NFL Nation: Geoff Schwartz

You used the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week, and I thank you for it.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Let's assume, for the sake of this discussion, that middle linebacker Jon Beason does not make it back from his foot injury to play for the New York Giants in Week 1 in Detroit. If that is the case (as seems likely), then Jameel McClain is the front-runner to start at middle linebacker.

At this point, the starters on the outside would be Spencer Paysinger and Jacquian Williams, but rookie fifth-rounder Devon Kennard impressed coaches in the spring program and could be in the mix to start on the strong side. What's interesting to me is that linebackers coach Eric Hermann had a lot to say Thursday about the improvement Williams has shown as a weakside linebacker in the Giants' base defense. They already love him on the weak side in their nickel package due to his speed and coverage ability. But if they like him there in the base as well, Williams might be ahead of Paysinger to start there even once Beason returns and McClain moves back to the strong side. So to answer your question, I'd expect to see McClain in the middle, Williams on the weak side and either Paysinger or, if he has a big camp, Kennard on the strong side in Week 1.

@DanGrazianoESPN: No. I mean, obviously the short answer is no at this point, because Ryan Nassib, who didn't play at all as a rookie (by design) is still a work in progress.

Giants coaches like his progress. Quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf on Thursday praised Nassib's intelligence and his ability to pick up the new system but said he's still got to work on his accuracy and his timing. Which is understandable, given that he's still a young quarterback who's never played in the league. It's clear they view him as the No. 2 right now behind Eli Manning -- or that they're at least giving him every chance to beat out Curtis Painter for that spot in camp. But no, if Manning got hurt, at this point the Giants would not have honest confidence in Nassib or anyone else who might replace him.

Manning costs the Giants 17 percent of their salary cap. He's the player around whom their team is built. If they don't have him, they simply won't be a remotely competitive team. Even if Nassib comes quickly in camp and becomes a viable No. 2, there's no chance that, in 2014, he offers anything close to what Manning offers as a starting NFL quarterback. All the Giants want from Nassib is continued growth and development, and their hope is that he's a decent backup/emergency option this year and maybe more down the road.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I agree that the Giants' defensive line is questionable behind the starters, and that there's a chance it could be a bad defensive line. They desperately need Jason Pierre-Paul to stay healthy and dominate from the defensive end position, because honestly they're not going to get much pass rush from the other side at this point. Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers are what they are, and they're not the kinds of defensive ends who are going to whip tackles regularly and pile up sacks. And Damontre Moore is still developing.

On the inside, you mention Cullen Jenkins, and I agree he's key because he's the one guy in there who's not a question mark. Coaches were raving this week about the development defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Markus Kuhn have shown, and if so then that's a positive thing for them and for the Giants. But there's no way to know until they can practice in pads and play against other teams what they really have in there. To me, the Giants are hoping a lot of people -- namely, Hankins, Kuhn, Moore, Ayers and Kiwanuka -- outperform anything they've yet shown in the league in order to make them strong on the defensive line. It's not nuts to think one or two of them will, but... all of them?

@DanGrazianoESPN: The first-team offensive line in minicamp was, left to right: Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Brandon Mosley, Justin Pugh. Which, no, is not good. They believe Chris Snee could play right guard if he had to right now, but he's working his way back from elbow and hip surgeries and they're taking it slowly with him. And they're also hoping Will Beatty is healthy enough to play left tackle in training camp ahead of Brown, who was signed as a backup. Rookie Weston Richburg is in a straight-up competition with Walton for the starting center spot. So it's possible that by Week 1 it's Beatty/Schwartz/Richburg/Snee/Pugh, which would look a lot better than what they ran out there this week. But as of now, that's your starting five.

Mosley's an interesting case. They like him and think his development has been hurt by injuries. But the fact that Snee and John Jerry (knee surgery) haven't been able to get on the field helped Mosley get a lot of first-team reps this spring. And that can only help him if they need to turn to him to play a starting role in camp, in the preseason or in the season.

Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the first weekend of summer. 

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Jeff Davidson hadn't traveled to Lehigh University to see Brandon Fusco.

A couple months after he started as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line coach, Davidson had made the trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2011 primarily to watch Lehigh guard Will Rackley workout. Rackley was drafted in the third round that year by the Jacksonville Jaguars and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Fusco happened to be there, having traveled five hours across Pennsylvania from Slippery Rock University for the workout, and the more Davidson saw of the pugnacious lineman, the more time he wanted to spend seeing if Fusco could handle the nuances of a NFL scheme. The more he did that, the more convinced he became that Fusco could make the leap from Division II college football to the NFL.

"We were fairly excited about the guy," Davidson said. "We thought he had a chance to develop into an interior player for us. Every day, he's a guy that's continued to come in and work and find ways to improve. We ask our guys, each day, to come in and find one thing to work on, and try to get better at one thing each day. He has truly done that."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Fusco
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Fusco has become a fixture on the Vikings' offensive line.
It's how Fusco has quietly transformed himself from a sixth-round pick to an integral member of the Vikings' offensive line. He and right tackle Phil Loadholt have made the starboard side of the Vikings' line one of the game's most effective run-blocking units, and Fusco -- who started 32 of 33 games the last two seasons -- has outplayed his modest rookie contract, earning a team-high $237,060.74 from the NFL's performance bonus pool last season and triggering wage escalators that will leave him making $1.431 million this season. He'll be a free agent after this year, but a long-term deal before then seems like a definite possibility for the 25-year-old.

Not bad for a kid from a small school who had to work just to catch the Vikings' eye.

"[When I got here], I didn't know anything about the game of football like I do know," Fusco said. "It's just amazing. My whole game has changed."

Fusco arrived in Minnesota with only a rudimentary knowledge of good blocking technique: How to use leverage, what to look for in an opponent and where to put his hands. He played center at Slippery Rock, and was often strong enough to overpower defensive linemen without having to pay much attention to how he did it. He got a year to sit behind Anthony Herrera and work with Davidson -- who'd played five years in the league, worked as an assistant coach on the New England Patriots' three championship teams and arrived in Minnesota after a stint as the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator.

Davidson quickly found an eager pupil in Fusco, and with every drill, every mundane repetition, the guard began to improve.

"I like to say that's actually the way you do improve," Davidson said. "There's detailed work that we try to work with each of our drills, and we try to aid them to find that one thing they're working on each day. Sometimes the drills aren't exactly like a play against a defense, necessarily, but we'll try to work on hand placement and break down the block, where everything happens by step. People probably don't realize, and I don't realize, how much guys work on something as simple as tightening your elbow back down to your body when you're striking with your hands. He still works on it every day.

"If anything, you had to slow him down on the speed with which he tried to work some of the drills. He's the one guy who will come down here and try to knock somebody silly when we're going half-speed. The guy has a burning desire to get better each day, and that's what makes him a good football player."

Fusco struggled in his first year as a starter in 2012, as he was still learning the position and rotating with Geoff Schwartz early in the season, but he and Loadholt paved one of Adrian Peterson's most-traveled highways during his MVP season. Peterson gained 688 of his 2,097 yards running toward right guard or right tackle, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and a whopping 1,563 of his yards came on runs up the middle or toward the right side of the line.

The guard said he and Loadholt sometimes spend two to three nights a week together golfing, playing cards or watching TV, and their chemistry has carried over onto the field.

"[Him and Phil] click pretty well together, but more importantly than that, they communicate very well together," Davidson said. "I'm going up to correct them, and they're already correcting the thing that just happened on the previous play. There's very few things that get lost in translation with those guys, because they are excellent communicators with each other."

And last season, things really started to click for Fusco. Pro Football Focus rated him the ninth-best guard in the game in 2013, grading him as the fifth-best run blocker at the position. He's still got room to improve in pass protection, but he's carved out a niche as a road grader on the Vikings' line.

Like the rest of the group, Fusco is immersed in a new offensive scheme, which Davidson said changes the team's pass protection concepts more than it alters their run scheme. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game will likely require linemen to protect quarterbacks longer, and the group could get tested early in the season.

But if Fusco keeps improving, there could be a reward waiting for him. He didn't think the Vikings had talked with his agent, Jared Fox, about a new contract yet, and didn't seem worried about it happening soon. "That's why I've got an agent," he said. "I'm just going to play, and we'll worry about that later down the road. I've still got a lot to prove."

The reason he could end up with a new deal at all, though, is because he's proven plenty already.

"The guy has truly taken it by the reins each day," Davidson said. "To this day, he's the guy that's the first one out here to go over there, trying to find something each day he's going to be able to work on."

New York GiantsAl Bello/Getty ImagesAfter a disastrous 2013 season for the Giants offensive line, did the team do enough in the offseason to upgrade?
The New York Giants will arrive at the gates of the 2014 season as great an unknown as any team in the league. An offseason of change has brought a new offensive coordinator and a dozen new starters. And while there's little doubt that change and rosterwide upgrades were needed after last season's 7-9 flop, the amount of change the Giants have undergone brings with it a flurry of questions.

By this point in the offseason, those questions have grown familiar: Can Eli Manning bounce back from the worst season of his career? What will the new offense look like? Can young receivers Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. make a major 2014 impact? How will the running back rotation shake out? Who in the heck is going to play tight end? Is there enough leadership left in the locker room? Can Tom Coughlin and the coaching staff get it all to mesh together in such a short period of time?

All good, important, worthwhile questions. But I'd argue that not one of them matters nearly as much as this one:

Did the Giants do enough to fix their offensive line?

Tell me the 2013 Giants had a lot of problems and I won't say you're wrong. I was there for all 16 games. They were awful. Much worse, I believe, than their final 7-9 record would indicate. But there's no question that, of their myriad problems, the offensive line was the biggest and most devastating. Everything else can be traced to the meltdown on the line.

Sure, David Wilson was an early-season fumbler and he and Andre Brown got hurt. But even if he'd held onto the ball and they'd stayed healthy, there were no holes for Giants backs to run through unless they were playing the Bears or the Raiders. Flanking Jim Cordle with Kevin Boothe and 2013 David Diehl is no way to push the pile.

And, yeah, you can argue that part of Manning's job is to overcome adversity and raise the level of play of those around him. But even the best quarterbacks need at least some time to do that stuff, and Manning's pass protection was cripplingly bad last year. The Carolina Panthers sacked him six times in the first 17 minutes of the Week 3 loss in Charlotte. It's easy for you and me to say a guy should do more to rise above his circumstances. It's quite another to actually do it when your circumstances include defensive linemen running next to you during your drops.

The point is that the biggest and most important of the Giants' 2014 unknowns is that offensive line, which still has legitimate question marks at all five positions. To wit:

Left tackle: Even before breaking his leg in the season finale, Will Beatty was having a bad enough season that he was soul-searching in December. Beatty has got to get right physically and mentally if he's to justify his contract and keep Manning from playing legitimately scared again all season.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Schwartz
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants added former Chief Geoff Schwartz to take over the left guard spot.
Left guard: Upgrading from Boothe to Geoff Schwartz in free agency was a solid move, and Schwartz should be fine. The only reason he's a question mark is that he's new and people don't always do well in new surroundings. There's nothing about Schwartz specifically to engender concern, but until we know for sure ...

Center: Is it J.D. Walton, who hasn't played in two years because of an ankle injury? Is it second-round pick Weston Richburg, who's a rookie? Regardless of which is the answer, will it be good enough? The player at center has more responsibility in this new offense than he did in the old one, and Manning has no prior relationship with either of these guys.

Right guard: Chris Snee is back, and he says he feels great. The question here is whether his surgically repaired hips will allow him to last and play with the same fierceness that characterized the prime of his career. If Snee is what he used to be, this could be the key to the whole line. If he struggles, then they have the same problem they had last year, except with John Jerry as the fallback plan instead of Diehl.

Right tackle: Justin Pugh played well for a rookie and offered reason for hope. He says his footwork improved as the season went on, and the Giants' hope is that he continues to make the necessary improvements. If he has a sophomore slump, that brings up a fresh question mark on which they aren't currently counting.

You can make the argument that this year's starting group looks more talented than the one with which the Giants started the 2013 season -- especially if this year's version of Snee is healthy, which last year's was not. But what remains to be seen is how they'll play together and how they'll all hold up. More than any other item on the Giants' list of offseason questions, the answer to this one will determine how much the team can improve over last season.

Giants offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
May 22
» 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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The fast and furious action in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft Friday night didn't leave us much time to delve into the New York Giants' second-round pick, but Weston Richburg is worth some Saturday morning delving. So let's delve, shall we?

Richburg was the 43rd pick in this year's draft, and there is little doubt he'll be expected to compete for (and likely win) the starting center's job this spring and summer. His top competition right now is free-agent addition J.D. Walton, who hasn't played since September of 2012 due to an ankle injury.

[+] EnlargeWeston Richburg
AP Photo/G.M. Andrews"He can pull, he can block the zone schemes and he makes all the calls," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of second-round pick Weston Richburg.
"He can pull, he can block the zone schemes and he makes all the calls," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The center position here for us is one of responsibility in terms of dictating to the rest of the offensive line exactly how the scheme is going to go. This guy will fit right in in terms of that."

Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese both said the center's responsibility for handling line and protection calls will increase under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Giants VP of player evaluation Marc Ross said Richburg scored an impressive 31 on the Wonderlic test and impressed the Giants in his combine interview with his intelligence. The idea that they're excited about Richburg as a potential starter says less about Walton, who himself was a not-too-shabby 80th overall pick in the 2010 draft and would have projected as the Giants' starting center if they hadn't addressed the position in the draft, than it does about Richburg himself.

The decision-makers raved about Richburg's athleticism, which apparently also will be an asset in the new McAdoo offense, and his durability. Coughlin couldn't wait to tell the story of how Richburg broke his right hand in 2012 and played the final game snapping with his left hand while his right was in a club cast.

"Yeah, that's something I take a lot of pride in," a proud Richburg said when asked about that story. "You don't see a lot of guys who can do that."

The Giants' execs pointed out that Richburg was a team captain who didn't miss any games in college. Richburg said it was important to him to be the first center taken in the draft (as he was). And in general, there's nothing not to like about the guy at this point. Even if the Giants really were comfortable with the idea of Walton as their starting center, they recognized that they needed to re-stock with top talent on the offensive line. Richburg helps them do that, and at a position where there may be an opportunity to start right away.

"Last year, we had a couple of injuries early on the offensive line and it was pretty devastating," Reese said, accurately. "We had to bring in some guys that struggled some at those positions, so we're trying to make sure we have enough depth at every position. This guy will help provide that for us."

The Giants have overhauled the interior of their offensive line, which was extinction-level bad in 2013. Left guard Kevin Boothe signed with the Raiders, right guard David Diehl retired and they released center David Baas. They signed free agent Geoff Schwartz to start at left guard, Walton for center and John Jerry for a reserve role, and they're hoping Chris Snee can make a healthy return from hip surgery at right guard. Richburg is the latest move in their effort to make sure they don't get caught short with underprepared guys at those spots if injuries happen again.
You ask the questions (and use the #nygmail hashtag) on Twitter, I answer them here. And we all have a lovely weekend.
A 7-9 record in 2013 earned the New York Giants the No. 12 pick in next month's NFL draft. After an offseason that has seen them sign 15 outside free agents, they still have needs at tight end, wide receiver and on the offensive line, one of which could reasonably be addressed with that pick. It also wouldn't be out of character to see them add a defensive lineman if that's who they felt the best player was at No. 12.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft is up today here on It's two rounds long this time, and you have to have Insider access to read it. His picks for the Giants are aimed at finding some help for quarterback Eli Manning.

You've got questions, I've got answers. Especially if you used the #nygmail hashtag with your question on Twitter.
For those with ESPN Insider access, a team of ESPN’s personnel analysts (including former Colts general manager Bill Polian) have graded free agency for each of the NFL’s 32 teams. The Kansas City Chiefs ranked 16th for the things they have and haven’t done in free agency Insider, and received a C+.

One analyst, Matt Williamson, a former scout with the Cleveland Browns, thought the Chiefs took too big a hit on their offensive line by letting starters Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz walk away in free agency. He will be proved right if Eric Fisher, appointed as Albert’s successor by coach Andy Reid, can’t adequately handle the starting left tackle spot, and the Chiefs don’t capably fill the vacant starting position at right guard.

The other analysts praised the Chiefs for their restraint in not overpaying for any of the five departing free agents. They suggested what I had written earlier, that losing Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to the Denver Broncos was their biggest failure of free agency.

“Sanders would have been a perfect complement to Dwayne Bowe," wrote Louis Riddick, a former personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles.

While the Chiefs’ success in free agency was ranked in the middle of the league, they were second among teams from the AFC West. The other three teams were at or near one end of the spectrum or the other.

The Denver Broncos were rated fourth with a B+. The San Diego Chargers were 26th with a C, and the Oakland Raiders were 32nd and last with an F.

Free-agency review: Giants

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
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.

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.
Look there's nothing wrong with the New York Giants meeting with wide receiver Mario Manningham on Monday. He's a former Giant, a Super Bowl champion who'll be 28 when the season starts, a guy Eli Manning knows well and ... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

Sorry. I just fell asleep trying to write up yet another mediocre free-agent move by the Giants. My bad. I'll try and stay awake a little longer and make my way through a quickie analysis that I hope will explain the way I feel about the way the past six days have gone.

There's nothing wrong with Manningham, or with taking a look at him and his wrecked knee. Even if this is nothing more than a favor to an old friend looking for work, it's fine. The Giants need depth at wide receiver, and they just got through a season with Louis Murphy on the roster and active every week. Manningham, if he's healthy, surely would offer more than Murphy did.

[+] EnlargeMario Manningham
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMario Manningham made one of the most iconic catches in Giants' history, but his possible return to the team is nothing to get excited about.
My point is this: The Giants entered this offseason so supremely messed up and lacking at so many spots that this is almost what they had to do -- find average or below-average solutions with which to patch the many holes in their roster. Manningham wouldn't be an impact addition in any way. He's not better than Victor Cruz or Rueben Randle, and based on the way December went, he wouldn't necessarily deserve playing time over Jerrel Jernigan. He hasn't had a 60-catch season since 2010, and he's never had more than 60 catches in a season. He's just a guy. He's a guy who made one of the most important and thrilling catches in franchise history, which is why Giants fans likely feel more excited about this news than they should, but he's really just a guy.

The Giants let Hakeem Nicks, a 26-year-old Super Bowl champion, walk out the door without making an offer. They let 25-year-old Super Bowl champion Linval Joseph walk because they didn't want to spend on him. Each of those players is better than anyone the Giants could possibly get to replace him at this point, and therein lies the problem. Rather than actually upgrade the Giants at wide receiver on the front end of the roster, signing Manningham would simply fill in behind what they already have, pushing Randle and Jernigan into larger roles whether they're ready for them or not. The Giants were terrible in 2013, but it's hard to believe they would have been much better if only the backups had been getting more playing time.

The Giants have made some decent moves this offseason. Guard Geoff Schwartz was a fine and essential pickup. But they're taking chances elsewhere, bringing in guys like Rashad Jennings at running back and J.D. Walton at center with no proof that either guy can handle a starter's role. They're still thin on both lines, average at wide receiver after Cruz and have absolutely nothing at tight end. Right now, Trumaine McBride remains one of their starting cornerbacks.

Again, not all of this is their fault. They entered the week with lots of cap room, but they had so many doggone needs that the cap room vanished rather quickly even though they weren't really overspending. This is the reality of where the Giants are right now -- rebuilding their roster at nearly every position. The good news is that quarterback isn't one of the positions of need, and that there are still a number of free agents out there and the draft still to come in May. The bad news is that one offseason doesn't look as though it's going to be enough to rebuild the offense around Manning, and that this could be the beginning of a longer and slower process than many fans realized.

So if they want to sign Manningham, there's nothing wrong with that. But there's nothing about it that should get you excited about their chances this year, either. And to this point, I think that's a fair assessment of their offseason as a whole.
It was a hectic week for the Kansas City Chiefs this week as the free-agent signing period began. They lost five players who were regulars at some point last year (wide receiver Dexter McCluster, defensive end Tyson Jackson and offensive linemen Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz) but signed three players from other teams (linebacker Joe Mays, defensive lineman Vance Walker and offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach) and re-signed two of their own free agents, reserve linebacker Frank Zombo and backup safety Husain Abdullah.

Now, in this week's Twitter mailbag, we're looking ahead, in some cases toward 2015.
J.D. Walton may not be the New York Giants' starting center in Week 1 of the 2014 season, but a look at the contract he signed with the team earlier this week indicates that he'll at least get a serious shot at it.

Walton's deal is for two years and up to $5 million, with $3 million guaranteed. His 2014 base salary is scheduled to be $1.25 million and his 2015 base is $2.25 million. That's not backup money. This is a guy they expect to play. As of now, he's the only center on their roster. There remains a chance they could sign Kevin Boothe back, or pick one of the other free-agent centers still on the market. But the terms of Walton's deal tell me that they're not going to be big-game hunting for Brian De La Puente or trying to craft an Alex Mack offer sheet the Browns can't match. This contract tells us that they think Walton can be their starting center.

So the question is: Are they right? And the answer is, of course, that we don't know. Walton was a well-regarded prospect in college and a third-round pick in the 2010 draft. He started every game at center for the Broncos in each of his first two seasons and four games in 2012 before suffering a serious ankle injury, and he hasn't played since. By most accounts, he was one of the worst centers in the league in 2010 and 2011 -- a run-blocking liability who was charged with six sacks and 35 quarterback hurries allowed in those two seasons. It's tough to believe he's gotten much better by not playing for two years, but I guess anything's possible.

What seems clear is that the Giants' philosophy this offseason is based on paying free agents not for what they've already done but for what they believe they can do in the future. Guard Geoff Schwartz, running back Rashad Jennings and Walton are all examples of players who have something on their NFL résumés but plenty to prove. The Giants trust their scouting department a great deal, and they use advanced analytics to try to project performance. If you could actually get someone in the Giants' front office to talk about their reasons for targeting and acquiring these specific players (and yes, I have tried and will continue to try), they would have a laundry list of legitimate-sounding reasons to back it all up.

The problem is that they have to be right, or else they'll have nothing. When you base all of your moves on your own ability to predict the future, you open yourself up to a lot of risk. When you target specific players with the belief that they're the ones you need and spend what you decide they're worth -- as opposed to targeting a range of similar players and letting the market dictate what they cost -- you're playing the market fast and loose. It's like playing poker and making bets based only on the cards you have and the cards you expect to get, but not factoring in the money that's in the pot, the number of players who haven't yet folded and the cards they probably have.

The Giants may be right about Walton and all of these guys, and if they are, they'll look like geniuses and contend for championships. But if you're like me and you're wondering how to feel about the moves they've made so far, it's worth considering the possibility that these guys they think will be good going forward may just be the same guys they've always been -- and that they may end up needing to do this all over again in a couple of years.
The big New York Giants news Thursday was not about a player they acquired but rather about one they lost, as team captain and 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck left to sign with the Raiders. Tuck got a decent-but-not-ridiculous two-year, $11 million deal that the Giants elected not to match even though they could have afforded to do so, and they say good-bye to a piece of their heart along with a piece of their defensive line.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks appears unlikely to re-sign with the Giants.
Later in the day, they re-signed fullback Henry Hynoski and agreed to terms with former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain. Neither of those moves is making any headlines this morning in New York, and for good reason. The Giants don't set out to make big-splash headlines in March. They are being methodical in their roster rebuild, confining themselves to players under 30 years old and seemingly targeting specific players instead of just rushing out to fill holes with whoever's available.

But they do still have lots of holes to fill. Their top two choices for a kick returner who can also play wide receiver were Jacoby Jones and Ted Ginn Jr., and they have signed with Baltimore and Arizona, respectively. They poked around on cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Corey Graham, who have signed with Washington and Buffalo. They thought they had signed pass-rush help Tuesday with O'Brien Schofield, but that deal appears dead now due to a knee problem that turned up on Schofield's physical. They are still looking for kick returners, wide receivers, cornerbacks, defensive help, a tight end and a center unless they really think J.D. Walton is going to be their starter there.

The good news is that it's only Day 4, and there are a lot of players still available. The bad news is that, after an encouraging first couple of days of results with guard Geoff Schwartz, running back Rashad Jennings and middle linebacker Jon Beason, they don't seem to be having much success convincing their top choices to join them.

A look at some of the places the Giants may go from here:

  • I do not expect, in answer to many of your questions, that they will pursue Jared Allen or Julius Peppers for pass-rush help with Tuck gone. Both of them are older than Tuck is and likely to cost more than he did, and both of those things would violate the formula that's emerging. I think the pass rush is basically in the hands of Jason Pierre-Paul, Damontre Moore and Mathias Kiwanuka. If they supplement, it'll likely be at a low level, as was the plan with Schofield. If you're looking for a name, think about Denver's Robert Ayers, though I imagine he's looking for a place where more playing time might be guaranteed.
  • Hakeem Nicks is visiting with the Colts, talking to the 49ers, supposedly drawing interest from the Panthers ... bit of a market developing for Nicks after all. He's only 26 and a former Giants first-round pick, but the bad experience the Giants had with him in 2013 appears to have overridden the good experiences they had with him in the first four years, and I don't see the Giants getting into any kind of bidding war in an effort to keep him. I also don't see them bringing in 35-year-old Steve Smith to replace him.
  • Cornerback is interesting, because there's a lot of inventory still out there. Antonio Cromartie? Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie? I thought they'd poke around on Tarell Brown, but to this point they have not. They can still be patient here, since most of what's left out there looks about the same. And yeah, I know they were never going to get in on Darrelle Revis, but I'll never truly understand why they don't swing for the fences at least once in a while.
  • The top free-agent centers remain unsigned. The Giants had interested in guys like Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian de la Puente and still could. It wouldn't be a bad thing if they ended up with more good interior offensive line options than they can fit on the field at the same time. After last year, that would be a great problem for the Giants to have.
  • Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is re-signing with the Lions. Andrew Quarless re-signed with the Packers. I am literally hearing nothing on the Giants and tight ends, and I'm wondering if they're planning to get one in the first two rounds of the draft.

Much more to come, obviously. The Giants still have a lot of work to do, and they work slowly. I'll do my best to keep you posted today and through the weekend.
IRVING, Texas -- About three days into free agency and the Dallas Cowboys are not a better team today than they were on Monday.

They cut DeMarcus Ware. They cut Miles Austin. They have signed two defensive linemen in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain that figure to be rotation parts, not cornerstone pieces.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the NFC East …

The Philadelphia Eagles have added Malcom Jenkins and Noland Carroll and traded for Darren Sproles. The Eagles also did some nice special teams' shopping with Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman and also re-signed their punter, Donnie Jones.

The New York Giants added a piece to their offensive line in Geoff Schwartz and brought in running back Rashad Jennings. The key move, however, was re-signing linebacker Jon Beason. They backed out of a deal with O'Brien Schofield.

The Washington Redskins have added wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Shawn Lauvao and linebacker/special teamer Adam Hayward. Bruce Campbell is a low-risk help to the offensive line.

Too often we get caught up in the splashes in free agency only to see them not live up to the billing down the road.

Before free agency started Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient with their spending in free agency. To see them sit back and wait should not be surprising, but that doesn't mean fans can't be aggravated.

There are good players still to be had. The Cowboys could still re-sign Jason Hatcher or add Henry Melton. While they can afford both, I don't think signing both would make sense. They could keep Anthony Spencer and hope his repaired knee comes around. They could take fliers on some of the bigger names you want if those prices come down as free agency rolls along.

As maddening as the 8-8 finishes have been, the Cowboys have been the only team in the NFC East to compete for a division title the last three years. It's a hollow accomplishment for sure, especially when stacked up against the franchise's history, but spending for spending sake is not the best solution.

There is a plan and it has to be more than Mincey and McClain, right?