New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul

If it's Saturday, it's New York Giants Twitter mailbag. And it's Saturday, so here you go.

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

Thanks for all of your questions.
We can go around and around about the New York Giants' decision to bring back Steve Spagnuolo as their defensive coordinator. But the fact at the bottom of the discussion is that the coordinator is only going to be as good as his players. And now that Spagnuolo is back in the fold, the Giants have to answer a lot of questions about their personnel on his side of the ball. Let's take a quick look at those questions by category:

Pass rush

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.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants' approach to the free agency of Jason Pierre-Paul could be biggest key to their offseason.
Pending free agent Jason Pierre-Paul is the key to the whole thing. I don't personally think I would give Pierre-Paul a long-term deal at this point, but the Giants seem willing to at least consider designating him their franchise player (for what could be close to $15 million) and keeping him in the fold for another year. If they do, they could conceivably get by with Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers (assuming a return to full health), Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn at defensive end. But with Moore and Wynn still major question marks, I think they would at least try to find some kind of veteran upgrade there. Mathias Kiwanuka looks like the most likely cap cut on the team. If Pierre-Paul doesn't come back, then they need to go after the defensive end position hard in free agency and/or the draft.

Run defense

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.

Linebacker

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.

Cornerback

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.

Safety

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.
Former New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is scheduled to interview for that same job Wednesday. Spagnuolo is the top choice of many Giants fans and some in the Giants' building. Here's a look at some of the potential pros and cons of hiring Spagnuolo as Perry Fewell's replacement:

Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator for only two seasons, but they were wildly successful. The 2007 Giants rebounded from an 0-2 start to finish 10-6, claim a wild-card playoff spot and beat the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. They ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense. The 2008 Giants went 12-4 and ranked fifth in the league in total defense before losing in the divisional round of the playoffs after top wide receiver Plaxico Burress was arrested for firing a gun in a New York City nightclub.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spagnuolo
AP Photo/David RichardRavens assistant head coach and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008 before leaving to be the Rams' head coach.
That performance got Spagnuolo a job as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. He went 10-38 in his three seasons in that job, which is obviously a complete disaster, though he did come very close to winning a division title in 2010. His team lost to the Seahawks that year on the final day of the season, which meant both teams finished 7-9 and the Seahawks won the NFC West on a tiebreaker. Spagnuolo's Rams went 2-14 the following year and he was fired.

From there, Spagnuolo went to New Orleans, where he served as the Saints' defensive coordinator in 2012. The Saints' defense that season set an NFL record with 7,042 yards allowed, and Spagnuolo was (again, obviously) fired as a result. The 2012 season was a wreck all the way around in New Orleans, because that was the season for which head coach Sean Payton was suspended as a result of the bounty scandal. Spagnuolo was put in a very difficult situation, replacing suspended and fired coordinator Gregg Williams in historically unprecedented circumstances, so it might not be completely fair to judge him on his performance in New Orleans.

Still, it's important to reiterate that the 2012 New Orleans Saints, with Spagnuolo as their defensive coordinator, allowed more yards than any other team in NFL history has ever allowed in a single season.

Spagnuolo has spent the past two years as a defensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, which is a fine place to rebuild a beaten-up coaching reputation. He is 55 years old, and given the challenging circumstances in which he found himself in St. Louis and New Orleans, he likely deserves another chance. As a man with NFL defensive coordinator and head coach experience on his resume, he's clearly overqualified for his current job and clearly qualified for this job, which is one he used to have.

I just don't think he's the slam-dunk choice others seem to believe he should be. Those Giants defenses with which he had so much success had Hall of Famer Michael Strahan as well as Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Antonio Pierce in their front seven. Those are some heavy hitters, and even if Jason Pierre-Paul re-signs and Jon Beason comes back from his injury, the 2015 Giants defense stands as something of a rebuilding project. The only player still on the Giants' defense who remains from Spagnuolo's tenure is Mathias Kiwanuka, and his chances of being on the 2015 roster are quite slim.

As I have written before, the Giants need to be looking forward and long-term with this hire. This can't be about comfort level for 2015. This is about rebuilding a defense with a clear vision for the long haul under someone with the ability to execute that vision. The Giants might well decide Spagnuolo is that man, and as I said above, he has the qualifications. But if they do hire him, they need to make sure it's for those reasons, and not because 2007 and 2008 were so awesome.
Mailbag time. You use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter with your Giants question, I answer on Saturday morning.

@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.

The biggest decision the New York Giants will make about their salary-cap situation this offseason is whether to extend the contract of quarterback Eli Manning beyond 2015. Manning carries a 2015 salary cap number of $19.75 million, and the Giants could get significant relief with an extension. They have not yet decided whether to do this, though if they do, they're likely to find Manning more receptive after his strong 2014 season than they did after his weak 2013.

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:

Pierre-Paul
1. What to do with Jason Pierre-Paul?

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.

Kiwanuka
2. Is Mathias Kiwanuka done with the Giants?

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.

Amukamara
3. What to do with Prince Amukamara?

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.

Beason
4. Can they still carry Jon Beason's contract?

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.

2015 New York Giants free agents

January, 5, 2015
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The New York Giants have 21 free agents as they enter the 2015 offseason. The new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Here’s a list of the Giants' unrestricted and restricted free agents:

Unrestricted:
Restricted:
The end of the New York Giants' season does not mean the end of the weekly Twitter mailbag, oh no it most certainly does not. We have not yet begun to Twitbag or whatever.

@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???

@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.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the playoff games. 

New York Giants season report card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 outlook: Hard to say for sure until we see what happens in free agency. But assuming they add a piece or two on the offensive line and address the pass rush, either by re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul or finding a high-end solution on the market, there is reason to hope next year will be better than the past two were. They obviously demonstrated progress and growth in Ben McAdoo's offense as the year went along. Quarterback Eli Manning had a fine season and -- apart from one five-interception mess against the 49ers -- did a better job of protecting the ball and making smart decisions than he has in years past. The array of weapons around Manning heading into 2015 gives reason for optimism.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and safety and defensive captain Antrel Rolle both stuck up for embattled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on Sunday, following the Giants' 34-26 season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the New York Giants' season-ending 34-26 loss to the Eagles at MetLife Stadium:
    lastname
    Coughlin
  • Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't reject questions about his future, but he made it clear there were internal discussions to be had before he could deliver final answers. "I'm going to go about my business, just as I always do, unless I'm told otherwise," he said. Asked if he wanted his coaching staff to return intact, he said, "Yes, but I'm not going to say anything more about that or anything else today." Asked if he thought things were moving in the right direction and if he wanted to be back to oversee them in 2015, he said he would not answer the last part but added "I think it's headed in the right direction, yeah."
  • Coughlin said the reason rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. came out of the game late was that he was "vomiting and so on and so forth" on the sideline.
  • After a 12-catch, 185-yard, one-touchdown finale to his brilliant rookie season, Beckham said he was "looking forward to next year with a smile."
  • Jason Pierre-Paul, who is a free agent, said he would like to be back and that he would like Coughlin to return as well. "I look at Coach Coughlin as a dad," Pierre-Paul said. "You need someone like that on the team, otherwise it would be chaos." Pierre-Paul also endorsed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, whose job status seems a bit more tenuous.
  • Owner John Mara and GM Jerry Reese declined comment after the game and likely will address the media Monday or Tuesday.

W2W4: New York Giants

December, 27, 2014
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The 6-9 New York Giants will finish their 2014 season Sunday with a 1 p.m. ET home game against the 9-6 Philadelphia Eagles, who beat them 27-0 in Week 6 in Philadelphia. Here are three things we'll be watching closely from the Giants' end.

1. How does the run game look? The Eagles have allowed 134 rush yards per game over the last three weeks after being one of the stingiest run defense teams in the league for much of the season. Rashad Jennings, who missed the Week 6 game in Philadelphia, should play Sunday. Andre Williams, who was the starter that night and didn't have any success, is questionable with a shoulder injury. The Giants' offense has looked its best with a healthy Jennings at running back, though they really haven't had that since he hurt his knee in Week 5. If Jennings can give them a full game, the Giants' rushing attack has a chance to go into the offseason on a high note. If not, you could see a hodgepodge of Jennings, Williams and Orleans Darkwa against a tough Eagles front.

2. Can Jason Pierre-Paul handle Jason Peters? The Giants' defensive end has seven sacks in his last four games and has caught fire as a pass-rusher in the final weeks of his contract drive. He has a ton of respect for Peters, the Eagles' star left tackle, and considers this as tough a matchup as any he faces. Peters handled him well in Week 6 on a night when the Eagles did everything right and the Giants did everything wrong. But with Pierre-Paul coming in on a roll this time, perhaps things could be different over on that end of the line.

3. Odell Beckham Jr.'s final act. The first game against the Eagles was Beckham's second NFL game and, of course, the game in which Victor Cruz's season ended with a knee injury. Since that game, Beckham has been on a ridiculous roll, with 73 catches for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns in only nine games. At this point, the legitimate expectation is that Beckham will catch something like eight passes for 150 yards and a touchdown or two, because he does it every week. This will be your last chance to watch the dazzling Giants rookie play for a while, and if he's got one more great game in him, it'll leave Giants fans excited for the possibilities for next season.
Mailbag time. You use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter with your Giants question, I answer on Saturday morning.

@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: 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.

Giants' McClain calls Rams 'dirty team'

December, 21, 2014
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ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday:
  • McClain
    Linebacker Jameel McClain walked from the field to the locker room hollering, "Dirty-ass team! That dirty [stuff] doesn't help you win! They suck as an organization!" This was in obvious reference to the Rams, as the Giants felt they'd been targeting Odell Beckham Jr. with cheap shots all game and trying to get under his and the Giants' skin. "I'm just not interested," McClain said later. "I had a lot of respect for the things their defense did. I'm just not interested in chippiness and dirty play. It's not what this game is about, and it has no room in the league." Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle were among the other Giants to use the word "dirty" to describe the Rams.
  • lastname
    Coughlin
    "Doesn't anyone want to talk about the game?" a frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked after several questions about Beckham and the first-half brawl. Seconds later, he ended his postgame news conference early with a sarcastic "Happy Holidays" and stormed out before his "game" questions could be asked -- or before someone could explain to him that when you're 6-9 and were eliminated on Thanksgiving, it's not unreasonable for people to ask about the brawl that saw two of your players get kicked out of the game or the continued maturation and development of your superstar rookie before they ask about the game. Not Coughlin's finest moment.
  • For his part, Beckham said Coughlin spoke to him about his ball-spinning end zone celebration that drew the flag, and Beckham apologized on behalf of himself and the team for his role in sparking the brawl. But he said he wouldn't apologize for playing with passion or for his teammates' standing up to protect him and one another. Damontre Moore, who along with Preston Parker was ejected for his role in the brawl, said he felt bad he let his team down by getting ejected, but he wouldn't do anything differently if the same circumstances presented themselves.

Jason Pierre-Paul doesn't care about sacks

December, 18, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul is suddenly among the top 20 players in sacks in the NFL with 9.5, and has a chance to crack double digits for only the second time in his career -- in a contract year, no less.

Yet when asked Thursday if that numerical milestone would mean anything to him, Pierre-Paul's response was a tad surprising.

"Nope!" he said. "I'm just playing football, and I think I'm doing a great job of it."

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJason Pierre-Paul has racked up six sacks in the Giants' past three games.
The stats certainly back Pierre-Paul up. He has six sacks in the Giants' past three games -- 1.5 in the loss to the Jaguars, two in the win over the Titans, and 2.5 in last week's victory over the Redskins. He's now tied for 15th in the league, with the Dolphins' Cameron Wake and the Bills' Jerry Hughes -- but he doesn't sound too excited about it.

"Way before my sacks went up I was playing good," Pierre-Paul said. "At the end of the day it’s all about numbers, but I was playing great before that."

Stats back up that statement, too. Pro Football Focus has Pierre-Paul rated the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the league, behind only Wake. And against the run, he's No. 1, by a large margin -- not too shabby for a guy known as a pass-rusher.

Suddenly, Pierre-Paul -- who's been a big disappointment the past two years -- looks like a player who will get a big contract this offseason. He has stated that he would like to stay with the Giants, but whether they'll pony up is very much in question.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell gushed about Pierre-Paul on Friday. "I just think JPP has turned it up a notch this second half of the season," Fewell said.

And the play Fewell was most impressed by last week wasn't even one of Pierre-Paul's sacks -- it was his chase-down of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the final play of the first half, which caused Griffin to fumble and negated a Washington touchdown.

"Amazing. Absolutely amazing," Fewell said. "Because RG3 as a 4.4, 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy, JPP was on the right side of the defensive line -- it just showed you his desire to want to make that football play, and I think that’s what he has done over the last three or fours weeks. He's turned it up, his desire to make plays."

"I was in awe, I really was," Fewell added. "It was like, wow. The guy continues to amaze you."

Pierre-Paul isn't the only Giants defensive player to step up of late. The team as a whole has 22 sacks the past three weeks -- in fact, the Giants are the first team since the 1989 Vikings to record seven sacks in three straight games (credit ESPN Stats & Information).

Second-year player Johnathan Hankins is now up to seven sacks -- the fifth-most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. And rookie linebacker Devon Kennard has 4.5 -- all of them coming the past three weeks.

Pierre-Paul credited improved communication across the defensive line, when asked about the sack surge.

"We’ve had to do some different things," Fewell admitted, in regards to the increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But that's all we got -- when asked what has changed, Fewell's answer was short, and not so sweet.

"If I told you that I’d have to kill you," Fewell said, with a smile.

Jason Pierre-Paul making push to return

December, 16, 2014
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Jason Pierre-Paul AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has turned up his production in recent weeks.
Six sacks in his last three games have raised Jason Pierre-Paul's season total to 9.5, which isn't an elite-pass-rusher number, but Pierre-Paul says it doesn't matter.

"Just numbers, man," the New York Giants defensive end said after his big game Sunday against Washington. "If you look at the film, really break down all the statistics, I'm having a great season."

The Giants, as you know, are not. But if Pierre-Paul truly is, he's setting himself up well for a free-agent contract push that could force the Giants into an interesting offseason decision.

Pierre-Paul turns 26 in two weeks and is eligible for free agency a couple of months after that. Given his age, the brilliance he flashed during the Giants' 2011-12 Super Bowl run and what's shaping up to be a strong finish to his walk year, he's likely to generate a high level of interest on the open market. Elite pass-rushers are a rare commodity, and if Pierre-Paul can sell himself at that -- at his age -- he has reason to dream of a deal in the $12 million or $13 million-a-year range.

The Giants will have enough cap space to do a deal like that if they want to keep Pierre-Paul. But they have many other needs as well, and the way the Giants generally act with their free agents is to set a price they think is fair and tell the guy he's welcome to go try to get more elsewhere if he thinks he can. It's unclear at this point whether the Giants would break the bank to keep their 2010 first-round draft pick, though they are happy with the way he has performed in 2014.

"JPP is playing very well," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "Technically, early on, he was doing some things that we could correct and help with, and we did, and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush."

The Giants' pass rush as a whole has taken off the last three weeks in games against Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington. After recording a total of 19 sacks in their first 11 games of the season, the Giants have 22 sacks in their last three games, pushing them all the way up to No. 4 in the league in that category. Much of that has to do with the contributions they're getting from young players like linebacker Devon Kennard, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive ends Kerry Wynn and Damontre Moore. But Pierre-Paul is the centerpiece player -- the all-around defensive end who can take on left tackles, play the run and find his way to the quarterback with his speed and instincts. That's the player they saw in 2011, and after two injury-plagued seasons that followed, the Giants believe they're seeing that player again this year.

They will need a foundation piece for the pass rush this offseason. If it's not Pierre-Paul, they'll have to find it somewhere else -- either in free agency or with a first-round draft pick that currently would be No. 8 overall. I can't tell them how to spend their money, and I understand being hesitant to commit five or six years and $12 million or $13 million a year to a guy who's struggled to stay healthy. But Pierre-Paul may end up being their best option.

He also would be the first of GM Jerry Reese's first-round draft picks to sign a second contract with the team. Aaron Ross (2007), Kenny Phillips (2008) and Hakeem Nicks (2009) all went elsewhere at the end of their rookie deals for reasons of injury or ineffectiveness. Prince Amukamara (2011) is no sure thing to break that trend. They hold a 2015 option on him and it remains to be seen what effect his season-ending injury has on their long-range assessment of his value. David Wilson (2012) had to retire in August due to neck injuries. And it's far too early to know what the future holds for Justin Pugh (2013) or brilliant rookie Odell Beckham Jr. (2014).

First-round picks are supposed to be long-term foundation pieces. The questions for the Giants are whether they believe, after five years, that Pierre-Paul is a foundation piece and how much they're willing to bet on it.

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