- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul tweeted this photo of himself encased in some sort of giant, presumably therapeutic thermos with the all-caps assertion that "I WILL BE READY FOR 2014 SEASON." I don't know exactly what sort of cryogenic effort the photo depicts, but Pierre-Paul had no shortage of physical ailments in 2013. Back surgery in June limited him early in the season, and a midseason shoulder injury basically erased the second half of his season. Being ready for the 2014 season would be a notable accomplishment, and his ability to pull it off is very important for the Giants' short-term and long-term plans.
Pierre-Paul is four years into his NFL career, and to this point he has had one utterly brilliant year -- his 16.5-sack 2011 season, which culminated in a Super Bowl title. The year before was a rookie season he spent learning. The year after was a solid year in which he saw constant double-teams and his stats suffered. This past year was a lost year due to the injuries.
So the Giants have themselves a 25-year-old pass-rusher they believe (because they have seen him do it) can be one of the very best in the league. But with one year left before he's eligible for free agency, Pierre-Paul presents something of a conundrum for the Giants as they make their plans for 2014 and beyond. By this point, they'd love to have been in a position where extending him beyond 2014 would have been a no-brainer. Had he continued to develop on his 2011 track, he'd be established by now as a franchise cornerstone -- a foundation piece for their pass rush.
But the injuries of the past year-plus have instead made Pierre-Paul a question mark. They believe he can be a foundation piece for their pass rush, but the fact that he's had so many physical issues already must at least give them pause as they contemplate the extent to which they should commit to him. At this point, the right plan for both sides is probably to play out the 2014 season and talk about a new deal once it's over, but as Hakeem Nicks showed this year, that plan can cause its own problems.
In the meantime, uncertainty about Pierre-Paul must necessarily affect their decision on how to proceed with veteran free-agent defensive end Justin Tuck. If they felt certain about Pierre-Paul as their top pass-rusher in 2014, that might make it easier to play hardball in contract talks with their best pass-rusher from 2013. Cutting Mathias Kiwanuka for cap reasons also might not be as easy as it might appear if they have concerns about how much time Pierre-Paul will spend on the field next year. They need to maintain depth at that position, and Damontre Moore remains a work in progress.
So in conclusion, Pierre-Paul's rehab from his shoulder injury is something on which the Giants will keep a close eye this offseason. And perhaps his willingness to share the experience on social media is a way of doing them a favor. Knowing as much as they can about the extent to which they can count on Pierre-Paul to be ready for 2014 will help them make some other plans around him.
4dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan