New York Giants: Antrel Rolle
Those facts, along with the state of the safety market in the 2015 offseason, indicate to me that Taylor or Berhe -- and possibly both -- will get a shot to start at safety for the Giants this coming season.
Answers aren't likely to come via the draft, either. Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety available this year, and the consensus at the combine seemed to be that No. 9 was too early to take him. After Collins, the safety pool drops off into mid-round options who aren't likely to be any more NFL-ready in 2015 than Taylor and Berhe would be.
There are a couple of possible free-agent safety options, though the best one, Devin McCourty, isn't likely to leave New England and hit the market. So that leaves the Giants to decide how they feel about guys like Denver's Rahim Moore or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy. It's possible they could find Rolle's replacement in free agency, but even if they did, that would still leave open one starting spot for one of the young fifth-rounders.
"They’re going to get a chance to compete," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Saturday. "Cooper obviously has to stay healthy, but I think those guys are going to get a chance to compete for that position."
Taylor still has work to do to recover from the foot surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. But he's making good progress and expects to be ready in time for camp. The Giants believe Taylor's uncommon size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) makes him a high-ceiling prospect at safety if he ever gets the chance to play it regularly. Berhe (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) doesn't have the same kind of size, but the Giants like his instincts and aggressiveness and believe he could take a leap forward this season.
In the past, the Giants have shown a willingness to commit big resources (Rolle's contract, a first-round pick) on the safety position, so it's easy to imagine them doing that again. But it's tough to believe they're going to go out and bring in two new high-end, experienced starters, which means opportunity this summer for one or both of the young guys.
2. As for the others: The Giants also have meetings scheduled with the representatives for free-agent safety Antrel Rolle, free-agent defensive tackle Mike Patterson and others as they figure out where they stand with three weeks left until the new league year. They re-signed bench wide receiver Kevin Ogletree to a one-year deal Tuesday and will continue that level of tinkering here as well.
3. Could the LSU pipleline continue? The Giants have two starting wide receivers from LSU -- Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle. On Wednesday, LSU tackle La'el Collins was one of the prospects who spoke to the media. He said watching the success that former teammates Beckham, Jeremy Hill, Jarvis Landry and Trai Turner had as NFL rookies last year inspires him. "It's the program," he said. "Everything we do at LSU prepares us for this. I feel like I'm just the next guy to do it." Collins said he has meetings set up here with 22 teams, including the Giants. He played guard his first two years at LSU and left tackle the past two.
4. Division rival news: Washington coach Jay Gruden said during his Wednesday news conference that Robert Griffin III would open the season as the Redskins' starting quarterback.
5. Upcoming: Giants coach Tom Coughlin is scheduled to address the combine media Thursday at 12:15 p.m. ET. Giants GM Jerry Reese has his combine news conference Saturday at 10 a.m. ET.
Three players the Giants could target in the draft:
Landon Collins, S, Alabama: The only safety Mel Kiper Jr. currently projects as a first-round pick, Collins is the kind of interchangeable player who can cover up high and also move down into the box to help against the run. His high-level college experience makes him a candidate to start and contribute immediately, and he's a possibility for the Giants with the No. 9 pick overall.
Derron Smith, S, Fresno State: If they wait until the second or third round (and if they bring back Rolle), Smith could be an interesting option as a long-range solution. He has great speed and has been a team captain at Fresno State (remember last year, when they drafted all those team captains?). His height (under 5-foot-10) is a concern.
Cody Prewitt, S, Mississippi: Size isn't an issue for this guy at 6-2, 217, and his experience as a four-year starter in the SEC will appeal to teams looking for a potential immediate helper in the second or third round.
But everyone loves names, so speculation has some value during this slow time. With only Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe on the roster at safety, the Giants will undoubtedly be looking for help at that position when the new league year opens March 10. Here's a PARTIAL list of some of the safeties who could be available in free agency.
I think the Giants would make a big play for McCourty, who turns 28 in August, if he hit the market. I just don't think he will. The Patriots want him back, he wants to stay, and if they don't get a long-term deal done before free agency opens, it'll only cost them about $10 million to franchise him. They'd have no issue paying one of their best defensive players that much money in 2015 if it came to that. McCourty is likely a pipe dream for the Giants.
The Next Best Things: Da'Norris Searcy, Bills; Rahim Moore, Broncos; Sergio Brown, Colts; Jeromy Miles, Ravens.
Searcy was the Jairus Byrd replacement in Buffalo, played well in his first season as a starter and doesn't turn 27 until November. Moore is even younger -- turns 25 on Wednesday -- and another year removed from a very serious leg injury. Brown is a career special teamer who started eight games for Indianapolis in 2014 and turns 27 in May. Miles turns 28 in July and played for new Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season when Spagnuolo was the Ravens' defensive backs coach.
Older Vets: Mike Adams, Colts; Dawan Landry, Jets.
Adams would be a fun story as a Paterson native coming home, but he turns 34 in March and therefore doesn't fit the profile of a Giants free-agent target. Landry is a 32-year-old veteran, but the Giants have one of those they can bring back if they're looking for that (see below).
Rolle is a team captain who just finished a five-year deal in which he didn't miss a game. They'd welcome him back, but at their price, since he's 32 years old and they're looking to rebuild with younger guys on defense. Brown got benched early in the season but recovered well and doesn't turn 28 until July. They'd bring him back if he's cheap, and hope another year away from ACL surgery would do the trick. Demps was signed to return kickoffs, ended up starting some in Brown's place but didn't seem to give the Giants what they wanted. He'd come back if they'd have him, but my guess is they move on.
Restricted Free Agents: Will Hill, Ravens; Tashaun Gipson, Browns; Rodney McLeod, Rams; Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jets.
Other than Hill (been there, done that), these are all guys who could conceivably pique the Giants' interest if they hit the market. But as restricted free agents, they're unlikely to do so.
@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.
This has to be last yr for Tom, Jerry, and Eli if they don't playoff right? #nygmail— AiredMania (@airedmania) February 6, 2015
@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.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Well, as a Bills fan, you'll be happy to learn that Marcell Dareus is not a free agent, since the Bills picked up the 2015 contract option on their 2011 first-round pick last spring. But pass-rusher Jerry Hughes and running back C.J. Spiller are free agents, and both are interesting names for the Giants. Hughes is among the top pass-rushers available on the free-agent market, assuming Buffalo lets him hit that market, along with the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul. I wouldn't expect the Giants to try to sign both of those players, as they'd be over-committing financially at one position to do it, so my guess would be Hughes is a high-end option who would only be on their radar if they decided to let Pierre-Paul leave. As for Spiller, he interests me a lot. I wrote last week about one of the ways in which the Giants plan to upgrade their run game -- namely, by signing offensive linemen who can upgrade their run-blocking. But I also expect them to pursue a change-of-pace running back to fill the role they had planned for David Wilson last season, and Spiller's speed and elusiveness put him in that category along with players such as New England's Shane Vereen and Atlanta's Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. Depending on what the market will bear -- and I highly doubt anyone's going to be paying Spiller feature-back money -- he could land on the Giants' radar for sure.
@DanGrazianoESPN: They will definitely make an effort to sign Pierre-Paul long-term. And if they can't get that done, they may well use the franchise player designation on him to hold him in place for one year at around $15 millon. Otherwise ... uh ... I don't know. Antrel Rolle, if he'll cut them a deal (which I kind of think he won't)? Stevie Brown and Mike Patterson if they're still cheap? Jacquian Williams if his concussion symptoms are cleared up? Mark Herzlich is part of the furniture, and I'd guess he returns. But the Giants' didn't have the kind of defensive season that makes you scream, "Bring everybody back!!!" The most interesting one to me is Walter Thurmond, as I wonder what his price is going to turn out to be after he signed a one-year, prove-it deal and went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2. I know they like him, but it's possible the injury has changed their mind on whether he's their nickel corner of the future.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I would think it's safety, because whatever you or I may think of Will Beatty and Justin Pugh as starting NFL tackles, they have proven they can be that. Yes, I think the Giants can upgrade at both of those spots, but if they have to go with Beatty and Pugh as their starting tackles, they believe they can get the job done. But right now, the only two safeties on the roster are 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor and 2014 fifth-round pick Nat Berhe. It'd be a huge bonus if even one of those guys played his way into a starting role in 2015, and to expect both of them to do it would be folly. (And even if they did, they'll need at least one backup, right?) In the recent past, the Giants used a first-round pick on Kenny Phillips and signed Rolle to a five-year, free-agent deal, so we know they have a history of using major resources on safety. I believe they have a crying need at that position, whether they bring back Rolle or not, and I expect them to be big-game hunters when it comes to safety this offseason.
OL issues: Is it a question of scheme, technique, personnel? what approach will change for this upcoming year? #nygmail— Ben Rosenberg (@BenRNJ) January 30, 2015
@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants' problems on the offensive line are the result of years of neglect. They ignored the line at the top of the draft for more than a decade before taking Pugh in the first round two years ago. And adding Geoff Schwartz as a free agent and Weston Richburg as a second-round pick last year didn't solve the underlying problem, which is that they have failed to draft and develop offensive line talent for years now. Beatty is being paid as a franchise left tackle but doesn't always perform like one. He was a second-round pick. But mid-rounders such as James Brewer never developed, the pipeline got dry, and they've spent the past couple of years trying to play catch-up. Unless you commit significant high-end resources to the line (as the Cowboys have, taking a lineman in the first round in three of the past four years) or develop one and let it mesh together for a period of time, you can't expect consistently dominant production there. The great Giants line of Diehl/Snee/O'Hara/Seubert/McKenzie carried them for a long time, but once those guys got old, the Giants did a rotten job of re-stocking their positions, and they are obviously paying the price.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the Super Bowl. We'll be back next week.
Wouldn't it make the most sense to move pugh inside and get a f/a tackle..then draft picks can be defense.. #nygmail.. - brett vollant (@BLV2180) January 15, 2015@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 what are the chances we bring back both JPP and Rolle? #nygmail - Jason De Rozario (@THE_REAL_JayDee) January 14, 2015@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 Will Cruz's return help or hurt Odell's production and who is the odd man out in the wr rotation? #nygmail - Kerry Loomis (@kerryloomis) January 14, 2015@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 #nygmail to take next step with new O, do Giants need a better passing threat TE? - Steven Haderer (@stevenhaderer) January 14, 2015@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.
This is Spagnuolo's supposed bread-and-butter -- a defense built around the idea of the front four getting pressure on the quarterback and allowing him to drop seven into coverage. It's possible that what Tom Coughlin said in Thursday's news release about Spagnuolo evolving as a coach and learning how to defend spread offenses changes the focus, but the pass rush is going to be paramount regardless.
Obviously there is overlap here with the first category, but if we keep this focused on defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins and 2014 third-rounder Jay Bromley are the only surefire keepers. They could bring back Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn if they liked, but they can also find upgrades relatively cheaply for any and all of them. They'd save $2.25 million against the cap if they cut Jenkins, and doing that in a continued effort to get younger on the interior of the defensive line isn't out of the question.
Jon Beason's contract doesn't seem sustainable to me. They like him and would bring him back, but his $7.36 million cap number is out of line with his performance (especially given his injury history and the fact that he barely played in 2014). If they really are happy with the way Jameel McClain played in his place, they could cut Beason. Only $900,000 of Beason's 2015 salary is guaranteed, and they'd save about $3.5 million if they released him. Interesting decision looming there. Elsewhere, McClain is reasonable at $1.175 million in salary this year, and second-year man Devon Kennard is a good-looking and versatile piece. Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are all unrestricted free agents. Williams is a question mark because concussions ended his season, but if he's healthy, they will look to bring him back. Herzlich is a favorite of a lot of people there, a helper on special teams and also likely to be back in a reserve role.
They should look to extend Prince Amukamara's contract now. They exercised his $7 million fifth-year option last offseason, but that doesn't become guaranteed for anything but injury until September. Make it part of the guarantee in a new multiyear deal and they should be good to go into the future with Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starters. The free-agent question here is Walter Thurmond, who signed a one-year deal last year and went down early with a season-ending injury. He was a big part of their plans as a nickel cornerback, and assuming he's not looking to cash in big, they are likely to try to bring him back.
The only safeties on the roster right now are Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor, neither of whom projects as a starter for 2015. They'll talk to Antrel Rolle about a return, but I have a hunch they'll lowball him -- as they did Justin Tuck last year -- and he'll get more elsewhere. If that's the case, expect this to be a big focus of their offseason resources -- meaning either free-agent money, early-round draft picks or both. Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are both candidates to return, but only if they're willing to do very team-friendly deals.
Injuries have been a problem here as well, but any way you cut it, potentially losing five defensive backs in free agency is pretty daunting.
The Giants actually have six unrestricted free-agent defensive backs. Matt listed safeties Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Chykie Brown, but he forgot about cornerback Zack Bowman. Add in the fact cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride are coming off season-ending injuries, and the Giants have a great deal of work to do in an area that was one of their main priorities in free agency just a year ago.
The first issue is what to do with Rolle, a 32-year-old veteran captain who just played every game and earned every dollar of a five-year free-agent contract. They would bring him back, but it will have to be at the right price. And as they did with Justin Tuck a year ago, the Giants could lowball Rolle and send him into the arms of some team with a whole bunch of cap room and a willingness to spend for a big name. If that happens (and maybe even if it doesn't), the Giants may end up playing in the deep end of the free-agent safety pool, making an offer for someone such as New England's Devin McCourty or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy in an effort to replace Rolle.
I imagine they'll be able to bring back Stevie Brown on a sensible, low-cost deal. He played a bit better in the second half of this season after his benching, and they stuck with him last year through his ACL rehab. Demps didn't play great, nor did he make a major impact as a kick returner, which was the primary reason they signed him, so I think they'll likely let him go. It's also worth mentioning that some of these decisions could be impacted by the choice of the new defensive coordinator the Giants need to hire.
As for cornerback, they still have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara and McBride under contract for 2015, though they have to figure out whether to bring Amukamara back on his one-year, $7 million option or work out a longer-term, lower-cost solution. Jayron Hosley is a good bet to be cut, and my guess is they let restricted free agent Mike Harris walk. The question marks here are Thurmond and Bowman, two guys they signed last year hoping they'd have a bigger impact. Thurmond got injured early and missed nearly the whole season. They like him a lot, but if he shows he's healthy they could have competition for his services.
My guess is they bring back Thurmond to play that nickel corner spot for which they had him earmarked then hope they can stay healthy at corner this year with all of the quality depth pieces they have and focus on safety. But if they start to feel Amukamara and McBride are question marks, or if Thurmond goes somewhere else, the Giants showed last year they won't hesitate to use their offseason resources to make themselves as deep as possible at cornerback. As 2014 showed, you can never have too many of them.
@DanGrazianoESPN: The answer to your question is yes, the New York Giants would be open to that if they fell in love with a defensive coordinator candidate who ran a 3-4 defense. But I do not believe that is their preference, because it would require a pretty intense evaluation and overhaul of their defensive front seven. They'd have to move on from Jason Pierre-Paul, who's a 4-3 defensive end, and go out hunting for pass-rushing outside linebackers, which aren't super-easy to find in high quantities. It's possible they could stand up Damontre Moore and turn him into that kind of player, but they'd need more, and they'd have a bit of a logjam at inside linebacker with Devon Kennard, Jameel McClain and Jon Beason. Up front, they'd have to figure out whether Johnathan Hankins fit better as a 3-4 defensive end or a nose tackle. I suspect he'd be an end, which means they'd need to get a nose tackle. Considering they already have major work to do on the defensive line and in the secondary as is, adjusting the front-seven alignment that significantly is likely too extensive an offseason undertaking for them in 2015. Again, if they found a guy they really loved and he was a 3-4 guy, they obviously wouldn't rule it out. But the sense I get is that they'd prefer their new coordinator to run a 4-3.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I'm assuming you're using the Pro Football Focus rankings, right? They're obviously useful but imperfect, and they're better at rating certain positions than others. I could see Beatty grading out as a top-10 left tackle in 2014, but he clearly was far worse than that in 2013, and the inconsistency is what kind of leaves me cold. Since he's not a big, bruising, physical left tackle, Beatty is dependent on technique to succeed. When his technique slips, he struggles to get it back, as was the case throughout 2013. He led the league in holding penalties in 2014 with eight, and I don't think that's a coincidence, because when I watch him I see a guy who likes to grab too much. I think he can be overpowered, especially by top pass-rushers, and I think left tackle is a position where you want to spend major resources on elite talent if you can. While he was serviceable in 2014, and more good than bad, I don't think he's elite, and if I were the Giants I would be on the lookout for a way to upgrade. Not saying it's easy, just saying I don't agree with the perception that they're as good as they could possibly be at left tackle. And I think it's an important enough position not to cut corners.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Without a doubt. If you're trying to guess who the Giants will take with the No. 9 pick in the draft, Alabama safety Landon Collins is as good a guess as any. The Giants only have two safeties -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor -- under contract for 2015. Even if they do bring back Antrel Rolle, they'll obviously be looking to build quality young depth at the position. And with the signing of Rolle and the drafting of Kenny Phillips in the first round, there's a good amount of recent evidence that safety is a position on which the Giants aren't afraid to spend major resources. Especially if they come out of free agency feeling like their pass rush and offensive line are in good shape, Collins will be a popular and potentially accurate projected pick for the Giants at No. 9. Good call.
@DanGrazianoESPN: This is a completely worthwhile question, though it's important to remember that when Ben McAdoo took the offensive coordinator job last year, Coughlin was still only signed through 2014. And while John Mara said it was possible they could break with organizational history and allow Coughlin to enter this season as a lame duck, he said the same last year and they still extended Coughlin through 2015 before the season began. So that could still happen. But even if it did, there's no guarantee Coughlin will be the head coach beyond 2015, and anyone applying for the defensive coordinator job will know that. So yes, it's possible that situation could affect the search or their ability to get the coach they want. These things can be overcome with money and the offer of unprecedented opportunity, of course. There are plenty of quality coaches out there who are dying for a chance to be defensive coordinators and would jump at the offer regardless of the head coach's long-term status. But could it keep a guy like Buffalo's Jim Schwartz or San Francisco's Vic Fangio from making a lateral move if they like their current salaries and situations? Absolutely.
But while that issue looms over the offseason, there are some significant salary-cap questions for the Giants to answer on defense as well. Here are five:
A strong finish got Pierre-Paul to 12.5 sacks on the season and seems to have set him up for a free-agent contract push. His demands on a long-term deal, expected to be more than $12 million per year, could be more than the Giants are willing to pay for a player who was as limited by injury as Pierre-Paul was in 2012 and 2013. But he just turned 26 last week, and it's hard to find too many better 4-3 defensive end options on the market. The Giants do not have a ready replacement if Pierre-Paul leaves and will have to address the pass rush either way. One possibility is to use the franchise player designation on Pierre-Paul, effectively signing him to a one-year contract worth something close to $15 million. That would hurt them against this year's cap, but assuming they found relief elsewhere it would give them a year to assess Pierre-Paul's worthiness of their long-term commitment as well as the development of players such as Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn as potential replacements.
I believe the answer to this is yes. He's clearly not coming back on his current contract, which includes a $4.775 million salary and a $7.45 million cap number for 2015. He's almost certain to be cut, and the only way I can see him back is on a veteran minimum deal, which I don't even know for sure they'd want to offer him. The Giants can save $4.825 million against their 2015 cap by cutting Kiwanuka.
As a 2011 first-round draft pick Amukamara was subject to the fifth-year option rule established by the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Giants did in fact exercise his 2015 option (expected to be about $7 million) last offseason. But that money is not guaranteed, and the Giants still could cut Amukamara by Sept. 1 if they wanted to. They don't, but his season-ending injury cut short a promising year and likely gives them leverage to negotiate a lower 2015 number on a two-year or three-year deal if they prefer. They do like him and want him back.
Middle linebacker Beason was a centerpiece of last offseason's plan, but he barely played after suffering a springtime toe injury, and he carries a $7.167 million cap number for 2015 and $6.992 million for 2016. This is a contract that will need to be overhauled if they're to fit it, Pierre-Paul and free agent Antrel Rolle into the 2015 and 2016 budgets. Beason says he wants to be back, but the Giants have to reassess his value given his injury history.
5. What about safety?
Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe are the only safeties signed to 2015 contracts for the Giants as of right now. Rolle is a free agent they'd like to have back, but he's 32 and they're not likely to overpay to keep him. This is a position on which the Giants have shown they're willing to spend major resources (i.e., first-round picks and big free-agent dollars), so expect them to carve out some room in the budget to plug their holes at this position, regardless of what happens with Rolle.
Here’s a list of the Giants' unrestricted and restricted free agents:
- Zack Bowman, Cornerback
- James Brewer, Offensive lineman
- Chykie Brown, Cornerback
- Stevie Brown, Safety
- Quintin Demps, Safety
- Daniel Fells, Tight end
- Mark Herzlich, Linebacker
- Henry Hynoski, Fullback
- Jerrel Jernigan, Wide receiver
- John Jerry, Guard
- Chris Ogbonnaya, Running back
- Kevin Ogletree, Wide receiver
- Mike Patterson, Defensive tackle
- Spencer Paysinger, Linebacker
- Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive end
- Antrel Rolle, Safety
- Adam Snyder, Guard
- Walter Thurmond, Cornerback
- Jacquian Williams, Linebacker
@DanGrazianoESPN: Based on what we heard at the postseason news conferences Tuesday, it sounds as though the Giants have not ruled out using the franchise player designation on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. The price is very high -- likely around $15 million -- but other than that the move makes sense if the Giants want Pierre-Paul back next year but are too worried about committing to him long-term. They have very real reasons to worry about that long-term deal, given the injury issues he had in 2012 and 2013 and the uneven nature of his performance in 2014. Pierre-Paul is looking to cash in with a big deal, and it may be tough for the Giants to compete for his services if they allow him to hit the open market. If Pierre-Paul realizes that his performance to date doesn't merit a top-five pass-rusher deal, it's likely he and the Giants can work something out before they have to make a decision about franchising him. But if he's determined to hit the market and see what he can get, then franchising him may be their best bet for keeping him in 2015. I don't see them using the franchise player designation on Rolle, but I do think they will be able to work out a deal with him.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I expect the secondary to be among the top offseason areas of focus for the Giants this year, along with the offensive and defensive lines. But the second part of your question is key, because they may decide to address the secondary simply by bringing back the guys they had this year and hope they stay healthy. Just because Walter Thurmond tore a pectoral muscle in Week 2 doesn't mean the Giants think any less of his abilities as a nickel cornerback, and the injury might help them bring him back relatively cheaply. They have Prince Amukamara's $7 million option picked up already, but they can negotiate around and get the 2015 cost down if they want to, and Amukamara was having a strong season before his biceps tear. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played hurt all year, and he'll surely be back. If they can keep that threesome healthy in 2015 and address safety, they should have a strong secondary. The law of averages says they can't possibly have as many defensive back injuries next year as they did this year. Right? Right???
Do you expect the focus to be in secondary? Or hope injured players come back in good shape? #nygmail— B.J. Hanley (@thebejota) January 2, 2015
@DanGrazianoESPN: They have to address the pass rush. If they bring back Pierre-Paul, they need to find another piece for the other side to go with Robert Ayers, because Mathis Kiwanuka is unlikely to be back. Kerry Wynn showed promise late in the season, and there's still hope that Damontre Moore can figure some things out and make use of his considerable natural ability. But I would expect the Giants to add at least one veteran pass-rusher, and if they can't bring back Pierre-Paul, more than one. On the offensive line, they'll surely bring back tackles Will Beatty and Justin Pugh, and the expected return of Geoff Schwartz from his injury-wrecked season would solidify one of the guard spots. From there, it's a matter of deciding whether Weston Richburg's future is at guard or center (they thought center when they drafted him last year) and adding a guard or center who's an upgrade over John Jerry or J.D. Walton. From where I sit, there's more work to do on the defensive line than there is on the offensive one, but that doesn't mean they should ignore opportunities to upgrade on the offensive line if they have one. I'm not super-high on Beatty as the answer at left tackle, and if I were the Giants and had the chance to take a potential franchise tackle at No. 9, I'd do it.
@DanGrazianoESPN: The case for keeping Perry Fewell as defensive coordinator is the same as the case for keeping Tom Coughlin as head coach. You do it if you like the way he coaches and can't come up with a clearly better option. There's a comfort level with Fewell, ample explanation (injuries, years of poor drafts) for why the defense struggled this year, and the knowledge (based on experience) that he can win for you if the right circumstances and pieces fall into place. The Giants don't like to fire coaches if they don't have to. They believe in continuity in positions of leadership. And if Coughlin thinks it's a win-or-else year in 2015, why shouldn't he stick with the people he picked and in whom he believes? I don't know what will happen with Fewell, and it's entirely possible that the Giants could announce next week that he's being replaced. But that's not the way the wind was blowing at week's end, and it's not as though they don't have reasons to keep him if that's what they decide to do.
Is there any upside to keeping Fewell? The defense has tanked for two years now. Why should I be hopeful? #nygmail— Steve Fredericks (@stevefredericks) January 2, 2015
Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the playoff games.
The Giants entered the final week of the season ranked fifth-to-last in total yards allowed. And the final performance against Philadelphia wasn't very impressive, either. But when asked if he would like to see his coaching staff return intact, Coughlin said, "Yes, but I'm not going to say anything more about that or anything else today."
There's still a chance Coughlin could be dismissed, with the Giants missing the playoffs for the third year in a row and finishing 6-10 -- their worst record since Coughlin's first year at the helm, 2004.
But the more likely scenario is saying goodbye to Fewell, although that is far from a given.
Rolle went ever farther in Fewell's defense.
"I have full confidence in Perry, and I know what kind of coach Perry is," Rolle said. "I know when he’s at his best, I know when he’s not at his best. I also know how to work with him -- I’ve been his dog for four years, I’ve been his fill-in guy. I love to work with Perry."
Of course, Rolle may not be here next year, either -- the 32-year-old will be a free agent this offseason. The former All-Pro has been a key contributor on the field and leader in the locker room the past five years, but had a subpar season in 2014.
"I've been through this process once before, and I think you just have to take it in stride," Rolle said. "If this was my last game as a Giant, I'm very appreciative, I wouldn't change anything for the world. I've had a wonderful five years here, and I gave the team every single inch that I had, I gave 'em every single thing that I had."
"I definitely want to stay here," Rolle added. "I feel like we're building something. Although we haven't had the season that we wanted to have, I think we're still building something."
Another key player who may not be back is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who also will be a free agent. Pierre-Paul came on strong late, with nine sacks in the final five games of the season -- capped off by two against the Eagles on Sunday. He finished with 12.5 sacks, by far his highest total since he posted 16.5 in 2011, his second year in the league.
Pierre-Paul is younger than Rolle (he'll turn 26 on New Year's Day), and more important at this stage of their respective careers. But he'll also cost a lot more money. He played well against the run the whole season. The question is, was that the real pass-rushing JPP we saw the final five weeks, or just a flash in the pan?
"I don't know what changed. I am trying to figure it out myself," Pierre-Paul said of the last five games. "I am playing better. I had to step up big time. I wouldn't say I wasn't stepping up the first couple of weeks. Injuries, man. I fought through 'em, I got healthy, and I have been on a roll. That's the game of football, you never know."
Pierre-Paul did miss a little practice time with a shoulder injury this season, but he played in all 16 games. He said in recent weeks that he wants to stay with the Giants, reiterated that Sunday, and sounded cautiously optimistic that the game wasn't his final one with Big Blue.
"I am pretty sure it is probably not," Pierre-Paul said. "Like I said Friday, I don't know what the future holds. But I went out there and played great today, my teammates played great, but we didn't play great enough to win this game."
Pierre-Paul may have been great, but some of his teammates certainly weren't. And now it's time to assess them all.
#nygmail do you get the feeling the front office wants McAdoo to succeed Coughlin as HC once the fountain of youth runs dry?— Steven Klein (@Kleindrive) December 26, 2014
@DanGrazianoESPN: Here's what I believe about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. I think the Giants' decision-makers view him as head coach material and believe he could be their head coach at some point in the future. He is only 37 years old and just now getting to the end of his first season ever as a coordinator at any level, so it's hard to have complete confidence that he could handle the job if they gave it to him right now. But what they've seen from him in his first year has not injured their perception of him or his prospects, so he remains a consideration as a possible replacement for Tom Coughlin at some point in the future when they or Coughlin decide it's time to make a change. However, the Giants understand that putting a "succession plan" in place or having a "coach-in-waiting" in the NFL is a tough business because so much can change in a short period of time. What if the offense tanks next year? What if McAdoo gets a job somewhere else first? And so on. So while McAdoo is on their list of potential Coughlin replacements down the road, he's not alone on that list. I guess since you asked what the front office "wants," it's probably that Coughlin coaches for several more seasons during which the Giants have plenty of success and, if McAdoo's still on the staff when Coughlin's time here ends, maybe he gets the promotion. They do like him a lot.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Early returns on GM Jerry Reese's 2014 draft are pretty good. Obviously, first-round pick Odell Beckham doesn't just look like a future star, he actually is a present star. Second-rounder Weston Richburg will end up starting 15 of the 16 games at left guard, and while he's had his struggles, he has also improved and could be a long-range answer at center if he continues to improve. Fourth-rounder Andre Williams has had a couple of 100-yard rushing games, and fifth-rounder Devon Kennard is a valuable contributor at linebacker who already has an NFC Defensive Player of the Week award on his resume. So you're right to like the contributions the Giants have gotten from their rookies this year, and obviously if those guys continue to play and produce at their current levels, this ends up looking like a good draft -- maybe even the best one Reese has had, though that's not necessarily saying much. The key is, of course, how they continue to play and develop. A year ago, everyone was happy with Justin Pugh following his rookie year at right tackle. But Pugh's struggles this year are an example of why we can't always assume a strong rookie year guarantees long-range success. And you can't assess a draft after only one season.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I believe the Giants and veteran safety Antrel Rolle will be able to find common ground on a contract for Rolle to return. I don't see the market opening up for a 32-year-old safety, regardless of Rolle's impressive durability and his evolution as an on-field and off-field leader. He's the kind of guy who likely has more value to the Giants than he would to another team at this point, so I think their offer will reflect that and he'll end up taking it. Will it be for the three more years he says he wants to play? Hard to say. But my hunch is they can work something out.
As for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the entire thing is going to be market-driven. If there's a hungry free-agent market for Pierre-Paul as a still-young/now-healthy pass-rusher, the Giants could get priced out. Not because they don't have the money or cap room, but because the Giants' method with their own free agents is to assign a value and stick with it or close to it. If Pierre-Paul's price goes beyond what the Giants believe he's worth, I believe he'll take the highest offer and go elsewhere. But with Mathias Kiwanuka likely on his way out and Damontre Moore continuing to struggle with his development and maturity, the Giants need to find an impact pass-rusher on this year's market, whether it's Pierre-Paul or someone else. And it's the kind of position on which they don't mind spending money.
@DanGrazianoESPN how do the giants view Andre Williams going into next year? Seems to still have pass protection and pass catching issues— Yokes (@RyYokes) December 26, 2014
@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants actually believe Williams has improved in both of those areas as this season has gone along. He spends a ton of time after practice each day catching balls off the JUGS machine, and they trust him more in the passing game than they did in September and October. Assuming continued improvement there, they'll feel good about him in the passing game next year if they need to lean on him there. Where Williams has been a bit of a disappointment is in his actual running of the ball. The Giants would like to see him be more patient and find the holes, rather than running as hard as he can to the hole before it has opened up. Some of that can be helped with improvements on the offensive line, but Williams needs to develop better trust and timing with his blockers in order to have success next year and beyond. As veteran running back Rashad Jennings tells Williams when tutoring him, he needs to be "quick through the hole, as opposed to quick to the hole." Williams is a part of the plans for next year, for sure, but at this point I doubt they view him as a surefire, carry-the-load starter.
Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the final weekend of the regular season.