Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Big Blue Morning: What's left to do
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
After a dizzying Sunday and Monday, things quieted down around the New York Giants on Tuesday. They signed former New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham, though maybe just as a favor to an old friend. It would be a surprise if that ended up being an impact move given his health issues, but I'm sure it's a low-cost gamble unlikely to hurt them even if he can't play.
But that was it for Tuesday, and with their salary cap room drying up due to their 18 free-agent signings so far, the Giants are likely to slow down a bit here. They still need help in the pass rush and in the passing game, but it's looking more and more likely that they'll seek that help in the draft, which is still seven weeks away. Meantime, they will bargain-hunt and tinker as they continue to work on the major roster rebuild this offseason has brought about.
Here's a look at a few things that still may be on the horizon:
Defensive line help: As of now, the pass-rushers are Jason Pierre-Paul (who's had major injury issues for two years in a row), Mathias Kiwanuka (better used as a rotational player than a starting defensive end) and Damontre Moore (a talented, high-motor project who didn't see the field much as a rookie in 2013). The Giants are startlingly thin at a position that has been their championship calling card. They briefly agreed to terms last week with free agent O'Brien Schofield for pass-rush help, but they failed him on his physical due to knee issues. He hasn't signed elsewhere, so they could theoretically go back to that well, but it seems unlikely. They looked at Anthony Spencer over the weekend, but his knee may not be ready in time either. I don't see them having the cap space for Jared Allen, who's on the wrong side of 30 for them anyway, and the remainder of the pass-rusher market is a bunch of Corey Wootton/Robert Ayers-type flotsam. Do they spend that No. 12 draft pick on a pass-rusher like Anthony Barr in May? Or do they really go with what little they have in this critical area? Dangerous to try that. You can make your secondary as strong as you want, but if you can't force the quarterback to throw the ball when and where he doesn't want to throw it, it won't matter much.
Receivers: I am well aware that Hakeem Nicks and tight end Brandon Myers were lousy in 2013. I still find it hard to believe that losing both of them and adding only Manningham to Eli Manning's corps of pass-catchers is the way to fix the offense. Victor Cruz gets paid liked a No. 1 receiver and produces numbers like one, but he struggled with double-coverage in 2013 due to the lack of other options, and the Giants need someone who can win physical matchups all the way down the field. We've written a lot about the possibility of a pass-catcher like Texas A&M wideout Mike Evans or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron at No. 12, and that may well be the best way to go at this point. The best remaining wide receivers on the market (Santonio Holmes? Miles Austin?) come with major question marks, and the best tight end, Jermichael Finley, does as well.
Center:Kevin Boothe signed with the Raiders on Monday, which shook up the Giants' plans a little bit. Not because Boothe is the second coming of Mike Webster or anything like that, but because he was to be their insurance policy at center in the likely event that this weird gamble they're taking with J.D. Walton doesn't work out. Now they're stuck with Walton or Dallas Reynolds unless they sign back Jim Cordle, who himself is no perfect solution. The offensive line was the most significant problem the 2013 Giants had, and new left guard Geoff Schwartz notwithstanding, it's hard to see how they've upgraded it enough. The middle rounds of the draft could offer a chance to draft a center like Florida State's Bryan Stork, and there still are some interesting, experienced names on the free-agent wire at the position. If the price for someone like Brian De La Puente or Ryan Wendell is right, they could still make a pre-draft move there and get deeper along the line as they must.
More relief? Kiwanuka's massive pay cut helped with the most recent signings, but there aren't too many more candidates on the roster for that kind of restructure. They could look into extending Antrel Rolle beyond 2014 and reducing his $9.25 million cap number in the process. Rolle is 31, though, and the only one of the Giants' 18 free-agent signings so far that's over 30 is kicker Josh Brown. Committing long-term to Rolle would seem to veer from the March 2014 plan. But he is one of their captains, and with Justin Tuck gone they could decide he's worth making an exception. The big elephant in the contract room, though, is Manning, whose 2014 cap number of $20.4 million is the third-highest in the league. They could reduce that with an extension of his current deal, which runs through 2015, but the Giants don't seem inclined to commit to Manning beyond 2015 at this point. They're a bit concerned with the possibility that he's in decline, and they'd like to see some 2014 proof otherwise before making that big long-term bet. A Manning extension would create the financial freedom for the Giants to acquire anyone they want, but it does not appear to be in the cards.