NFL Nation: Prince Amukamara

Will Hill's former New York Giants teammates aren't thrilled that the team waived Hill on Monday. While everyone no doubt understands why the organization finally decided to act after Hill's third drug suspension in as many years, Giants players will miss what the talented safety meant to their defense in 2013. Cornerback Prince Amukamara told Newsday's Tom Rock that he doesn't want the move to come back to haunt the Giants:
“I realized how many times he saved our butts and how many times he came up big,” Amukamara said of Hill, the former Giants safety who was waived on Monday after being handed a third drug-related suspension in three seasons by the NFL. “It’s going to be a tough loss. Hopefully if he goes to a team, it’s not someone in the NFC East. He’s a guy you don’t want to face.”

It's
[+] EnlargeWill Hill
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesThe Giants waived Will Hill after he got his third drug suspension in the past three years.
no certainty that another team gives Hill a chance. He wasn't drafted, and the Giants were the only team that made him an offer as an undrafted free agent. Anyone who signs him would do so knowing he can't play the first six games of this year and that his next suspension is likely to be for a year or longer. So Amukamara's fears about Hill coming back down the road to beat the Giants are far-fetched at this point.

However, the sentiment behind Amukamara's point is that Hill was a star-caliber player in the secondary for the Giants last season and that he will be difficult to replace. Stevie Brown is the obvious replacement, but he's coming off ACL surgery and will have to be monitored closely in camp. Quintin Demps started a few games at safety for the Chiefs last year and will get more looks there now, but he was signed mainly for his abilities in the return game. It's unlikely that Cooper Taylor or Nat Berhe would be ready for a major role, and no, since many of you have asked, I do not see them (or anyone else, for that matter) pursuing Ed Reed.

Hill's departure likely means that the big three-safety look defensive coordinator Perry Fewell used to like to use is not much of an option this year. That may not matter much, since they're deep enough at cornerback to leave Walter Thurmond in the slot and since they have a bona fide three-down linebacker in Jon Beason, but it does reduce their options. And if Brown has any setbacks or problems with his knee, they're suddenly quite thin at safety.

We talked Monday about the $5 million in new cap room the Giants picked up this week once the post-June 1 release of David Baas became official, and it's possible they could use some of that to bring in a safety for depth now. But there isn't much left on the market at this point. And the premise behind Amukamara's quote is that replacing Hill isn't as simple as throwing another body in there. He wasn't just a starting safety for the Giants in 2013. He was, quite often, the best and most important player on their defense. Cutting him could not have been easy, however obvious the decision may have been from the outside. Replacing him will be even tougher.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' decision to exercise the 2015 contract option on cornerback Prince Amukamara doesn't appear to have been a tough one. Asked about it during his pre-draft news conference here Thursday, GM Jerry Reese said this:

Amukamara
"We think he's a good player, so we exercised the option."

Truthfully, there doesn't have to be much more to it than that. The 2015 option for 2011 first-round draft picks isn't guaranteed against anything but injury until the start of the 2015 season, so the decision really doesn't cost the Giants anything or bind them to Amukamara unless he gets hurt so badly he can't play in 2015. If he does end up playing for the option price in 2015, he'll cost them about $7 million, which sounds like a high number. But cornerback clearly is a position on which the Giants aren't afraid to spend big resources, and they likely could carry both Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie if they wanted to.

Amukamara said last week that he was hoping the team would pick up the option and that his feelings would be hurt if they didn't. So this low-risk move carries the added benefit of making one of their key players happy in the short term while keeping their long-range options open. They could extend Amukamara any time between now and the 2015 season to lower his 2015 cap number. They could release him next offseason if they decide to go in a different direction. Or they can delay their long-range decision on him until the 2016 offseason.

Amukamara may not be a $7 million cornerback, but given the state of the position right now and the prices some cornerbacks have commanded this offseason, he may not be far from it either. The Giants now have a year to see which direction his career takes and whether they get a bargain for 2015 or whether it's time to move on.
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:

Can the pass rush bounce back?

Only five teams in the NFL had fewer sacks than the 34 the Giants had in 2013, and 14 of those 34 walked out the door with the free-agent departures of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. The only addition they have made to the defensive line is former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong edge defender against the run but has only 12 sacks in five NFL seasons so far and was mainly a part-time player in Denver in spite of having been a first-round pick in 2009.

The Giants did beef up on the back end of the defense, adding cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman and bringing back Trumaine McBride to go with Prince Amukamara. The hope there is that better coverage down the field will help enable their pass-rushers to get to the quarterback more quickly. That could represent a big philosophy shift for an organization that's always believed in building a defense front to back, but the Giants have spent a fair amount of time over the past two years lamenting teams' ability to get the ball out quickly against them and neutralize their pass rush.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Giants need a healthy and productive Jason Pierre-Paul.
Anyway, that's all just the setup. Only one player matters in regard to today's question, and he's not a cornerback. Nor is he Ayers or Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore, whichever of those guys claims Tuck's starting spot at left defensive end. The player on whom the Giants' 2014 pass rush will rise and fall is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is far from new but is capable of transforming the pass rush all by himself.

Pierre-Paul followed up his 16.5-sack 2011 season with a hot start in 2012, but back problems plagued him throughout the second half of that season. He had surgery on his back last June, and the effects of that surgery slowed him significantly in the first half of 2013. Once he was finally feeling like himself again, he hurt his shoulder and was unable to play in the final month. He ended up with two sacks for the season -- the only two he's had since the first week of November 2012.

So this is your answer, folks. The Giants' plan for the pass rush is to hope Pierre-Paul is as healthy as he says he feels and that he returns to the monster form he flashed during that last Super Bowl season in 2011. Everything rides on this. If he can do it, it's going to make the whole defensive line look good, not to mention that rebuilt secondary.

Moore looks like a big-time athletic talent, but the Giants can't know when or if he'll be reliable enough to be counted on as a starter. Kiwanuka is what he is -- a reliable veteran who does everything he's asked, but not a big-time playmaker at the defensive end position. Ayers cold be a late bloomer about to pop, but he also could just continue to be what he was in Denver, which would make him a helpful rotational piece and nothing more.

But Pierre-Paul, as we all know, can be a dominating player when he's on his game. Just two years ago, following that 2011 season, he was in the conversation about the best defensive players in the entire league. He is still only 25 years old and surely capable of doing what he did in 2011 or more. If he does, he's the kind of player who can elevate a defense from good to great. He could make those defensive ends on the other side of the line look better just by drawing blocking attention away from them. Pierre-Paul is the player in whom the Giants are putting their faith this year on defense. They believe he will justify it.

It's a big year for Pierre-Paul personally, as he's eligible for free agency when it's over. So he has that added incentive along with his built-in motivation to show the world he's still the player he was in his breakout second season. The Giants are counting on him to be that player. If he is, that's a bigger "addition" than any they made in free agency, by far.
Our man Adam Schefter reported Sunday night that free-agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who spent Sunday meeting with the Giants, will return to the Giants' facility in East Rutherford, N.J., on Monday to undergo a physical. I take this as a sign that Rodgers-Cromartie and the Giants are making good progress toward an eventual signing.

Rodgers-Cromartie
It doesn't have to mean that, especially since the guy spent Saturday meeting with the Jets and it's only like a half-hour from the Giants' facility to the Jets' facility (depending on which way you go). If he wanted to, Rodgers-Cromartie could hit the Giants with a thanks-but-no-thanks and be in Florham Park in time for a noon news conference. But for the purpose of this particular post, let's operate as though Rodgers-Cromartie is likely to be a Giant and analyze what it would mean.

First of all, I think it would be a good signing for the Giants, who had a rough time locking in their top targets at cornerback last week but could end up benefiting by having to "settle" for a better player later in the market.

Rodgers-Cromartie is tall and fast and extremely talented and three weeks shy of his 28th birthday. He's an exciting player, which isn't necessarily the best thing you can say about a cornerback, but I mean it at least as much in its positive connotation as in its negative. He can be beaten deep and will drive you nuts from time to time when he bites on a double-move. But he's fast and athletic enough to compensate for mistakes, and he's got an ability to make plays on the ball. Eagles fans still justifiably bitter about the way things went in 2011 and 2012 will tell you he can't (or won't) tackle, and they may be right, but that's a nitpick. A cornerback who's doing his job (i.e., covering receivers and breaking up passes) doesn't have to tackle. And by the middle of 2012, the entire Eagles defense had mailed it in and nobody wanted to tackle. Rodgers-Cromartie had a fine year in 2013 with the AFC champion Broncos, who likely would have brought him back if they hadn't been able to upgrade to Aqib Talib. And he's young enough to make you believe he's on the upswing.

This would be the best player the Giants have yet signed in free agency -- a starting outside cornerback along with Prince Amukamara. With Walter Thurmond, who signed Sunday, in the slot and Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley on the bench, the Giants would boast a deep cornerback corps and finally be able to keep safety Antrel Rolle from having to play any corner at all, which would make him happy and maximize his value at safety. You could accurately call the secondary the strongest part of the Giants' roster.

I wonder whether the Giants will have to restructure a contract or two (Mathias Kiwanuka and Eli Manning are obvious candidates) to fit Rodgers-Cromartie under the cap. They had about $12 million in cap room at last check without counting the Jon Beason, Thurmond or Quintin Demps deals, so they're getting close to the number and have other needs yet to fill at wide receiver, tight end and on the offensive and defensive lines. (Remember, they don't get the $5 million in cap relief from David Baas' release until June 2. They'll use that to sign their draft picks.)

And from a purely selfish standpoint, the idea of having to type "Amukamara and Rodgers-Cromartie" every time I refer to the Giants' starting cornerback duo sounds like a pain. But I'd do it for you guys, because I know it would make you happy. And that's what I'm here for.

Last week, I wrote that the Giants were playing a risky game by targeting certain specific players and signing them early in free agency rather than letting the market come to them. Surely, Rashad Jennings and J.D. Walton could have been had for less money, and if not then similar players could. In this case, however, if they do end up signing this player, they could benefit from having patience forced on them. I think Rodgers-Cromartie is better than Tracy Porter or Corey Graham, whom they eyeballed early last week. And since they obviously weren't going to make the big-splash play for Talib or Darrelle Revis, he's basically the best they were going to do at this point. Assuming they can afford him and keep him from sneaking down I-80 to Florham Park, this is a move that would make the Giants better.
The New York Giants continue to hunt for cornerback help, and the top cornerback still on the market might be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the former Cardinal, Eagle and Bronco. According to Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, Rodgers-Cromartie has scheduled a visit with the Giants after he stops in to visit the Jets this weekend.

Rodgers-Cromartie
He fits the profile, as he doesn't turn 28 until next month. (Rodgers-Cromartie, that is. I think Conor is actually younger.) And Rodgers-Cromartie has played pretty well the past couple seasons in Philadelphia and Denver. He's got a bit of a reputation as a flake, but a player who's very athletic, very fast and very effective when he's focused. He'd slot in as a starter opposite Prince Amukamara, and slide Trumaine McBride down to a slot or backup role where he'd likely be more effective.

Problem is, Rodgers-Cromartie is visiting the Jets first, and as you know, a lot of times these guys sign with the team they're visiting and cancel all of their other visits. Rodgers-Cromartie also was thought to have been seeking a bank-breaking, $10 million-per-year deal when free agency began. And while he's not likely to get that from anyone, let alone the Giants, there remains a chance he scheduled a Giants visit in part to scare the Jets into upping whatever offer they make to him. So I guess I'm saying don't get your hopes up.
The second day of free agency offered a little bit of everything for the New York Giants. They reached agreement on a new deal with middle linebacker Jon Beason, which was a good thing. They lost out on wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones, who re-signed with the Ravens. Their Tuesday deal with pass-rusher O'Brien Schofield fell apart when questions surfaced about his knee during his physical. And they signed a young center who hasn't played since 2012 but could well be in line to start for them in 2014.

A variety of activity for a team embarking on a major offseason roster rebuild. Here's a look at where things stand with those and other Giants-related situations as we turn our attention to Day 3:

Tuck
The pass rush: Free-agent defensive end Justin Tuck was in Oakland on Wednesday to visit the Raiders. The Giants offered Tuck a contract prior to the start of free agency, but the offer was not to his liking, and he's out testing the market to see whether someone will pay him something closer to what he thinks he's worth. If that doesn't happen -- or if he can generate enough interest elsewhere to convince the Giants to improve their offer -- there remains a chance Tuck could be back with the Giants. But the sense I get is that Tuck is disappointed that the Giants haven't tried harder to keep him and that he's seriously considering leaving.

Odd as it may sound, the Schofield situation could help Tuck's case. The Giants agreed with Schofield on a two-year, $8 million contract on Tuesday because they viewed him as a pass-rusher. Now that that deal has fallen apart, the Giants have to look elsewhere for pass-rush help, and bringing Tuck back might be more important than they thought it was 24 hours ago. Not that Schofield was ever going to be a one-for-one Tuck replacement, but they're hoping to stock up on overall pass-rush depth, and losing Tuck would push them in the other direction.

Tuck was still meeting with the Raiders late Wednesday night, and it's entirely possible they could convince him to stay out there. The Raiders had a bit of a rough day, as you may have heard, and need to spend money on someone.

Schwartz
The offensive line: The Giants announced the signing of free agent Geoff Schwartz, who is slated to play left guard with Chris Snee at right guard and ... well, someone at center. They also announced the signing of J.D. Walton, who was the Broncos' starting center in 2010 and 2011 before a serious ankle injury knocked him out in early 2012. Walton missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from the injury, but he doesn't turn 27 until later this month and could be an upside play for them at center -- a potential right-away and long-term starter at the position if he's healthy.

However, with David Baas having been cut, there's no way the Giants can stand on Walton as their only option at center. They haven't ruled out the possibility of re-signing Kevin Boothe to play center, and the fact remains that the top centers on the market haven't signed anywhere. So it's possible they could still get into the mix for someone like Evan Dietrich-Smith, Brian De La Puente or Ryan Wendell. Remember, Snee is no sure thing coming off his second hip surgery in as many years, and the Giants need offensive line depth in the worst way. If they ended up with a healthy Snee, a healthy Walton, Schwartz and another top-level center as interior line options for 2014, that would be a nice problem to have.

The Giants also had former Rams guard Shelley Smith in for a visit Wednesday. Smith is regarded as a top run-blocker who struggles in pass protection, but he's young still. Smith is scheduled to visit the Patriots today, so he's no sure thing to sign. Point is, the Giants know their needs on the line are extensive, and they're working to fix them.

Cornerback: The Giants did place an exploratory call to the Buccaneers a few days ago when they put Darrelle Revis on the market. But those talks went nowhere, and the Giants weren't a factor once Revis was cut Wednesday. He signed with the Patriots almost immediately, as though that had been the plan all along.

The Giants continue to look for a cornerback to go with Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride, and they had Tracy Porter in for a visit Wednesday. Porter left the building without a deal, but that doesn't mean he won't sign. Several other cornerback options remain available on the market, and it's possible the Giants could find one in the first or second round of the draft.

Jilted by Jacoby: The Giants wanted Jones. They saw him as a game-changer as a return man, and they desperately want to upgrade their return units in 2014. But they also saw Jones as someone who could help as a wide receiver -- something that, say, Devin Hester doesn't offer. So while they could go out and get someone like Hester for returns, they have been hoping their answer for the return game could also contribute something else. I haven't heard what Plan B is on this. Maybe someone like Ted Ginn Jr. We shall see. They'll still need a wide receiver to replace Hakeem Nicks, unless they think Rueben Randle can elevate himself to that level in time for 2014.

Assorted tidbits: Cornerback Terrell Thomas was also scheduled to visit the Raiders. Thomas has not received any contract offer from the Giants, who seem content to let him walk. ... Linebacker Keith Rivers signed a two-year, $5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills. ... The Giants re-signed Curtis Painter, who was Eli Manning's backup quarterback in 2013. Training camp will tell whether Ryan Nassib is ready to beat him out or will have to spend another year as the No. 3 quarterback. ... In answer to many of your Twitter questions, I'm hearing nothing about the Giants and tight ends. No tight ends have signed yet, though.
In general, I'm not a fan of throwing big money at the top-line, most established free agents out there. Unless you're looking at franchise quarterbacks, NFL careers are too short and players' primes are too fleeting. If you're spending big bucks on a guy who's already done a lot, odds are you'll end up paying for some bad years -- or trying to find a way out of a bad contract.

So in general, I like what the New York Giants did Tuesday on the first day of free agency. I think they still have a lot to do, but the guys they did sign fit a desirable profile when I look at what free agency is at its best. They were looking for players who are somewhat established in the league but still have upside and lots to prove. And I think they may have found it with these three interesting signings:

Guard Geoff Schwartz. A former 16-game starter who's played guard and tackle in the league and only this past year fully recovered from a 2011 hip injury. He was one of the top interior linemen in the league over the second half of 2013 for Kansas City, turns 28 in July and feels like a player on the upswing, the way Evan Mathis was when the Eagles signed him under the radar in 2011. He also has some experience playing tackle, so they could potentially use him there if they decide to rearrange anything with Justin Pugh or Will Beatty.

Running back Rashad Jennings. Hasn't had much opportunity to start in the NFL, but as a result he also has a bit more tread on his tires than your typical 29-year-old running back. The Giants have some underlying numbers to indicate Jennings is capable of big things if given more carries than he's been given at this point in his career. If they choose to rely on him as a starter, he could explode. If David Wilson is viable and they use Jennings as a complementary back, they could find him useful for a long time to come. Another guy who may be ready to take off.

Linebacker O'Brien Schofield. This one's kind of a wild card. Schofield hasn't done much as an outside linebacker in the NFL so far, but he was a pass-rusher in college at Wisconsin and finished second (to Ryan Kerrigan) in the Big Ten in sacks in 2009. So you look at the two-year, $8 million deal and wonder what this guy has done to earn it. But (a) let's see what the contract numbers really look like once we have details and (b) the Giants appear to be trying to pay guys for what they think they will do for them, rather than for what they've done for their former teams. So if they look at Schofield as a player who can contribute to the pass rush, and they plan to use him that way, the money starts to make more sense.

Some other notes:

The Giants also have brought back four of their own free agents -- running back Peyton Hillis, safety Stevie Brown, kicker Josh Brown and cornerback Trumaine McBride. All depth moves, though McBride and/or Brown could end up starting if other things don't work out.

Linebacker Jon Beason remains someone the Giants hope to re-sign, but because he's acting as his own agent, he wasn't allowed to have any contact with teams until 4 p.m. Tuesday (as opposed to noon Saturday, when agents were allowed to talk to teams but players weren't). So Beason is only 17 hours into his market, and he's wise to find out what that market is before just accepting what the Giants have to offer.

Two of the Giants' own free agents left -- defensive tackle Linval Joseph to the Vikings and safety Ryan Mundy to the Bears. As I wrote Tuesday night, I think they'll miss Joseph. At 25, I think he fits the profile of the kind of free agent you look to sign, rather than the kind you let walk out the door. But the Giants didn't feel like spending $6 million a year on a defensive tackle, so Joseph is gone.

With DeMarcus Ware and Julius Peppers getting cut Tuesday, the market for veteran pass-rushers is suddenly flooded with huge names. That would seem to mean Justin Tuck isn't likely to strike gold elsewhere. There was industry sentiment that Tuck won't find enough on the market to convince him to leave the Giants, and that he'd re-sign and try to play out his whole career with the same team. However, Adam Schefter reported late Tuesday that Tuck had a visit scheduled with the Raiders today, and no one has more to spend right now than the Raiders. They're also hosting pass-rusher LaMarr Woodley, but there's nothing to stop them from signing both Woodley and Tuck if they choose. So stay tuned on that.

I still think they need to add a center, and I don't think bringing back Kevin Boothe is the answer. They need to think about long-term solutions on the offensive line, and if Boothe and Chris Snee are two of their starters next year, I don't see how they're doing that. None of the free-agent centers signed Tuesday, though Evan Dietrich-Smith is visiting Tampa Bay today, so he could be off the market soon.

NFL Network reported that cornerback Tracy Porter was in for a visit Tuesday night. Ran back an Eli Manning interception for a touchdown for the Raiders in Week 10 last year. Along with his game-sealing interception touchdown in Super Bowl XLIV, that made him the first player to return both an Eli Manning interception and a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown. Porter doesn't turn 28 until August and fits that same model of guys who have done something but may be on the cusp of more. He doesn't strike me as the answer if what they wanted was a top corner to pair with Prince Amukamara, but maybe they really see McBride as the outside starter again. I think they should be thinking bigger.

Other needs still to be addressed include wide receiver, tight end, middle linebacker (could be Beason), defensive line (Tuck or his replacement and a low-priced free-agent defensive tackle) and kick returner (could be Jacoby Jones, who's in for a visit Wednesday). The Giants entered the offseason in need of a full-on roster rebuild, and they've only been at it one day. Expect them to continue to be busy.
You have to be careful this weekend with what you hear and where you hear it. The NFL's legal tampering window opened at noon ET on Saturday, so while no free agent can sign with a new team until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, teams are allowed to talk to agents for free-agent players, and talk they do. Reports Saturday indicated the New York Giants had reached out to the representatives for Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner and Baltimore defensive lineman Arthur Jones.

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

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

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

Much more to come, obviously.
I saw that Michael Rothstein, our Detroit Lions team reporter, took a look at the way the defensive backs performed at this year's NFL scouting combine. So, since the New York Giants are picking two picks behind the Lions in the first round (and two picks ahead of them in the second), and since the Giants have drafted a total of six defensive backs in the first three rounds over the past nine years, I figured I'd steal Mike's post and let you guys look at it for some possible names.

Yes, the Giants' primary focus this offseason is going to be on fixing what John Mara called a "broken" offense. And yes, I still think the best use of their prime resources (meaning free-agent dollars and early-round draft picks) would be on the offensive line. But if they get to the draft with a lot of their offensive questions answered via free agency, and if the value dictates that they pick defense early, their history indicates that they will select a cornerback or a safety in one of the early rounds.

Could they use that No. 12 overall pick on a defensive back? It's not a crazy idea. They seem deep at safety right now, but they are looking for a starting cornerback to pair with Prince Amukamara. Corey Webster is surely gone, and while Trumaine McBride did a decent job as a starter last year, he's not likely a long-term answer. Jayron Hosley, their third-round pick from 2012, showed some flashes as a rookie, but health issues have kept him from developing into anything more than a possible answer in the slot.

Anyway, from more than two months out, the guys to keep an eye on in the first round would be Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. And I know my "NFL Insiders" colleague Louis Riddick likes Lindenwood's Pierre Desir, the broad-jump star, as a later-round pick. You guys always ask for names, Mike has hooked you up. Enjoy.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 16

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
8:00
AM ET
DETROIT -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 23-20 overtime victory against the Detroit Lions:

Amukamara
Prince on Megatron: The Giants assigned top cornerback Prince Amukamara to cover superstar Lions receiver Calvin Johnson wherever he lined up Sunday except in the slot. Amukamara said it was the first time he'd had such an assignment (as opposed to "splitting the field" with another cornerback) and that it made him "feel special." Johnson was targeted just four times and had three catches for 43 yards and no touchdowns. He also was dealing with a knee injury that made him a game-time decision to play, per Adam Schefter, and he spent a fair amount of time on the sideline. Amukamara said Johnson didn't seem injured to him when he was on the field -- that he looked "very explosive off the line, but there were series where he had to go out of the game, so I kind of figured he must be injured."

Jernigan shows toughness: Playing the slot receiver position in place of the injured Victor Cruz, Jerrel Jernigan had a very Cruz-like stat line -- six catches for 80 yards and his first NFL touchdown. "I see his game elevate and get better year after year after year out there on the practice field," fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said of Jernigan. "He's the next guy up with Victor out, and he's obviously up to the task." Jernigan's 15-yard catch on fourth-and-seven in the overtime period kept alive the winning drive and moved the Giants into position for Josh Brown's game-winning field goal. Jernigan is taking advantage of a chance to prove himself a useful NFL player.

Protection remains an issue: Down to third- and fourth-stringers at the guard positions, the Giants struggled mightily to protect quarterback Eli Manning from the rushing Detroit defensive line. With some inside handoffs to Andre Brown and some rollouts by Manning in the first half, they were able to keep the defense off him enough to build a 13-3 lead. But in the second half, they had no time to do anything on offense, and Manning was sacked in the end zone for a safety that was part of Detroit's 17 straight points. Manning surely will play Sunday and extend his streak to 151 consecutive games, but the Giants will have to work hard to keep Redskins pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan from terrorizing him.

The whole story: The Giants turned the ball over twice. The Lions turned the ball over three times. That makes it the fourth game this season in which the Giants have had a positive turnover differential. They are 4-0 in those games, 1-2 in games in which it's even and 1-7 when they turn the ball over more than their opponent does. That's your Giants season in a nutshell, right there.

Covering Calvin: The Giants prepare

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
7:30
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- His name is recognizable league-wide, and its four basic syllables offer no impediment to punctuation. But Calvin Johnson struggled Wednesday with the names of the New York Giants defensive backs who will be trying to cover him Sunday.

On a conference call with Giants reporters, the Detroit Lions' superstar wide receiver knew Prince Amukamara's first name but asked for help pronouncing the last. And he referred to Trumaine McBride only as "No. 38" and admitted he wasn't sure on his name.

"I mean, last year I was out of the league," McBride said later in the Giants' locker room. "I haven't done much. I'm not surprised he doesn't know me."

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAs they prepare to cover Calvin Johnson on Sunday, Giants defensive backs are looking at how Arizona's Patrick Peterson managed in Week 2.
Amukamara, as congenial an NFL player as you'll ever meet, offered that people still misspell and mispronounce his name around the Giants' facility and said he wasn't bothered at all by the fact that Johnson didn't know it well enough to pronounce it. He said he'd help him out if Johnson asked when they're on the field facing each other Sunday.

Both starting cornerbacks, as well as the other players in the Giants' secondary, were more concerned Wednesday with how to cover the 6-foot-5 Lion who's already got 81 catches for 1,449 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. McBride, who stands only 5-9, is dealing with the reality of giving away eight inches and still trying to stop a guy.

"I've been this small forever, so everyone I go against is bigger than me," McBride said. "I know I can't jump with him, so it doesn't make sense for me to try and jump with him. It makes sense to play his hands when he's coming down with it and knock the ball out. He's obviously very good, but everyone has weaknesses. So once I find out what that is, that's what I have to focus on to have success on game day."

It might make more sense to put the 6-foot Amukamara on Johnson throughout the game, but the Giants prefer to split the field with their cornerbacks instead of assigning one to the opponent's best receiver, and Amukamara said he believes that's the plan this week as well. In order to prepare for the times he'll face Johnson, he's been studying tape of the Lions' Week 2 loss in Arizona, in which Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson shadowed Johnson.

"It seemed he did pretty well," Amukamara said of Peterson. "He got beat on some big plays, but you would expect that given who Calvin Johnson is. But Patrick did a very good job from what I see, and I think I can take some things from that."

In that game, Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. One of the touchdown catches covered 72 yards, which obviously skews the yardage total high. But it tells you all you need to know about who Johnson is that Amukamara's goal would be to replicate a six-catch, 116-yard, two-touchdown game.

Johnson's best game this season, as has been the case for many receivers, came against the Dallas Cowboys. In a Week 8 home victory over Dallas, Johnson had 14 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown, and no, that's not a misprint. The Giants' defensive backs, as of Wednesday afternoon, had not watched tape of that game. But some of them said they planned to.

"You definitely want to see how something like that transpired," safety Ryan Mundy said. "But whatever you see on tape. you know this is a big, fast, strong, physical receiver, and we have to go out there and be big, fast, strong and physical with him. We have to try and put him in some difficult spots."

Johnson is coming off a couple of disappointing games. He caught just three passes for 52 yards in the snow in Philadelphia in Week 14, and caught only six of his 14 targets for 98 yards in Monday night's loss to Baltimore. He had a couple of bad and critical drops against Baltimore as well, and he hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Week 13. So he could be in a slump, or he could be due to explode and destroy his next opponent. While it'd be easy to get caught up in the latter possibility, the Giants are not expecting to be intimidated.

"We're all players, all men, and we're at this level for a reason," McBride said. "He can make plays. I can make plays too. We'll line up and do what we can to try and stop him. That's all we can do."

W2W4: Giants at Redskins

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
11:00
AM ET
The NFL had higher hopes for this week's New York Giants-Washington Redskins game when it scheduled it for the Week 13 Sunday night time slot. Hasn't worked out. The Giants limp in with a 4-7 record to take on the 3-8 Redskins, who come off a short week and a miserable beating at the hands of the 49ers. Here are a couple of things to watch for in tonight's 8:30 pm ET game at FedEx field in Landover, Md.

Andre Brown and more Andre Brown: A struggling Redskins run defense lost defensive end Stephen Bowen to injury this year and should have a hard time against the Giants' drastically improved run game. With Brandon Jacobs out due to a knee injury, the less fearsome Peyton Hillis will serve as Brown's backup, which makes the Giants less potent in short-yardage situations. But they still ought to be able to dictate the flow of the game on offense behind Brown. Expect the Giants to run to set up the pass and to lean hard on Brown on early downs.

Who covers whom? Wide receiver Pierre Garcon is the No. 1 threat in the Redskins' passing game, and he lit up the Giants for 106 yards and a touchdown on eight catches last year in a Week 13 game in Landover. After Garcon, the No. 2 target for quarterback Robert Griffin III is dynamic rookie tight end Jordan Reed, but he missed last week's game with a concussion and is questionable for this one. If Reed does play, the Giants will have to be creative in coverage against him and Garcon, since they're down to only four healthy cornerbacks, two of whom (Jayron Hosley and Charles James) have played minimally this season. The Giants fear the Redskins' rushing attack most of all, so the safeties are likely to be helping in run support. Guys like Prince Amukamara and Terrell Thomas will have to win their one-on-one battles in the secondary.

Is this the week for Eli Manning? This question shows up in W2W4 every week, it seems, as the Giants' quarterback is suffering through his worst season since his rookie season. The Giants threw for just 154 yards last week against the Cowboys' league-worst passing defense, but Washington's 271 passing yards allowed per game represent the sixth-highest total in the league, so this is another opportunity to get untracked. The likely return of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who was inactive last week after missing practice due to an abdominal injury, should help with Manning's opportunity.

Pressuring RG III: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will miss tonight's game with a shoulder injury, which weakens the Giants' pass rush. The 49ers showed on Monday that the way to disrupt Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense is to get into the backfield right away and keep Griffin surrounded so as to limit his options. Can an untested rookie defensive end such as Damontre Moore handle the complexities of stopping the read-option? Can veteran defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins function as an end if asked to do the same? The extent to which the Giants can replace Pierre-Paul on the side opposite Justin Tuck is something to watch in this game.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The news that New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and cornerbacks Trumaine McBride and Corey Webster are out for Sunday's game against the Redskins means the Giants will have to do some interesting juggling of their defensive lineup. Webster's injury doesn't sound like it matters much by now, as he's missed almost the whole year, but the Giants had been hoping he could practice enough to fill in for an injured McBride, who has become the starter in Webster's absence. He did not, and now the Giants are left with four healthy cornerbacks for Sunday's game -- Prince Amukamara, Terrell Thomas, Jayron Hosley and untested rookie Charles James.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said starting Hosley in McBride's place (and, presumably, leaving Thomas in the slot) would be a "strong consideration." Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said he thinks Hosley could handle it.

"Jayron has good cover skills," Fewell said. "I think he's a good matchup for some of the quick guys they have in their lineup. So I don't think we'll miss a beat from that standpoint, as far as the quickness and the matchups are concerned."

The issue may be one of depth, as the Giants have very little behind their starters right now if one of them gets hurt or if they decide to go into the kind of dime package that found safety Antrel Rolle overwhelmed in coverage on the Cowboys' final drive of the game Sunday. But the Redskins aren't as loaded with scary receiving threats as the Cowboys are. After top wideout Pierre Garcon, their No. 1 weapon in the receiving corps is rookie tight end Jordan Reed, who missed last week's game with a concussion and is questionable for Sunday.

Up front, where they will look to pressure Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III into the types of mistakes everyone watched him make Monday night against the 49ers, the Giants will obviously miss Pierre-Paul. They could move defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins out to play defensive end (and activate defensive tackle Markus Kuhn for the first time all year to spell Jenkins in the DT rotation), or they could imply increase the snap counts for defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore. But Fewell doesn't think it's as simple as someone stepping into Pierre-Paul's spot.

"Theirs is a difficult offense for any defensive end, because it's a read-option offense, a play-action offense," Fewell said. "They do a number of different things to make the defensive ends think. So it's quite difficult."

The key for the 49ers against Griffin on Monday was their ability to invade the backfield quickly on seemingly every play. The Giants don't have the same kinds of players in their defensive front seven that the 49ers do. (Few teams do, if any, now that Aldon Smith is back in the lineup.) But they'll still need to find a way to get pressure and take some of the burden off their depleted secondary.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:00
AM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 24-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz and Jeff Heath
ndrew Mills/The Star-Ledger via USA TODAY Sports"For them to have a touchdown on a play like that," coach Tom Coughlin said of Jeff Heath's return of a Victor Cruz fumble, "is just unbelievable."
The final drive: Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was confused about the team's decision to play coverage on the Cowboys' final drive instead of trying to pressure Tony Romo into a mistake. "Maybe we needed to be a little more aggressive and play the way we played the previous four drives," Tuck said. And the fact that Romo converted three third-down throws on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that set up the game-winning field goal supports his theory. I'm not sure I agree, though. Pressuring Romo can create problems due to his ability to keep plays alive with his legs. And the conversions were on third downs of 7, 5 and 10 yards, so they weren't exactly letting him get into easy spots. Sometimes, you just get beaten by a better team and/or player. Romo and the Cowboys made the plays. The Giants didn't.

The fumble: Giants coach Tom Coughlin made it clear he thought the whistle should have been blown and forward progress ruled before Orlando Scandrick stripped the ball out of Victor Cruz's hands and into the hands of Jeff Heath, who ran it back for the game's first touchdown. "We started off the year knowing full well that the officials were going to blow the whistle this season for every play," Coughlin said. "You hope that the whistle should blow. For them to have a touchdown on a play like that is just unbelievable." Tough spot for the officials, obviously, since what happens if he gets loose and scores a touchdown and you have to bring him back because you ruled forward progress? Surely, the other sideline would have found that unbelievable. Judgment call, but the fact is the whistle hadn't blown and Scandrick made a great play.

The absentee: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was inactive for the game after missing practice time during the week due to an abdominal injury he says has been bugging him all season. Nicks was certain as recently as Friday that he'd play. He didn't speak after the game. The fact that the Giants didn't let him suit up obviously intensifies the questions about the remainder of his season and his chances of returning to the team next year.

The math: The Giants could still win their final five games and finish 9-7, but even if they did, that wouldn't guarantee them a playoff spot. As Prince Amukamara said after the game, the Cowboys have four division wins (two against the Giants), and the most the Giants can get is three. The Eagles also hold a tiebreaker edge over the Giants. Their chances of catching and passing either of those teams are insanely slim. Their chances of catching and passing both are inconceivable. The residue of the 0-6 start is a complete lack of margin for error. They couldn't lose another game, and they just did.

Win the division? Giants can forget it

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
10:59
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Obviously, this is over now, this New York Giants dream of rising from the ashes of an 0-6 start to win their mediocre division.

There was some brave postgame talk, after Dan Bailey kicked their season through the uprights and into the trash can, about going back to work and trying to win their last five games to get to 9-7. But underneath it all, the Giants know the calendar and the math have them beaten.

"I mean ... I don't know exactly how it all works in terms of the playoffs and everything, but I know Dallas has four division wins and the most we can get is three," Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said after a 24-21 loss to the Cowboys. "I would think that would put us out of the race."

He's right. With five games left in the season, the Giants are 4-7, two games behind a first-place tie between the 6-5 Cowboys and the 6-5 Eagles. They went 0-2 against the Cowboys and 1-1 against the Eagles, and the No. 2 tiebreaker in a division race (two-way or three-way) is the teams' record in division games. The Giants are 1-3 in NFC East games. The Eagles are 3-2 and the Cowboys are 4-0. So the Giants would basically have to make up three games, not two, in the final five in order to get in.

And they won't, because they're not very good and never were. The 0-6 start was a far more accurate indicator of what kind of team this is than was the four-game winning streak that followed. The Giants got fat on four teams that were using unprepared and/or unqualified quarterbacks. Sure, the Giants played better defense against the bottom-rung offensive competition. But while the offense cut back on self-inflicated damage, it never really clicked the way it's supposed to click.

It didn't click Sunday, either. The running game was tremendous, and Eli Manning made a few big plays late to tie things up. But with Hakeem Nicks inactive and the interior pass protection still a mess, the Giants amassed just 154 passing yards against a Dallas pass defense that came in allowing a league-worst 313 per game. No rhythm, no continuity, no point at which it felt as though Manning and the Giants were in control of the game's outcome. This is the story of the Giants' season, and all those four wins did was cover it up.

Sunday, when it came time for the defense to stop a real NFL quarterback, it couldn't. Banged-up in the secondary with cornerback Trumaine McBride out with a groin injury, the Giants shuffled people around, used three safeties and sat back in coverage instead of trying to pressure Tony Romo into a mistake. Romo didn't make a mistake. He made three killer third-down throws that put Bailey in range for a 35-yard field goal as time ran out on the clock and the Giants' season.

When it was over, the Giants claimed they'd played well. And within the context of their 2013 season, they had. They played about as well as they can play. Too many penalties, of course, but bad teams commit a lot of penalties, and when you spend the whole week talking about spilling blood and guaranteeing victory and winding yourselves up the way the Giants felt they needed to wind themselves up for this game, you're bringing dangerous levels of emotion into play.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray and Antrel Rolle
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesThis unnecessary roughness by Antrel Rolle didn't help. It happened deep in Giants territory during a Cowboys scoring drive.
"The one thing I think we can learn from this is, the bigger the game, the more you have to control yourself," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "More poise. We lost it a couple of times, and it cost us. You've got to control yourself."

Good teams aren't still learning those lessons in Week 12. Good teams don't have to be taught about self control. But the Giants are a bad team that has become a desperate team, and so Mathias Kiwanuka is out there hitting the quarterback in the head and Antrel Rolle is hitting the running back out of bounds, and the Giants are making bad-team types of mistakes that cause bad teams to lose games.

"We didn't play Giants football at all," said cornerback Terrell Thomas, who'd guaranteed a victory in a radio interview late last week.

But the thing is, they did. They played 2013 Giants football. They gave up points on a turnover. They committed 11 penalties. They failed to consistently protect the quarterback, who failed to make consistently good throws. It wasn't their worst game of the season by any stretch. May have been one of their best, actually. But they weren't good enough to win it, and that's the part that stings.

"Our season was on the line, and we lost the game," Thomas said. "We had to win that game. It's Giants-Cowboys, all from the heart. It's the will that's going to win this game, and the better team won today."

In the end, that is the simple story of the 2013 New York Giants' season. You can break it down a million different ways, and we all will. Enough has gone wrong to justify all manner of postmortem. But the basic takeaway from Sunday -- and from the season as a whole -- is pretty uncomplicated: They just weren't very good.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider