NFC East: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Giants Camp Report: Day 1

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of training camp:

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was not at all happy that four of his players had to leave the team's first practice of training camp with heat-related problems. Guard Brandon Mosley, who had been working at starting right guard in place of the retired Chris Snee, was carted off early in practice. The cart also came for linebacker Spencer Adkins and tackle Charles Brown for what Coughlin described as heat-related issues, and Coughlin made it clear in an interview with Sports Illustrated's Don Banks that he was not pleased about it. The Giants will look to make it all the way through their second practice Wednesday, when the high temperature is forecast to be 92 degrees. The high Tuesday was 89.

Linebacker Jameel McClain was also carted off, but that was due to a foot injury. X-rays on McClain's foot were negative, which is good news for the Giants as McClain is filling in for middle linebacker Jon Beason, who also has a foot injury but hopes to be back in time for Week 1. For what it's worth, rookie Devon Kennard continues to look good at linebacker. He worked on the strong side but has been mentioned as someone who could handle the middle linebacker responsibilities.

Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., the team's first-round pick, pulled up short on a pass route in practice, leading to an interception of Eli Manning by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Coughlin seemed annoyed about that and said of Beckham, "He has a ways to go." Earlier in the day, Beckham told us he was planning to watch out for and be careful with the hamstring injury that held him back in minicamp. It's possible the incident here was an example of that, but Beckham's health and overall progress will be worth watching as camp goes along. He has obvious blazing speed and good hands, but he will need to run his routes and run them again if he's to advance to the point where he's a Week 1 helper in the new offense.

Manning shows absolutely no ill effects of the ankle surgery that sidelined him for a portion of his spring work. He's practicing as usual and seems excited about working in the new offense.

The Giants used rookie running back Andre Williams as the goal-line back during that portion of practice Tuesday. Williams likely could slide into that role right away while he works on the finer points of his NFL game as a rookie.

Giants' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
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Projecting the New York Giants' 53-man roster before training camp begins:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Giants didn't like carrying three quarterbacks last year. They did so because they drafted Nassib as a fourth-round project with the thought that he wouldn't be active for any games as a rookie. But this year, they've come out and said that Nassib needs to win the No. 2 job. He worked as the clear No. 2 ahead of Curtis Painter in OTAs and minicamp, and I think he'd have to fall flat on his face in order to lose the job. If Manning goes down, the Giants are cooked anyway, whether it's Painter or Nassib behind him. So they might as well keep developing the kid unless he's totally incompetent.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Five running backs feels like a lot, so Hillis or 2013 seventh-rounder Michael Cox had to go. It's possible the Giants carry five and Williams could start out as this year's Nassib -- a fourth-rounder who's inactive for at least a little while as he gets his feet wet in the NFL with an eye toward a contribution further down the road. This list also assumes Wilson is cleared for contact by the neck exam he has scheduled for July 21, which is no sure thing. If he isn't, then Cox or Kendall Gaskins could find his way onto the team.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, but the Giants won't keep both. My hunch is that Hynoski has shown enough ability to produce with the ball in his hands that he'll get the edge in Ben McAdoo's new offense ahead of Conner as long as he's healthy.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Holliday is likely to make the team as a return man, though it's possible he could get squeezed out if the team decides Beckham, Quintin Demps and either Randle or Jernigan are enough to handle those responsibilities. The Giants signed Holliday before they drafted Beckham, after all.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

In spite of the lack of quality experienced options, McAdoo's offense does appear to want to use the tight end a lot. Some Giants fans are hoping an outside name or two can replace some of the ones on this list, but as of now, this is what they have, and they'll hope something decent comes of it. They are eager to see what Robinson can do if he can ever keep himself healthy, and they love what Donnell showed them last year on special teams and think he deserves the reward of an opportunity here. Daniel Fells or Xavier Grimble could beat out Davis for that third spot without too much trouble.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

There are injury and health concerns with Beatty, Jerry and possibly Snee that could knock a name or two off this list with an IR or PUP designation. The Giants signed Brown and Jerry as veteran backups. They like Mosley's upside, and he could have the edge over someone like Eric Herman or James Brewer.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

I thought about undrafted Kelcy Quarles for one of the defensive tackle spots, and I guess it's possible he could beat out someone like Patterson in camp. But everyone else on here seems like a lock.

LINEBACKERS (6)

If Beason's foot injury isn't healed in time to allow him to start the season, someone like Terrell Manning or Dan Fox could sneak on here. More likely, the Giants would go with five linebackers while waiting for Beason and add someone on the defensive line or in the secondary.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer.

SAFETIES (5)

It's going to be tricky to get fifth-round pick Berhe on this roster, but the Giants like him enough to make room at the expense of someone like Brewer on the offensive line or Charles James at cornerback.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Special-teams coach Tom Quinn said there was a kicker competition between Brown and Brandon McManus, so flip a coin on that one. The other two spots here are in stone barring injury.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago at this time, Jason Pierre-Paul was not on the field for New York Giants minicamp. He was in California, beginning a back-surgery rehab that would limit him throughout a disappointing 2013 season. Fully healed from that and from the shoulder injury that showed up halfway through the season on top of it, Pierre-Paul is feeling fantastic and rarin' to go.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul says he's ready to put a disappointing 2013 season behind him and rebound with a "crazy" 2014.
"When your body's fresh, you can put all of that behind you and pretend it never happened," the Giants' defensive end said after minicamp practice Wednesday. "I've got something to prove this year. I want to shut a lot of people up. I know what I bring to the table. I know what I can do. It's going to be crazy."

Pierre-Paul has collected a total of two quarterback sacks in the Giants' last 23 games dating back to the middle of the 2012 season. That's a far cry from the 16.5 he turned in during the 2011 regular season en route to a Super Bowl title. But now that he's healthy, he says, "the sky's the limit" for what he can do. Which is a good thing for the Giants, because however much money they spend on cornerbacks this offseason, Pierre-Paul is still the most important defensive piece they have.

The organization that has lived by the idea that "you can't have too many pass-rushers" operated this offseason as though it didn't think it could have too many cornerbacks. The Giants said goodbye to 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who were their two best defensive linemen last year. The only replacement they signed was former Broncos first-round pick Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong run defender from the defensive end position. They spent big money on free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman and Trumaine McBride to go along with incumbent starter Prince Amukamara at that position.

Now, cornerback looks like a strength of the roster, but the front seven looks a bit thinned-out. The Giants are basically counting on 2013 draft picks Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore to make big steps forward in 2014 to help fill the holes created by the departures of Joseph and Tuck. If not, they're going to test the old theory about how a strong pass rush helps the secondary more than a strong secondary helps the pass rush.

"We all work as one," Pierre-Paul said. "But they've been doing a great job, because we've been getting to the quarterback in practice."

That can work for a time, I think. And there are plenty of people out there who will point to the Seattle Seahawks having won the most recent Super Bowl with a strong secondary. But first of all, this group has a long way to go before it can claim it belongs in the same discussion as the one Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are running out there in the Pacific Northwest. And second of all, too many people overlook the fact that Seattle's 2013 defense relied heavily on a strong and deep rotation of defensive linemen that wore out opposing offensive lines late in games.

For that reason, the Giants absolutely must play big and strong up front on defense. It starts with Pierre-Paul, who's the one player in their defensive front we've seen perform at a truly elite NFL level. But they will need to be able to rely on a rotation of Hankins, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn and maybe rookie Jay Bromley at defensive tackle. And they'll need to get contributions from some combination of Moore, Ayers and Mathias Kiwanuka at defensive end on the side opposite Pierre-Paul. If they don't -- if they get pushed around physically on the defensive line and can't force the action by invading opponents' backfields -- then quarterbacks are going to find open receivers against them downfield, no matter how good their corners are.

Pierre-Paul's bravado is fun in June, but it needs to turn into production -- for him and for his defensive linemates -- come September and October. That's the way they've always won with defense around here, and it's foolish to think the formula has changed.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the New York Giants' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants knew they needed help on the offensive line, so signing Geoff Schwartz was a move in the right direction.
Best move: Signed to start at left guard after a season in which the interior of the Giants' offensive line crumbled completely and decimated the offense, Geoff Schwartz will be an immediate upgrade at a key position and should help the run game as well as Eli Manning's protection in the passing game. The Giants needed to make the offensive line a priority, and signing Schwartz at the start of free agency showed that they understood that.

Riskiest move: Letting defensive tackle Linval Joseph leave for Minnesota in free agency. Joseph is still just 25 years old -- younger than any free agent the Giants signed. He and Justin Tuck (who left and signed with the Raiders) were the Giants' two best defensive linemen in 2013. The Giants are hoping 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins can fill Joseph's shoes, but letting him go risked leaving the Giants too thin on the defensive line -- a position of renowned strength during their last two Super Bowls.

Most surprising move: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and in general the amount of free-agent attention the Giants paid to cornerback. They spent big to acquire Rodgers-Cromartie and also signed Walter Thurmond, Zack Bowman at Trumaine McBride. They obviously needed to replace Corey Webster (who they should have replaced last offseason), but the extent to which they beefed up at the position was surprising for a team that appeared to need more help on offense than on defense.

Draft pick impact: First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. has a chance to make a rookie-year contribution as Hakeem Nicks' replacement at wide receiver if he can learn the offense quickly. Ditto second-round pick Weston Richburg, who has a chance to beat out J.D. Walton for the starting center job. And fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who led all of college football in rushing yards last year at Boston College, could get into the mix early at running back. The Giants are counting on their draft picks to help fill holes on the offensive side.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Four weeks ago, at the New York Giants' first player availability of the offseason, Walter Thurmond boasted that the team's secondary could be better than the Seahawks' Legion of Boom, and Antrel Rolle said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the best cornerback in the NFL.

There were no such proclamations this Tuesday, during the team's second availability of the spring. But Rodgers-Cromartie did talk to reporters, and sounds bullish about the Giants' defense come this fall.

Rolle
Rodgers-Cromartie
"It can be real good," he said. "Not even from just a secondary standpoint -- I look at going through these drills with the linebackers, they definitely understand the coverages and how to drop. So I think that'll be helpful, when your linebackers and secondary are of one accord."

Rodgers-Cromartie signed a five-year, $39 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) with the Giants back in March, after also meeting with the New York Jets, and said Tuesday that his decision was not an easy one.

"It was very difficult," he said. "You visit both teams, and both teams seem really, really interested in you. But at the end of the day, I felt comfortable coming over here just with the things that were being said and that were going to be done -- I just felt that would better help me as a football player."

It sounds like Rolle's influence was key. The two were teammates with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 and 2009.

"He just hit me up and said a couple things that hit home," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He was like, 'I think you can be this and that in our system, and the coaches and everybody else will help you get to it, just buy into it.'"

A former first-round pick back in 2008, with 19 interceptions in six seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie is now on his fourth NFL team -- and he's hoping to stay awhile this time around. He said he's been sitting next to Rolle in team meetings, to speed his learning of the new terminology.

He also admits hearing what Rolle said about him last month, and appreciates the compliment, but will let his play do the talking.

"Whenever you've got somebody that believes in you, you want to go out there and just go that much harder," Rodgers-Cromartie said, "kind of not be a letdown and hold up your end of the bargain."
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.
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.
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Stop me if you've heard this one before: The free agent with whom the New York Giants agreed to terms Wednesday is 28 years old, was a high draft pick not too long ago, and has shown some quality flashes while not living all the way up to expectations so far in the NFL. The Giants were able to get him at a relatively low price, which is important given the remarkably high number of free agents they've had to sign this offseason to replenish their roster. He adds depth at a position of need, and if the light goes on and he plays to his pre-draft potential, they could really have something here.

When you put it that way, defensive end Robert Ayers sounds like almost every other free agent the Giants have signed in the past three weeks.

[+] EnlargeRobert Ayers
Paul Spinelli/AP PhotoThe Giants have added Robert Ayers, a former first-round pick, to their defensive line rotation.
Ayers is the 23rd free agent the Giants have signed so far, the 12th from another team and the fourth who was once a first-round draft pick. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Denver Broncos, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Tennessee. He's never really developed as an NFL pass-rusher, recording just 12 sacks in five professional seasons. But his 5.5 sacks in 2013 were a career high, and he's well regarded as a run defender.

Ayers is not a Justin Tuck replacement, per se. Tuck had 11 sacks just last season; you don't replace him with a guy who has only had 12 in five years. But as an edge rusher who can play the run, he could be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive end. Heck, it's not ridiculous to think that, with a good training camp, he could beat out veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore for the starting defensive end spot opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. He isn't Tuck, but he's younger and cheaper, and the extent of the Giants' free-agent roster overhaul this offseason has been predicated on those two traits.

It's also worth pointing out a bit of a trend in these bargain-bin guys the Giants have picked up. Ayers is like center J.D. Walton and tackle Charles Brown in that he was regarded well enough out of college to be a relatively high pick but hasn't produced the way his original team had hoped. Adding guys like that -- who have talent but haven't put it all together -- can be a smart way of playing the bargain end of free agency, especially when the players are still young, as these three are. (You could add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to this list, since he's played well as a pro but is thought to have elite talent, but he was a big-money signing and thus more of a gamble.)

There are worse bets to make than one on a former first-round pass-rusher (or former third-round center, or former second-round tackle) who has experience as a starter in the league. And if you make three or four such bets, and you believe in the abilities of the people on your coaching staff, your odds of hitting on one or two of them are pretty good. We'll see which of the Giants' signings work out and which don't. But at worst, the Ayers signing continues at least the following theme: The Giants had a hole and filled it with what they believed was the best option available at this point in free agency. It will be months before we can accurately judge which of their many holes they've filled well and which will need filling again next March and April.
The New York Giants invested heavily in free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they're going to use him accordingly. Speaking at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Wednesday, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Rodgers-Cromartie would be deployed as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com:

When asked how exactly DRC would be employed within defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's defensive system, head coach Tom Coughlin didn't hesitate.

"Are you the best receiver of their team? [He's] following you then," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL Meetings.

Dallas Cowboys' Dez Bryant
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezNew Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, left, can expect to be matched up with elite receivers like Dallas' Dez Bryant next season.
Coughlin and the Giants targeted that type of player right from the start of free agency. They checked in on all the top cornerbacks, before landing Rodgers-Cromartie when the options were slimming. It's clear what drew them to talented cornerback.

"He's physical enough. When you watch him closely, he doesn't shy away," Coughlin said. "He's got great big long arms, he's tall, he's fast, he can match up."

So that's the answer to a lot of the questions that were asked when the Giants signed Rodgers-Cromartie. The question is whether he can handle the assignment of tailing guys like Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and maybe DeSean Jackson around the field for a whole game. All of those guys are on the Giants' 2014 schedule (unless Jackson gets traded to a team that is not), and each is a tough matchup for even the best cornerbacks in the league.

Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't really been used that way in previous stops, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. I asked my NFL Insiders colleague Louis Riddick what he thought. Louis is a former defensive back himself who worked in the Eagles' front office when Rodgers-Cromartie was there in 2011 and 2012.

"He may actually respond favorably to that, to be honest, especially if there are guys like [Antrel] Rolle who he doesn't want to let down," Louis said. "While we had him, no, he would not have reacted well to that kind of responsibility."

Interesting point about safety Rolle, who is the Giants' defensive team captain and was a teammate of Rodgers-Cromartie's in Arizona earlier in their careers. Rodgers-Cromartie was calling Rolle "big bro" around the time of his signing and clearly looks up to him. Part of the reason the Giants have confidence Rodgers-Cromartie can harness his talent and establish a level of consistency with them that he hasn't shown to this point in his career is that they expect Rolle's influence to be strong and positive.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can handle that "shut-down" responsibility with regard to the opponent's top wideout every week, that would obviously be a huge asset to the Giants' defense and justify their five-year, $35 million investment in him. It would ease some of the pressure on Prince Amukamara, who tried gamely to fill the No. 1 cornerback spot in 2014 but isn't really suited for that role full-time. It would allow fellow newcomer Walter Thurmond to stay on the slot receiver, where he should be a tough matchup every week. And the overall depth at corner now should allow Rolle to stay at safety for a whole season, which he prefers and will likely make him as effective as he can be.

If Rodgers-Cromartie can't handle that assignment ... well, then they're going to have to move a lot of pieces around to make up for that. The positive thing there is that they have a good number of quality pieces to move around in case Plan A doesn't work out.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Before visiting with the New York Giants, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie spent time at the New York Jets' facility, meeting with team officials. Giants coach Tom Coughlin wasn't worried about losing the free-agent cornerback to his local rival.

Rodgers-Cromartie
"It seemed as if he was going to continue to visit until he found what he wanted," Coughlin said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Rodgers-Cromartie found it with the Giants, who gave him a five-year, $35 million contract that includes $13.98 million guaranteed. Putting the money aside for a moment, the Giants believe they landed the talented corner by providing two important elements: A specific plan for him on defense and stablity.

This will be DRC's third team in three years, and he wants to settle down with one team, according to Coughlin. The Jets didn't provide that opportunity, reportedly offering what amounted to a one-year contract for about $6 million.

"To be honest with you, he was looking for a place to sink his roots and become a guy who represented a team and stayed there, and worked his way through some things," Coughlin said. "He wanted to be part of something instead of one year here, one year there. ...He jumped on that. He wanted to be a guy who’s associated with a team and be recognized."

Rodgers-Cromartie is a talented, but inconsistent player. He played well last season for the Denver Broncos, but he was a disappointment in the two previous seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Coughlin said the Giants' coaches studied him closely, formulating a plan to maximize his strengths. He wouldn't divulge the plan.

"We have a young man that really wants to be coached," he said. "We studied and we saw some areas we can help him in, and we were very specific about how that would happen. He was very open and receptive to it. We did a good job of it. Our coaches worked their tails off. They spent a lot of time on it, a lot of time."

And the Jets still have a gaping hole at cornerback, with general manager John Idzik taking heat for failing to address a need.
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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.

Free-agency review: Giants

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:00
AM ET
Rodgers-Cromartie
Most significant signing: We'll go with the most expensive and most recent one, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed for five years and $39 million ($15 million guaranteed) on Monday evening. He completes the Giants' project of deepening and strengthening themselves at cornerback, will allow newly signed Walter Thurmond to handle the slot, and will help make sure Antrel Rolle can focus completely on safety. Prior to the Rodgers-Cromartie signing, guard Geoff Schwartz was the winner here.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Justin Tuck, who was a co-captain and two-time Super Bowl champion, had 11 sacks last season. What's lost with Tuck isn't just the sacks but also his ability (and willingness) to do the inglorious run-defense work that not every pass-rushing defensive end likes to do. And the biggest loss might be in leadership. Tuck was a link to glory days and an anchor for young and old players in the meeting rooms, on the field and in the locker room. He will be very difficult to replace. The honorable mention here goes to defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is only 25 and for some reason didn't even merit a serious effort to keep.

Walton
Biggest surprise: Desperately needing a new center, the Giants committed a surprising amount of money to former Broncos center J.D. Walton, who hasn't played since Week 4 of 2012 due to a significant ankle injury. Walton is an upside play for the Giants, but the $3 million in guaranteed money in his two-year contract indicates the Giants expect him to play. At this point, he's the only center they have, and they wouldn't seem to have enough to make a big play to upgrade.

What's next? The Giants still have many needs, even beyond those we've already addressed here on the offensive and defensive lines. They could use a wide receiver to replace Hakeem Nicks, and they don't have a tight end on the roster who's qualified to start an NFL game. My guess is they'll look to address the defensive line rotation next in free agency and then use the first and second rounds of the draft to add weapons and protection for Eli Manning.
The signing of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a good move for the New York Giants. I wrote Sunday night that it would be if they signed him, and now that they have, I reiterate this. He's a good player who's played in the Super Bowl and will only be 28 when the season starts. Five years, $39 million with $15 million guaranteed is a whopper of a deal and likely will force a contract restructure or two elsewhere on the roster, but Rodgers-Cromartie has the kind of ability on which it's worth placing a bet, and part of my problem with the Giants' offseason this year has been their seeming unwillingness to place a big bet. So I'm not going to rip this move. One of the Giants' goals when this offseason began was to strengthen their secondary, and they have done so. On paper, it is clearly the strongest part of their roster as currently constructed.

Rodgers-Cromartie
Which brings us to the forward-looking portion of today's program, where we must remind ourselves that the Giants' roster is not yet fully constructed. In fact, it still needs a great deal of work before this can be labeled a 2014 title contender. And if I were making the decisions in East Rutherford, my next focus would be on the line. Either line, defensive or offensive. Because they both need a lot of work.

For argument's sake, and because most of the Giants' offseason work so far has been on defense, let's start with the defensive line. Their best two players on the defensive line last year were, without much competition, Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. Tuck is now a Raider and Joseph a Viking, which (a) is terrible news if you fear an invasion by marauders and (b) requires the Giants to contemplate their replacements.

Even if you believe that Damontre Moore and Johnathan Hankins will be ready to step into starting roles in their second years and replace the production that Tuck and Joseph delivered in 2013, the Giants still need to add depth at positions where deep rotations are critical. And believing that Moore and Hankins will be ready to do that is a major, major leap of faith in players who didn't see the field much as rookies. Holes remain at this critical spot on which the Giants have built their championship teams, and there's nothing that makes a secondary look bad quicker than an absent pass rush.

As for the offensive line...

Wait a second. Let's call this section "the offense in general." The Giants still have only one viable outside-the-numbers receiver, and that's the still-green Rueben Randle. They have no real tight end, they're hoping banged-up war horse Chris Snee can answer the bell at right guard and their choices right now at center are (a) J.D. Walton, who was a terrible player in 2011 and hasn't played since September of 2012 or (b) Eli Manning hikes the ball to himself like you do in the front yard when your brother is screaming "One Mississippi!"

The Giants have fewer holes than they did a week ago, but they still have plenty of them. And I think that's the cautionary point I'd make here. Yes, there are still free agents to sign, but we all know this process offers no perfect solutions. Yes, the draft looms in May, but how many right-away starters can you hope to get from a draft? Two if you have a good one, three if you really nail it. The Giants, as of this morning, were not Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie away from the Super Bowl, and they remain in the midst of a significant roster rebuild. Some of the choices they have made over the past week will turn out to have been good ones. Others will not. A year from now, they'll re-assess them all and continue working.

But continue working is what the Giants must do. Their 2013 team was a terrible one -- a wheezing husk of a championship team that won seven of its final 10 games because it kept fighting when teams that had more talent but less character rolled over. The manner in which the Giants have operated this offseason so far shows that they weren't fooled by their strong finish and know how large the project that lies in front of them still is. They must and will continue to keep working, because they still have a lot of work to do.

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