoy in quite some time, and looking at the prospects in this upcoming draft class it's not a bad time either.
If all goes well the Giants will be mulling over one of these promising talents with the 12th overall pick:
-Eric Ebron (TE), Univ. Of North Carolina: Eric Ebron is a freakish talent, with the frame (6'4'' 245 lbs) to back it up. History says the Giants don't draft a tight end, especially this high but given the moves they made so far it gives them the option to do just that. Ebron is the consensus number one tight end of this class, and has drawn comparisons to veterans such as Vernon Davis based off of explosiveness alone. According to reports the Giants are in love with the possibility of providing this kind of offensive weapon for Eli Manning, and new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo who looks to implement a vertical passing game much like the one he helped produce in Green Bay. And the love seems to be mutual as Ebron has expressed his fandom in regards to the New York Giants.
-Taylor Lewan (OL), Univ. Of Michigan: Another need pick for the Giants, but Lewan is also one of the more talented tackles in this draft class. A top 15 pick for sure, Taylor Lewan not only provides the toughness, and technique you'd like to see from a young tackle but the versatility he possesses would be a plus for the G-Men.It also doesn't hurt that Taylor Lewan is massive standing tall at 6'8'', and weighing in at 308 lbs. The third ranked tackle on the board according to draft guru Todd McShay, he sees this pick as a no brainer for the Giants who are looking to get younger over the years. Protecting Eli Manning is also still priority number one for the Giants, and with the potential Lewan possesses he may just be the prospect the Giants are looking for.
-Mike Evans (WR), Texas A&M: Mike Evans made a name for himself not only on the field as one of the nations top receivers, but at the combine with his athletic ability. Standing tall at 6'6'', weighing in at 225 lbs Evans has been compared to the likes of Vincent Jackson just off of his physical dominance alone. Paired up with the electric Johnny Manziel we've seen what Evans can do against top defenses such as Nick Saban's Alabama teams the past two years, and with the experience of going against SEC secondaries it has certainly helped his draft stock. The Giants let Hakeem Nicks walk, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Colts and the need for an outside presence while Victor Cruz does his work in the slot is noted. Reports indicate interest from the Giants, and their need for an outside talent may very well force them to pull the trigger on Evans come May.
So What Does It All Mean:
The Giants have made progress, but of course like many teams coming off of a trying season there is still more work to be done. It should be interesting to see what the Giants do next in regards to the roster, and what position they have themselves in as the draft approaches. Giants fans should certainly keep an open mind with everything that is going on, but there's nothing wrong with excitement as well. Jerry Reese's front office, and Tom Coughlin's coaching staff know the importance of winning in New York, and as we get closer to kick-off we may see a complete overhaul of what the Giants use to be to what they're trying to become.