New York Giants: Antrel Rolle

So New York Giants safety Will Hill could be suspended for the season as a result of his latest failed drug test. Or not. He could win his appeal and not be suspended at all. There's no way to know what's going to happen with Hill. That is his defining characteristic. It's why his very promising NFL career is unlikely to ever really happen.

The Giants love Hill's talent. He was the best player in their secondary for much of the 2013 season, and they were looking ahead to this fall with him penciled in as one of their starting safeties. But they also signed Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps, both of whom have starting experience, because the one thing they know for sure about Hill is that they can't count on him.

Four-game drug suspensions in 2012 and 2013 leave Hill teetering on the edge of the league's drug program, with the NFL likely to suspend him a full year for his next violation. That's a tough line for a team to walk with a player it likes but can't trust. Ideally, you'd like to make your plans around him, but you have to operate with the knowledge that you can't. Ideally, you want to support him as he deals with the difficult parts of his off-field life, but you can't follow him around every day of the year.

So Hill has failed another test, and even if his best-case scenario were to come true and he were to be exonerated and win his appeal, you have to think the Giants aren't going to put up with him much longer. Having to wonder every day whether you're going to get the call that tells you one of your starting safeties is suspended is a tough way to operate, especially when you're doing as much roster reassembly as the Giants are doing this offseason. If Brown is fully recovered from ACL surgery, they can go forward with him as the starter opposite Antrel Rolle, and address the position in the draft or next offseason for depth and for years beyond this one.

Hill is a very nice player, but there are good reasons he didn't get drafted. The Giants have always known he was a volatile commodity -- that they'd benefit greatly if he could stay out of trouble but that odds were he wouldn't. At this point, it's hard to say whether this latest bit of news is the one that pushes them to cut ties with Hill, but even if it's not, it's hard to shake the sense that the day is coming. And if it is, it would be tough to blame them.
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:

How will the locker room come together with so many new faces?

[+] EnlargeNew York Giants
AP Photo/Evan PinkusIt's going to fall on coach Tom Coughlin to keep the chemistry and professionalism alive in the Giants' locker room.
One of the acknowledged strengths of the Giants in recent years has been their team chemistry -- the extent to which their players buy into the whole idea of being a Giant, and what that all means. It has served them well in good times and in bad. Their ability to hang together helped elevate them from a 7-7 morass in late December of 2011 to Super Bowl champions a little more than a month later. It helped them right the ship after last year's 0-6 start to win seven of their final 10 games and salvage some respectability. A lot of that generates from the tone set by ownership and of course head coach Tom Coughlin, but for a long time there has been a core group of players in the locker room who could be counted on to buy into the "Giant way" of doing things.

Is that still the case? Here is a partial list of significant departures this offseason:

David Baas

Kevin Boothe

David Diehl

Linval Joseph

Hakeem Nicks

Terrell Thomas

Justin Tuck

Corey Webster

Those eight players take with them a combined total of 52 seasons played as Giants and 11 Super Bowl rings won as Giants. Now, other than Joseph and maybe Tuck, it's tough to make a strong argument that any of them should have been brought back, but that's not the point we're discussing here. The point is that, whatever these guys were by the end of 2013, they were longtime Giants who didn't have to be educated about the coaches' or the organization's expectations of what that meant. Webster was no locker room leader, but he was no troublemaker either. Nicks was horrible last year, but even at his worst he was no boat-rocker. He just didn't play as hard as they wanted him to play. Even at 0-6 and with guys like that playing their worst, there was never any locker-room turmoil with the 2013 Giants, because the room was built around professionals and champions who knew how to pull together for the greater good.

So because of the extent of the change, this is a question that needs asking. The Giants believe they retained some of last year's strong leadership with returning captain Antrel Rolle and middle linebacker Jon Beason on defense. Eli Manning remains a strong locker room presence, and the return of offensive lineman Chris Snee is a benefit from a leadership standpoint. The retention of Coughlin, who sets the tone for the locker room as head coach, is the most important key to keeping this all together, and he himself admits that it's his mission to make sure the new pieces all mesh as effectively as the old ones did.

But until we see that happen, there's no way to know for sure. What if guys like Rashad Jennings and Geoff Schwartz and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie don't like the way the Giants operate? If the team gets wiped out in September again, can this new group be counted on to handle it as professionally as last year's did? If the team finishes 9-7 or 10-6 and gets into the playoffs, can this new group be counted on to turn up its play to a championship level the way the 2011 group did?

It's a mystery, as it must be when a team engages in this level of turnover. And it's really not a question to which we're likely to have a concrete answer any time soon. The free-agent frenzy has changed the look of the Giants and by necessity will alter the vibe in the locker room. Some of the new players will be obvious assets. Some will not. Time will tell which will be which, and the manner in which the players and the coaches manage the good and the bad will determine how it all comes together. It's a big project, and not an easy one. There remains a strong chance this is only the first offseason in a larger rebuilding project, and that parts of this question will have to be addressed again next spring.
I wrote last week that, in spite of all of the free-agent signings, the New York Giants' hopes for a 2014 recovery rest on the ability of quarterback Eli Manning to make his own recovery. Manning is the single most important player the Giants have, by far, and they will go as far as he takes them.

But assuming Manning does correct the problems that led to his career-worst 27-interception season in 2013, there are certainly other players on the team who could help elevate it to greater heights. These are players who can improve on their 2013 performance, health or both, and if they do, could help the Giants rise above the NFC East muddle and into the playoffs.

This is not a prediction, mind you. Those come months from now, at far more appropriate times once rosters are set and we've had time to properly mull over the offseason. The Giants could be a first-place team in 2014. They could be a last-place team in 2014. It's way too early to know, and even once it's prediction time there are still going to be a ton of unknowns and what-ifs on this team. But this is a brief list of players who could give them a significant boost on which they may not even necessarily be counting.

David Wilson, RB. The Giants brought in Rashad Jennings to be the starter. But they're still very high on Wilson's raw talent. If he's recovered from neck surgery and can overcome some of the (blocking, fumbling) problems he's had early in his career, his game-breaking ability will be a useful weapon in the run game. And they would find touches for him.

Victor Cruz, WR. He caught three touchdown passes in the first game, one in the fourth and then not another all year. Cruz was the victim of double coverage much of the season due to deficiencies elsewhere in the passing game. But he's going to be the clear top threat in the receiving corps again until someone else shows improvement. If Cruz can find a way to thrive in spite of the extra attention, that would be a huge boost to the offense.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB. As is the case with Cruz, the Giants are paying this guy to be a difference-maker. But it's a big bet on a player whose consistency hasn't always matched up with his considerable talent. Rodgers-Cromartie has, they say, the talent to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The Giants think getting him in a locker room and a meeting room with mentor Antrel Rolle will help turn the light on and get him to play to his ability every week. If that happens, then they got a deal.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE. The best player on the Giants' defense has been more or less a non-factor for a season and a half now due to injuries. To go from non-factor to 2011-style JPP would be an absolutely massive jump. A healthy, productive Pierre-Paul is the perfect example of a player who could give the Giants an unforeseen edge over their opponents every single week.
The New York Giants invested heavily in free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they're going to use him accordingly. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would be deployed as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

When asked how exactly DRC would be employed within defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defensive system, head coach Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate.

"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings.

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, left, can expect to be matched up with elite receivers like Dallas' Dez Bryant next season.
Coughlin and the Giants targeted that type of player right from the start of free agency. They checked in on all the top cornerbacks, before landing Rodgers-Cromartie when the options were slimming. It's clear what drew them to talented cornerback.

"He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away," Coughlin said. "He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."

So that's the answer to a lot of the questions that were asked when the Giants signed Rodgers-Cromartie. The question is whether he can handle the assignment of tailing guys like Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and maybe DeSean Jackson around the field for a whole game. All of those guys are on the Giants' 2014 schedule (unless Jackson gets traded to a team that is not), and each is a tough matchup for even the best cornerbacks in the league.

Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't really been used that way in previous stops, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I asked my NFL Insiders colleague Louis Riddick what he thought. Louis is a former defensive back himself who worked in the Eagles' front office when Rodgers-Cromartie was there in 2011 and 2012.

"He may actually respond favorably to that, to be honest, especially if there are guys like [Antrel] Rolle who he doesn't want to let down," Louis said. "While we had him, no, he would not have reacted well to that kind of responsibility."

Interesting point about safety Rolle, who is the Giants' defensive team captain and was a teammate of Rodgers-Cromartie's in Arizona earlier in their careers. Rodgers-Cromartie was calling Rolle "big bro" around the time of his signing and clearly looks up to him. Part of the reason the Giants have confidence Rodgers-Cromartie can harness his talent and establish a level of consistency with them that he hasn't shown to this point in his career is that they expect Rolle's influence to be strong and positive.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can handle that "shut-down" responsibility with regard to the opponent's top wideout every week, that would obviously be a huge asset to the Giants' defense and justify their five-year, $35 million investment in him. It would ease some of the pressure on Prince Amukamara, who tried gamely to fill the No. 1 cornerback spot in 2014 but isn't really suited for that role full-time. It would allow fellow newcomer Walter Thurmond to stay on the slot receiver, where he should be a tough matchup every week. And the overall depth at corner now should allow Rolle to stay at safety for a whole season, which he prefers and will likely make him as effective as he can be.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't handle that assignment ... well, then they're going to have to move a lot of pieces around to make up for that. The positive thing there is that they have a good number of quality pieces to move around in case Plan A doesn't work out.
I'd love to tell you this was some kind of brilliant new idea for social media outreach, but the fact of the matter is I was stuck for a topic this Friday afternoon. So at 1:40, I told my Twitter followers that I'd do a 400-word post on the best topic suggestion I got from them in the next five minutes. I got more than 50 suggestions, which is great, and it's tough to pick just one. So what I've decided to do, since this is a new thing and I can make the rules, is to round up several suggestions that kind of hit on one topic and write my 400 words off of those. Here are the winners. The first guy is famous.

 

So those 400 (or so) words start now:

I remember dealing with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a bit when I was the NFC East blogger and he was with the Eagles. And I've spoken with people who were around him and the Eagles those years. Not a bad guy by any means, but definitely marches to his own drummer. Some will tell you it can be a challenge to keep his attention. And sure, that doesn't sound like something that Giants head coach Tom Coughlin would handle well.

But when it comes to players, I think Coughlin has shown he's pretty adaptable. Look at the case of Antrel Rolle, who clashed severely with Coughlin during the early part of his time with the Giants, but is now a respected team captain who has the coach's trust as a locker-room leader. That relationship evolved because of the willingness and ability of both men to communicate with each other about what was important to them. Rolle becomes a key figure in this current situation. He and Rodgers-Cromartie were teammates in Arizona, and Giants people believe that having Rolle on the team will be key to whatever maturation process remains for Rodgers-Cromartie at this point in his career. I'm sure they'll put Rodgers-Cromartie's locker next to Rolle and all of that.

The Trindon Holliday reference in the comment above is, I believe, a reference to Holliday's issues with fumbling, which Coughlin (and really every other coach) hates like poison. The high-profile case of David Wilson in 2013 shows that Coughlin will bench a player who fumbles even if it hurts the player's confidence and the team's short-term chances of winning. He believes the long-term benefits of the lesson outweigh the short-term detriment, and by the way the fumbling itself is a pretty serious short-term detriment in and of itself.

But while he did bench Wilson, Coughlin didn't stop coaching him. The Giants worked him hard in practice to help him overcome the problem so he could return to the lineup and help them win, and Wilson was playing very well at the time of his injury. Coughlin may get annoyed with a player from time to time, but when he does he almost always finds a way to (a) keep it in-house and (b) direct the issue toward improvement.

Coughlin correctly believes his job as a coach is first to know his players as well as he can and then coach them according to what works best with each guy. His task will be significant this year, as the Giants are going to have a staggering number of new faces. But especially in the case of Rodgers-Cromartie, I believe the coach will be ahead of the game in dealing with whatever issues arise in the most productive way possible.
On paper, following their flurry of free-agent activity this week, the defensive backfield is the strength of the New York Giants' roster. We say "on paper," because it's March 19 and paper's all we have. The Giants don't play a real game for another five-plus months, which means all we can do is project what we think will happen based on the way everything looks from this far out.

So let's. Let's take a look at the Giants' new secondary, piece-by-piece, to get everybody fired up about how much better it has a chance to be in 2014. Assuming, of course, that they haven't improved it at the expense of the pass rush. Which they may have. But that's a different story for another time. This is about the secondary, whose members now include:

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
AP Photo/Seth WenigIn 2014, Antrel Rolle should see more help in pass coverage given the Giants' additions at cornerback.
Antrel Rolle, safety: The lone remaining defensive captain, Rolle should be well served by the addition of all this cornerback depth. He's been asked to handle too much cornerback duty the past several years due to injuries and depth issues at that position. With everyone they now have at corner, Rolle should be able to stick to safety as he prefers. He's a leader on the Giants' defense, which is the main reason he was never a real candidate to be cut in spite of his whopping $9.25 million cap number. Ideally, he'll be able to switch off seamlessly between strong safety and free safety in the Giants' defensive scheme because his fellow starting safety will be able to handle either role.

Prince Amukamara, CB: I believe Amukamara is a good player. His technique is good, he's willing to mix it up physically, he can tackle, he's willing to help out against the run. Smart, studies hard, keeps himself in excellent shape... solid, all-around player. What I do not think he is is a star cornerback, a "shutdown" type who you can put on the other team's best receiver and expect him to take the guy out of the game. Not a knock, mind you -- there are very few guys like that. Just saying that I think the additions around him will help alleviate some of the pressure and responsibility Amukamara took on himself last year as the team's clear No. 1 corner.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB: He doesn't fit that "shutdown corner" description either, but his speed and athleticism enable Rodgers-Cromartie to make spectacular plays and sometimes even outrun his mistakes. The Giants should be able to split the field with him on one side and Amukamara on the other and feel very good about their chances in coverage. Depending on week-by-week matchups, they can isolate Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage as warranted without having to lean on him as a one-on-one difference-maker every week. He looks up to Rolle, his former Arizona Cardinals teammate, and should benefit from that relationship.

Stevie Brown, safety: When training camp 2013 opened, Brown was coming off an eight-interception breakout season and was talking about his development as a player. The hope was he would evolve into the kind of safety who could switch off with Rolle as Kenny Phillips used to do, and Brown and the team were confident he could. Brown tore his ACL in the 2013 preseason and hasn't played since, so his health will be a question mark going into the year. But if he is healthy, he will get a chance to win back that starting safety spot and show off his ballhawking skills again.

Will Hill, safety: He emerged as the starter opposite Rolle as the 2013 season went on after missing the first four games on a drug suspension. Rolle made the Pro Bowl, but I believed Hill was the better player at times in 2013, which is more a compliment to Hill than it is an insult of Rolle's play. The questions with Hill are of off-field issues, but if he's got his life in order away from the football field, he's a force on it. If Hill stays out of trouble and Brown stays healthy, the Giants have enviable safety depth.

Walter Thurmond, CB: He was one of the cornerbacks called upon to fill a larger role in Seattle last year following the drug suspension of Brandon Browner, and it's generally believed the Seahawks' cornerback play improved. Thurmond is an elite-level talent as a slot cornerback, which is the role he'll likely fill with the Giants, but he's also capable of handling himself on the outside should one of the starters get injured.

Trumaine McBride, CB: The Giants were impressed enough with his 2013 work as an injury-replacement starter that they signed him back on a two-year contract. Undersized but extremely determined, McBride showed an ability to handle himself on the outside and can play the slot as well. He'll function as a reliable backup.

Cooper Taylor, safety: Late-round 2013 draft pick is already a helper on special teams, and with all of the veteran safeties they have in front of him, he can take his time developing as a defensive player.

Jayron Hosley, CB: The Giants' 2012 third-rounder has been slow to develop due to health issues. The Giants liked him as a slot corner option when they picked him, but he's got to show a lot to stay in the long-range plans at this point.

Quintin Demps, safety: Signed primarily as a kick returner, he's a last-resort option if injuries dictate that he fill in at safety. He did start six games there for Kansas City in 2013.

Charles James, CB: Saw some work in the return game last preseason, but they have other guys for that now. James has some value as a special teams player but will have to fight his way up the depth chart.
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.
In case you haven't been paying attention, the New York Giants are going to look a lot different in 2014. You can make the argument that's a good thing, given how bad they were in 2013, but I'm not sure the extent of the roster overhaul in East Rutherford is being sufficiently understood by outside observers.

[+] EnlargeReese
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Giants and general manager Jerry Reese are in unfamiliar territory in terms of roster turnover.
The Giants project to have new starters at nine positions -- center, left guard, wide receiver, tight end, running back, cornerback, outside linebacker, defensive tackle and defensive end -- plus a new slot cornerback, a new kick returner and a new punt returner. At the present time, there are only 13 players on the Giants' roster who played in their Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Patriots 25 months ago.

That's serious turnover, folks, and while it was inevitable and warranted, it creates a level of uncertainty with which this continuity-based franchise has not been familiar over the past decade.

The Giants have relied in large part on their locker room culture to help them through tough times and elevate them to postseason greatness. But the locker room is going to have more new faces in it in 2014 than it's had in quite some time. Key leaders such as Justin Tuck, Terrell Thomas and David Diehl, have departed, leaving guys like Antrel Rolle, Jon Beason and of course Eli Manning to keep steering the ship in the right direction when it veers off course.

Now, many of the players the Giants have signed look to be upgrades over their predecessors at their individual positions. And from the group of new guys, it's likely a leader or two will emerge. But it's worth noting that the sheer volume of the turnover creates an unfamiliar situation for the people who run the team.

GM Jerry Reese doesn't like to build a roster through free agency. He prefers to use the draft to build and maintain a deep roster and develop players so they're ready to fill in when holes open up. But the past couple of years haven't worked that way, either because of poor drafts, insufficient development or both, and the roster Reese carried into this offseason was in need of widespread repair. He has had no choice but to stock up through free agency, even as he remains well aware of the pitfalls. And while he's maintained some key principles in an effort to minimize the inevitable risk (the only player of the 16 free agents they've signed who's over 30 is kicker Josh Brown), Reese surely knows not every move he's made will work out. His best hope is the majority of them do, and this time next year he's confronted with less than half as many holes.

Tom Coughlin is in for an unusual season as well. The Giants have tremendous faith in their head coach's ability to lead men and shape a team, and Coughlin's task once training camp opens in July will be to get all of the new pieces mixed in smoothly with the old pieces and make sure everyone's rowing in the same direction. This is what Coughlin gets paid to do, and he's very good at it, but some of the things that may have run on autopilot in recent years when the roster wasn't turning over at all aren't going to do that anymore. It's going to be a very different year for Coughlin and his coaching staff, a decent chunk of which is also new, by the way.

If you're a Giants fan, this is an exciting time, because your team is taking shape and you can imagine the great things the exciting new players who are being brought in can do together. It's an exciting time for the people who run the Giants, too. Things will feel fresh and new once this group gets together, and that's always fun. But a lot still rests on the ability of them to bring all of these pieces together and make it all work.
Man, I know these NFL contracts are more or less written in pencil, but the one Mathias Kiwanuka signed a couple of years ago makes you think he's working in the New York Giants' front office.

Kiwanuka
Kiwanuka restructured his deal last year to help the Giants get under the salary cap, and on Monday he agreed to a pay cut to help them do the same for 2014. Kiwanuka's 2014 base salary was reduced from $4.375 million to $1.5 million in a move that saves the Giants a little more than $2 million in salary-cap space and likely helped clear the way for the Monday signings of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and kick returner Trindon Holliday.

It's a nice team-first move by a team-first player. Kiwanuka isn't a Pro Bowler in anyone's book, and on a deeper, more solid roster he'd have been a candidate to be cut if he didn't agree to lower his salary. But once Justin Tuck signed with the Raiders last week, you'd have to think Kiwanuka's leverage with the Giants improved. You want me to take a pay cut? Well, what if I don't want to? You going to cut me? Who's going to rush the passer while Damontre Moore learns the playbook?

But Kiwanuka knows the score, and like a lot of the guys who've won these last couple of Super Bowls, he loves being a Giant and wants to help in any way he can. So I'm not surprised he took a cut.

Others who could take pay cuts or restructure or extend their contracts to create more immediate cap room include quarterback Eli Manning and safety Antrel Rolle, though as far as I know there's been no movement by the team on either of those deals. Rolle would have to be an extension, and Manning likely would too. The Giants don't seem too interested in throwing money around to guys in their 30s, but you never know.

On Jon Beason's contract numbers

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
12:55
PM ET
Linebacker Jon Beason's deal with the New York Giants is for three years and up to $19 million, with $7 million guaranteed. If he hits all of his incentives and doesn't get cut, he'll earn $12 million in the first two years.

Beason
That $6 million-plus-per-year is a good bit more than what I thought Beason would end up getting from the Giants. I thought they had him slotted for something like $4 million per year, and to see them exceed that by so much was a bit startling. Karlos Dansby, who just had a monster year as an inside linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals, got $6 million per year from the Cleveland Browns. First glance, it appears Beason took the Giants to the cleaners.

So why spend so much on a position they've effectively ignored since Antonio Pierce retired? Well, there are a couple of reasons the Giants may have stretched for Beason:
  1. They know they like him. Beason fit perfectly into the Giants' defense last year as a guy who could make the calls and get everybody lined up where they needed to be. He got the system and the terminology immediately, and the players responded to the way he delivered it. Bringing in someone else from the outside, the Giants couldn't have been sure that person would slide in as neatly.
  2. They need leadership. Cornerback Terrell Thomas is not in their plans. Defensive end Justin Tuck could be back, but they're not exactly going out of their way to convince him to stay. Safety Antrel Rolle has only one year left on his deal. Along with Beason, these were the strong leaders on the Giants' defense in 2013. Two could be gone this year and three next year. The Giants value locker-room leadership and on-field leadership, and as a result Beason likely had more value to them than an outsider (and better player) like Dansby may have had.
  3. He's only 29, and while he's had injuries in the past, he did stay healthy in 2013. They have reason to believe his best days are not yet behind him.
  4. The guarantee is low. This is the big difference. Dansby got more years (four) and more guaranteed money ($12 million) from Cleveland. The Giants aren't as heavily committed to Beason. So if he disappoints or gets hurt, they're not saddled with some huge contract they can't escape. If he stays healthy and plays out the whole deal, they'd probably argue that it was money well spent.

The Giants made Beason a priority and once other teams expressed interest, I'm sure they ended up offering more than they initially offered. Good for Beason, who acted as his own agent, for getting what looks to be a very nice deal from the Giants, who decided they couldn't live without him.
Linebacker Jon Beason got a lot of credit for his role in the New York Giants' in-season defensive turnaround in 2013. But on Wednesday, he got something even better than credit -- he got a new contract. The Giants and Beason have agreed on a deal that will keep the free-agent linebacker with the team. And while it's a bit out of character for the Giants to make linebacker a priority, this was an important move for them to make.

Beason
First of all, the extent to which the Giants have overlooked the linebacker position in recent years has been a detriment, and they've ignored the extent to which it's hurt them. It's fine to prioritize the pass rush and the secondary in this day and age, but to leave linebacker as barren as it was prior to the Beason trade last year is pure negligence. I'm sure every Giants fan can recall games in 2010, 2011 and 2012 where a familiar division opponent like the Eagles picked them apart over the middle with short stuff. It's how Tony Romo and the Cowboys took them apart in Week 1 in Dallas just this past year.

Beason's arrival in exchange for the low, low price of a seventh-round draft pick at the end of September changed things. Not only did he play well, showing surprising sideline-to-sideline speed and energy for a guy who'd had leg injuries and tumbled down the Panthers' depth chart, but he also eagerly and effectively assumed the role of defensive leader. The Giants instantly installed him as the middle linebacker and gave him the responsibility for relaying the defensive calls on the field. They needed someone in the middle of the field who could get and keep everyone organized, and Beason offered that to an extentDan Connor and Mark Herzlich could not. The players believed in him and respected him, and the way he played and led justified it.

So you can argue that Beason's performance is what convinced the Giants to finally spend for a linebacker for a change. I don't know what they spent yet. I know they thought they could sign him for something in the $3 million or $4 million per year range. I know there were other teams interested, and Beason was holding that over the Giants' heads in negotiations as recently as Wednesday morning, so it's possible they ended up spending a bit more than they projected. But I'm sure it's not a contract that will break the bank, given where the market is for inside linebackers league-wide. And considering they're surely losing Terrell Thomas and possibly defensive co-captain Justin Tuck from the leadership ranks of that defense -- and defensive co-captain Antrel Rolle is only signed for one more year -- Beason has value to the Giants that goes beyond any stats he might put in the box score.
So right before Twitter crashed on Tuesday afternoon, New York Giants safety Stevie Brown tweeted that he had re-signed with the team.



Not a big surprise. After collecting eight interceptions in his dream 2012 season, Brown tore an ACL in the preseason and missed all of 2013. He had been slated to be one of the Giants' starting safeties last year along with Antrel Rolle, and the Giants like him a great deal. The ACL surely deprived him of the kind of market for which free agents hope, and so it was in the sides' mutual interest to get something done and offer Brown his big chance at a starter's job a year late.

Brown
Problem is, that starter's job may not be there for Brown anymore. Will Hill emerged as a very good player at safety for the Giants in 2013, and despite a $9.25 million cap number, Rolle is still on the team for 2014. So Brown would have to beat out Hill (and prove he's healthy) in order to be a starter, as he was projected to be a year ago.

Regardless, assuming Brown is healthy, safety is a real position of strength for the Giants if they have Rolle, Hill and Brown at the top of the depth chart. (I don't expect them to bring back Ryan Mundy.) If Brown makes it all the way back from his injury, as it's believed he will, he offers the Giants insurance in case Hill's off-field issues rear their head again or in case Rolle leaves following the 2014 season.

The Giants also have Cooper Taylor, the safety they drafted in the fifth round last year, who could develop into a more significant part of the secondary over the next couple of years.

Big Blue Morning: The plan at safety

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
9:30
AM ET
We talked Monday about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's contract, and the fact that a higher-than-anticipated 2014 salary cap makes it less imperative for the Giants to extend Manning this offseason for cap relief. Another highly paid veteran Giant whose contract situation is impacted here is safety Antrel Rolle, who was the Giants' only Pro Bowl representative this season.

Rolle
Rolle, 31, carries a $9.25 million salary cap number for 2014, which is the final year of the five-year, $37.1 million contract he signed with the Giants prior to the 2010 season. That's a whopper of a number, but the Giants seem unbothered by it. The people to whom I've spoken about this situation say the Giants would be willing to talk about an extension with Rolle because they like having him around and would be interested in keeping him beyond this year at the right price, but that they don't feel the need to extend him for 2014 cap relief. The Giants have shown a willingness to pay a premium for players they feel are worth it, and they feel Rolle's 2013 performance in his first year as a defensive captain justifies his salary. With the possibility of fellow defensive leaders Justin Tuck, Jon Beason and Terrell Thomas leaving via free agency, keeping Rolle around may be vital from a leadership standpoint.

So while I viewed Rolle as a question mark for the Giants when the offseason began due to the finances, it does not appear as though the Giants view him as one. And what the Giants think matters more here than what I think. I don't expect Rolle will be asked to take a pay cut, and I don't expect him to go anywhere.

The situation at safety around Rolle and the future of the position for the Giants are intertwined. It's a rare spot at which they believe they have some quality depth. Will Hill looked like the best player in their secondary at times last year (Rolle included). Ryan Mundy looked like a guy who can fill a valuable role off the bench or as an emergency starter. And Stevie Brown, who was slated to start alongside Rolle following his eight-interception 2012 season, is expected back from his torn ACL and should compete with Hill for a starting spot.

If Brown comes back healthy and continues to develop the way he was developing before his injury, and if Hill stays out of the kind of off-field trouble he's had since college, the Giants could be set at safety for 2015 and beyond even without Rolle. For now, though, those are two big "if"s, and even more reason the Giants are likely to pay Rolle what his contract schedules him to earn.
So New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle watched the Super Bowl with his buddy, Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, and said Tuesday night that he's trying to convince Finley to join the Giants. Certainly, a peak-condition Finley would be a fun weapon for the Giants to add, but it's important to note Finley is coming off a severe neck injury and spinal fusion surgery and is no sure bet to be cleared by doctors to play again. He has said he expects to be cleared by his own doctors for contact in the coming weeks, but that doesn't mean the Packers, the Giants or any other team will pass him on a physical and sign him to a contract. So Finley remains a question mark, for the Giants and in general.

But with tight end Brandon Myers almost certain to be cut and not be missed, the Giants are looking for answers at that position. And if Finley does pass the medical tests, he'd potentially be a strong solution -- especially given his history with new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who came from Green Bay. But why not take this opportunity to look at some other possibilities for the Giants at tight end? All it is is snow and ice out there, so it's not like we can go anywhere.

Free agency

Finley is but one of many intriguing candidates who fall in the talented-but-flawed category. Detroit's 6-foot-5, 265-pound Brandon Pettigrew is a former first-round pick who hasn't developed the way the Lions would have hoped and might could stand a change of scenery. Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, if the Ravens let him go, is coming off a major hip injury but is a reliable receiver with a Super Bowl ring. Guys like Fred Davis and Dustin Keller have had some success in the league but come with other question marks. And sorry, but there's no way the Saints are letting Jimmy Graham reach free agency. Cross him off your wish lists.

The draft

In 2002, the Giants used the No. 14 pick in the draft on talented, dynamic tight end Jeremy Shockey. And while we all remember the ugly end to Shockey's Giants career, he was a very good player for them for a while. Could they repeat themselves 14 years later and use the No. 12 pick in the draft on North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron? And if they don't, would they take someone like Texas Tech's Jace Amaro or Washington's huge Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second? It would not be an out-of-character move for the Giants to try to find a dynamic weapon for Eli Manning with an early pick. He could certainly use a few.

The current roster

Bear Pascoe is a free agent himself and not the answer as a receiver. Larry Donnell's basically a special teamer. So the intriguing guy in the mix here is Adrien Robinson, the fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft who has participated in only three games in the first two years of his professional career. The Giants drafted Robinson as a project because they liked his size and talent, but they knew there was a risk he might never develop. Injuries kept him out of the lineup all through 2013 until the Week 16 game in Detroit, when he was active for the first time all year but injured himself on the opening kickoff and didn't play again. If the Giants have something in Robinson, there's been no way so far for them to find out. They obviously can't count on him as their starter going into 2014.

Rolle recruiting Finley to Giants

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
9:08
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Antrel Rolle has played various positions in the Giants secondary, and he's now trying out a new role: general manager.

Rolle said he's giving a pitch to Packers free-agent TE Jermichael Finley on joining the Giants next season. The Giants could need a new starting tight end next season if they void the remaining years left on Brandon Myers' deal.

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAntrel Rolle wants to see Jermichael Finley in blue.
The safety watched the Super Bowl with Finley on Sunday.

"We were recruiting each other," Rolle said before being honored at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. "He said he would love to be a part of the Giants. And going up against this guy for a number of years now, I said I would love for him to be a part of the Giants so we don't have to face him. He's an extreme talent. He's an exceptional guy and more important, I know he's a fiery guy. I think that's something we could definitely use on the offensive side of the ball."

The Giants received little production from their tight end this past year, as Myers, who doesn't add much as a blocker, flopped. He caught 47 passes for 522 yards and four touchdowns, struggling to make a difference. His most memorable play was failing to catch a high pass from Eli Manning that went off his hands and resulted in a game-clinching interception in a loss to Chicago.

The Giants can get out of their contract with Myers, which could open the door for Finley, an athletic specimen and game-changer when healthy. Finley's season was cut short after suffering an injury and undergoing spinal fusion surgery, but Finley has said he will play again. There is no guarantee, though, that he will suit up for an NFL game again. Finley caught only 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns last season, and can be a mismatch for linebackers and corners.

Finley also has a connection with new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who coached tight ends in Green Bay. Rolle consulted Finley about what McAdoo will instill into a unit that was one of the worst in the NFL in 2013.

"He was telling me that McAdoo is a brain. He's going to keep defenses guessing, he's very smart. I just said, 'Yes!' " Rolle said. "I think our offense is going to excel in his system and Eli is going to do what he does best, which is lead our offense."

Rolle has one year left on his deal, and said there has been no contact with the Giants about his contract. He carries a big cap hit next season, so the Giants could look to extend him to lower that number, or make him a salary-cap casualty, although there's no indications they will do that.

As the Giants try to catch up to Seattle and produce a defense on par with the Super Bowl champions, Rolle wants to see more attention to detail this upcoming season. The Giants finished eighth in total yards allowed in 2013.

"Just guys taking more initiative and more focus on their craft and understanding our defense in and out," Rolle said. "There were some times throughout the year where coach [Perry] Fewell was restricted from running certain defenses that I know he loved to run. It takes everyone. It's a collective effort."

He added: "You got to have guys that study and go way beyond the X's and O's."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider