We looked Tuesday at the issues the New York Giants face this offseason on the offensive line, but there are thorny questions on the defensive line as well. Chief among them is the status of pending free-agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is one of the best players on the team, but plays a position that doesn't get a lot of attention.
I believe Joseph is an extremely important player to the Giants, and that they should make re-signing him a top priority. He's everything they need in the middle of the line. He eats up double teams to allow others to penetrate. He stops the run. He can collapse the pocket from the interior and generate pressure on the quarterback himself. He's big and strong and mean on the field, and an absolute pleasure of a teammate off of it. If I were the Giants, I'd want him on my team until he retired.
The Giants have a ton of questions all over the roster, and money they need to spend at wide receiver, defensive end, offensive line, cornerback ... pretty much everywhere. They'll get some cap relief with a likely contract extension for quarterback Eli Manning and the possible cuts of veterans like Mathias Kiwanuka, David Baas and Chris Snee. But even if cut, those guys will have to be replaced, and whatever fresh cap room shows up could vanish quickly. The Giants have Cullen Jenkins under contract next year at a cap cost of $3.27 million, and 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins has shown enough as a rookie to merit a larger role. It's possible they could decide they can't fit Joseph into their budget at a position where they are already strong. It's likely that Joseph, knowing he plays a position that wears a man down quickly, will seek as large a contract as possible knowing he might never get another.
I asked some people what Joseph could expect to get. Former player agent Joel Corry said he would constantly be reminding the Giants that they themselves set a high market for defensive tackles when they gave Chris Canty a six-year, $42 million deal with $16 million guaranteed five offseasons ago. Canty was 26 at that time. Joseph is 25. Not crazy for him to ask for more than that, right?
Two offseasons ago, the Giants let a 27-year-old Barry Cofield leave without making an effort to keep him, and he signed for six years and $36 million (with $12.5 million guaranteed) with the division-rival Washington Redskins. Does that indicate the Giants have changed their position on the market value for defensive tackles in their prime? Or did they believe they had coverage at that position when they let Cofield walk?
All of it makes Joseph's a fascinating case, especially considering the premium the Giants put on the defensive end position in their 4-3 scheme. Justin Tuck is a free agent who needs re-signing. Kiwanuka would have to be replaced if he left, to maintain depth. Jason Pierre-Paul is a year away from his own free agency, and injury issues the past two seasons have made him a short-term question mark as well as a long-term one. So it's easy to imagine the Giants spending their defensive line budget on the outside and letting Joseph seek a big deal elsewhere. I think that would be a mistake.