New York Giants: Victor Cruz

INDIANAPOLIS -- General manager Jerry Reese met with the media Saturday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the New York Giants:

They're still looking for David Wilson's replacement: The Giants' 2012 first-round pick had to retire last summer because of neck injuries, and the Giants this offseason are on the lookout for a speedy, home-run hitter running back who can complement Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. "We've got some big bangers, and David was a fast, quick guy who could catch the ball out of the backfield," Reese said. "You lose a dynamic-type player, it stings a little bit. But it's football, and we'll try and replace that position."

Cornerback Prince Amukamara isn't a contract-extension candidate: Amukamara is scheduled to make $6.898 million this year on the fifth-year contract option the Giants picked up last offseason, then be a free agent at season's end. Reese said the team would first have to assess Amukamara's health (he's coming off a season-ending arm injury) before proceeding with a long-term deal, and he doesn't feel the need to extend Amukamara just to get his cap number in line. "For a starting corner, that's a good price," Reese said.

The Giants are assuming nothing with regard to Victor Cruz: Reese continues to say the team hopes for a full recovery by Cruz from the severe knee injury that ended his 2014 season in Week 6. But he repeated Saturday that, until they see Cruz on the field and running the way he used to, they can't assume that recovery will happen. Receiver remains a position at which Reese would hate to be caught short, and if concerns about Cruz linger in April and May, the Giants could use an early pick on a wideout.

Landon Collins is obsessed with Sean Taylor: The Alabama star, who is the top safety in this year's draft and a possible first-round pick for the Giants, said he watched Taylor's game film before every game, wears No. 26 because Taylor wore it in college, roots for Washington because that was Taylor's NFL team and cried when he heard the news of Taylor's death in 2007.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants' hope is that wide receiver Victor Cruz will make a full recovery from last year's major knee injury and join a 2015 group of receivers that would be formidable with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle as its primary threats. But GM Jerry Reese said Saturday that the team's offseason plan cannot assume a full recovery by Cruz.

"When a guy has a big injury like Victor had, you can't put all your eggs in his basket," Reese said. "Our doctors say he looks good. I see him down in the training room, working out with our trainers and our medical people, and he looks good. But his game is quickness. And until you get out there and move around, you never really know how he's going to recovery from that. We're hoping and praying that he'll come back 100 percent and be the Victor Cruz that we know, but you can't put 100 percent in that basket."

Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in a Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery immediately thereafter and missed the rest of the season. He said in December that his hope was to be ready in time for training camp, but that he couldn't be certain. The rehab from that injury and surgery is long and difficult. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week that he believed the plan was for Cruz to start running soon, which would indicate progress, but there remains a long way to go.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesThe Giants will proceed as if Victor Cruz won't return at 100 percent, but he is "looking good," according to GM Jerry Reese.
In the meantime, Reese said, wide receiver is among the positions the Giants will look to improve this offseason.

"We'll upgrade receiver. We'll try to upgrade that spot as well," Reese said. "If Victor's back, and Odell and Rueben, that's a pretty good core. And there are some other guys, [Preston] Parker, [Corey] Washington, some younger guys. But if there's a good receiver, guys, we'll draft him."

Reese chuckled at a question about Beckham, who told reporters at the Pro Bowl that he'd played with two tears in his hamstrings in 2014.

"I don't know about that. I think he's trying to be a hero," Reese said. "I don't think you can play with two torn hamstrings and run fast like that. I think our doctors would have caught that."

Beckham missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, but recovered to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games and win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There were times during the second half of the season when Beckham admitted to pulling up on a deep route because he felt the hamstring tug and he didn't want to pull it again.

"According to our doctors, it was healed up," Reese said. "He may have gotten fatigued later in the season, but I don't think you can go out there and run like that if you've got a couple of torn hamstrings."

Reese also took a question about Randle, who was benched a couple of times late in the season for issues relating to punctuality and practice habits. Randle's relationship with the coaching staff seemed to improve late in the season and he finished with a flurry, catching 12 passes for 290 yards in the final two games of the season. Randle is under contract for less than $840,000 in salary and bonuses this year and counts just $1.047 million against the cap. He has a chance to be among the better bargains in the league at the position.

"Rueben gets banged on a lot. Sometimes he should get banged on, but I think he gets banged on a little bit too much," Reese said. "I think he's a good young player. All he needs is some chances. And with Odell and Victor, I think he'll get plenty of chances."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Tom Coughlin met with the media Thursday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the New York Giants:

Coughlin is likely to get a contract extension: Just like last year, when the Giants tacked one more year onto his deal so he didn't have to go into the season as a lame duck, Coughlin is likely to have his deal extended through 2016. He said there would be news on that at some point soon, though he didn't say what the news would be.

Weston Richburg is likely to play center: Coughlin said the 2014 second-round pick, who started 15 games at left guard as a rookie, is a center and would be "given every opportunity" to compete for the starting center job. Coughlin didn't say this, but 2014 starting center J.D. Walton is a likely cap cut whose release would save the Giants $3 million against this year's cap.

Victor Cruz is coming along: Coughlin said Cruz, the star wide receiver who tore his patellar tendon in Week 6, is doing well in his recovery and is planning to start running again soon. The Giants hope Cruz can recover in time for training camp, but they acknowledge his injury was quite serious and will give him the time he needs to recover.

Pass rush is a priority: Even if they re-sign or franchise Jason Pierre-Paul as expected, Coughlin indicated the Giants would be looking to add another pass-rusher this offseason. Coughlin didn't make it sound as though he expected Mathias Kiwanuka (another likely cap casualty) back next season, and while he said he likes Robert Ayers and Damontre Moore, Coughlin said the Giants would like to add to that arsenal as well.

The Giants are meeting with running backs: One of the items on the Giants' offseason agenda is a change-of-pace, big-play-threat running back to fill the role they had carved out for David Wilson last year. One of the many players with whom they've met here is Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, who had 14 rushing touchdowns of 43 or more yards and eight of 64 or more yards in college.
Twitter mailbag time. Thanks for using that #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week. Here's my effort to answer your questions.

@DanGrazianoESPN: The New York Giants are paying Rashad Jennings a base salary of $2.23 million this year, and he'll cost less than $3 million against their salary cap. During the portions of the 2014 season when he was healthy, Jennings showed that he can play a valuable role as the starting running back in the Giants' offense, both as a runner and a receiver. The Giants have no reason to re-think the decision to sign Jennings long-term at this point, and no reason not to go into 2015 with him as a big part of their plans. Now, Andre Williams is entering his second season and is likely to earn a greater share of the carries than was originally planned last year. And I fully expect the Giants to try to sign a speedy, change-of-pace back to fill the role they had carved out for David Wilson last summer before neck injuries forced him to retire. So I don't think you can expect Jennings to get the same kind of workload as a Matt Forte or DeMarco Murray or the backs like that. But as for being the nominal "starter" in a fluid Giants backfield designed to distribute lots of carries/catches to several different backs? Yes, he's the front-runner as of now.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No, I think Jason Pierre-Paul is the only real candidate for the franchise player designation this year. The franchise number for safeties is likely to come in somewhere around $10 million, and I don't imagine the Giants wanting to pay a 32-year-old Antrel Rolle that much money. I think the Giants would like to have Rolle back, but they are turning over the safety position with an eye toward the future, so they are unlikely to commit any kind of exorbitant amount to a player of Rolle's age, even if he has been a valuable part of the team and the locker room for the past half-decade. The way the Giants generally operate with their free agents is to assign each of them a price and tell them, if they want more, to go out on the market and look for it. In the meantime, if Rolle does that, the Giants would be likely to move on to other options. But if he'll sign for their price, he could be back on a two-year or maybe even a cheap three-year deal. I don't think he's a candidate to be franchised.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think coach Tom Coughlin is probably out if they miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. But GM Jerry Reese is absolutely not in danger of losing his job, I'm telling you. People don't want to believe it, but Giants ownership is all-in on Reese and has no intention of making a change at GM any time soon. Likewise, they're all in on quarterback Eli Manning and likely to extend his contract this offseason so that he completes his career as a Giant. It's not fair for Coughlin to be the only one taking the fall if the Giants have another bad year, because Reese deserves at least as much blame if not more for the current state of the roster. It's the personnel department's run of failed drafts that have sunk the Giants into this hole, and I don't understand what it is about Reese that makes him untouchable in the eyes of the people who run the Giants. But he is, and that's the reality of it. I think Coughlin needs a winning record in 2015 to come back in 2016, fair or not.

@DanGrazianoESPN: It's really not as simple as "talent over needs" or vice-versa. It's about maximizing the value of your draft pick. And as wonderful a player as Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is, it would be patently foolish for the Giants, from a roster-building perspective, to draft him with the No. 9 pick in this year's draft. The reason is one of allocation of resources. In the salary-cap era, it's important to assign your high-end resources (meaning free-agent money and high draft picks) to the most important positions. But it's also important not to over-commit at one of those positions. Game-breaking wide receivers are nice to have, but as of now the Giants have a first-round pick (Odell Beckham Jr.) a second-round pick (Rueben Randle) and a big-money free agent (Victor Cruz) at wide receiver. That's a lot of high-end resources committed to that one position, and it would be a mistake to do it again this year, because by definition it would leave them too weak elsewhere on the roster. So they need to find the best player they can at No. 9, yes, but they need to do it with an eye toward the needs of their roster. There are important positions (safety, pass-rusher, offensive line) that could stand a taste of the attention the wide receiver position has received from the Giants' front office in recent years, and they should be drafting with an eye toward beefing up elsewhere for a change.


Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the remainder of your weekend.

We have spent -- and will continue to spend -- a great deal of time talking about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's contract. At $19.75 million, Manning's is by far the largest salary cap hit on the Giants' 2015 roster at this point, and they'd be wise to extend his contract beyond 2015 to get some relief from that.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Victor Cruz is a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they have some tough decisions to make on a possible salary cut.
But on a separate note, I'm curious to see whether the Giants feel the need to do anything about the second-highest cap hit on their roster -- the $8.125 million number that belongs to wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz signed his long-term deal prior to the 2013 season. He has four years left on that deal at an average salary of $7.5 million per year and an average cap hit of $9 million per year. This year's salary is a palatable $6.15 million. Next year's is a more exorbitant $7.9 million. None of the remaining salary in his deal is guaranteed.

Now, if Cruz produces the way he produced in the two years before he signed the deal -- two years in which he averaged 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns -- these numbers are no problem. However, his production dropped in 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards, 4 touchdowns and missed the final two games due to injury). And in the sixth game of the 2014 season, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and had to have major surgery that ended his season.

There is no guarantee Cruz comes all the way back from the injury, or that he's the same kind of explosive player he was before it happened. The Giants hope he makes a full recovery, and he and they are optimistic he will. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has some creative ways to use Cruz that he didn't get to show much in 2014 before the injury. The team's preference would be to have Cruz all the way back and earning his contract in their new offense for the next four years.

But this is a cold business, this NFL contract business. And with Odell Beckham Jr. having exploded onto the scene as a superstar talent and producer in Cruz's absence, the Giants may well have the leverage they need to seek a reduction in Cruz's salary over the remaining four years of the deal. And it may be in their best salary-cap interest to seek that reduction. They can point out the 12 missed games over the past two years and use Beckham's emergence to help their case and maybe shave a couple of million bucks off of that cap number this year.

Doing this would run the risk of alienating one of the team's best and favorite players. Cruz is a selfless, team-first guy who showed up in 2014 training camp after signing the deal and told the coaches he wanted to work on becoming a better downfield blocker in the run game. He's a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they may decide this isn't a road they want to travel. That contract definitely means something to him, and it may well hurt his pride if they come to him and threaten him with a release while telling him Beckham has passed him -- even if it's just a negotiating tactic.

Cutting Cruz would only save the Giants $2.425 million cap space this year, so assuming they believe he's going to make it all the way back that's not a worthwhile way to go. But given the way things have gone since Cruz signed that deal a year and a half ago, it's not crazy to at least look at making some changes to it.
If it's Saturday, it's New York Giants Twitter mailbag. And it's Saturday, so here you go.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I do think it would make sense to move Justin Pugh to guard and find a big-time, mauling, run-blocking right tackle. I have thought that for a couple of years now, and based on the comments the Giants' decision-makers made on the radio earlier this week, it sounds as though they believe it now as well. And your plan -- to find a tackle in free agency and not leave it for the draft -- is likely to be the one they pursue. I believe in the value of building the line through the draft, but at the No. 9 pick it does not appear as though there's going to be a must-take tackle for the Giants this year. There are some interesting tackle names on the free-agent market (Doug Free? Bryan Bulaga? Joe Barksdale?), and it's possible the Giants have their eye on one of them. If they can't upgrade at right tackle, they're fine with Pugh there and could beef up at guard again instead. But it sounds to me as though they'll be in the tackle market, yes. And I think they should be. @DanGrazianoESPN: It's certainly not impossible that the Giants could re-sign free agents Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle, but the chances depend on a number of things. First and foremost is price. If Pierre-Paul is determined to max out as a free agent (which I believe he is), then the Giants would either let him leave or franchise him. If they franchised him, there would be less money for Rolle, who also believes he's worth a lucrative free-agent deal and could leave if they lowball him the way they did Justin Tuck last year. Their best chance for keeping both is that at least one of them gives some sort of "hometown discount." They're not likely to get that from Pierre-Paul. But as a 32-year-old safety, Rolle might not find the market for which he's hoping and could decide staying with the Giants at their price is the best option for finishing his career. @DanGrazianoESPN: A return to full health for wide receiver Victor Cruz is not guaranteed. But if he does make one then his return to the offense would help Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the offense immensely. I do not think Beckham's role would change at all, and if he continued to play at the level at which he played in 2014, he would continue to pile up targets and catches. But offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo had big plans for Cruz before his season-ending injury last year, and having Cruz back as the slot receiver could make things even easier for Beckham as defenses had someone else who required their attention. Cruz is a guy the Giants feel they can use in a role similar to the one in which the Packers use Randall Cobb -- move him around the formation, line him up in the backfield, etc. And having Beckham as the threat he represents on the outside would enable them to maximize those options. Cruz and Beckham played only one full game together in 2014. As for the "odd man out," good question. Assuming Rueben Randle as the No. 3 (which I think is a fair assumption), they have a fair bit of depth with guys such as Marcus Harris (assuming he comes back from his injury), Corey Washington and Preston Parker and Kevin Ogletree if they bring those guys back. They were surprised by what Parker delivered for them this year, and they view him and Ogletree as good fits for their offense. Wide receiver could be a position of good depth for the Giants if Cruz does return. @DanGrazianoESPN: I don't think so. If we go back to the Packers comparison (which I think we should always do when talking about the new Giants offense), they really haven't had a high-impact passing-threat tight end recently, right? Jermichael Finley for a time, maybe, but not lately. The Giants (a) don't like to spend big resources on tight end and (b) really like Larry Donnell as a high-ceiling developmental player. They believe that another productive offseason will help Donnell make another leap and emerge as a major threat in their passing game. But even if he doesn't, they showed this year that he can be useful as-is, and as we discussed above, they might have more than enough options at wide receiver.

Thanks for all of your questions.

New York Giants season report card

December, 31, 2014
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The 2014 New York Giants had two three-game win streaks. Their quarterback cut his interception total nearly in half from last year. And they might well have the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

But what the Giants didn't have was enough success -- not nearly enough. After going 7-9 last year and overhauling the offense, the Giants went 6-10 in 2014 and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years.

Yes, they had a ton of injuries -- 22 players on injured reserve, more than any other team in the league. And yes, they did have their moments on offense. But they couldn't hang with the good teams in the league and really were never a factor in the playoff race after the midway point of the season.

At the end of it, another disappointing year for a team that always says it wants to win the Super Bowl but, most years, can't even get itself into the postseason.

Team MVP: Odell Beckham Jr. To win a team MVP award after missing all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury takes some doing. But the Giants' rookie wide receiver was unquestionably their best player once he was on the field, and the numbers he put up in his three-quarters of a season ranked among those of the best players in the NFL. He finished the season with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games. The Giants are excited as they look ahead to the possibility of a full 2015 season with Beckham and Victor Cruz both healthy at wide receiver.

Best moment: Beckham's twisting, one-handed touchdown catch in the Week 12 loss to the Cowboys might have been the No. 1 individual highlight of the entire NFL season. The catch made Beckham an instant sensation, landed him a dinner in New York City with LeBron James and shined a light on the best thing the Giants had going for them in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and overall dismal season. Those who had been watching Beckham in practice every day, in pregame warmups and in non-prime-time games were of course dazzled to see his best work live and in a difficult game situation, but the excitement over Beckham that has followed is fully justified based on the way he played before and after "The Catch."

Worst moment: When Cruz went up to try to catch a short pass in the end zone in Week 6 in Philadelphia and tore his patellar tendon before he hit the ground, it was as sickening and disappointing a moment as any the Giants had all year. Seeing Cruz, in tears, taken off the field on a cart with a team trainer holding his knee in place was tough to watch, and obviously the impact on the Giants' offense the rest of the way was significant. If they ever had a chance to make anything of this season, losing Cruz just as they were getting Beckham into the lineup took it right away from them.

2015 outlook: Hard to say for sure until we see what happens in free agency. But assuming they add a piece or two on the offensive line and address the pass rush, either by re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul or finding a high-end solution on the market, there is reason to hope next year will be better than the past two were. They obviously demonstrated progress and growth in Ben McAdoo's offense as the year went along. Quarterback Eli Manning had a fine season and -- apart from one five-interception mess against the 49ers -- did a better job of protecting the ball and making smart decisions than he has in years past. The array of weapons around Manning heading into 2015 gives reason for optimism.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A big part of the New York Giants narrative over the past couple of months has been speculation about how good the offense will be next year when star rookie Odell Beckham Jr. is joined in the wide receiving corps by a healthy Victor Cruz. And, yes, that's a tantalizing thought for the Giants' offense.

But Cruz's season-ending knee injury, suffered in Week 6 in Philadelphia, was not some pulled calf muscle. It was a torn patellar tendon that required surgery to repair and will require a long and intense rehab that Cruz is only just beginning. Cruz said last week that he was hoping to be back in time for the start of training camp, and Giants GM Jerry Reese said Tuesday that the team can't be completely sure of a full return to health for Cruz or a timetable.

"It's a significant injury that he has," Reese said. "You never know how he's going to come back from that. We're hoping that he's definitely going to come back and be the Victor Cruz that we know. But you never know with the significant injury he had."

Last year, the Giants built up their running back corps in part because they didn't know for sure whether David Wilson could make it back from his neck injuries. He did not. This year, it's possible the Giants could address wide receiver for a similar reason, hedging against the possibility that Cruz can't make it all the way back.

"This was a significant injury, just like David Wilson had a significant injury," Reese said. "You've got to prepare as if, 'What if Victor doesn't come back?' That's always in the back of your head -- 'What if this guy doesn't come back and be the player we think he is?'"
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Victor Cruz suffered his season-ending knee injury the week before Odell Beckham Mania began. On Oct. 12, during the New York Giants 27-0 loss in Philadelphia, Cruz told Beckham that more would be expected of him now that Cruz was done for the year. In the nine games since, Beckham has 73 catches for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Cruz is loving it.

"Watching Odell has been fun, man," Cruz said Wednesday. "Seeing the things he's doing out there, it has me motivated to come back and play next to him next year."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon that night in Philadelphia, requiring surgery and a long rehab process. He said the rehab is going well -- that he's walking on the treadmill, doing some trampoline work and some strength exercises for the muscles in his leg.

"I'm pretty much fully mobile," Cruz said. "I'm just not running yet."

Cruz said he spoke with teammates Zack Bowman and Marcus Harris, who have come back from the same injury, and that he came away from those conversations encouraged about his chances to return to pre-injury form. He said he believes his leg can come back even stronger than it was before the injury, and his goal is to return in time for training camp next July, though he said he'll of course listen to the doctors and trainers with regard to timetable.

"There's no doubt in my mind that I'll return to form and be the payer I was in years past," Cruz said. "I'm just excited to get myself together and play next to that kid next year."

Twitter mailbag: What might have been

December, 20, 2014
Last spin of the year through Newark Airport as I head off to St. Louis. Might as well take some New York Giants questions. Let's see who used that handy-dandy #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week...

@DanGrazianoESPN: So many choices from among the 22 Giants players on injured reserve. Wide receiver Victor Cruz is the most obvious answer, as the offense seemed to be clicking and Odell Beckham Jr. had just returned from injury when Cruz blew out his knee in Week 6 against the Eagles. And based on the Giants' preseason plans, they'd likely give a nod to middle linebacker Jon Beason, who never recovered from a minicamp foot injury, but I don't know that we can put the Giants' defensive struggles solely on the absence of Beason. I think the potential impact of Walter Thurmond as the nickel cornerback was a major one, and he went down early. He could have solidified them in the slot, and he could have played on the outside once Prince Amukamara went down with his injury. With a nod toward offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, I'm going to go with Cruz and Thurmond as my answers here. But as I said, lots of strong choices, unfortunately for the Giants.

@DanGrazianoESPN: In spite of this odd disciplinary fracas between wide receiver Rueben Randle and coach Tom Coughlin, I don't see any reason the Giants wouldn't bring back Randle next year. He's only going to be making about $800,000, and he'll only cost about $1 million against the salary cap. He's on pace to finish this season with 67 catches for 741 yards. He caught six touchdown passes last season, when he was the No. 3 wide receiver on the team. None of those numbers are dazzling, I'll grant you, but he's obviously a competent NFL receiver, and no one's roster has 53 superstars on it. The Giants believe Cruz will return to full health, which would make Randle a pretty good-looking No. 3 behind Cruz and Beckham (likely playing outside with Cruz in the slot in their preferred three-wide receiver sets), especially for the price. Again, it's possible that the issues he's having with being late for meetings and whatever else is ticking off Coughlin could pave the way for Randle to head out of town and be replaced by someone from the mid-range receiver market. But I find that unlikely, especially since they just used a second-round pick on him two years ago and the Giants are not inclined to give up on draft picks this soon.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Hey! That's two questions! Pretty good work for 140 characters. In spite of the Justin Pugh pick from 2013, I still think the Giants are disinclined to use a first-round pick on the offensive line. Considering where they'll likely be picking (7-to-9 range), and considering that this draft seems more top-heavy with defensive linemen than it does with offensive linemen, my way-too-early prediction is that they go with a pass-rusher in the first round and maybe hit the offensive line in the second or third. Or, as you said, free agency. As for Larry Donnell, I would not say he's "done enough to trust as a starting tight end next season." But I would say he's shown enough to make the Giants believe he'll continue to develop as that, and that at this point their plan would be to go into 2015 with him as their starter at the position. That'd be the first time since 2010 (Kevin Boss) that they didn't change starting tight ends in the offseason, but they like Donnell and believe he can blossom into a major playmaker for them.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Just rumors and inside whispering, but yeah. At this point, I think the odds are better that Coughlin is back than that he's gone. They're not planning to cut bait with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo after just one year. I think a lot of people would be surprised if defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is back, and if they do make a change there you'd have to think some of the other defensive assistants would be in trouble as well, since a new coordinator would likely want to bring in at least some of his own people. And don't rule out a little bit more tinkering on the offensive side of the ball in McAdoo's second season. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty is a good coach and well respected, but it was a bit of a surprise that spot didn't turn over last year when they made moves to get younger on the coaching staff. He might not be safe this time around if they do make more changes.

Thanks for the questions, and enjoy the start of bowl season.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The first and easiest instinct is to ask whether anyone has an explanation, but they don't. The New York Giants placed five players on injured reserve Tuesday, bringing their current total to a staggering 20, and it doesn't make any more sense to them than it does to you or me.

"You're asking me for a comment that has miffed me forever: Why does it happen?" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday morning. "We've jumped even further into the science of staying healthy in terms of what we've done this year with our soft-tissue stuff, and as you can see, it hasn't been that. It hasn't been the soft tissue. It's been the surgical repairs, the things that have knocked people completely out of the game."

The Giants did overhaul their conditioning program this year, incorporating GPS monitoring and scheduled rest days throughout training camp and monitoring things differently during the season than they have in years past. But as Coughlin points out, the issues this year have generally not been muscle pulls or lingering strains. Starters Victor Cruz, Prince Amukamara, Jon Beason, Geoff Schwartz, Mathias Kiwanuka and Walter Thurmond all suffered season-ending injuries that required surgery to repair -- catastrophic-type issues that can't be prevented by better conditioning or vigilance. Dumb luck, in more or less all cases, which makes it even tougher to understand.

"It is a lot," said offensive tackle Justin Pugh, who missed the past two games with a quad strain but has avoided injured reserve and expects to play Sunday in Tennessee. "There's no doubt, you can look at it and think, 'How does this keep happening?' But it's part of the game. Every team deals with it. It's about how you handle the injuries."

The Giants haven't handled them very well, if their 3-9 record is any indication. Pugh said that the offense, at least, has had to make some changes in procedure due to the number of new faces shuffling in and out of the lineup all the time.

"Now, when we make a call, we're sticking with it. No gray area, where before we might have had some leeway," Pugh said. "Now it's clear-cut. But I don't want to say we've gotten more vanilla. We're just making sure we're harping on certain techniques and being real specific."

With four weeks to go in the season and big bodies naturally breaking down all around the league every December, the injury toll for the Giants is likely to climb even higher by season's end. They had three players miss practice Wednesday -- Rashad Jennings with an ankle injury and James Brewer and Mark Herzlich with concussion symptoms. They weren't the strongest roster in the league to begin with, and they've been wracked by injury more than any other team.

"I wish I had an answer for you," Coughlin said. "A lot of people want to go on and on about, 'Do we have enough offseason?' And I think that might legitimately be something to bring up at some point in time. But we offer no excuses, and we certainly have always maintained that position. I feel bad for the guys that are hurt. It's the nature of our business, unfortunately. We push forward."
I am off to Jacksonville for a Week 13 clash of NFL powerhouses. But in the meantime, I'll take your New York Giants questions via Twitter and the ever-useful #nygmail hashtag.

@DanGrazianoESPN: My gut still says that neither coach Tom Coughlin nor GM Jerry Reese gets fired at the end of this season, but John Mara's gut matters far more in this case, and I continue to remind people that the remaining games on the schedule still matter in the final evaluation. If the Giants finish 4-1 and end up 7-9, things look a lot different than if they finish 2-3 and end up 5-11. In the latter case, I believe all bets are off and no one's safe. The Giants don't fire GMs. They've had only three in the last 38 years. But Reese's two predecessors did better jobs than he's done, so it wouldn't be crazy to think they'd break from that organizational philosophy if they felt it was time to flush out the whole thing and start fresh. As for Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Giants isn't getting "fired" in any traditional sense. If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was allowed to leave on his own terms a year ago, surely any parting with Coughlin would be presented as a retirement and a celebration of his career with the Giants, as it should be. Coughlin is invested in this organization and its long-term health as well as its short-term health. If there's a decision to be made about whether it's time to change coaches, I believe he'll be a part of that decision, not merely a victim of it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If Victor Cruz were healthy right now, he'd be playing the slot receiver spot currently manned by Preston Parker, with Odell Beckham Jr. manning the same outside receiver position he's playing right now. So the answer to your question is that the offense would be better by whatever the difference is between Parker and Cruz, which is significant. No offense to Parker, but Cruz is an elite slot receiver, and assuming he bounces back to pre-injury levels of speed and explosiveness, the Giants would be in a good spot. Beckham's ability to stretch the defense with his deep speed would force opponents to make a decision on which guy to cover, and Eli Manning could lean on whichever one was open depending on that week's opponent's game plan. The bigger question to me is what happens at that other outside receiver spot. Is Rueben Randle good enough, or do they look to upgrade there? Randle is not guaranteed any money for next year, but his cap number would only be around $1 million. Once Cruz is back, that will help Randle or whoever is in that spot a great deal as well. And they still believe tight end Larry Donnell is developing into a potentially big-time weapon. So I think if they can keep plugging away on offensive line improvements and Cruz comes back, there's lots of reasons to be optimistic about the Giants' offense for the future.

@DanGrazianoESPN: If the season ended right now, the Giants would hold the No. 7 overall pick in the NFL draft. It's going to be tough for them to get much higher than that, though they could pass Washington and move into the No. 6 spot if they lose to them in a couple of weeks. But I think the furthest they could fall is to right around that No. 12 spot where they picked last season. I don't know what's going to happen in the next four games when the Giants face off against non-contenders, but my guess is that they'll win either three or four of their remaining games. So if that's the way it goes, I'll predict they end up picking No. 10 in the 2015 draft. And in answer to the questions that come with this, it has to be a lineman, either defensive or offensive. This is a strong pass-rusher draft at the top, and the Giants desperately need to improve their pass rush. And the offensive line... well, anyone who reads me regularly knows how I feel about the line and the way the Giants have neglected it in the early rounds of the draft for far too long. They need more star-caliber talent on the line.

@DanGrazianoESPN: (I agree that he shouldn't.) Not sure about your point on the conditioning. Are you referring to the rash of injuries the Giants have suffered? A lot of that is bad luck, and it really does happen to every team. The Giants' problem is that their roster still isn't deep enough to weather the kinds of injuries they've had without significant dropoff. They weren't a great team to begin with, and once the injuries set in they became a very bad one. But as for who takes the fall, I think the defense's performance has been the kind that gets defensive coordinators fired. Perry Fewell is a good man and a good coach, and the Giants like him a lot. But if they're not getting rid of the head coach or the GM, I think the response to this season will end up being an overhaul of the defense akin to the overhaul they made on offense last year and that it'll start with the hiring of a new coordinator. I also wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of other staff changes on offense in the second year of Ben McAdoo. Some of the holdover coaches (offensive line?) who kept their jobs through last year's change could be on shaky ground. But again, we have to wait and see how this final month goes before we can make any truly informed predictions.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy your leftovers.
A New York Giants bye week doesn't mean a break from the Twitter mailbag. And thanks to your curious and judicious use of the #nygmail hashtag, here it is.

@Dan GrazianoESPN: The Giants are going to have a decision to make next offseason on left tackle Will Beatty, who carries a cap number of $8.05 million in 2015 and $9.175 million in 2016. They could get out of the deal, if they wanted to, by making Beatty a June 1 cut next year. This could happen if (a) he doesn't play better, (b) they think Justin Pugh is ready to move to left tackle, (c) they find a better and cheaper tackle solution in the draft or (d) all of the above. If they decide to stick with Beatty, then you have to figure that at least four-fifths of next year's line is already on the team in Beatty, Pugh, Geoff Schwartz and Weston Richburg, and center J.D. Walton has a two-year contract, too. Now, can any of those spots be upgraded? Of course. And it's never a bad idea to look for building-block pieces on the offensive line early in the draft. Look at that Dallas Cowboys line that's getting all of that positive attention. Three of its starters were first-round picks in the last four years. It's no coincidence. If you invest in top-level talent on the line, it pays off. The Giants have shied away from doing that in recent years, but by picking Pugh in the first round in 2013 and Richburg early in the second this year, they're at least trending toward sensibility there. It wouldn't be crazy for them to add a key piece to the line next year via the draft or free agency.

@Dan GrazianoESPN: Other than the Giants (whom he's never played, obviously), the only three NFL teams Eli Manning has not yet defeated are the Colts (0-2), the Chargers (0-3) and the Titans (0-2). The first two are interesting connections, since Manning's big brother played for the Colts in both of those games and the Chargers are the team that drafted him and for which he famously did not want to play. I have no idea how to explain the 0-2 against the Titans. But the Giants do play both the Colts and the Titans this year, so there exists the chance that, by the end of the season, San Diego will still be the only opponent Manning has not defeated in his NFL career.

@Dan GrazianoESPN: I feel like I've answered this question a lot, but I guess not enough people have read my answers. Giants GM Jerry Reese is not on any sort of hot seat, nor in any danger of losing his job. The Giants do not fire general managers. They have employed a grand total of three of them in the past 36 years. They believe strongly in the importance of continuity in leadership positions, and they are pleased with the job Reese has done overseeing the direction of the franchise. They will not fire him because he's been a poor drafter, though you are correct in saying he has been. Since Reese took over as GM in 2007, only three Giants draft picks (Ahmad Bradshaw, Will Beatty and Zak DeOssie) have signed second contracts with the team. Reese has delivered Super Bowl titles but has not found building blocks in the draft, and that's the reason last year's roster was so hollowed-out and required a free-agent-centric offseason rebuild. The record is what it is, and it's not good. But rather than fire him and start over, the Giants will leave it to Reese to re-evaluate the manner in which the draft is orchestrated and make changes as need dictates. Prince Amukamara, the 2011 first-round pick you cite here, has a chance to stick around, as does 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul. The way this year goes for both of those players (who are both off to good starts) will dictate whether either or both can earn a contract extension in the offseason. And if they become long-term building blocks, Reese's draft record has a chance to start looking a bit better than it does right now.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy a weekend without angst. 
ARLINGTON, Texas -- At their team meeting here Saturday night, on the eve of their game here Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants heard from injured teammate Victor Cruz.

Cruz, the star wide receiver who suffered a season-ending knee injury the Sunday before in Philadelphia, was at the Giants' team facility last week and taped a video message to his teammates. The coaches played the video Saturday night, and in it Cruz addressed each position group individually and even a few individuals.

"For us to be able to see him strong like that, it gives us strength. It gives me strength," said rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who caught two touchdown passes in Sunday's loss. "We're all playing for Vic. That's a guy we all look up to. It's hard to see him like that, but for him to be in good spirits and show strength, that's encouraging for us."

Beckham was one of the individuals Cruz singled out in the video, telling him, "we need you now." And Beckham said Cruz's message to each position group was, "Am I my brother's keeper?", asking the Giants to play for each other the rest of the way.

"He's still part of this team and part of this season," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "He's a leader of this team, and we still get to have his presence around. It'll be good."

The Giants are on bye this week and return to action with a "Monday Night Football" game at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 3.

These Giants are clearly not contenders

October, 19, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The two weeks that were going to tell us all about the 2014 New York Giants went about as poorly as they could have gone and told us everything we needed to know.

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Giants 31-21 on Sunday at AT&T Stadium to improve to 6-1. They lead the NFC East by a half-game over the idle Philadelphia Eagles, who are 5-1 and beat the Giants 27-0 last Sunday. The Giants are 3-4, well behind two teams that just beat them, and as they head into their bye week, they look absolutely nothing like a team with playoff hopes.

"This is our bye week, and when we come back, we want to be a great team," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "We have a good football team. When we get those kinks out of there, we'll be all right."

That is the right way for the players in the locker room to think, because their job is to take the field every week and give an honest effort to win games. But to those of us who stand on the outside and evaluate these teams against one another, it's clear that these Giants are not that good. They're not a terrible team, as they were this time last year, but they're not a contender either. They are a rebuilding team and clearly have been since they changed up the offense and blew out the free-agent budget in the offseason, signing more free agents than any other team.

And while the remainder of this year is likely to feature periods of encouraging progress, right now the Giants just don't have enough good players to hang with the top teams in the league.

"We've got to figure out a way to get better," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have to eliminate the mistakes and the little things so we can execute better and find a way to sustain more drives."

The Giants were penalized six times for 40 yards, and the timing of the penalties was backbreaking. They lost two fumbles, the first of which came at a point when the game was still in question.

These are the mistakes to which Manning refers, and the Giants aren't a team that can overcome such mistakes. Given their significant personnel deficiencies relative to their division rivals, they need to be just about perfect to win games.

The Cowboys' offensive skill-position players Sunday around quarterback Tony Romo included Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten and emerging tight end Gavin Escobar. Their opposite numbers on the Giants were Rueben Randle, Andre Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. Size those groups up against each other and there's no reason to believe the game should have been close. That Giants' core has talent and promise, but no neutral observer could think it compares to the Cowboys' offensive personnel at this stage in the careers of the people on those lists.

Add in the fact that the Giants are missing top wide receiver Victor Cruz, starting running back Rashad Jennings, top cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting middle linebacker Jon Beason due to injury and lost starting defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins early in Sunday's game. These are significant losses to overcome, and the Giants at this stage in their roster rebuild don't have the depth to overcome them.

"We keep forgetting about that, because we have to come back and play next week," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But when you do lose key players, it definitely can hurt your team."

It's crippling the Giants, who needed everything possible to go right to contend this year. In the end, the best they can hope for this season is to be able to say at its end that they made progress in the new offensive scheme and have a plan for patching the remaining holes next offseason. Any talk of firing coaches is likely to be unjustified -- as it usually is -- because this is a roster-in-progress and a project that likely needs at least two years to bear fruit.

That's the reality of what the Giants are dealing with in 2014, and it always has been. Players like Beckham offer hope for the future, and this Giants team is likely to be better this time next year than it is right now. But right now, the simple fact is it's not good enough to be a contender. Not this year.