NFC East: Linval Joseph

Last year in New York Giants training camp, safety Stevie Brown was kind enough to take some time and go through each of his eight 2012 interceptions in detail. Two days later, Brown tore his ACL in a preseason game, and the piece I was planning never ran. However, I still have the notes from that day, and Brown is back and looks like he's slated to start at safety for the Giants this year. So it bears remembering that he burst onto the scene two years ago with eight interceptions, and if you're having trouble remembering them, Stevie and I can fix that:

No. 1 -- Week 3 at Carolina

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
AP Photo/Mike McCarnStevie Brown celebrates his first interception of 2012 with Prince Amukamara.
The Giants were already up 33-7 in the fourth quarter when Brown intercepted Newton in the end zone and ran the ball back to the 43-yard line. The Giants would go on to win the game 36-7. Brown was still a backup at that point to Kenny Phillips and had just entered the game.
"We had put in a different blitz that week, and I had the option of blitzing based on what the running back did, or I could sit back and hover and watch the quarterback's eyes if the halfback stayed in. And I chose to hover and watch Cam Newton's eyes, and when I saw where he was going, I just went and made a play.

"I think it was my second snap, so I was just trying to feel out everything. I didn't want to go rushing up in there and then maybe have him scramble out and do something, so I just kind of sat back with my eyes on him. It was literally my second snap in, so I was just like, 'Let's play it safe right now.'"

No. 2 -- Week 5 vs. Browns

The Giants trailed 17-10 in the second quarter when Brown intercepted a Brandon Weeden pass at the 14-yard line and ran it all the way back to the Cleveland 40. The Giants tied the game two plays later on an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run and also scored the game's next 17 points en route to a 41-27 victory. Brown said he took advantage of a poor pass from Weeden:
"I think we were in a Cover 1 on that one, and it was a sprint-out, and they like to throw it to the tailback out in the flat, and I was just trying to get over the top and I saw that it was overthrown, so I just went and got it. It was kind of a sprint-out, everything was kind of going to that direction, so I was just trying to get out and get over there and see what happened, and the ball got overthrown and I went and made a play."

No. 3 -- Week 7 vs. Redskins

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsStevie Brown's interception of Robert Griffin III led to a touchdown that was critical for the Giants in a close divisional game.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III threw only five interceptions in his rookie season in 2012. The third of those came in the third quarter of this game with the score tied 13-13. Brown picked off Griffin at the Giants' 24 and ran the ball all the way back to the Redskins' 35. The Giants cashed it in with another Bradshaw touchdown run, and while they would blow that 20-13, they did go on to win the game on Eli Manning's long touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the final two minutes. Brown gave the credit for this pick to former Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who pressured Griffin up the middle on the play:

"That was all Linval. That was definitely all Linval. Linval came in with the pressure and it made him hold his throw, and then when he went back to throw it, it threw off all the timing and I was the beneficiary of that. Definitely all Linval."

No. 4 -- Week 8 at Dallas


The Giants led 3-0 in the first quarter when Brown intercepted a Tony Romo pass intended for Dez Bryant at the 36-yard line and ran it back to the Dallas 37. The Giants turned that possession into a Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 6-0 lead. Brown thinks Bryant was running the wrong route on the play, and remembers Bryant and Romo talking on the sideline after it was over:

"It looked like he was running a post and I saw the ball in the air, so I just went and got that one. I was definitely in the post. He was running the post, apparently he was supposed to be running a dig, so I remember they were talking about that one after. But he ran a post and I just broke out of the post and made a play on the ball.

I'm reading the quarterback and I've got to read the receivers and see what they're doing. One of the toughest plays to break on is the dig, so before I come directly downhill I have to see where my receivers are so I can break accordingly with them. And I saw he was coming in on the post and I saw the ball in the air at the same time and I went for the ball."

No. 5 -- Week 8 at Dallas

The Cowboys had wiped out a 23-0 Giants lead and trailed 29-24 with a little over a minute left in the game. They were on the Giants' 19-yard line, and on fourth-and-1, Brown intercepted a Romo pass at the 17 to hold off the Dallas comeback. The Cowboys did get the ball back and nearly scored to win the game, but Bryant was ruled out of bounds in the end zone when replay showed part of his hand had come down out of bounds on an apparent touchdown catch. Brown's interception was once again the result of pressure from his buddy on the defensive line:
"That was another one where I think Linval helped as well. He got pressure on Romo. He's definitely an underrated guy. Linval's a great player. So he got pressure and he flushed him out of the pocket, and I don't know if he was trying to throw it up for [Jason] Witten to get or if he was just trying to throw it up to get out of bounds, but it didn't quite get out of bounds far enough, so I was able to go up and get it."

No. 6 -- Week 14 vs. Saints

[+] EnlargeStevie Brown
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsStevie Brown had two interceptions while defending Jimmy Graham in a Week 14 game against the Saints.
The Giants led 21-13 coming out of halftime, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees tried to go deep to Jimmy Graham on the first play of the second half. Antrel Rolle had Graham covered and got a hand on the ball. Brown caught it in the air and ran it back to the 20. Four plays later, David Wilson ran the ball in for a touchdown and a 28-13 lead. When you get eight interceptions in a year, some of them are just from being in the right place at the right time. Brown knows his 2012 season came with plenty of that:

"That was all Antrel. Antrel had man-to-man coverage on Jimmy Graham, and he made a great play. Jimmy Graham went up to catch it, Trel came up and punched it out of his hands, so it went up in the air and it was just another one of those plays where I was the beneficiary of it.

That's one thing I joke around with Eli [Manning] about all the time in practice, like, 'Eli, if you ever overthrow the ball or if it ever gets tipped, it will be mine.' He just has to know, he's got to put the ball on the money every single time or it's going to be my pick. I just like to tell him that I'm always going to be in the vicinity every time, so if it's not right to the receiver at the perfect place, it's going to be mine."

No. 7 -- Week 14 vs. Saints

The Giants led 42-27 in the fourth quarter when Brown picked off another Brees-to-Graham effort and ran it back 70 yards to the Saints' 22-yard line. That led to a Lawrence Tynes field goal as the Giants were on their way to an easy 52-27 win:
"I think we were in Cover 2 on that one, and as I was just backpedaling reading my 2-1 read like normal. [Michael] Boley had carried Graham maybe 10-15 yards down the field and then he stopped and Graham kept going and I saw Brees look at him and I took off, because I knew, you got your big tight end right there up the seam closer to the red zone, I knew that's where he was trying to go, so I just gambled and it paid off."

No. 8 -- Week 17 vs. Eagles

The Giants began the day still alive in the playoff hunt and would crush the Eagles 42-7 in the final game of the Andy Reid era while results elsewhere in the league eliminated them from postseason contention. They came out fired up, though, and Brown picked off Michael Vick on the Eagles' opening drive. Another long (48-yard) return got the ball to the Philadelphia 26, and Manning cashed in four plays later with a short touchdown pass to Rueben Randle:
"I think he was trying to throw to [Brent] Celek, and I know Kenny [Phillips] was in coverage on him, and it was real windy that game. So I don't know if the wind caught it or what, but it kind of got thrown a little bit behind Celek and I just dove out and made a play on it.

"It's definitely a good season. I set goals every single year. I set five in my head, and wrote down five, so to be able to get eight was amazing."

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

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.
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.
You ask the questions (and use the #nygmail hashtag) on Twitter, I answer them here. And we all have a lovely weekend.
 
Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have new mock drafts out Tuesday. Both are Insider, so I can't fill you in on all of the juicy details, but I can tell you who they're picking for the New York Giants and give you some of my thoughts on it if you like. That work? Mkay, great. Here goes.

Mel's mock Insider has the Giants taking Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald at No. 12 overall. This is with North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron and Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin still on the board. You know me, if I'm picking for the Giants here, I'm taking the offensive lineman. But I have no issue with a defensive lineman, especially one as fearsome as Donald, who could add instant depth to the defensive tackle rotation and likely flourish as a long-term starter on the interior of the Giants' defensive line. Having let Linval Joseph leave in one of the free-agent moves I still struggle to understand, the Giants could use an infusion of talented youth in there, and Donald would be a fun pick. We'd go to bed next Thursday writing that they need to address offensive line in the Friday night portion of the draft, but they likely can do that.

In Todd's mock Insider, Donald and Martin are still on the board at 12, though Ebron is not and neither is Mike Evans. Todd gives the Giants LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who could conceivably team with fellow former LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle to round out the Giants' wide receiver corps behind Victor Cruz. Beckham also would be a fun pick, and would make Giants fans feel better about the array of weapons for quarterback Eli Manning in the passing game. But I don't know if I love the pick at 12. I think the Giants' biggest big-picture problem is the erosion of top-end talent up front. I think you need a foundation piece if you're drafting in the first half of the first round. And I think they'd be better served looking at what Bill Polian calls "fat guys" -- lineman of either the offensive or defensive persuasion -- with this high a pick.

Just my opinion, though, and Mel's pick and Todd's pick both make sense on some level. The fact there's such a spread with regard to the Giants' best options in the first round indicates just how many spots on their roster still need long-term solutions.
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.
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the first round of this year's NFL draft after their 7-9 season in 2013. Even after signing 14 outside free agents and re-signing 10 of their own, the Giants have a variety of specific needs and an overall need to improve the quality of the depth of their roster. You could reasonably make a case for them to draft an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a wide receiver or even a tight end with that first pick.

Todd McShay's fourth mock draft of 2014 is out today. It's an Insider post, but it stretches two rounds. His choice for the Giants in the first may not be the exciting pick for which Giants fans are hoping.

Free-agency review: Giants

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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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.
To me, Linval Joseph is the kind of player you work to keep. He's 25 years old. He's an accomplished run-stuffer who also can crash the pocket from the interior of the defensive line. He's a solid, well-liked teammate who carries himself like a pro and doesn't do anything to embarrass your franchise on or off the field. He's missed one game in the past three years. He's a Super Bowl champion. He was a second-round draft pick who really panned out.

Joseph
And yet, the New York Giants did not keep Joseph, who has agreed to a five-year, $31.5 million free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. It doesn't even appear as though the Giants made a real effort to keep him, which I think was a mistake. I understand that they have a lot of needs and a fair bit of depth at defensive tackle, but Joseph strikes me as a player they will miss.

The plan for replacing Joseph is easy to figure out. The Giants drafted defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins in the second round last year and liked what he showed them as a rookie. They also still have Cullen Jenkins under contract and could easily bring back Mike Patterson, who performed well at the position in 2013. They need a pass-rushing end, a middle linebacker, a cornerback, a tight end, a center and a wide receiver -- even after the early signings they made Tuesday. So spending $6 million-plus per year on a defensive tackle likely didn't seem like a smart play. They looked into Arthur Jones, but he signed with the Colts for $6 million a year. It's possible they just don't want to be in the high-end defensive tackle market.

And who knows? Maybe they don't like Joseph as much as I do (or as much as the Vikings do). Maybe they have some reason to worry he'll break down, even though he won't turn 30 until the final year of this deal he just signed. We can't predict the future or how guys are going to play, and neither can the Giants' front office. All they can do is use the data they have in the present to make the best possible decisions and hope they work out. To me, though, it seemed as though the data on Joseph made him look like a player to bring back. I'm willing to bet they will miss him.

Big Blue Morning: Happy New Year

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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Yeah, that's right. Free agency begins today at 4 pm ET along with the start of the new NFL league year. That means the New York Giants, who by my count need at least 10 new starters and a whole bunch of depth, are going to get busy figuring out what their 2014 roster is going to look like.

The industry scuttlebutt this morning is the Giants will sign a center quickly, as they did three years ago with David Baas when the market opened. They have decided to release Baas, as you learned Monday, and with nothing behind him on the current roster, center becomes a priority item. The Packers' Evan Dietrich-Smith makes a lot of sense and could be the guy they sign right away, within minutes or hours of the opening of the market. Dietrich-Smith turns 28 in July, and new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo knows him from their work together in Green Bay. The Giants also have spoken with the agents for Saints free-agent center Brian de la Puente and others.

The Giants also are known to be looking at cornerbacks. They are close to an agreement with Trumaine McBride, who became a starter for them last year after Corey Webster and Aaron Ross got hurt. But they see McBride as a valuable reserve or swing corner who can play inside or outside. They'd prefer not to have to rely on him as a starter on the outside if they can help it. Now, obviously, the biggest name on the cornerback market all of a sudden is Darrelle Revis, who is apparently about to get cut by the Buccaneers. If the Giants want to play in the deep end of the cornerback pool, they would have to at least check on Revis. My guess is that he'll cost more than they want to pay, but they'd be crazy not to look into it. The Giants have about $25 million in salary cap space right now, and while they have a lot of needs, that's enough to enable them to afford anyone.

The Giants also continue to work on a new deal for linebacker Jon Beason, though it seems as if he's interested in finding out what else is out there for him. Remember, because Beason is acting as his own agent, he hasn't yet been able to have the conversations with teams that other agents have had about their players for the past three days. So, assuming everyone's been following the rules, Beason doesn't yet know what his market is. Once he finds out, he could decide the Giants' offer is the best he'll do. But he owes it to himself to find out.

Other than McBride, it seems the only Giants free agents who'll be locked up by 4 pm ET are kicker Josh Brown and possibly running back Peyton Hillis. That means Beason, Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Terrell Thomas, Stevie Brown, Hakeem Nicks and all the rest should be on the market when it opens. Of that list, I'd guess Beason and Brown are the most likely to be back, and I wouldn't rule out Tuck just yet. The others are looking for bigger paydays than the Giants are willing to offer right now.

Stay tuned throughout the day, of course. We'll have plenty of coverage, including a live chat with all of our NFL reporters that runs from 2 p.m. ET to 10 p.m. ET. I'll be popping in and out of there as news warrants, but the chat should be active all day with news from around the league. Stop by at this link right here. Catch up with you later.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
10:00
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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.
You have to be careful this weekend with what you hear and where you hear it. The NFL's legal tampering window opened at noon ET on Saturday, so while no free agent can sign with a new team until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, teams are allowed to talk to agents for free-agent players, and talk they do. Reports Saturday indicated the New York Giants had reached out to the representatives for Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner and Baltimore defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

Verner
The calls could mean any number of things. Take Verner, for example, who is likely to be one of the most sought-after and highly paid cornerbacks on the free-agent market. The Giants could be looking around to see whether they can afford to spend on a cornerback this offseason, and calling the agent for the top one to see where the market is going is one way to find out. Green Bay just re-signed Sam Shields on Saturday for four years and $39 million with at least $12 million guaranteed. So if the Giants want Verner (or another top cornerback), it's fair to assume they will need to offer $9 million or $10 million a year to get him.

That's a significant price to pay, especially for a team with so many significant needs on the offensive side of the ball. But the idea of making Prince Amukamara the No. 2 cornerback again isn't a bad one for the Giants. That is not to say Amukamara is a No. 2 corner. I think he's a very good player -- not a "shutdown" type of guy, but a good, smart technician who knows the position and works hard at it and will contribute more good than bad. A borderline No. 1 at least. Adding a corner who is better than he is would make the defensive backfield very strong. Defensive back is a position on which the Giants have long shown a willingness to spend big resources (early draft picks or free-agent dollars), and so it wouldn't be out of character for them to throw money at a cornerback early in free agency.

As for Jones, who was a defensive end in Baltimore's 3-4 front, he'd be a defensive tackle in the Giants' scheme and could be an option if they believe Linval Joseph is leaving as a free agent. Pro Football Focus ranked Jones the No. 12 overall 3-4 defensive end last year. He'll be 28 in June and he's a Syracuse guy, and you know how the Giants like those Syracuse guys.

Much more to come, obviously.

Free-agency primer: Redskins

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: LB Brian Orakpo (franchise), LB Perry Riley, WR Josh Morgan, WR Santana Moss, S Brandon Meriweather, S Reed Doughty, LB Rob Jackson

Where they stand: The Redskins have about $30 million of cap space available, even with the franchise tender to Orakpo, so they will be able to upgrade defensively for the first time in a couple years. The problem is, Washington has so many holes to fill defensively. The Redskins need two starting safeties and must replace retired inside linebacker London Fletcher. If Riley leaves -- they would like him back, but they are not yet close to a deal -- then it creates another spot. They could use more help along the defensive line. Offensively, their holes are fewer, but they need another receiver -- or two -- and an interior lineman. Moss and Doughty -- as a backup -- could return at small deals; it’s tough to see Morgan coming back. He just wasn't productive enough. Meriweather wants to return, but the Redskins need an upgrade over his 2013 performance.

What to expect: A much more eventful period than last year, when the Redskins could only re-sign their own players and added no one of significance in free agency thanks to the second year of their $36-million cap penalty. But the question is, Can Washington pursue someone such as safety Jairus Byrd while having so many other needs? It will be difficult, but he would solidify the deep middle. They like safety Mike Mitchell as well. Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph is another possibility. Brandon Spikes, a liability in coverage, or Daryl Smith would fill a hole at inside linebacker. What the Redskins should not do is try and fill every need with a free agent and use up all their cap space. With several prominent players up for new deals in the next couple years, they need to also have an eye on the future.

Free-agency primer: Giants

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» 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.

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