- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Catching up on weekend news, I'm sure all of my New York Giants fans saw that the Raiders signed free-agent defensive end Dave Tollefson. The Giants liked Tollefson, and valued his contributions to two Super Bowl championship teams, but given their depth at the defensive end position, they weren't going to spend real money to keep him.
That said, this is a spot -- defensive end -- where when the Giants lose a player, they notice it. Brandon Jacobs signs elsewhere? They can figure out running back. Mario Manningham? Ah, they'll find another No. 3 receiver. But defensive end, that's the Giants' bread and butter. And they just lost one that was on the field for about 40 percent of their defensive plays in 2011. Tollefson could spell Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora when those guys were hurt. He could move inside and play defensive tackle in those alignments the Giants like to run where they put as many pass rushers on the field as they can. He was a valuable piece, and they will, you can be sure, do something that's directed at replacing him.
One thing Tollefson's departure means is that the Giants are far less likely now to trade Umenyiora. That likelihood already seemed to be fading, as last year's hard feelings between Umenyiora and the Giants over his contract situation have eased considerably. But now, even if they can't extend Umenyiora's contract, it's hard to imagine the Giants getting a trade offer that makes it worth losing two pieces of their pass rush in the same month.
It's possible the Giants could look for a linebacker, or an increased contribution from one or more of last year's rookie linebackers, and move Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end full-time. Kiwanuka played well in his hybrid role last year, but he's a pass-rusher at heart and would surely be happy to be asked to pick up whatever snaps Tollefson left behind.
And yeah, they're picking No. 32 in the draft in 17 days, and they have needs at running back and tight end and linebacker and places like that. But you know, if you follow the Giants, that if a pass rusher like Syracuse's Chandler Jones falls to them at 32, there's a very real chance they take him. As we discussed last week, there are certain bedrock facets of the Giants' team-building philosophy, and the most prominent may be their belief in the importance of the pass rush. Tollefson's departure doesn't leave them short in that key area for 2012. They still have Tuck and Umenyiora and Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul, which is a group for which a lot of other teams would kill. But it's a reminder that things can get thin quickly, and defensive end is one position at which the Giants are determined never to let that happen.