New York Giants: Prince Amukamara

Cornerback is the deepest and most crowded position group on the New York Giants' roster heading into training camp, and it's going to force some difficult decisions when it comes time to make roster cuts in late August. Conor Orr of NJ.com has broken it down like this:
Based on what we've seen in camp, if we had to rank the position based on how much playing time they'll get, this is what we came up with:

1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
2. Prince Amukamara
3. Walter Thurmond
4. Zack Bowman
5. Trumaine McBride
6. Charles James
7. Jayron Hosley
8. Bennett Jackson
9. Ross Weaver
10. Travis Howard

But obviously, you don't keep 10 players. The Giants finished with five cornerbacks on the active roster and two on injured reserve last year. It's safe to say at least three, but probably four of these players won't make it out of camp, especially with the need to carry four at the safety spot.

I can't quibble too much with Orr's rankings. I might put McBride ahead of Bowman based on the way he played last year, and Hosley would surely be ahead of James if Hosley weren't suspended for the first four games of the season. But that suspension makes Hosley, who was likely on the roster bubble to begin with, a tough call. Jackson is a draft pick they'd surely like to keep if possible, and he and James have shown an ability to contribute on kick coverage teams, as has Bowman.

My guess is the top five on Orr's list are safe, but that there's likely only room for one more guy, either James or Jackson until Hosley comes back. And when Hosley does come back from suspension, there's likely to be a tough choice between him and whoever made it between James and Jackson.

There's always a possibility that an injury opens up a spot, but if everyone stays healthy, the Giants are going to end up cutting a couple of players of whom they think very highly here.
The goal for New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara last year was a simple one: Stay healthy and play all 16 games. This had been a problem for Amukamara in his first two NFL seasons, so the Giants made it clear to him before 2013 started that his focus should be on durability and availability.

Amukamara
"And he did that," secondary coach Peter Guinta said last week at the end of the team's minicamp. "He played all 16 games, every game getting better. You could see him improving by being out there. He understands the defense better. He's much more comfortable here. And now he's starting to take some chances and make some plays because of that comfort. He's really starting to grow up that way, where he understands the game."

The Giants' 2011 first-round pick, Amukamara has been a solid player when healthy but only has three interceptions in his three NFL seasons. He has said he'd like to make more of an impact as a playmaker, and Giunta described a practice play from last week on which Amukamara jumped a Victor Cruz "in" route and helped Antrel Rolle intercept Eli Manning.

"Now he's starting to gamble a bit and take some chances, which you like to see because you want guys thinking, 'Hey, I'm going to make a play,'" Giunta said. "He's evolved that confidence in himself and the defense, and he knows what's coming."

Amukamara himself said last week that he feels different this year without former Giants corners Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross in the locker room. He credits those guys with helping educate him about playing -- and playing cornerback -- in the NFL and believes their absence marks a key point in his own career and development.

"I feel like those guys sharpened me. They really helped me learn and grow," Amukamara said. "Now, I feel like it's my turn to take that big step on my own and be a leader and up my game. I'm the oldest cornerback here among the guys who have been here. That feels kind of weird, but it lets you know, 'Okay, it's time to take it up a notch.'"

The Giants picked up Amukamara's option for 2015, which means they have him for about $7 million that season if they want him but can cut him without penalty prior to Week 1 of 2015. They also signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie long-term and Walter Thurmond for one year and are very deep at the position for 2014. Amukamara knows his future with the team is uncertain, and he's eager to prove he's worth a long-term commitment from them.
Will Hill's former New York Giants teammates aren't thrilled that the team waived Hill on Monday. While everyone no doubt understands why the organization finally decided to act after Hill's third drug suspension in as many years, Giants players will miss what the talented safety meant to their defense in 2013. Cornerback Prince Amukamara told Newsday's Tom Rock that he doesn't want the move to come back to haunt the Giants:
“I realized how many times he saved our butts and how many times he came up big,” Amukamara said of Hill, the former Giants safety who was waived on Monday after being handed a third drug-related suspension in three seasons by the NFL. “It’s going to be a tough loss. Hopefully if he goes to a team, it’s not someone in the NFC East. He’s a guy you don’t want to face.”

It's
[+] EnlargeWill Hill
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Giants waived Will Hill after he got his third drug suspension in the past three years.
no certainty that another team gives Hill a chance. He wasn't drafted, and the Giants were the only team that made him an offer as an undrafted free agent. Anyone who signs him would do so knowing he can't play the first six games of this year and that his next suspension is likely to be for a year or longer. So Amukamara's fears about Hill coming back down the road to beat the Giants are far-fetched at this point.

However, the sentiment behind Amukamara's point is that Hill was a star-caliber player in the secondary for the Giants last season and that he will be difficult to replace. Stevie Brown is the obvious replacement, but he's coming off ACL surgery and will have to be monitored closely in camp. Quintin Demps started a few games at safety for the Chiefs last year and will get more looks there now, but he was signed mainly for his abilities in the return game. It's unlikely that Cooper Taylor or Nat Berhe would be ready for a major role, and no, since many of you have asked, I do not see them (or anyone else, for that matter) pursuing Ed Reed.

Hill's departure likely means that the big three-safety look defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used to like to use is not much of an option this year. That may not matter much, since they're deep enough at cornerback to leave Walter Thurmond in the slot and since they have a bona fide three-down linebacker in Jon Beason, but it does reduce their options. And if Brown has any setbacks or problems with his knee, they're suddenly quite thin at safety.

We talked Monday about the $5 million in new cap room the Giants picked up this week once the post-June 1 release of David Baas became official, and it's possible they could use some of that to bring in a safety for depth now. But there isn't much left on the market at this point. And the premise behind Amukamara's quote is that replacing Hill isn't as simple as throwing another body in there. He wasn't just a starting safety for the Giants in 2013. He was, quite often, the best and most important player on their defense. Cutting him could not have been easy, however obvious the decision may have been from the outside. Replacing him will be even tougher.

Giants depth chart: Defense

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A look at the New York Giants' depth chart on the defensive side of the ball following free agency and the draft.

Right defensive end
Jason Pierre-Paul
Damontre Moore

Pierre-Paul
Entirely possible, of course, that Moore could play his way into a starting spot on the other side. The Giants' defensive end situation is in flux after Pierre-Paul, whom they hope is finally fully healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons.

Left defensive end
Mathias Kiwanuka
Robert Ayers

Wide open here, but these are the two run-stopping defensive ends who likely will vie for the difficult task of replacing Justin Tuck on the side opposite Pierre-Paul.

Right defensive tackle
Cullen Jenkins
Mike Patterson
Jay Bromley

It will be interesting to see whether Bromley, whose 10 sacks from an interior line position last year at Syracuse caught the Giants' attention, can force his way into the defensive tackle rotation as a rookie.

Left defensive tackle
Johnathan Hankins
Markus Kuhn
Jay Bromley

The Giants are counting on Hankins being able to take on a larger role in his second year after they let 25-year-old mainstay Linval Joseph leave via free agency.

Beason
Middle linebacker
Jon Beason
Mark Herzlich
Devon Kennard

Beason was re-signed to play this position and to help run the defense as the player who makes the calls and sets the alignment in the front seven. Fifth-round pick Kennard's future, to the extent that he has one, could be here or on the strong side. He'd have to be a special teams ace, though, to push Herzlich out at this point.

Weakside linebacker
Jacquian Williams
Spencer Paysinger
Spencer Adkins

Williams or Paysinger could be the starter here, and they also could split snaps as situations and opponents dictate.

Strongside linebacker
Jameel McClain
Kendrick Adams
Devon Kennard

The Giants also can use Paysinger on this side if need be. But this is the role for which they signed former Ravens starter McClain.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Left cornerback
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Walter Thurmond
Trumaine McBride
Zack Bowman

Coach Tom Coughlin has said Rodgers-Cromartie will cover the opposing team's best wide receiver each week. Thurmond is likely to play the slot corner position primarily but can play outside if need be.

Right cornerback
Prince Amukamara
Walter Thurmond
Charles James
Bennett Jackson

It's a big year for Amukamara, whose 2015 option was picked up but still isn't guaranteed. Thurmond is on a one-year deal and could end up replacing him if he outplays him.

Slot cornerback
Walter Thurmond
Jayron Hosley

Thurmond
Thurmond is the top slot corner in the league, and if Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara can lock things down on the outside, he'll give the Giants a major matchup advantage in the middle of the field.

Strong safety
Antrel Rolle
Stevie Brown
Cooper Taylor
Quintin Demps

Free safety
Stevie Brown
Will Hill
Nat Berhe

Hill is the starter if his appeal of his latest drug suspension succeeds. If it doesn't, he could be cut outright. Brown can play either safety spot and was slated to be a starter last year before he tore his ACL in the preseason. The Giants may have to bring him along slowly because of the injury, and if he has a setback and Hill is suspended, they could find themselves thin here.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' decision to exercise the 2015 contract option on cornerback Prince Amukamara doesn't appear to have been a tough one. Asked about it during his pre-draft news conference here Thursday, GM Jerry Reese said this:

Amukamara
"We think he's a good player, so we exercised the option."

Truthfully, there doesn't have to be much more to it than that. The 2015 option for 2011 first-round draft picks isn't guaranteed against anything but injury until the start of the 2015 season, so the decision really doesn't cost the Giants anything or bind them to Amukamara unless he gets hurt so badly he can't play in 2015. If he does end up playing for the option price in 2015, he'll cost them about $7 million, which sounds like a high number. But cornerback clearly is a position on which the Giants aren't afraid to spend big resources, and they likely could carry both Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if they wanted to.

Amukamara said last week that he was hoping the team would pick up the option and that his feelings would be hurt if they didn't. So this low-risk move carries the added benefit of making one of their key players happy in the short term while keeping their long-range options open. They could extend Amukamara any time between now and the 2015 season to lower his 2015 cap number. They could release him next offseason if they decide to go in a different direction. Or they can delay their long-range decision on him until the 2016 offseason.

Amukamara may not be a $7 million cornerback, but given the state of the position right now and the prices some cornerbacks have commanded this offseason, he may not be far from it either. The Giants now have a year to see which direction his career takes and whether they get a bargain for 2015 or whether it's time to move on.
Cornerback wasn't projected as a major New York Giants need when this offseason began, but man did they attack it like one. The Giants spent big money to sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and added Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman while also re-signing Trumaine McBride.

Amukamara
This flurry of activity did not escape the attention of Prince Amukamara, who was the team's No. 1 cornerback last year and admitted Tuesday that the moves led him to wonder about his role and his future with the team.

"A little bit," the always-honest Amukamara said. "I think it's natural for someone to think that, especially if you feel threatened by the guys and the guys are good. And there are two sides to that. You can look at it and say, 'This guy can help the team,' or you can say, 'This guy might take my spot.' But it's not my job to worry about that."

Amukamara still projects as a starter on the outside opposite Rodgers-Cromartie, with Thurmond likely playing the slot. But Thurmond can absolutely play on the outside if necessary, and Giants coach Tom Coughlin said last month that Rodgers-Cromartie would be asked to cover the opponent's top receiver every week -- an assignment Amukamara had toward the end of last year and was hoping to get again.

Add in the fact the Giants haven't yet decided whether to pick up the 2015 contract option on their 2011 first-round pick, and Amukamara has reason to wonder whether he's in the team's long-term plans.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it, but I can't really worry about that," Amukamara said. "I've just been living by, 'Only focus on the things I can control.' I could have controlled whether the Giants did or not by my play the last three years, but right now I can't worry about that. If they do it, that's great. If they don't, that's great too. But I would be very excited if they did, of course."

The option likely would be around $7 million for 2015 (it's the average of the salaries of the No. 3 through No. 25 highest paid cornerbacks in the league), and it wouldn't be fully guaranteed until the first day of the 2015 season. But the Giants have to decide by May 3 whether to pick it up, or else Amukamara would be a free agent following the 2014 season. Rodgers-Cromartie carries a cap hit in excess of $7 million for 2015, so it's possible the Giants wouldn't want to pay two cornerbacks that much. But it's a premium position in today's NFL, and the Giants treat it as one, so it's not out of the question either.

"It shows that the team wants you," Amukamara said. "And who wouldn't want to feel wanted?"

After the Giants' cornerback signing spree, it sounds as though Amukamara would like to know whether he is.
In the NFL news lately, you've no doubt seen a lot about fifth-year options for players drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft. This is a new phenomenon, because it's part of the CBA that went into effect in 2011 and governs players drafted that year. The rule in question states that every player selected in the first round of the NFL draft, starting in 2011, has an automatic fifth-year option added to his contract. The team has to decide by May 3 of the fourth year whether to exercise the option. At the time it's exercised, the option becomes guaranteed only against injury until the first day of the option-year season, at which point it becomes fully guaranteed.

So the reason you're seeing news about guys like J.J. Watt and Tyron Smith getting their options picked up (and about whether the 49ers will do the same for Aldon Smith) is because May 3 of this year (a little over two weeks from now) is the deadline for the decision on guys picked in the first round of that 2011 draft. The Texans picked up Watt's option for 2015. They can still work on a long-term deal with him in the meantime, but they at least know they have him under their control for a fifth year if they want him, which they surely do.

Amukamara
The New York Giants player to whom this applies is cornerback Prince Amukamara, who was selected with the No. 19 pick in that 2011 draft. To this point, the Giants have not made a decision about Amukamara's option, and it's not a slam-dunk decision.

For players drafted after the top 10, the option-year salary is the average of the third through the 25th highest-paid players at that player's position from the prior year. Working off of 2014 salary numbers, I estimate that figure to be about $7.13 million for cornerbacks. So if the Giants wanted to, by May 3 of this year, they could exercise an approximately $7.13 million option on Amukamara for 2015.

Tough call. That number is slightly higher than the average annual salary on the contract of fellow Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whom Tom Coughlin described last month in no uncertain terms as the team's new No. 1 cornerback. Amukamara is a good player, but if he were on the market this offseason it's hard to imagine he'd have been paid according to that option number. So the Giants have to make a decision about a player they like at a price that's likely too high for him.

What helps them is the nature of the option-year guarantee at this point. It's guaranteed only against injury. So if they pick up the option and Amukamara has a healthy but otherwise not-so-great season, they could still cut him prior to 2015 and not be on the hook for the money. They also could continue to talk to him about a long-term deal in the meantime, especially if they get into the 2014 season and like what they see.

The Giants like Amukamara. He plays hard, is a sound technician, keeps himself in shape and pays attention to detail. But they also brought in a bunch of new cornerbacks this year. Walter Thurmond, for instance, is in on a one-year deal, but it's not out of the question that they could get to the end of 2014 believing Thurmond is a better choice than Amukamara is going forward.

Players such as Watt and Tyron Smith are easy calls -- Pro Bowl caliber guys who are delivering big returns on their teams' first-round investments. Players such as Christian Ponder and Danny Watkins are easy calls the other way -- no chance those options get picked up. But Amukamara falls into a gray area as a player who's played well but hasn't necessarily cemented himself as a must-keep, franchise-cornerstone player. My guess is they pick up the option and hope he does that this year, while all along keeping open discussions about an extension at a more reasonable rate.

Giants' last five drafts: 2011

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With the NFL draft still a relatively painful three weeks and one day away, we're taking a look this week at the New York Giants' last five drafts to see how much they've helped. Today we look at the 2011 draft, which saw the Giants pick a defensive back in the first round and then kind of flail around a bit.

The Picks

First round (19th overall): Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Second round (52): Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina

Third round (83): Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy

Fourth round (117): James Brewer, OT, Indiana

Sixth round (185): Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State

Sixth round (198): Tyler Sash, S, Iowa

Sixth round (202): Jacquian Williams, LB, South Florida

Seventh round (221): Da'Rel Scott, RB, Maryland

Still with Giants: Amukamara, Jernigan, Brewer, Williams

Still in NFL: Austin (Cowboys), Jones (Titans),

Games played with Giants

Amukamara: 36

Austin: 8

Jernigan: 36

Brewer: 24

Jones: 20

Sash: 29

Williams: 46

Scott: 20

Review: The Giants have already received more in terms of playing time and production from the second half of their 2011 draft class than they did from their 2009 and 2010 draft classes. Williams was a strong performer during the 2011 playoff run, especially in the NFC Championship Game victory in San Francisco, and could end up being a starter at linebacker this year with a good camp. Jernigan showed something as a Victor Cruz replacement in the final weeks of 2013. And Amukamara is a legitimate starting NFL cornerback. But all of that said, Austin was a swing-and-a-miss in the second round as an injury guy they hoped would work out. Brewer hasn't turned into anything in spite of repeated opportunities. And Jones, Sash and Scott were bit players at best at their peaks. Again, as we've discussed all week, you don't assume you're getting anything in those fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. But if you go three or four years without hitting on anything at all in those rounds, your roster gets thin in a hurry. If you've been following this series all week, you've seen that the Giants haven't turned up many helpers in the late rounds in the last half-decade. This draft was about Amukamara, a guy who fell to No. 19 in spite of pre-draft projections that had him in the top 10, and not much else.

Grade: D.
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:

Can the pass rush bounce back?

Only five teams in the NFL had fewer sacks than the 34 the Giants had in 2013, and 14 of those 34 walked out the door with the free-agent departures of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. The only addition they have made to the defensive line is former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong edge defender against the run but has only 12 sacks in five NFL seasons so far and was mainly a part-time player in Denver in spite of having been a first-round pick in 2009.

The Giants did beef up on the back end of the defense, adding cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman and bringing back Trumaine McBride to go with Prince Amukamara. The hope there is that better coverage down the field will help enable their pass-rushers to get to the quarterback more quickly. That could represent a big philosophy shift for an organization that's always believed in building a defense front to back, but the Giants have spent a fair amount of time over the past two years lamenting teams' ability to get the ball out quickly against them and neutralize their pass rush.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Giants need a healthy and productive Jason Pierre-Paul.
Anyway, that's all just the setup. Only one player matters in regard to today's question, and he's not a cornerback. Nor is he Ayers or Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore, whichever of those guys claims Tuck's starting spot at left defensive end. The player on whom the Giants' 2014 pass rush will rise and fall is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is far from new but is capable of transforming the pass rush all by himself.

Pierre-Paul followed up his 16.5-sack 2011 season with a hot start in 2012, but back problems plagued him throughout the second half of that season. He had surgery on his back last June, and the effects of that surgery slowed him significantly in the first half of 2013. Once he was finally feeling like himself again, he hurt his shoulder and was unable to play in the final month. He ended up with two sacks for the season -- the only two he's had since the first week of November 2012.

So this is your answer, folks. The Giants' plan for the pass rush is to hope Pierre-Paul is as healthy as he says he feels and that he returns to the monster form he flashed during that last Super Bowl season in 2011. Everything rides on this. If he can do it, it's going to make the whole defensive line look good, not to mention that rebuilt secondary.

Moore looks like a big-time athletic talent, but the Giants can't know when or if he'll be reliable enough to be counted on as a starter. Kiwanuka is what he is -- a reliable veteran who does everything he's asked, but not a big-time playmaker at the defensive end position. Ayers cold be a late bloomer about to pop, but he also could just continue to be what he was in Denver, which would make him a helpful rotational piece and nothing more.

But Pierre-Paul, as we all know, can be a dominating player when he's on his game. Just two years ago, following that 2011 season, he was in the conversation about the best defensive players in the entire league. He is still only 25 years old and surely capable of doing what he did in 2011 or more. If he does, he's the kind of player who can elevate a defense from good to great. He could make those defensive ends on the other side of the line look better just by drawing blocking attention away from them. Pierre-Paul is the player in whom the Giants are putting their faith this year on defense. They believe he will justify it.

It's a big year for Pierre-Paul personally, as he's eligible for free agency when it's over. So he has that added incentive along with his built-in motivation to show the world he's still the player he was in his breakout second season. The Giants are counting on him to be that player. If he is, that's a bigger "addition" than any they made in free agency, by far.
Our man Adam Caplan says the New York Giants have agreed to a one-year contract with free-agent cornerback Zack Bowman. That makes 20 free-agent signings for the Giants so far this offseason, four of whom play cornerback.

Bowman, 29, is known as a strong special teams player. So even if he can't find a way into the suddenly crowded mix at defensive back, he's likely to make a contribution on the kick and punt coverage units. But he did start seven games for the Bears last year and had two interceptions during that stretch.

The Giants this offseason already re-signed cornerback Trumaine McBride and signed veteran cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond from the Broncos and Seahawks, respectively. Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara project as starters, with Thurmond apparently ticketed for the slot corner role. But with Thurmond, McBride and now Bowman on the roster, all of whom have experience as starters on the outside, the Giants count the cornerback position as the deepest on their roster.
Always remember to use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter, and you have a chance to have your New York Giants question answered here each Saturday morning. Thanks.

On paper, following their flurry of free-agent activity this week, the defensive backfield is the strength of the New York Giants' roster. We say "on paper," because it's March 19 and paper's all we have. The Giants don't play a real game for another five-plus months, which means all we can do is project what we think will happen based on the way everything looks from this far out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charles James, CB: Saw some work in the return game last preseason, but they have other guys for that now. James has some value as a special teams player but will have to fight his way up the depth chart.
Our man Adam Schefter reported Sunday night that free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who spent Sunday meeting with the Giants, will return to the Giants' facility in East Rutherford, N.J., on Monday to undergo a physical. I take this as a sign that Rodgers-Cromartie and the Giants are making good progress toward an eventual signing.

Rodgers-Cromartie
It doesn't have to mean that, especially since the guy spent Saturday meeting with the Jets and it's only like a half-hour from the Giants' facility to the Jets' facility (depending on which way you go). If he wanted to, Rodgers-Cromartie could hit the Giants with a thanks-but-no-thanks and be in Florham Park in time for a noon news conference. But for the purpose of this particular post, let's operate as though Rodgers-Cromartie is likely to be a Giant and analyze what it would mean.

First of all, I think it would be a good signing for the Giants, who had a rough time locking in their top targets at cornerback last week but could end up benefiting by having to "settle" for a better player later in the market.

Rodgers-Cromartie is tall and fast and extremely talented and three weeks shy of his 28th birthday. He's an exciting player, which isn't necessarily the best thing you can say about a cornerback, but I mean it at least as much in its positive connotation as in its negative. He can be beaten deep and will drive you nuts from time to time when he bites on a double-move. But he's fast and athletic enough to compensate for mistakes, and he's got an ability to make plays on the ball. Eagles fans still justifiably bitter about the way things went in 2011 and 2012 will tell you he can't (or won't) tackle, and they may be right, but that's a nitpick. A cornerback who's doing his job (i.e., covering receivers and breaking up passes) doesn't have to tackle. And by the middle of 2012, the entire Eagles defense had mailed it in and nobody wanted to tackle. Rodgers-Cromartie had a fine year in 2013 with the AFC champion Broncos, who likely would have brought him back if they hadn't been able to upgrade to Aqib Talib. And he's young enough to make you believe he's on the upswing.

This would be the best player the Giants have yet signed in free agency -- a starting outside cornerback along with Prince Amukamara. With Walter Thurmond, who signed Sunday, in the slot and Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley on the bench, the Giants would boast a deep cornerback corps and finally be able to keep safety Antrel Rolle from having to play any corner at all, which would make him happy and maximize his value at safety. You could accurately call the secondary the strongest part of the Giants' roster.

I wonder whether the Giants will have to restructure a contract or two (Mathias Kiwanuka and Eli Manning are obvious candidates) to fit Rodgers-Cromartie under the cap. They had about $12 million in cap room at last check without counting the Jon Beason, Thurmond or Quintin Demps deals, so they're getting close to the number and have other needs yet to fill at wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive and defensive lines. (Remember, they don't get the $5 million in cap relief from David Baas' release until June 2. They'll use that to sign their draft picks.)

And from a purely selfish standpoint, the idea of having to type "Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie" every time I refer to the Giants' starting cornerback duo sounds like a pain. But I'd do it for you guys, because I know it would make you happy. And that's what I'm here for.

Last week, I wrote that the Giants were playing a risky game by targeting certain specific players and signing them early in free agency rather than letting the market come to them. Surely, Rashad Jennings and J.D. Walton could have been had for less money, and if not then similar players could. In this case, however, if they do end up signing this player, they could benefit from having patience forced on them. I think Rodgers-Cromartie is better than Tracy Porter or Corey Graham, whom they eyeballed early last week. And since they obviously weren't going to make the big-splash play for Talib or Darrelle Revis, he's basically the best they were going to do at this point. Assuming they can afford him and keep him from sneaking down I-80 to Florham Park, this is a move that would make the Giants better.
The New York Giants continue to hunt for cornerback help, and the top cornerback still on the market might be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the former Cardinal, Eagle and Bronco. According to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, Rodgers-Cromartie has scheduled a visit with the Giants after he stops in to visit the Jets this weekend.

Rodgers-Cromartie
He fits the profile, as he doesn't turn 28 until next month. (Rodgers-Cromartie, that is. I think Conor is actually younger.) And Rodgers-Cromartie has played pretty well the past couple seasons in Philadelphia and Denver. He's got a bit of a reputation as a flake, but a player who's very athletic, very fast and very effective when he's focused. He'd slot in as a starter opposite Prince Amukamara, and slide Trumaine McBride down to a slot or backup role where he'd likely be more effective.

Problem is, Rodgers-Cromartie is visiting the Jets first, and as you know, a lot of times these guys sign with the team they're visiting and cancel all of their other visits. Rodgers-Cromartie also was thought to have been seeking a bank-breaking, $10 million-per-year deal when free agency began. And while he's not likely to get that from anyone, let alone the Giants, there remains a chance he scheduled a Giants visit in part to scare the Jets into upping whatever offer they make to him. So I guess I'm saying don't get your hopes up.
The second day of free agency offered a little bit of everything for the New York Giants. They reached agreement on a new deal with middle linebacker Jon Beason, which was a good thing. They lost out on wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones, who re-signed with the Ravens. Their Tuesday deal with pass-rusher O'Brien Schofield fell apart when questions surfaced about his knee during his physical. And they signed a young center who hasn't played since 2012 but could well be in line to start for them in 2014.

A variety of activity for a team embarking on a major offseason roster rebuild. Here's a look at where things stand with those and other Giants-related situations as we turn our attention to Day 3:

Tuck
The pass rush: Free-agent defensive end Justin Tuck was in Oakland on Wednesday to visit the Raiders. The Giants offered Tuck a contract prior to the start of free agency, but the offer was not to his liking, and he's out testing the market to see whether someone will pay him something closer to what he thinks he's worth. If that doesn't happen -- or if he can generate enough interest elsewhere to convince the Giants to improve their offer -- there remains a chance Tuck could be back with the Giants. But the sense I get is that Tuck is disappointed that the Giants haven't tried harder to keep him and that he's seriously considering leaving.

Odd as it may sound, the Schofield situation could help Tuck's case. The Giants agreed with Schofield on a two-year, $8 million contract on Tuesday because they viewed him as a pass-rusher. Now that that deal has fallen apart, the Giants have to look elsewhere for pass-rush help, and bringing Tuck back might be more important than they thought it was 24 hours ago. Not that Schofield was ever going to be a one-for-one Tuck replacement, but they're hoping to stock up on overall pass-rush depth, and losing Tuck would push them in the other direction.

Tuck was still meeting with the Raiders late Wednesday night, and it's entirely possible they could convince him to stay out there. The Raiders had a bit of a rough day, as you may have heard, and need to spend money on someone.

Schwartz
The offensive line: The Giants announced the signing of free agent Geoff Schwartz, who is slated to play left guard with Chris Snee at right guard and ... well, someone at center. They also announced the signing of J.D. Walton, who was the Broncos' starting center in 2010 and 2011 before a serious ankle injury knocked him out in early 2012. Walton missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from the injury, but he doesn't turn 27 until later this month and could be an upside play for them at center -- a potential right-away and long-term starter at the position if he's healthy.

However, with David Baas having been cut, there's no way the Giants can stand on Walton as their only option at center. They haven't ruled out the possibility of re-signing Kevin Boothe to play center, and the fact remains that the top centers on the market haven't signed anywhere. So it's possible they could still get into the mix for someone like Evan Dietrich-Smith, Brian De La Puente or Ryan Wendell. Remember, Snee is no sure thing coming off his second hip surgery in as many years, and the Giants need offensive line depth in the worst way. If they ended up with a healthy Snee, a healthy Walton, Schwartz and another top-level center as interior line options for 2014, that would be a nice problem to have.

The Giants also had former Rams guard Shelley Smith in for a visit Wednesday. Smith is regarded as a top run-blocker who struggles in pass protection, but he's young still. Smith is scheduled to visit the Patriots today, so he's no sure thing to sign. Point is, the Giants know their needs on the line are extensive, and they're working to fix them.

Cornerback: The Giants did place an exploratory call to the Buccaneers a few days ago when they put Darrelle Revis on the market. But those talks went nowhere, and the Giants weren't a factor once Revis was cut Wednesday. He signed with the Patriots almost immediately, as though that had been the plan all along.

The Giants continue to look for a cornerback to go with Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride, and they had Tracy Porter in for a visit Wednesday. Porter left the building without a deal, but that doesn't mean he won't sign. Several other cornerback options remain available on the market, and it's possible the Giants could find one in the first or second round of the draft.

Jilted by Jacoby: The Giants wanted Jones. They saw him as a game-changer as a return man, and they desperately want to upgrade their return units in 2014. But they also saw Jones as someone who could help as a wide receiver -- something that, say, Devin Hester doesn't offer. So while they could go out and get someone like Hester for returns, they have been hoping their answer for the return game could also contribute something else. I haven't heard what Plan B is on this. Maybe someone like Ted Ginn Jr. We shall see. They'll still need a wide receiver to replace Hakeem Nicks, unless they think Rueben Randle can elevate himself to that level in time for 2014.

Assorted tidbits: Cornerback Terrell Thomas was also scheduled to visit the Raiders. Thomas has not received any contract offer from the Giants, who seem content to let him walk. ... Linebacker Keith Rivers signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills. ... The Giants re-signed Curtis Painter, who was Eli Manning's backup quarterback in 2013. Training camp will tell whether Ryan Nassib is ready to beat him out or will have to spend another year as the No. 3 quarterback. ... In answer to many of your Twitter questions, I'm hearing nothing about the Giants and tight ends. No tight ends have signed yet, though.

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