The most notable Giants offseason story is still developing, as Jason Pierre-Paul‘s status is fluid after the All-Pro end underwent a finger amputation stemming from the now-infamous fireworks mishap. The Giants did make many notable moves before the final link to their legendary Super Bowl-winning defensive end corps put his season in jeopardy. However, this incident overshadows them, considering Big Blue didn’t bring in or lose a high-profile player in free agency in its quest to rebound from a 6-10 mark — its worst finish since 2004.
- Dwayne Harris, WR: Five years, $17.5MM. $7.1MM guaranteed.
- Shane Vereen, RB: Three years, $12.35MM. $4.75MM guaranteed.
- J.T. Thomas, LB: Three years, $10MM. $4.5MM guaranteed.
- Jonathan Casillas, LB: Three years, $8MM. $2.975MM guaranteed.
- John Jerry, G: Two years, $3.3MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Marshall Newhouse, T: Two years, $3MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Henry Hynoski, FB: Two years, $2.1MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Kenrick Ellis, DT: One year, $1.5MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Mark Herzlich, LB: Two years, $2.6MM. $400K guaranteed.
- Chykie Brown, CB: Two years, $1.8MM. $200K guaranteed.
- George Selvie, DE: One year, $1.2MM. $200K guaranteed.
- Daniel Fells, TE: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Josh Gordy, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
When Rashad Jennings was healthy, he was clearly the Giants’ best runner last season. But overall, the team struggled on the ground, ranking 23rd in rushing yards, with their free agent acquisition starting just nine games. Andre Williams offered flashes of potential, but the rookie remained raw, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. The experience the 2014 fourth-rounder accrued, coupled with an enviable size/speed package, appeared to have the ex-Boston College runner’s stock pointing upward. But Williams’ playing time figures to be reduced this season after the Giants splurged on Vereen.
The Patriots’ preferred third-down back will be the Giants’ best backfield receiving target since Tiki Barber, with a key path toward passing-down work in New York. Vereen’s 52 receptions last season would’ve outdone any Giant runner since Barber’s 58 in ’06. Needless to say, the fifth-year veteran represents a significant upgrade for the Giants’ passing game. Jennings served as a three-down back under optimal circumstances last season but will lose that third-down role to Vereen, who could loosen Jennings’ grip on early-down carries. Although Vereen’s 96 totes last season doubled as his career high, while Jennings has three straight 100-plus-carry campaigns. The ex-Pats pass-catcher will now make the 10th-most money, on average, among backs, per OverTheCap.
Another former Patriot would’ve easily been the Giants’ biggest free agency coup, but Devin McCourty balked at Big Blue’s offer and returned to New England. Instead, the Giants doled out some of that money in curious fashion, handing Harris $3.5MM per season. This marks the second straight offseason the Giants signed a returner, and they gave a less-accomplished specialist far more money than they did to Trindon Holliday last year. Although an injured Holliday departed without playing for the Giants, Harris is set to be the team’s second-highest-paid wideout in 2016 with a $3.8MM cap number set to dwarf Odell Beckham‘s.
Special teams weren’t exactly a Giants strength last season — 18th in kickoff-return average; 19th on punt returns — but devoting that kind of cash to a player who at best will be fourth on a healthy receiver depth chart is interesting. Harris didn’t have a particularly good contract year in the return game but compiled solid seasons prior to that to give the indication that while the payment is outlandish, the Giants will be in better hands in the return game. The contract of Thomas, who was the worst Jaguars linebacker last season on Pro Football Focus’ metrics, figures to give the former Jags and Bears cog a good chance to start in New York after accruing just 12 in four seasons. It seems like Big Blue could’ve acquired this kind of player in the draft at a much cheaper rate.
In light of Will Beatty‘s torn pectoral malady that will force the left tackle to miss at least the first half of the regular season, Newhouse could reascend into a starting role. That kind of responsibility hasn’t been good to the journeyman tackle, who’s ranged from inconsistent to consistently bad in his four-year career, but the Giants have him slotted to start at right tackle entering training camp. This allows Justin Pugh to move to guard, where Giants coaches believe the former first-round pick can play at an All-Pro level. As strange as that may sound after Pugh’s adequate-at-best tackle output, he may have to relocate again if Newhouse struggles while Beatty’s out.
- James Brewer, T
- Zackary Bowman, CB
- Stevie Brown, S
- Michael Cox, RB: Waived
- Quintin Demps, S
- Peyton Hillis, RB: Released
- Jerrel Jernigan, WR
- Mathias Kiwanuka, LB: Released
- Terrell Manning, LB: Released
- Kevin Ogletree, WR: Released
- Mike Patterson, DT
- Spencer Paysinger, LB
- Antrel Rolle, S
- Adam Snyder, G
- Walter Thurmond, CB
- J.D. Walton, C: Released
- Jacquian Williams, LB
The obvious subtraction on this roster comes at safety, where New York lost its top three performers. With Rolle, Demps and Brown departing, the Giants enter training camp thin on their back line. Playing 16-game seasons in each of his five Giants dockets, Rolle left to sign with the Bears. While on the downside of his career after a shaky 2014, Rolle held key leadership responsibilities for the Giants and was a Pro Bowl-caliber player as recently as 2013.
Two years removed from his freakish eight-interception 2012 slate, Brown did not follow that up with seasons which maintained that value. The former seventh-round Raiders draft pick ended up taking a one-year deal from the Texans. PFF rated Demps worse than Brown last year, and the two formed an unremarkable coalition at free safety. But their work may be better than what could be in store at that spot this season. Fifth-round picks with zero combined snaps, Cooper Taylor and Mykkele Thompson, from 2014 and 2015, respectively, will join Nat Berhe (32 career snaps) in the tussle for the job. Gordy and Bennett Jackson may join this makeshift battle as former corners who were reassigned due likely to the lean depth here.
The Giants’ secondary reboot also meant moving on from Bowman and Thurmond, respectively, leaving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara as the only New York secondary cogs who participated in more than half of last season’s snaps due back. Signed to a one-year, $3.5MM deal out of Seattle last March, Thurmond played just 67 snaps last season before heading to injured reserve, signing with the Eagles for almost the same amount and lobbing a salvo at Tom Coughlin on the way out. Thurmond’s injury, though, helped create time for Brown, Jayron Hosley, Mike Harris and Trumaine McBride, the latter receiving positive marks at PFF in each of his first two seasons with the team. With no cornerbacks selected in the draft, this quartet of veterans represents the Giants’ outside depth.
Save for DRC and Robert Ayers, much of the Giants’ 2014 free agent corps did not produce favorable returns, with Walton at the forefront of these shortcomings. The former Broncos starter who did not exactly come to New York with a track record of success lived up to his reputation by grading out as the fourth-worst center in the league, per PFF. Axed one year into a two-year, $5MM deal, Walton, after starting auditions with two teams, appears set for utility work in Miami. Walton’s departure paves a path for Weston Richburg to slide over from left guard, where he sputtered as a rookie, and play his natural center position. Richburg will be the Giants’ third starting center in three years.
Kiwanuka, once part of the famed NASCAR package during Super Bowl title campaigns, saw injuries help him deteriorate into a liability the past two seasons. The nine-year Giant’s release saved the team $4.83MM in cap space and leaves Amukamara as the team’s longest-tenured defender. With Kiwanuka gone and Pierre-Paul’s status uncertain, Ayers will be asked to play a bigger role after performing well in 386 snaps last season. Though the former first-rounder sputtered when given a full-time role early in his Denver tenure, Ayers quietly has become a solid performer, stringing together three straight respectable campaigns. He might be ready to assume more responsibility this season.
Extensions and restructures:
- Jon Beason, LB. Restructured contract. Lowered base salary from $3.6MM to $1.9MM. Can make up a portion of difference through incentives.
- Cullen Jenkins, DT. Restructured contract. Lowered base salary from $2.2MM to $1MM in exchange for per game roster bonuses and incentives.
- Geoff Schwartz. Restructured contract. Lowered base salary from $3.675MM to $1.675MM in exchange for per game roster bonuses, incentives, and 2016 guarantees.
As our Dallas Robinson noted recently, Jenkins and Beason were likely to be asked to relinquish their playbooks had they not agreed to these restructures. Once a coveted free agent, the 34-year-old Jenkins occupies just a $2.1MM hold on the Giants’ cap this year. Still just 30, Beason may be close to the end, having missed 40 games the past four seasons. The former first-round pick may be the best option the Giants have to deploy in the middle, but Beason certainly can’t be counted on for steady availability. Jameel McClain may again be needed to provide emergency help after playing 993 snaps last year and finishing as the Giants’ tackles leader.
Schwartz enters the season as the Giants’ most valuable offensive lineman. Despite missing most of last year and helping to plunge the New York offensive front deep into mediocrity in doing so, Schwartz will be counted on in 2015 to deliver the kind of production he did for the Chiefs in 2013. And he’ll be attempting to do so at a bargain rate. PFF still favored Schwartz’s run-blocking on a sieve-like unit that featured horrendous gap creation, leading to the Giants’ 3.6 yards-per-carry average that ranked 28th in the league. A Schwartz-Pugh guard tandem will be in a better position to raise that figure than their predecessors.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 33; S Landon Collins) from the Titans in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 40; WR Dorial Green-Beckham), a fourth-round pick (No. 108; FB Jalston Fowler), and a seventh-round pick (No. 245; WR Tre McBride).
- 1-9: Ereck Flowers, T (Miami): Signed
- 2-33: Landon Collins, S (Alabama): Signed
- 3-74: Owa Odighizuwa, DE (UCLA): Signed
- 5-144: Mykkele Thompson, S (Texas): Signed
- 6-186: Geremy Davis, WR (Connecticut): Signed
- 7-226: Bobby Hart, T (Florida State): Signed
The aforementioned dearth at safety made the trade to No. 33 vital for the Giants. With Collins projected by some to go in the first round, paying this price to move up seven spots to select the first-team All-American could prove critical. Collins’ range, which is not his strong suit, will be tested immediately come Week 1, considering the Giants’ strong safety situation won’t exactly force the rookie to put together a strong training camp to crack the starting lineup. The Alabama alum will see extensive action, as will the team’s top-10 pick.
Flowers will open the season as the Giants’ starting left tackle, as opposed to the more familiar right side where he was expected to line up. Although the ex-Hurricane has his detractors, the Giants now appear wise to have addressed this position in a prominent spot; Flowers represents Big Blue’s biggest investment in a rookie offensive lineman since they selected guard John Hicks at No. 5 in 1974. Pugh did not work out as hoped at right tackle, and Flowers has a more imposing rookie challenge in preparing to set the left edge for a unit that performed poorly in 2014. The 6-foot-6 standout did not allow a sack against ACC competition and obviously has a high ceiling, but Flowers will need to ramp up his consistency against competition a bit more daunting.
Destined for a nickname, Odighizuwa may be in a position to contribute earlier than his college profile of 12.5 sacks in four seasons suggests (although PFF refers to this facet of Odighizuwa’s game as underrated). But two hip surgeries do raise concerns for the newest contributor at an edge-rushing position that’s suddenly one of the Giants’ questionable areas after being a massive strength for most of the past 35 years.
- Hired Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator to replace Perry Fewell.
- Assigned DE Jason Pierre-Paul the franchise tag ($14.813MM).
- Learned Pierre-Paul injured his hand in a fireworks accident.
- Learned LT Will Beatty will likely be sidelined until November due to a torn pectoral.
- Officially waived RB David Wilson, who had retired in August.
- Signed 13 players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed six undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
- Signed, and then released, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, who then retired.
The Pierre-Paul ordeal is the most interesting issue plaguing one of the Giants’ veteran bastions, but it’s not the only one. Victor Cruz‘s recovery from a torn patella tendon places the slot target’s ability to reach his former performance standard in question, and Eli Manning is entering the last year of his deal.
The 55-year-old Spagnuolo returns to the post he occupied in 2007 and ’08, but he doesn’t remotely have the weaponry at his disposal those teams possessed. After guiding a Saints corps that set an NFL record for yielded yardage in 2012, Spagnuolo has seen his reputation take a hit since the Rams hired him as their head coach in 2009. An alarming number of Fewell’s charges went down with season-ending injuries, but the Giants weren’t soaring before the ailments piled up. Fewell’s five-year tenure is long in modern coordinator standards, and the unit’s repeated pratfalls in recent slates (they were ranked 31st in 2012 and 29th last season in yardage allowed) probably necessitated a transition.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Eli Manning, QB: $19,750,000
- Jason Pierre-Paul, DE: $14,813,000
- Victor Cruz, WR: $8,125,000
- Will Beatty, LT: $8,050,000
- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB: $7,250,000
- Prince Amukamara, CB: $6,898,000
- Jon Beason, LB: $4,154,166
- Jameel McClain, LB: $3,400,000
- David Baas, C: $3,225,000 (dead money)
- Steve Weatherford, P: $3,075,000
Even though they were bound to get better with the potential for a Week 1 featuring Schwartz and Cruz back among the starting 11, the Giants probably improved offensively this offseason. But the issues with their top offensive and defensive linemen cloud any such progression. The latter leaves New York’s pass rush in doubt, and plenty will have to coalesce to envision the Giants contending with the Cowboys and Eagles for the division title deep into the season.