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Thursday, May 9, 2013
Tuck one of several 'make or break' Giants

By Dan Graziano

Justin Tuck
If Justin Tuck plays this season like he has the past two, it could be his final year in New York.
The case of Justin Tuck is a curious one. Not long ago, the New York Giants defensive end was regarded as one of the league's best young stars. He was a highly decorated, championship-tested, high-talent, high-character player who was equally adept at terrorizing quarterbacks on Sundays and helping set the tone Tom Coughlin wanted in the locker room all week. In 2010, Tuck had 11.5 sacks for a Giants team that won 10 games but barely missed the playoffs. He was 27 when that season ended, and his future looked like one big trip around the sun.

But it has not been that. The past two seasons of Justin Tuck have been a mopey muddle -- a confusing blend of injuries, ineffectiveness and a surprising, self-acknowledged struggle with motivation. He needed a December 2011 pep talk from Coughlin to inspire him for the Giants' latest Super Bowl run. But other than the 5.5 sacks he had in that six-game stretch that included the final two regular-season games and four postseason games, Tuck has recorded a total of just seven over the past two seasons. In 21 of his past 31 games, Tuck has failed to record even a partial sack.

Now, this is a guy who just turned 30 a few weeks ago, so it's a bit of a leap to say for certain that he's "done." But I feel confident saying that 2013 is a very important year in Tuck's career. It is the final year of his current contract, which means he's literally playing for a job. The fact that the Giants haven't yet made a move to extend his deal tells you they have concerns about the type of player they can expect him to be. The pass rush is too important a part of what the Giants do for them to allow it to decay around one player, no matter how important a part of their championship history that player has been. If Tuck looks like his old self this year, rejuvenated and ready for a big next chapter in his career, the Giants will be thrilled to talk deal with him next offseason. But if 2013 is a repeat of Tuck's regular-season performances from 2011 and 2012, it's likely to be his final year as a Giant.

One of the fascinating things about this year's Giants, though, is that Tuck is not alone. All over the roster, you find players for whom 2013 could be the proverbial "make or break" year. Yes, they held up a Lombardi trophy just 15 months ago, but this team also has missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. So it's not a huge surprise that next offseason might find the Giants in a period of transition, with big decisions to be made on several of their core players:
So 2013 is a big year for a lot of very familiar Giants faces. This franchise grooms replacements for its stars and major contributors very well, so turnover isn't a terrifying thing for the Giants. But it's possible that, even for them, next offseason could feel like a real changing of the guard in some key spots.