- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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You don't think the New York Giants plan to bring back free-agent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and neither do I. Nicks is going to hit the open market, some team is going to look at his skill set and his pedigree vs. the rest of the free-agent wide receiver market and pay him a lot. The Giants aren't likely to be that team, not after the year he just had, not with a new offensive coordinator whose system may be more geared to the Victor Cruz/Jerrel Jernigan-type receivers they already have.
However, the Giants will need to replace Nicks somehow if he does leave. They were terribly thin at the position last year, and even if you project Jernigan as a capable contributor based on his final three games and assume some development for Rueben Randle, the best you can say is the Giants go into next season with optimism about wide receiver but very little certainty.
We have discussed the possibility that the Giants use the No. 12 pick in the draft on a wide receiver such as Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans, but these are not things on which you can count. The draft is nearly two full months after the March 11 start of free agency this year, and 12 isn't a high enough pick to engender confidence about who'll be available and who won't. The Giants will have to look at the free-agent wide receiver market and see what their options are there.
Andrew Cohen at overthecap.com has taken a look at seven free-agent wide receivers -- Nicks, Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin, Julian Edelman, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate and James Jones -- and taken a stab at predicting where they'll end up and how much they'll get. He predicted none of the seven to the Giants, and he's predicting Nicks signs with the Lions for three years, $30 million with $13 million guaranteed. (I've been saying Patriots for Nicks, but if those are the figures then there's no chance.)
I could see the Giants targeting someone like Tate or Jones (both of whom are projected here to the Jets) as a Nicks replacement. I don't foresee them joining the Decker bidding (and don't really think they should). Maclin isn't likely to get out of Philadelphia, and he's recovering from ACL surgery anyway. Maybe he's a target next year if he's healthy. Boldin is 33, and not a long-term solution. Edelman is likely to be viewed as a Tom Brady creation and probably won't get the money he seeks even off his big year. Maybe he ends up being a worthwhile bargain for the Giants.
Of this group, I think Jones, who is 6-foot-1, makes the most sense for the Giants. His history with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo in Green Bay could help (or hurt, I guess, if McAdoo didn't like the guy). He won't break the bank, which makes sense given what they're already paying Cruz and the other needs they have for their salary cap room this offseason. And while he may not produce at Nicks' peak levels, the new Giants offense may not need him to do so. If they like Randle, want to give Jernigan some run and plan to throw it to Cruz 100-plus times anyway, this may be exactly the kind of guy they need.