NFC East: Hakeem Nicks

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of all the disappointments in the New York Giants' hugely disappointing 2013 season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks may have stood out the most. The team's 2009 first-round pick went the entire year without a touchdown, got benched for a critical November game against the Cowboys and was allowed to leave as a free agent without any effort being made to re-sign him. An ugly and surprising end in New York for a Super Bowl hero who'd previously been counted among the hardest-working and productive on the team.

Nicks
Nicks landed with the Indianapolis Colts, and coincidentally the Giants are headed to Indianapolis for their next preseason game Saturday night. Nicks still has plenty of friends on the team, and they're looking forward to a reunion.

"Always good to see Hakeem," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said Wednesday. "And I think he landed in a blessed situation. Most important, alongside [veteran Colts receiver] Reggie Wayne. I'm a longtime friend of Reggie Wayne's, and I understand his work ethic and his craft. Hakeem having someone above him to lay down the foundation, lay the law down, is going to help him improve his game that much more."

Interesting point. Even once Victor Cruz emerged, Nicks was kind of the most seasoned and veteran receiver on the Giants during a time when he was still quite young. Heck, he's still only 26. Being part of a receiving corps that has the veteran Wayne and the emerging young T.Y. Hilton could be a benefit to Nicks if one of his problems last year was dealing with pressure.

Either way, as nice as it'll be for Rolle to see Nicks, he'll also be trying to stop him.

"I'm excited to see Hakeem, but there are no friends out there on the field, and I know he understands that," Rolle said. "I know he feels the same way about us. This is home for him. I'm just looking forward to the game. It's going to be a great battle."

Giants' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
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The biggest key to the New York Giants' success over the next three years is a player who's only signed for two of them, and it's not a young player. Quarterback Eli Manning is as vital to his team's success as any player in the league, and the extent to which the Giants can handle the tremendous offseason roster turnover they underwent this season and return to contender status in the NFC rests on Manning's ability to reinvent himself in a new offense this year and in the years immediately following.

Manning
Manning's 2013 season was the worst of his career so far, as he threw a career-high and league-leading 27 interceptions. The offense crumbled around him. The offensive line collapsed due to injuries. Top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks mysteriously shut it down in a contract year. The running game never showed up. But Manning would admit that he was also part of the problem. He appeared to let the mess that was mushrooming around him affect his performance and his decision-making, and the result was an unacceptable level of performance.

Manning is 33 years old now and has two years remaining on his contract. Somewhat surprisingly, the Giants chose not to try to extend Manning's contract this offseason, though it would have saved them significant cap room. His cap numbers the next two years are $20.4 million and $19.75 million, which are monster numbers that make it difficult for the Giants to budget around him, but they don't mind that if he's performing like a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

That's why the biggest key to the Giants' success over the next three years is Manning's ability to master new coordinator Ben McAdoo's offense, help all of the new pieces jell together and convince the Giants that an extension that keeps him in blue for the remainder of his career is a no-brainer. If Manning flames out in 2014, then the Giants have a major decision to make about the most important position on their roster. And that would throw their next three years -- and likely a few after that -- into disarray.
Rueben Randle led the New York Giants in touchdown receptions in 2013. Now, that's a little like being the tallest dwarf, since he only had six of them and the Giants' offense was so bad that no one else could come up with more than four. But still, the Giants' 2012 second-round pick has flashed the ability to make a play. He has the size and the physical skills needed to be a good NFL wide receiver. His issue, to this point, has been consistency of concentration.

[+] EnlargeRueben Randle
Julio Cortez/AP PhotoIn 16 games last season, Giants WR Rueben Randle had 41 receptions for 611 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"Intelligence, he's got that," Giants wide receivers coach Sean Ryan said last week. "For me, the battle with him is consistency, and I think he's addressed it in this offseason in the way he approaches his job. I've seen a difference in his seriousness towards his work. This spring, I thought he was locked in. I thought he did a good job learning the new offense. Like I said, he's got some football intelligence to him. Things come to him. He sees things pretty well. But I thought he really worked hard at being locked into the meetings and on the field as well. I noticed a difference in him."

With Hakeem Nicks gone off to the Colts in free agency following a very disappointing year, the Giants are looking for more production from Randle on the outside. They drafted his fellow former LSU wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., in the first round, but Beckham is a rookie with much to learn. Randle is in his third NFL season, which is generally thought to be a big one for wide receiver development.

There's also a school of thought that the new offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo will help Randle, who seemed to struggle to be on the same page as quarterback Eli Manning in some high-profile incidents last year that resulted in interceptions. Former coordinator Kevin Gilbride's offense relied on option routes, and the ability of the wide receivers to identify the same coverages as Manning did at the line of scrimmage. Randle had issues with that and could theoretically thrive in a simpler scheme, though Ryan disputes the idea that the change in coordinators will make things that much easier for receivers.

"Yeah, I think maybe that is oversimplifying, because you're always going to face route adjustments versus certain coverages," Ryan said. "Maybe this offense doesn't have as many, but he's still going to have to face those same decisions. In terms of the volume of route adjustments, there's probably a little less in this offense. But there's always going to be certain routes that we're going to run versus certain coverages, and post-snap they're still going to have to see it just like the quarterback sees it and be on the same page. So it's still going to be a part of the game, just probably not as much."

Ryan also said he's been trying to work his receivers all over the field and in different positions, which has in some practices resulted in Randle getting some work out of the slot.

"That's a big target running down the middle of the field," Ryan said of the 6-2, 208-pound Randle. "And that's something that we've certainly talked about and talked to him about, so it's possible."

Meantime, the key for Randle once training camp starts up next month is to maintain the focus he showed throughout the spring and apply it once games start. The Giants are expecting big things from Randle in his third NFL season.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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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. -- He is the New York Giants' 2014 first-round draft pick. He was the No. 12 overall pick in this year's draft. But wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is here at the Giants' team facility doing what everybody else on the offense is doing at high speed -- learning.

"It's a new offense for everybody," Beckham said Tuesday. "They just got it two or three weeks ago, so the veterans are all learning, too. So right now, everything's all up in the air."

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr
Elsa/Getty ImagesLike the rest of his new teammates, Odell Beckham Jr. is busy learning a new offense.
Beckham said his goal is to learn every wide receiver position in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system, but he's starting out with the X receiver position. That's the split end, or the receiver that's tied to the line of scrimmage and doesn't go in motion. Based on what the Giants said about Beckham the night they drafted him, they view him as an ideal candidate for that spot, since success there depends on the receiver's ability to beat press coverage and get separation from the defender. Hakeem Nicks, the 2009 first-round pick who left as a free agent this offseason, could not do that last year, and the Giants hope that the replacement they drafted can do a better job with that.

Beckham's LSU teammate, 2012 second-round pick Rueben Randle, would then be the Z receiver on the other side with Victor Cruz handling the slot receiver duties. But of course that could change from week to week or play to play, which Beckham knows. At this point, he's just trying to get down what he can.

"Right now for me, it's a lot of learning the offense," he said. "I feel like I'm catching up. There's so much being thrown at you a once, it's all going to take some getting used to."

He said having Randle around helps him some, as does his familiarity with Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who went to the same high school Beckham attended in New Orleans and has worked with Beckham at his passing camps. And Beckham also is well aware of outside criticisms about his size (5-foot-11) and has made his peace with them.

"It's something I don't really think about," Beckham said. "There are a lot of guys in the league my size. Percy Harvin is one of them. Maybe he's a little faster than I am, but he's been successful. Size is not something that matters, I don't think."

If he has speed and the ability to get away from defenders, Beckham's size shouldn't hold him back. Nicks has the size to outfight people for the ball, but his inability to get open with any kind of consistency last year hamstrung the Giants' offense. The Giants don't care how tall Beckham is if no one's covering him. They want to get him the ball and let him run with it.

First, though, he's got a lot to learn.
Jerry ReesePat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsOf the 39 players drafted during GM Jerry Reese's first five drafts, only eight remain on the roster.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There are New York Giants fans reading this who aren't sure how to feel about this year's draft but assume it'll be all right because they trust GM Jerry Reese as a good drafter.

They shouldn't. Because the evidence says he's not.

Reese's reputation as a good operator of the draft rests on two things -- his very good debut draft as Giants GM in 2007, and the fact that the Giants have won two Super Bowls during his seven seasons in the position. But that shouldn't be enough, really. The 2007 draft was seven years ago now, and he hasn't had a good draft since. And the Super Bowl is used far too often to excuse other sins. It's one game (or two, in this case). If Mario Manningham's pinkie toe is on the sideline when he makes that catch, or if Rob Gronkowski's end-zone lunge starts a half-second sooner that night in Indianapolis, would it then be OK to criticize the Giants' recent draft record? If the answer is yes, then it should be OK to do so anyway. Credit the people who run the Giants for the Super Bowl titles, but it's also on them that their team has missed the playoffs four of the past five years.

I don't think Reese is a bad GM. His in-season work last year to patch holes with guys such as Jon Beason and Brandon Jacobs kept the Giants from being historically awful. He was active and smart in free agency this spring, wisely identifying his roster as one that needed widespread repair. Victor Cruz as an undrafted free-agent find is on his résumé, too. But when it comes to the draft, a deeper look reveals a troubling lack of clothes on this particular emperor.

Discount, just for our purposes here, the 2012 and 2013 drafts, which are still too recent to evaluate. (Though it's tough to feel real excited about the David Wilson/Rueben Randle/Jayron Hosley start in 2012 so far). Look at Reese's first five drafts -- 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He selected a total of 39 players and only eight are on the current roster. One of those eight, Manningham, left for two years and came back. Four of the eight came from the 2011 draft, so only four of the 31 players he took in his first four drafts are on the team at the moment, and only three have been on it all along.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks is the latest former Giants first-rounder who didn't sign a second contract with the team.
Of all the players Reese has drafted for the Giants, exactly three -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Will Beatty and Zak DeOssie -- signed second long-term contracts with the team after their rookie deals. Reese's first three first-rounders -- Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips and Hakeem Nicks -- all signed elsewhere when they hit free agency. Linval Joseph, the second-round pick in 2010, also was not re-signed. These were fine picks who produced for the Giants, but you can't say you're building through the draft when you're not retaining those types of guys. Even in a league where the average player's career lasts less than four years, consistent failure to retain your top picks beyond that time frame is evidence that you're doing something wrong.

Who's Reese's best pick? After Bradshaw, the 2007 seventh-round steal who helped deliver one Super Bowl as a rookie and another as a veteran, it's probably 2010 first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul. They don't make the 2011 playoffs, let alone win that year's Super Bowl, without Pierre-Paul. But 2011 was Pierre-Paul's only good year so far. He's a near-permanent resident of the weekly injury report and he has a total of two sacks in the Giants' past 23 games. He could become the fourth to join that list of second-contract guys, but so far he hasn't. And if he limps around and fails to produce this year, he becomes a contract-year question mark just like Phillips and Nicks were. Best pick? The most consistently reliable long-term contributor Reese has taken is DeOssie, the fourth-round mainstay long-snapper.

There's miss after miss at key spots in early and middle rounds, and Giants fans know their names: Clint Sintim, Ramses Barden, Phillip Dillard, Marvin Austin, James Brewer. Since Bradshaw in 2007, there are no late-round gems who've surprised and become major contributors. Some of it is because of injury. Some can be blamed on those charged with player development. But this is a results business, and for whatever reason -- too many risks, too much trust in poor evaluations, whatever -- Reese hasn't delivered the kinds of draft results that help build strong organizations.

The Giants have drafted as poorly over the past half-decade as any team in the league. The results showed up last year in a hollowed-out roster that had to overachieve to get to 7-9 and required Reese to sign more free agents than anyone else this offseason in order to fill its many holes. This past weekend, Reese delivered a tepid draft. The Giants are excited about the dynamic Odell Beckham Jr., their first-round pick. And they like the center, Weston Richburg, they got in the second round. But the rest of the draft was safe and dull, devoted to finding what Reese calls "clean" players. Every pick after the second round looks like a player who's just about at his ceiling and can make an immediate contribution as a backup and/or special-teamer, but almost all of them were reaches and very few look likely to blossom into future stars.

Maybe that's for the best. The Giants needed to draft differently this year than they have in recent years, because they've been absolutely terrible at it. They needed to pull a George Costanza and start doing everything the opposite of the way they usually do it, because it never seems to work out. Reese's reputation as a shrewd drafter isn't deserved, and good for him if he realized he needed to change things up. It's time to stop assuming all is well here just because of the four trophies in the lobby. It's time for the Giants to start thinking about what they can do to build their roster back up and put themselves back in a position to even have a shot at winning a fifth.

Bradshaw sympathizes with Nicks

April, 25, 2014
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Our Indianapolis Colts team reporter, Mike Wells, is busy these days helping out with NBA coverage. But he did recently have a conversation with Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw about Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, and Mike was kind enough to pass along what the one former New York Giants player said about the other.

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Bradshaw
The Giants let Nicks walk in free agency after an extremely disappointing season in which Nicks didn't catch a touchdown pass and his effort was questioned by the coaching staff. He signed with Indianapolis, where Bradshaw signed last year after the Giants released him. Bradshaw seems to think that Nicks' situation and his are similar, and emblematic of a perpetual desire by the Giants to churn their roster.

"I know how it is over there. How they work," Bradshaw told Mike. "It gets bad as you get more years in the league with Giants. You get the younger guys coming in. They visualize, and with me, they visualize me leaving and David Wilson coming in and being that guy. Andre Brown being that guy, and they had those two guys. They were like, 'Leave that money alone. Let him go, take care of the little guys.' That's how this league is becoming. As the year was going when I was with the Giants, my coach was like, 'They're just talking about younger, faster, healthy.' Nowadays these younger guys aren't as healthy. They come in and have some different stuff."

Bradshaw never could seem to stay healthy while with the Giants, and they cut him for money reasons and because they didn't feel they could count on him to stay on the field. (He played only three games for the Colts last year due to a neck injury.) They'd drafted Wilson in the first round in 2012 and were ready to roll with Wilson and Brown at running back in 2013, and Bradshaw had failed to seize the opportunity in 2012 to be the full-time starter.

Nicks' case is a bit different, as he was ostensibly healthy in 2013 but seemed to focus on staying healthy at the expense of being productive. The Giants went into last year hoping to re-sign Nicks, but by the end of the season they'd decided to move on. Bradshaw seems to think they did Nicks wrong.

"I've been there," Bradshaw said. "They try to make you feel like you're a cancer to the team. Different things. It's really they want to try to get the younger guys experience and sit you down. Not that you've done anything wrong. I've been there and I know where he comes from. He's telling me, 'They said I was cancer there.' I know how it was cause I was there. I've been through that."

For the record, I never heard anyone with the Giants claim that Nicks was a "cancer." Even through his struggles, he remained a solid presence in the locker room and didn't make waves off the field. The coaching staff was frustrated because it couldn't find any way of getting him to play better, and it felt it tried everything. The Giants' preference would have been for Nicks to have a good year, and they'd have tried to re-sign him. But that didn't happen, and they didn't. As was the case with Bradshaw, Nicks had a chance to convince the Giants to keep him around. He just didn't take advantage of it.

Victor Cruz, one year later

April, 21, 2014
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Victor CruzAP Photo/Bill KostrounVictor Cruz's consistent play in 2013 meant far more than his absence from voluntary workouts.
A year ago, as the New York Giants opened their offseason program, star wide receiver Victor Cruz was not present. Cruz and the Giants were working on a long-term contract extension, which they eventually would complete, and Cruz made the decision to stay away from the voluntary portion of the offseason program as long as the deal was not yet done.

This was Cruz's perfect right, as it is the right of every player this time of year not to participate in the voluntary workouts. The criticism of players for their personal decisions not to attend the portions of the offseason programs that aren't required of them is one of my least favorite things about the NFL. "Voluntary" means voluntary, and when coaches and writers and fans get on guys for taking the time off that's available to them, I think that's just plain lousy.

But it happened to Cruz, as everyone from Tom Coughlin right on down to the fan base made it clear they were upset with Cruz for not attending non-mandatory practices. There was concern expressed about his absence's potential effect on the season and what it said about Cruz as a person, a player and a teammate.

Well, the season was a wreck all the way around, and it's hard to say anything that happened in April or May was the reason. But here's what Cruz's absence from voluntary work a year ago said about him as a person, a player and a teammate: absolutely nothing.

As the Giants' mess of a 2013 season unfolded, Cruz was one of the few consistent positives. Yes, I am well aware he didn't catch a touchdown pass after September. But he was playing in an offense that was, in the words of the team's owner, broken. The line couldn't protect the quarterback; the quarterback couldn't stop throwing it to the other team; the running game didn't exist; and the top outside receiver didn't want to play. Once defenses realized Hakeem Nicks no longer cared about trying to get open, they double-teamed Cruz and took the Giants' passing offense's one remaining threat out of the game.

Cruz's reaction to this terrible situation was to continue to play hard, fight his way open whenever possible and work to improve the parts of his game that needed work. For example, Cruz was a liability as a downfield blocker in his first two seasons in the league but a vastly improved one in 2013. He went to his coaches in training camp and told them he wanted to improve that critical and often overlooked aspect, and he did it, earning praise from the coaching staff and teammates behind the scenes. He worked hard in practice, even helping mentor backup slot receiver Jerrel Jernigan and helping develop him behind the scenes to the point that Jernigan was effective in place of an injured Cruz in December.

The injury is the only thing that kept Cruz from a third straight 1,000-yard receiving season, and it came on an effort play as Cruz was leaping to catch a pass in the third quarter of a hideous 23-0 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Not only was Cruz still trying to make something of a lost game and a lost season, there were times when it looked as though he was the only one who was.

Why bring this up now? Because it hasn't been brought up very much. And if Cruz had gotten his big contract and then loafed through the Giants' season -- especially after they started 0-6 -- that would have been brought up a heck of a lot, and in very damning ways. Cruz went the other way, though. He went through the negotiation dance this time last year and ended up getting his money, and he reacted by working even harder and trying to get better so that everyone could see he deserved it.

It bears mentioning that a player whose priorities and focus were being questioned this time last year ended up being one of the best and most reliable players on the team. Of all the things that happened last year, signing Cruz to a long-term contract appears to have been one of the few the Giants absolutely got right.
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft following their 7-9 season. The Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far in free agency, signing a total of 13 free agents, including 13 from outside their own organization. They have filled a lot of holes, but that doesn't mean they are without needs both immediate and long-term.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today. If you're an Insider, you have access to the three-round mock and will see that his first-round pick for the Giants fills a glaring present-day hole with a pick that could bring long-term benefits as well.

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.

Britt, Hawkins on Redskins' radar

March, 10, 2014
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If the Redskins upgrade at receiver, it might take a reclamation project to help them do so. According to multiple sources, the Redskins are interested in Tennessee receiver Kenny Britt, whose career to date has been marked by an inability to maximize his so-called potential.

Britt
Britt
Hawkins
A team source also said the Redskins are interested in restricted free agent receiver Andrew Hawkins. They also could be in on free agent running back Darren Sproles, according to Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman.

None of these names should be surprising given that the first two have been attached to the Redskins for some time. Hawkins played for Redskins coach Jay Gruden in Cincinnati. Hawkins is restricted, but the Bengals gave him a low tender. That means the Bengals would have the ability to match, but the Redskins would not have to surrender any compensation because he was an undrafted free agent.

If the Redskins sign Hawkins, it likely would mean the end of Santana Moss' Redskins career. They still feel he can play, but Hawkins is younger and faster. He's caught 86 career passes in three seasons, although he missed eight games this past season with a high ankle sprain.

If nothing else, Hawkins, who turned 28 on Monday, is a terrific story, as this Sports Illustrated article can attest.

Britt is a classic case of signing a guy just in case he finally achieves what many thought he might upon being a first-round pick in 2009. He's caught 157 passes in five seasons but never more than 45, and in three seasons he's played in 12 games or fewer. He tore his ACL in 2011, and the knee has reportedly been an issue since that time. Britt also has had multiple run-ins with the police since entering the league and was suspended for one game in 2012 after an arrest on suspicion of DUI.

At one point the Redskins were thought to be interested in receiver Hakeem Nicks, too. But that interest might have cooled.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
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Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

Nicks
5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

Vick
Vick
11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has circulated documents to all NFL teams that include doctors' assurances that " past foot and knee injuries should not inhibit the wide receiver's 2014 season, according to a league source."

Nicks
Unless Nicks re-signs with the Giants before 4 pm ET on Tuesday (which is extremely unlikely), he will be a free agent and able to negotiate with any team. As of noon Saturday, in fact, teams were permitted to contact Nicks' agent to discuss contract parameters.

Mort also reports that Nicks " is willing to weigh a one-year contract to prove his past two seasons were aberrations, league sources said."

So, a couple of things on this:

1. If Nicks really can offer documented proof that past leg injuries haven't sapped his speed and explosiveness, good for him, because there's none on his 2013 game tape.

2. If physical problems weren't limiting Nicks in 2013, and I were an interested team, I'd have a ton of questions about what was limiting him. If he was as healthy as he says he was, then it's reasonable to conclude that we were watching a player give somewhat minimal effort on the field because he was overly concerned about getting injured in his walk year. And if he's that kind of player (which nothing in his previous history ever indicated he was), that's going to turn off a team or two.

3. The one-year deal thing could happen with a lot of high-profile guys coming off down years. B.J. Raji is talking about one with the Packers, for instance. With the salary cap set to rise dramatically in the next two seasons, players know there's going to be even more money in the pool for them next year. If you're willing to bet on yourself, why not take a one-year deal and hit the market again a year from now after a better season? Nicks would only be 27 when next year's market opened.

The problem is, Nicks just had a lousy contract year, and signing a one-year deal would put him in the same position he occupied in 2013. And who'd want that player again? That's a player that gets offensive coordinators fired.

I have been saying for a while that, if Nicks really is healthy, someone's going to get a very good player for next year and beyond. My sense with regard to the Giants is that they're far enough down on Nicks due to his disappointing 2013 season that they won't be the team that signs him. I think a team or two will be willing to pay for the player Nicks was earlier in his career on the belief that, at age 26, he can still be that player again. So he'll probably get a nice deal somewhere. Other than East Rutherford.

Free-agency primer: Giants

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: DT Linval Joseph, LB Jon Beason, WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, RB Andre Brown, TE Brandon Myers, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Trumaine McBride

Where they stand: The Giants have 23 unrestricted free agents and a crying need to rebuild an offense that bottomed out around quarterback Eli Manning in 2013. They need to find a wide receiver, a running back, a tight end and at least two starting offensive linemen. New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is likely to have some input in the kinds of players they pursue in free agency because he's installing a relatively new offense in New York for the first time in 10 years. They will also need to plug holes on defense if they don't re-sign Beason, Tuck or Joseph. And they could use an upgrade over McBride at cornerback.

What to expect: The Giants are trying to lock up Beason in advance of free agency but haven't yet. Once the market opens Tuesday, expect them to be aggressive in their pursuit of interior offensive linemen. If they find an upgrade at center, they can gain significant cap room by designating David Baas a June 1 cut. But they will go after at least one free-agent guard (Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, guys like that) and possibly more. Improving the protection of Manning is a primary goal for the Giants this offseason. Beefing up the interior of the line would also help them re-establish the run game. As they pursue wide receivers, keep an eye on players like Dexter McCluster and Golden Tate, who could help the Giants' weak return units.
Former Indianapolis Colts general manager, and current ESPN NFL Insider, Bill Polian said the NFL’s middle class will benefit from the increased cap space. That, of course, makes sense. And I wonder what that could mean for a player such as Perry Riley, who is not a high-profile linebacker nor is he a budding Pro Bowler. But he is in that middle class of free agents and he does play a position without a lot of depth. So it will be interesting to watch.

Polian also touched on several other matters during a conference call Wednesday that pertain to the Redskins and free agency:

Retaining your own players: “Free agency in and of itself is an overpayment situation. That said, if your own players are quality players and you believe they can help you win then it’s better off to pay them because they’re as good or better as you can find in the market and you know them better than you know a player from another team. You’re paying a premium, but you put it into a player you know and believe in. He has no adjustments coming into your system. It’s pretty seamless. When you have good players, when you’ve drafted well, it follows that the more you can keep the better off you are. That’s the right way to go rather than trying to get someone else’s players.“
My take: That’s partly why they placed the franchise tag on Brian Orakpo. And it’s why they’d like to re-sign Riley, albeit not at the price he’s currently asking. Look for a few others to return, notably guys like Santana Moss and probably a Reed Doughty.

Free agency in general: “The dangers are you don’t know the player as well as you know the player coming out in the draft and certainly not as well as your player. The best players are [already] signed. These are 'B' players whose agents are looking for 'A' money. That in itself is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager. When the player changes teams and changes systems and changes local, he’s going to have an adjustment period. That is something that is missed by most analysts and most fans. Football is not a seamless transition. Basketball is; baseball is. Football is not. Systems change. People have a difficult time adjusting to begin with and then if the system changes or technique changes, it’s even worse. You typically find a player doesn’t play to his maximum in a new situation. It may take a year to get adjusted. That’s a year you lost but paid big money for.”
My take: There is more homework done on players entering the draft than on free agents. One benefit Washington had during the lockout three years ago is that it gave the front office more time to research free agents they wanted. But one reason you talk to so many potential draft picks is to have a book on them for when they do become free. Still, four years is a long time and things change.

Better to find a receiver in free agency or the draft: “Our philosophy was to build from within with those kind of players. You can add one or two special skill sets through free agency, but keep in mind the best players are not in free agency. They are tagged or signed. By definition you’re getting a guy who’s not someone else’s No. 1 and you’re probably overpaying for him. If you don’t have anybody it usually helps to get a veteran who can fill a hole in the short run in free agency. Then the question becomes how much do you pay for that player, how much tread is left on his tires and what kind of person is he?”
My take: It’s hard for young receivers to contribute immediately. The Redskins have enough holes here that they could sign a veteran (Hakeem Nicks, perhaps, for a medium- or low-end deal) and then draft one to develop. Again.

Signing offensive linemen: “The offensive line is the one area where maybe free agency can benefit you, or maybe you need to try and make it benefit you if you have a lot of spots to fill. Free agency is a good place to get specific veteran players who fit your parameters and who are a reasonable cost. You can find pretty good buys -- I put that in quotation marks because it’s all relative.”
My take: The Redskins need some help in the interior, but they also have some young options -- guys we really don’t know how they’d perform (though obviously the coaches have a good idea). But after three years, this is when one or two of them should be ready. So the Redskins have three option here: free agency, the draft or in house.

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