NFC East: Antrel Rolle

Free-agency review: Giants

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
10:00
AM ET

Most significant signing: Of the five new players the Giants signed early in the free-agency period, it's possible none will be a starter in 2015. But running back Shane Vereen has the opportunity to affect the offense as a third-down back and a short-range pass-catching option out of the backfield for quarterback Eli Manning. With uncertainty lingering about wide receiver Victor Cruz as he works to recover from a serious knee injury, and with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams slated for the early-down work, Vereen is the Giants' fresh hope for an added dimension to the Ben McAdoo offense that showed flashes of real promise in 2014.

Most significant loss: The Giants rarely get burned by letting free agents walk -- especially free agents in their 30s. So it's hard to make the case they should have matched the contract the Bears gave safety Antrel Rolle. But talking to Giants players in the wake of the news that Rolle was really gone, you got the definite impression that he'll be the loss they feel the most. Rolle isn't the player he used to be, but a year after they let defensive captain Justin Tuck leave without a fight, doing the same with Rolle means the Giants will be looking for new leaders on that side of the ball.

Biggest surprise: The relative inactivity, really. Letting Rolle walk was one thing, but the Giants have watched free-agent safety after free-agent safety fly off the board without signing one. They made a big early play for Devin McCourty, who stayed in New England, and they continue to discuss a return with Stevie Brown. But there was a lot of middle ground between McCourty and Brown on the safety market, and it's surprising the Giants haven't yet added a player at that position. Likewise, it's doubtful Marshall Newhouse is the answer they're looking for on the offensive line, and it's a bit surprising they haven't signed a starter-caliber guard or tackle.

What's next: The Giants got busy during the second week of free agency last year, and they got busier than any team in the league, so there's still hope for some activity. They don't have as many roster holes to fill as they did last year, though, so don't expect that kind of shopping spree. I wouldn't be surprised to see them bring back Brown or a safety or two at that level and then shop the bargain bin for offensive line solutions. Blocking tight end Daniel Fells is still a possibility to return, though he's also talking to other teams.

So Antrel Rolle is off to the Chicago Bears, which shouldn't surprise anyone who follows the New York Giants. They did this same thing a year ago with Justin Tuck -- let a veteran defensive leader walk out the door without a fight because they're not interested in handing out long-term deals to players in their 30s.

It's their business strategy, and it's basically a good one. There are very few players who have left the Giants as free agents who make you say, "Yeah, they really should have kept that guy."

But with all due respect to Rolle, whose departure has saddened many of his teammates, losing him isn't the major problem here. The Giants' bigger problem is that, as is the case at many other positions, they haven't groomed a replacement. Yes, they'll add a safety or two in free agency, and the holes will get plugged as they always do. But over the past few years there have been too many holes that needed free-agent plugs, and that's a continued sign of a systemic, long-term problem that's not going to be fixed quickly.

The issue here continues to be a five-year stretch from 2008 to 2012 during which the Giants got almost nothing out of the draft. They made 38 picks during that time, and we can generously estimate that nine of those picks became NFL starters. I'm counting guys like Jacquian Williams and Rueben Randle there, along with Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas, Hakeem Nicks, Will Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Prince Amukamara, so you can't say I'm cheating them here.

Of the 38 picks the Giants made during that five-year stretch -- which began seven years ago -- only eight are expected to be on the 2015 roster.

That's a wasteland, folks -- the kind of draft record that would get a GM fired if he didn't: (A) work for John Mara; and (B) win a Super Bowl at some point during that stretch. But while Jerry Reese's job is not in jeopardy, the mess he's now continually cleaning up is of his own making. The inability to find and develop quality NFL contributors from the second, third and fourth rounds of those drafts is the reason the Giants end up having to sign free agents -- like Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Dwayne Harris and Marshall Newhouse -- to fill reserve and special-teams roles, as they did Tuesday. Your reserves and special-teamers are supposed to be the talented-but-underdeveloped guys at the back end of your roster, hungry for and building toward larger opportunity in the future. The Giants' roster doesn't have that class because the bulk of the players they drafted for that five-year stretch have not turned out to be NFL-caliber players.

The 2015 Giants are almost certain to feature two starting offensive linemen, two running backs, two starting defensive linemen, two linebackers, one cornerback and at least one safety who signed as free agents. Their starting fullback, starting tight end and one of their starting wide receivers were undrafted free agents, and Reese & Co. deserve credit for those finds, but you can't count on undrafted gems for your foundation. The bulk of the roster has to come from the draft, and the Giants' drafts under Reese have not delivered.

So the plan at safety right now with Rolle gone? Well, they'll try to sign a free-agent starter, possibly bring back Stevie Brown and hope that one of their two most recent fifth-round picks -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- is ready for a starting job.

Nowhere in the 2008 to 2012 draft classes did they find even one player capable of developing into a starting NFL safety. Had they done so, you'd probably be feeling a lot better today about Rolle's departure. The big problem, of course, is that safety isn't the only position at which they are confronting this exact problem. Far from it.
Offically, the new NFL league year begins at 4 pm ET. Officially, that's when teams can start signing other teams' free agents. Of course, if you've been following since Saturday, you know that much of this work has already been done and what will happen at 4 p.m. ET is basically a lot of announcing of deals that have been agreed to for days.

The New York Giants have had a rough pre-free agency period. They targeted New England safety Devin McCourty and Philadelphia pass-rusher Brandon Graham only to see each re-sign with his current team for similar or smaller deals than the Giants were offering. But the Giants are still plugging away and are likely to add some players either today or in the coming days in free agency.

Here's where things stand as of Tuesday morning with the Giants:
  • They continue to have conversations with the representatives for Arizona defensive tackle Dan Williams and Kansas City safety Ron Parker, though they are getting competition from other teams for both players. I'm not sure where they are on defensive end after losing out on Graham, but I did hear some talk Monday night that they could make a run at Lions restricted free agent George Johnson. Detroit gave Johnson an original-round tender, so he wouldn't cost much to sign, but the Lions would have the right to match the offer.
  • I would expect them to add at least one offensive lineman, and I wouldn't be shocked if it turned out to be St. Louis right tackle Joe Barksdale. A tackle signing would indicate a decision to move Justin Pugh from right tackle to one of the guard spots. A guard signing would indicate a decision to keep Pugh at the position he's played his first two years in the league.
  • They are talking to the representatives for several running backs as they look to diversify their options in the run game and add a big-play threat to a stable that includes Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Various reports have linked the Giants to Roy Helu, Antone Smith, and even Shane Vereen. I was a bit surprised to see Vereen's name surface Monday night, because my sense was that the Giants were looking for a back to fill a niche role and that some team would be interested in Vereen for a larger role. But in keeping with recent trends, the running back market does not appear to be flush with big offers, and if the Giants do like Vereen, it's possible they could get him for a decent price. A pass-catching back with big-play potential, Vereen would expand the number of creative options at offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's disposal.
  • The Giants have remained in contact with a few of their own free agents, and it's possible that any or all from a group that includes safety Stevie Brown, linebacker Mark Herzlich, fullback Henry Hynoski, and tight end Daniel Fells could sign before 4 pm ET. I think it's safe to expect Antrel Rolle, Walter Thurmond, Mike Patterson, Jerrel Jernigan, Jacquian Williams, and James Brewer to hit the market and find work elsewhere.
  • The Giants got Jon Beason to agree to a pay cut Monday, which clears about $3 million in cap room and takes them to just under $16 million (accounting for the $14.813 million franchise tag for Jason Pierre-Paul). I don't think the Beason pay cut was to clear cap room for any particular signing or signings, but rather to get Beason's contract in line with his performance after a year in which he missed all of training camp and 12 games because of foot injuries.
  • With Beason back in the fold, the Giants could end up cutting linebacker Jameel McClain if they find themselves in need of more cap room. Cutting McClain would save another $3.1 million, or they could try to talk him into a pay cut and save a little less while also keeping a player they like. Or they could leave his deal alone. It just offers them an option if they need cap room down the road.
  • Cornerback Prince Amukamara's $6.898 million salary for 2015 becomes fully guaranteed as of 4 pm ET. Amukamara is a 2011 first-round draft pick who had his 2015 contract option picked up. The Giants have not approached him about an extension. GM Jerry Reese said at the combine last month that the Giants would need to see Amukamara, who ended the season on injured reserve with a torn biceps tendon, healthy before discussing an extension, and that he considered Amukamara's salary a good price for a starting cornerback. The current free-agent market seems to bear that out.
  • I have heard no talk on an extension for Eli Manning, which is another device available to the Giants that could clear up to $11 million in cap room. At this point, the Giants don't need that cap room and have no reason to extend Manning now unless he's offering them a discount, which he likely won't. The Giants are considering letting Manning play out the final year of his deal, knowing they could franchise or sign him and keep him off the market next winter if it came to that.

More to come throughout the day.
New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle spoke with Michael Kay and Don LaGreca on ESPN 98.7 radio in New York on Thursday and discussed his impending free agency. Rolle said he's had no discussions yet with the Giants about staying, and that he expects to be a free agent when the new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

"The Giants' organization has been phenomenal to me, and I think I've been phenomenal to them. But right now, this is just part of the business and you wait it out," Rolle said. "This is all business. The Giants are going to handle this as a professional business matter and I plan on the same thing. As far as giving a team a hometown discount, that's really irrelevant at this point, because no numbers have been talked about."

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAntrel Rolle spent the past five seasons with the Giants after playing his first five years in Arizona.
Rolle said at the end of the interview that he and his mother had seen reports of him talking to other teams, and that he wanted to set the record straight. He called those reports "200 percent false," which is a lot of percents. I'm not sure which reports he's talking about, but Rolle isn't allowed to talk to any team but the Giants until Tuesday, and his agent isn't allowed to talk to any team but the Giants about him until midnight Friday night. I'm also told that the Giants and Rolle's representatives have had some discussions about a new deal, but that so far they haven't been close because Rolle still believes he should be paid like a top safety and the Giants are leery of giving that kind of deal to a player who's 32 years old.

Regardless, Rolle told Michael and Don that he won't have any hard feelings toward the team for which he played the past five years.

"Whether I'm with the Giants or not with the Giants, I'm always going to be a Giant at heart," he said. "I've loved my time here. I've been very, very fortunate to be a part of such an organization as the New York Giants for the past five years. I wouldn't change it for the world."

The link above will play the whole interview for you. Rolle talks about the way his relationship with Giants coach Tom Coughlin evolved over those five years, the team's decision to use the franchise player designation on Jason Pierre-Paul and his disbelief at the Eagles' trading away LeSean McCoy. It's good stuff. The upshot is, however, that Rolle isn't going to get a deal done with the Giants by Tuesday and is likely to find a better offer elsewhere, and the Giants will be hunting for a replacement at safety.

"When you're a free agent, you think about any team. There's no team that's going to be out of the loop," Rolle said. "This is stricly a business move. This is a business move for the Giants, this is a business move for myself. If there are 32 teams interested, I'm going to look at all 32 teams. Right now, it's just waiting time. Just waiting patiently and see what happens next. As far as I'm concerned, once March 10 comes, I'm going to become a free agent."
At the present time, the only safeties under contract with the New York Giants for 2015 are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, their 2013 and 2014 fifth-round picks. The three safeties who started games for the Giants last season -- Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps -- are all scheduled to be free agents when the new league year begins two weeks from today.

Those facts, along with the state of the safety market in the 2015 offseason, indicate to me that Taylor or Berhe -- and possibly both -- will get a shot to start at safety for the Giants this coming season.

Rolle
Start with the list of the Giants' own free-agent safeties. It's possible that any or all of them could be back, sure. But the information I'm getting on Rolle indicates a disconnect between player and team on his value -- a disconnect similar to the one the Giants had with Justin Tuck a year ago -- that could mean the end of Rolle's time in New York. That would open up one starting spot, and even if Brown and/or Demps came back, neither played at a level in 2014 that indicates he'd be impossible to beat out for a spot.

Answers aren't likely to come via the draft, either. Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety available this year, and the consensus at the combine seemed to be that No. 9 was too early to take him. After Collins, the safety pool drops off into mid-round options who aren't likely to be any more NFL-ready in 2015 than Taylor and Berhe would be.

There are a couple of possible free-agent safety options, though the best one, Devin McCourty, isn't likely to leave New England and hit the market. So that leaves the Giants to decide how they feel about guys like Denver's Rahim Moore or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy. It's possible they could find Rolle's replacement in free agency, but even if they did, that would still leave open one starting spot for one of the young fifth-rounders.

"They’re going to get a chance to compete," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Saturday. "Cooper obviously has to stay healthy, but I think those guys are going to get a chance to compete for that position."

Taylor still has work to do to recover from the foot surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. But he's making good progress and expects to be ready in time for camp. The Giants believe Taylor's uncommon size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) makes him a high-ceiling prospect at safety if he ever gets the chance to play it regularly. Berhe (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) doesn't have the same kind of size, but the Giants like his instincts and aggressiveness and believe he could take a leap forward this season.

In the past, the Giants have shown a willingness to commit big resources (Rolle's contract, a first-round pick) on the safety position, so it's easy to imagine them doing that again. But it's tough to believe they're going to go out and bring in two new high-end, experienced starters, which means opportunity this summer for one or both of the young guys.
Without a doubt, the No. 1 question I get this time of year is, "Any idea which free agents the Giants will go after?" The answer, at this point, is no. I do not have access to the New York Giants' free-agent wish lists, nor am I convinced they're 100 percent assembled. I hope to come home from the scouting combine in a couple of weeks with a better idea, but as of now all I can give you is speculation.

But everyone loves names, so speculation has some value during this slow time. With only Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe on the roster at safety, the Giants will undoubtedly be looking for help at that position when the new league year opens March 10. Here's a PARTIAL list of some of the safeties who could be available in free agency.

McCourty
The Top of the Market: Devin McCourty, Patriots.

I think the Giants would make a big play for McCourty, who turns 28 in August, if he hit the market. I just don't think he will. The Patriots want him back, he wants to stay, and if they don't get a long-term deal done before free agency opens, it'll only cost them about $10 million to franchise him. They'd have no issue paying one of their best defensive players that much money in 2015 if it came to that. McCourty is likely a pipe dream for the Giants.

The Next Best Things: Da'Norris Searcy, Bills; Rahim Moore, Broncos; Sergio Brown, Colts; Jeromy Miles, Ravens.

Searcy was the Jairus Byrd replacement in Buffalo, played well in his first season as a starter and doesn't turn 27 until November. Moore is even younger -- turns 25 on Wednesday -- and another year removed from a very serious leg injury. Brown is a career special teamer who started eight games for Indianapolis in 2014 and turns 27 in May. Miles turns 28 in July and played for new Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season when Spagnuolo was the Ravens' defensive backs coach.

Older Vets: Mike Adams, Colts; Dawan Landry, Jets.

Adams would be a fun story as a Paterson native coming home, but he turns 34 in March and therefore doesn't fit the profile of a Giants free-agent target. Landry is a 32-year-old veteran, but the Giants have one of those they can bring back if they're looking for that (see below).

Rolle
Their Own Guys: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps

Rolle is a team captain who just finished a five-year deal in which he didn't miss a game. They'd welcome him back, but at their price, since he's 32 years old and they're looking to rebuild with younger guys on defense. Brown got benched early in the season but recovered well and doesn't turn 28 until July. They'd bring him back if he's cheap, and hope another year away from ACL surgery would do the trick. Demps was signed to return kickoffs, ended up starting some in Brown's place but didn't seem to give the Giants what they wanted. He'd come back if they'd have him, but my guess is they move on.

Restricted Free Agents: Will Hill, Ravens; Tashaun Gipson, Browns; Rodney McLeod, Rams; Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jets.

Other than Hill (been there, done that), these are all guys who could conceivably pique the Giants' interest if they hit the market. But as restricted free agents, they're unlikely to do so.
We can go around and around about the New York Giants' decision to bring back Steve Spagnuolo as their defensive coordinator. But the fact at the bottom of the discussion is that the coordinator is only going to be as good as his players. And now that Spagnuolo is back in the fold, the Giants have to answer a lot of questions about their personnel on his side of the ball. Let's take a quick look at those questions by category:

Pass rush

This is Spagnuolo's supposed bread-and-butter -- a defense built around the idea of the front four getting pressure on the quarterback and allowing him to drop seven into coverage. It's possible that what Tom Coughlin said in Thursday's news release about Spagnuolo evolving as a coach and learning how to defend spread offenses changes the focus, but the pass rush is going to be paramount regardless.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants' approach to the free agency of Jason Pierre-Paul could be biggest key to their offseason.
Pending free agent Jason Pierre-Paul is the key to the whole thing. I don't personally think I would give Pierre-Paul a long-term deal at this point, but the Giants seem willing to at least consider designating him their franchise player (for what could be close to $15 million) and keeping him in the fold for another year. If they do, they could conceivably get by with Pierre-Paul, Robert Ayers (assuming a return to full health), Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn at defensive end. But with Moore and Wynn still major question marks, I think they would at least try to find some kind of veteran upgrade there. Mathias Kiwanuka looks like the most likely cap cut on the team. If Pierre-Paul doesn't come back, then they need to go after the defensive end position hard in free agency and/or the draft.

Run defense

Obviously there is overlap here with the first category, but if we keep this focused on defensive tackle, Johnathan Hankins and 2014 third-rounder Jay Bromley are the only surefire keepers. They could bring back Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and Markus Kuhn if they liked, but they can also find upgrades relatively cheaply for any and all of them. They'd save $2.25 million against the cap if they cut Jenkins, and doing that in a continued effort to get younger on the interior of the defensive line isn't out of the question.

Linebacker

Jon Beason's contract doesn't seem sustainable to me. They like him and would bring him back, but his $7.36 million cap number is out of line with his performance (especially given his injury history and the fact that he barely played in 2014). If they really are happy with the way Jameel McClain played in his place, they could cut Beason. Only $900,000 of Beason's 2015 salary is guaranteed, and they'd save about $3.5 million if they released him. Interesting decision looming there. Elsewhere, McClain is reasonable at $1.175 million in salary this year, and second-year man Devon Kennard is a good-looking and versatile piece. Jacquian Williams, Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are all unrestricted free agents. Williams is a question mark because concussions ended his season, but if he's healthy, they will look to bring him back. Herzlich is a favorite of a lot of people there, a helper on special teams and also likely to be back in a reserve role.

Cornerback

They should look to extend Prince Amukamara's contract now. They exercised his $7 million fifth-year option last offseason, but that doesn't become guaranteed for anything but injury until September. Make it part of the guarantee in a new multiyear deal and they should be good to go into the future with Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as starters. The free-agent question here is Walter Thurmond, who signed a one-year deal last year and went down early with a season-ending injury. He was a big part of their plans as a nickel cornerback, and assuming he's not looking to cash in big, they are likely to try to bring him back.

Safety

The only safeties on the roster right now are Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor, neither of whom projects as a starter for 2015. They'll talk to Antrel Rolle about a return, but I have a hunch they'll lowball him -- as they did Justin Tuck last year -- and he'll get more elsewhere. If that's the case, expect this to be a big focus of their offseason resources -- meaning either free-agent money, early-round draft picks or both. Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are both candidates to return, but only if they're willing to do very team-friendly deals.
Mailbag time. You use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter with your Giants question, I answer on Saturday morning.

@DanGrazianoESPN: The answer to your question is yes, the New York Giants would be open to that if they fell in love with a defensive coordinator candidate who ran a 3-4 defense. But I do not believe that is their preference, because it would require a pretty intense evaluation and overhaul of their defensive front seven. They'd have to move on from Jason Pierre-Paul, who's a 4-3 defensive end, and go out hunting for pass-rushing outside linebackers, which aren't super-easy to find in high quantities. It's possible they could stand up Damontre Moore and turn him into that kind of player, but they'd need more, and they'd have a bit of a logjam at inside linebacker with Devon Kennard, Jameel McClain and Jon Beason. Up front, they'd have to figure out whether Johnathan Hankins fit better as a 3-4 defensive end or a nose tackle. I suspect he'd be an end, which means they'd need to get a nose tackle. Considering they already have major work to do on the defensive line and in the secondary as is, adjusting the front-seven alignment that significantly is likely too extensive an offseason undertaking for them in 2015. Again, if they found a guy they really loved and he was a 3-4 guy, they obviously wouldn't rule it out. But the sense I get is that they'd prefer their new coordinator to run a 4-3.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I'm assuming you're using the Pro Football Focus rankings, right? They're obviously useful but imperfect, and they're better at rating certain positions than others. I could see Beatty grading out as a top-10 left tackle in 2014, but he clearly was far worse than that in 2013, and the inconsistency is what kind of leaves me cold. Since he's not a big, bruising, physical left tackle, Beatty is dependent on technique to succeed. When his technique slips, he struggles to get it back, as was the case throughout 2013. He led the league in holding penalties in 2014 with eight, and I don't think that's a coincidence, because when I watch him I see a guy who likes to grab too much. I think he can be overpowered, especially by top pass-rushers, and I think left tackle is a position where you want to spend major resources on elite talent if you can. While he was serviceable in 2014, and more good than bad, I don't think he's elite, and if I were the Giants I would be on the lookout for a way to upgrade. Not saying it's easy, just saying I don't agree with the perception that they're as good as they could possibly be at left tackle. And I think it's an important enough position not to cut corners.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Without a doubt. If you're trying to guess who the Giants will take with the No. 9 pick in the draft, Alabama safety Landon Collins is as good a guess as any. The Giants only have two safeties -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor -- under contract for 2015. Even if they do bring back Antrel Rolle, they'll obviously be looking to build quality young depth at the position. And with the signing of Rolle and the drafting of Kenny Phillips in the first round, there's a good amount of recent evidence that safety is a position on which the Giants aren't afraid to spend major resources. Especially if they come out of free agency feeling like their pass rush and offensive line are in good shape, Collins will be a popular and potentially accurate projected pick for the Giants at No. 9. Good call.

@DanGrazianoESPN: This is a completely worthwhile question, though it's important to remember that when Ben McAdoo took the offensive coordinator job last year, Coughlin was still only signed through 2014. And while John Mara said it was possible they could break with organizational history and allow Coughlin to enter this season as a lame duck, he said the same last year and they still extended Coughlin through 2015 before the season began. So that could still happen. But even if it did, there's no guarantee Coughlin will be the head coach beyond 2015, and anyone applying for the defensive coordinator job will know that. So yes, it's possible that situation could affect the search or their ability to get the coach they want. These things can be overcome with money and the offer of unprecedented opportunity, of course. There are plenty of quality coaches out there who are dying for a chance to be defensive coordinators and would jump at the offer regardless of the head coach's long-term status. But could it keep a guy like Buffalo's Jim Schwartz or San Francisco's Vic Fangio from making a lateral move if they like their current salaries and situations? Absolutely.

The biggest decision the New York Giants will make about their salary-cap situation this offseason is whether to extend the contract of quarterback Eli Manning beyond 2015. Manning carries a 2015 salary cap number of $19.75 million, and the Giants could get significant relief with an extension. They have not yet decided whether to do this, though if they do, they're likely to find Manning more receptive after his strong 2014 season than they did after his weak 2013.

But while that issue looms over the offseason, there are some significant salary-cap questions for the Giants to answer on defense as well. Here are five:

Pierre-Paul
1. What to do with Jason Pierre-Paul?

A strong finish got Pierre-Paul to 12.5 sacks on the season and seems to have set him up for a free-agent contract push. His demands on a long-term deal, expected to be more than $12 million per year, could be more than the Giants are willing to pay for a player who was as limited by injury as Pierre-Paul was in 2012 and 2013. But he just turned 26 last week, and it's hard to find too many better 4-3 defensive end options on the market. The Giants do not have a ready replacement if Pierre-Paul leaves and will have to address the pass rush either way. One possibility is to use the franchise player designation on Pierre-Paul, effectively signing him to a one-year contract worth something close to $15 million. That would hurt them against this year's cap, but assuming they found relief elsewhere it would give them a year to assess Pierre-Paul's worthiness of their long-term commitment as well as the development of players such as Damontre Moore and Kerry Wynn as potential replacements.

Kiwanuka
2. Is Mathias Kiwanuka done with the Giants?

I believe the answer to this is yes. He's clearly not coming back on his current contract, which includes a $4.775 million salary and a $7.45 million cap number for 2015. He's almost certain to be cut, and the only way I can see him back is on a veteran minimum deal, which I don't even know for sure they'd want to offer him. The Giants can save $4.825 million against their 2015 cap by cutting Kiwanuka.

Amukamara
3. What to do with Prince Amukamara?

As a 2011 first-round draft pick Amukamara was subject to the fifth-year option rule established by the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Giants did in fact exercise his 2015 option (expected to be about $7 million) last offseason. But that money is not guaranteed, and the Giants still could cut Amukamara by Sept. 1 if they wanted to. They don't, but his season-ending injury cut short a promising year and likely gives them leverage to negotiate a lower 2015 number on a two-year or three-year deal if they prefer. They do like him and want him back.

Beason
4. Can they still carry Jon Beason's contract?

Middle linebacker Beason was a centerpiece of last offseason's plan, but he barely played after suffering a springtime toe injury, and he carries a $7.167 million cap number for 2015 and $6.992 million for 2016. This is a contract that will need to be overhauled if they're to fit it, Pierre-Paul and free agent Antrel Rolle into the 2015 and 2016 budgets. Beason says he wants to be back, but the Giants have to reassess his value given his injury history.

5. What about safety?

Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe are the only safeties signed to 2015 contracts for the Giants as of right now. Rolle is a free agent they'd like to have back, but he's 32 and they're not likely to overpay to keep him. This is a position on which the Giants have shown they're willing to spend major resources (i.e., first-round picks and big free-agent dollars), so expect them to carve out some room in the budget to plug their holes at this position, regardless of what happens with Rolle.

2015 New York Giants free agents

January, 5, 2015
Jan 5
8:00
AM ET
The New York Giants have 21 free agents as they enter the 2015 offseason. The new league year opens at 4 p.m. ET March 10, when unrestricted free agents can sign with any team.

Here’s a list of the Giants' unrestricted and restricted free agents:

Unrestricted:
Restricted:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and safety and defensive captain Antrel Rolle both stuck up for embattled defensive coordinator Perry Fewell on Sunday, following the Giants' 34-26 season-ending loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Giants entered the final week of the season ranked fifth-to-last in total yards allowed. And the final performance against Philadelphia wasn't very impressive, either. But when asked if he would like to see his coaching staff return intact, Coughlin said, "Yes, but I'm not going to say anything more about that or anything else today."

There's still a chance Coughlin could be dismissed, with the Giants missing the playoffs for the third year in a row and finishing 6-10 -- their worst record since Coughlin's first year at the helm, 2004.

But the more likely scenario is saying goodbye to Fewell, although that is far from a given.

Rolle went ever farther in Fewell's defense.

"I have full confidence in Perry, and I know what kind of coach Perry is," Rolle said. "I know when he’s at his best, I know when he’s not at his best. I also know how to work with him -- I’ve been his dog for four years, I’ve been his fill-in guy. I love to work with Perry."

Of course, Rolle may not be here next year, either -- the 32-year-old will be a free agent this offseason. The former All-Pro has been a key contributor on the field and leader in the locker room the past five years, but had a subpar season in 2014.

"I've been through this process once before, and I think you just have to take it in stride," Rolle said. "If this was my last game as a Giant, I'm very appreciative, I wouldn't change anything for the world. I've had a wonderful five years here, and I gave the team every single inch that I had, I gave 'em every single thing that I had."

"I definitely want to stay here," Rolle added. "I feel like we're building something. Although we haven't had the season that we wanted to have, I think we're still building something."

Another key player who may not be back is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who also will be a free agent. Pierre-Paul came on strong late, with nine sacks in the final five games of the season -- capped off by two against the Eagles on Sunday. He finished with 12.5 sacks, by far his highest total since he posted 16.5 in 2011, his second year in the league.

Pierre-Paul is younger than Rolle (he'll turn 26 on New Year's Day), and more important at this stage of their respective careers. But he'll also cost a lot more money. He played well against the run the whole season. The question is, was that the real pass-rushing JPP we saw the final five weeks, or just a flash in the pan?

"I don't know what changed. I am trying to figure it out myself," Pierre-Paul said of the last five games. "I am playing better. I had to step up big time. I wouldn't say I wasn't stepping up the first couple of weeks. Injuries, man. I fought through 'em, I got healthy, and I have been on a roll. That's the game of football, you never know."

Pierre-Paul did miss a little practice time with a shoulder injury this season, but he played in all 16 games. He said in recent weeks that he wants to stay with the Giants, reiterated that Sunday, and sounded cautiously optimistic that the game wasn't his final one with Big Blue.

"I am pretty sure it is probably not," Pierre-Paul said. "Like I said Friday, I don't know what the future holds. But I went out there and played great today, my teammates played great, but we didn't play great enough to win this game."

Pierre-Paul may have been great, but some of his teammates certainly weren't. And now it's time to assess them all.
Mailbag time. You use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter with your Giants question, I answer on Saturday morning.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Here's what I believe about offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. I think the Giants' decision-makers view him as head coach material and believe he could be their head coach at some point in the future. He is only 37 years old and just now getting to the end of his first season ever as a coordinator at any level, so it's hard to have complete confidence that he could handle the job if they gave it to him right now. But what they've seen from him in his first year has not injured their perception of him or his prospects, so he remains a consideration as a possible replacement for Tom Coughlin at some point in the future when they or Coughlin decide it's time to make a change. However, the Giants understand that putting a "succession plan" in place or having a "coach-in-waiting" in the NFL is a tough business because so much can change in a short period of time. What if the offense tanks next year? What if McAdoo gets a job somewhere else first? And so on. So while McAdoo is on their list of potential Coughlin replacements down the road, he's not alone on that list. I guess since you asked what the front office "wants," it's probably that Coughlin coaches for several more seasons during which the Giants have plenty of success and, if McAdoo's still on the staff when Coughlin's time here ends, maybe he gets the promotion. They do like him a lot.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Early returns on GM Jerry Reese's 2014 draft are pretty good. Obviously, first-round pick Odell Beckham doesn't just look like a future star, he actually is a present star. Second-rounder Weston Richburg will end up starting 15 of the 16 games at left guard, and while he's had his struggles, he has also improved and could be a long-range answer at center if he continues to improve. Fourth-rounder Andre Williams has had a couple of 100-yard rushing games, and fifth-rounder Devon Kennard is a valuable contributor at linebacker who already has an NFC Defensive Player of the Week award on his resume. So you're right to like the contributions the Giants have gotten from their rookies this year, and obviously if those guys continue to play and produce at their current levels, this ends up looking like a good draft -- maybe even the best one Reese has had, though that's not necessarily saying much. The key is, of course, how they continue to play and develop. A year ago, everyone was happy with Justin Pugh following his rookie year at right tackle. But Pugh's struggles this year are an example of why we can't always assume a strong rookie year guarantees long-range success. And you can't assess a draft after only one season.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I believe the Giants and veteran safety Antrel Rolle will be able to find common ground on a contract for Rolle to return. I don't see the market opening up for a 32-year-old safety, regardless of Rolle's impressive durability and his evolution as an on-field and off-field leader. He's the kind of guy who likely has more value to the Giants than he would to another team at this point, so I think their offer will reflect that and he'll end up taking it. Will it be for the three more years he says he wants to play? Hard to say. But my hunch is they can work something out.

As for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the entire thing is going to be market-driven. If there's a hungry free-agent market for Pierre-Paul as a still-young/now-healthy pass-rusher, the Giants could get priced out. Not because they don't have the money or cap room, but because the Giants' method with their own free agents is to assign a value and stick with it or close to it. If Pierre-Paul's price goes beyond what the Giants believe he's worth, I believe he'll take the highest offer and go elsewhere. But with Mathias Kiwanuka likely on his way out and Damontre Moore continuing to struggle with his development and maturity, the Giants need to find an impact pass-rusher on this year's market, whether it's Pierre-Paul or someone else. And it's the kind of position on which they don't mind spending money.

@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants actually believe Williams has improved in both of those areas as this season has gone along. He spends a ton of time after practice each day catching balls off the JUGS machine, and they trust him more in the passing game than they did in September and October. Assuming continued improvement there, they'll feel good about him in the passing game next year if they need to lean on him there. Where Williams has been a bit of a disappointment is in his actual running of the ball. The Giants would like to see him be more patient and find the holes, rather than running as hard as he can to the hole before it has opened up. Some of that can be helped with improvements on the offensive line, but Williams needs to develop better trust and timing with his blockers in order to have success next year and beyond. As veteran running back Rashad Jennings tells Williams when tutoring him, he needs to be "quick through the hole, as opposed to quick to the hole." Williams is a part of the plans for next year, for sure, but at this point I doubt they view him as a surefire, carry-the-load starter.

Thanks for all of the questions. Enjoy the final weekend of the regular season.

Giants' McClain calls Rams 'dirty team'

December, 21, 2014
12/21/14
8:45
PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New York Giants' 37-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday:
  • McClain
    Linebacker Jameel McClain walked from the field to the locker room hollering, "Dirty-ass team! That dirty [stuff] doesn't help you win! They suck as an organization!" This was in obvious reference to the Rams, as the Giants felt they'd been targeting Odell Beckham Jr. with cheap shots all game and trying to get under his and the Giants' skin. "I'm just not interested," McClain said later. "I had a lot of respect for the things their defense did. I'm just not interested in chippiness and dirty play. It's not what this game is about, and it has no room in the league." Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle were among the other Giants to use the word "dirty" to describe the Rams.
  • lastname
    Coughlin
    "Doesn't anyone want to talk about the game?" a frustrated Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked after several questions about Beckham and the first-half brawl. Seconds later, he ended his postgame news conference early with a sarcastic "Happy Holidays" and stormed out before his "game" questions could be asked -- or before someone could explain to him that when you're 6-9 and were eliminated on Thanksgiving, it's not unreasonable for people to ask about the brawl that saw two of your players get kicked out of the game or the continued maturation and development of your superstar rookie before they ask about the game. Not Coughlin's finest moment.
  • For his part, Beckham said Coughlin spoke to him about his ball-spinning end zone celebration that drew the flag, and Beckham apologized on behalf of himself and the team for his role in sparking the brawl. But he said he wouldn't apologize for playing with passion or for his teammates' standing up to protect him and one another. Damontre Moore, who along with Preston Parker was ejected for his role in the brawl, said he felt bad he let his team down by getting ejected, but he wouldn't do anything differently if the same circumstances presented themselves.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the New York Giants' 24-13 victory Sunday over Washington:
    Grimes
    Beckham
  • The talk was, of course, of rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and his three touchdown catches. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said, "He's the fire of the offense." Safety Antrel Rolle said, "Nothing this guy does amazes me." And fellow rookie Andre Williams said, "Odell is playing at the highest level. I catch the 'wow' moment at the end. I don't see him run his routes or anything. I just see him in the end zone, mostly."
  • For Beckham's part, he believes he can do more. He chided himself for a first-half play on which he believed he should have gotten both feet in bounds, and of course for his error on the final punt return of the game. "I apologize to my special teams coach," Beckham said of the muff. "There's no better feeling than seeing your offense run on the field to take a knee at the end of the game."
  • Tom Coughlin declined to explain Rueben Randle's latest benching but indicated it was more than just a first-quarter benching like the one in Jacksonville two weeks ago. This time, Randle declined to discuss it as well. My impression was that his entry into the game would have been delayed even longer had Kevin Ogletree not had to leave briefly to be checked for a head injury.
  • Coughlin said running back Rashad Jennings re-injured his ankle on the first play of the game. Jennings did not return. He had been hoping to get through this game and be at full strength for next week, but it's unclear whether this latest development changes those plans.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a celebration play, complete with celebrations that went a little bit too far over the top. New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin didn't love that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie high-stepped his way into the end zone with his interception of Zach Mettenberger in the fourth quarter of Sunday's blowout win, and he didn't love that veteran safety Antrel Rolle celebrated in a manner that earned him a penalty flag.

Moore
But the whole thing was undone by a different penalty -- one on second-year defensive end Damontre Moore for leveling Mettenberger after the interception. That penalty nullified the touchdown and prompted Moore to apologize to Rodgers-Cromartie after a sideline lecture from Coughlin.

Moore said the issue was a failure to understand the rules. He said he believed he could hit the quarterback after the interception to prevent him from making a tackle. But it's not that cut-and-dried, and there are rules that prohibit a player from leveling said quarterback if he's far from the play.

"That's bad on my part that I didn't know the rule all the way," Moore said. "If I had known the rule all the way, I would have made a smarter play. I should be better aware of all the rules of the game. That's my fault."

Coughlin bought Moore's explanation and said he honestly believed Moore didn't think he'd done anything wrong until he explained it to him.

"We all know I've got penalties before, and he's ripped me a new one," Moore said of Coughlin. "This time, he didn't rip me a new one."

Moore is in his second season in the NFL, but he's still only 22 years old. He has the physical talent to be a disruptive force for the Giants on defense, but Giants coaches have talked openly about his struggles to consistently understand and carry out his assignments. Even after the Giants put two defensive ends on injured reserve last week, they used defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins as a starter at the position Sunday rather than elevate Moore to that spot. They don't believe they can fully trust him yet on running downs, and they cite discipline as a key issue for him as he works to improve.

"I apologized to DRC and to the whole defense. I took points off the board," Moore said. "But I don't apologize for being an aggressive player and trying to make a play. I just needed to know the rule better."

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