<
>

A little clarity on the Giants' pass-rush plans

Straight talk here, folks. The New York Giants are hosed at safety. This year's free-agent safety market was basically Devin McCourty and a bunch of guys, and McCourty stayed in New England despite the best efforts of the Giants (and the Eagles) to lure him away. They'll end up adding a safety or two, but whoever they get is going to be the kind of player that frustrates you as a fan because you had high hopes for him in March and he turned out not to be all that much better than what they had there last season. Sorry, but truth hurts.

What are they going to do about it? Well, Plan B appears to be a very Giant-like plan. They're going to try to absolutely load up on the defensive line.

When the legal tampering window opened Saturday, the Giants expressed interest in Ndamukong Suh. They quickly learned, along with several other teams, that the Dolphins had already offered Suh half of Broward County and his choice of Don Shula's steakhouses and there was no way they could get him. They expressed interest in Jerry Hughes, a pursuit that initially showed some promise, but learned late Saturday or early Sunday that Hughes was going back to Buffalo. In the meantime, they expressed interest in run-stopping defensive tackle Dan Williams, and after they learned they couldn't get Hughes, they jumped in on pass-rusher Brandon Graham.

Amid all of that, they also were one of several teams to call and check in on former Buccaneers' first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, though I'm told they'd only be interested in him as a low-cost reclamation project. Clayborn has struggled with injuries throughout his NFL career and has yet to fulfill his promise.

There's almost certainly more, because there's always more going on than we're able to find out, but that's what I know about their weekend activity as it pertains to the defensive line. Other pass-rush names that could come up include those of Derrick Morgan, Jabaal Sheard... I don't know. George Selvie? I haven't heard any of those names connected with the Giants, but that doesn't mean they aren't or won't be. The point is, with Steve Spagnuolo back in charge of the defense, there's a mandate to get bigger, meaner, deeper and better on the defensive line.

The Giants franchised Jason Pierre-Paul for $14.813 million, which tells you they believe he will be their premium pass-rusher -- the guy who lines up over the left tackle as he did all of last year and draws the most attention from opposing blockers. They know Pierre-Paul will stay on the field for all three downs and that he's willing and able to move inside to defensive tackle when Spagnuolo wants four pass-rushers on the line. He's their guy.

On the other side, they currently have Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers, Kerry Wynn and Jordan Stanton as defensive end options. They really like Moore, in spite of the frustration his inconsistency and immaturity has caused them at times during his first two years, and hope he's ready to blossom this season. He doesn't even turn 23 until September. They view Ayers as a good complementary player (and another who can rush from an interior spot when needed), but not as a full-time starter. They don't know what they have yet in Wynn or Stanton, though Wynn did show promise in the playing time he got late in 2014.

What do they see in Graham? A former first-round pick (taken by the Eagles two spots before the Giants took Pierre-Paul in 2010) who had injury problems early in his career and has been forced to play out of position the past two years in Chip Kelly's defense. They believe Graham can thrive as a pure pass-rushing 4-3 end, and he will be 27 when the season starts, so he still has some prime years left. To get him, they'll have to outbid other teams (including the Titans and, if you can believe it, the Dolphins), and he'll likely get paid as a starter. But that doesn't mean there wouldn't be room for him, Moore and Ayers all to impact the pass rush in Spagnuolo's defense. And none of this means they wouldn't take a pass-rusher with the No. 9 pick in the draft, either. The old Giants credo says you can't have too many pass-rushers, after all.

On the inside, they like Johnathan Hankins as their three-technique defensive tackle and believe he adds a little something to the pass rush. But Cullen Jenkins and Markus Kuhn are rotational players at best, and Jay Bromley is still developing. An established run-stuffer like Williams would even things out on first and second downs and maybe even free up Hankins to get after the quarterback a bit more.

The point is, the Giants want to get better up front, and they're willing to spend in free agency to do it. They feel good about their starting cornerbacks (though they'd like to add a nickel to replace Walter Thurmond III), and they always feel like they can patch linebacker together. Safety could be a struggle. But if they can do a better job of forcing the issue at the line of scrimmage, they may be able to get by with a less-than-dominant back end of the defense.