NFL Nation: Victor Cruz

You've got questions, I've got answers. Especially if you used the #nygmail hashtag with your question on Twitter.
 
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft following their 7-9 season. The Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far in free agency, signing a total of 13 free agents, including 13 from outside their own organization. They have filled a lot of holes, but that doesn't mean they are without needs both immediate and long-term.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today. If you're an Insider, you have access to the three-round mock and will see that his first-round pick for the Giants fills a glaring present-day hole with a pick that could bring long-term benefits as well.


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Did you use the #nygmail hashtag on Twitter this week? No? Well, then your New York Giants question is not among these. Sorry.
 
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.

What happened to Miles Austin?

March, 12, 2014
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The big news in the Dallas Cowboys universe on Tuesday was the release of defensive end and franchise sack leader DeMarcus Ware.

The sidebar, as we used to call it back in the newspaper world, was Miles Austin.

[+] EnlargeMiles Austin
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsMiles Austin spent all eight seasons of his NFL career with Dallas, catching 34 TDs for 4,481 yards.
Austin was released too, labeled a post-June 1 cut that gives the Cowboys $5.5 million in salary cap savings. It leaves the Cowboys with Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams as the projected starters at wide receiver for 2014.

What happened to Austin?

He was supposed to be this productive player with the high price tag whose average salary was $9 million per season. Hamstring injuries became more of his story than any Pro Bowl appearances.

The Cowboys valued Austin's skills but spent more time defending whether he even wanted to play than building him up.

Production is all that matters in the NFL and with Austin the 2010 season, his last Pro Bowl appearance, said it all. Austin's 1,041 yards were the third most among NFC East receivers. In 2012, Austin's 943 yards were also the third most in the division behind Bryant (1,382) and Victor Cruz (1,092).

Austin battled through hamstring injuries in 2012 and still came through with a solid season. Some wondered if Austin should remain with the Cowboys after that 2012 season.

But it all ended last season when Austin finished with just 244 receiving yards, that's the eighth-fewest yards among receivers in the NFC East. Austin battled hamstring problems and was shut down for three weeks so he could get healthy. He was just never the same explosive player last year.

He was productive, but you never got the feeling he was a dominant force like Bryant is. At times, Austin seemed to take defenses away from Bryant because of his own abilities to make plays in the open field. When defenses decided to place more defenders near Bryant last year, Austin was a ghost. Maybe his hamstring problems prevented him from making the plays that earned him two Pro Bowl appearances.

Austin was always this happy-go-lucky guy who was very smart and well liked in the locker room.

It was almost as if Austin was just happy to be here and was living the dream until somebody woke him up. Well the receiver from New Jersey should be wide awake now after the Cowboys sent him packing Tuesday.

Austin was never one to give you his thoughts totally on things. He would chat with you about the Yankees or Derek Jeter, yet when it came time for a real discussion about the Cowboys, he shielded himself by sticking with the company line.

The last moment of Austin's time with the Cowboys came on Kyle Orton's interception that sealed the victory for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 regular-season finale.

Orton said he made a poor throw and took the blame.

I remember asking Austin to talk about what happened on the play and in a rare moment of insight, he said he should have done more to break up the pass. It was as if Austin didn't want his time with the Cowboys to end this way, second-guessing himself, about the final offensive play of the season.

Austin's production will be missed, but his inconsistency and hamstring issues won't.

First impressions of Ben McAdoo

February, 27, 2014
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Ben McAdooAP Photo/Mike RoemerNew Giants' offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo: "I'm confident. I've been groomed for this position."
New York Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo held a conference call Thursday, the first time he's spoken publicly since the Giants hired him Jan. 14 to replace Kevin Gilbride. McAdoo is no Rob or Rex Ryan -- he didn't make any headlines with his initial remarks to the media. There were a lot of "at the end of the day's" and "first and foremost's" and a lot of platitudes about the importance of fundamentals. One of my first impressions was that he sounded, in tone and delivery, almost exactly like Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Which is no surprise, since the 36-year-old McAdoo has spent the past decade working for and training under McCarthy.

"I’m confident. I’ve been groomed for this position," said McAdoo, who has never been a coordinator or called plays on game day, as he will with the Giants. "It’s something that we train our coaches and our quarterbacks for. We’ve done it in Green Bay and it’s something that I feel very confident about. I’m excited for the opportunity, but at the end of the day, play-calling isn’t just about one guy pulling plays out of a hat. It’s the process that you go through during the week. A lot of it has to do with game-planning, and has to do with ranking plays in the plan. Everyone’s involved with it, not just coaches, not just the head coach, but the players as well. "

McAdoo was asked about some specifics, and here's what he had to say about them:

On whether he's a "West Coast offense guy": "Most teams in the league have West Coast principles built into their offense, and we’ll be one of them. We’re going to be an offense that has an identity, first and foremost. We’re going to be sound, smart, and tough. We’re going to be committed to discipline and poise, and at the end of the day, we’re going to hang our hat on the fundamentals."

My take: Every coach says the same stuff about fundamentals and about tailoring your system to your personnel. I look at McAdoo as a guy who has been thinking about this opportunity for a long time and is likely to incorporate some of what he's been trained in, some of what is already present and some of his own ideas. You don't hire a coach because you like his system. You hire a coach because you think he's smart and has good ideas and can communicate them to players in effective ways. That is what the Giants see in young McAdoo. His "system," such as it is, has yet to develop itself.

On what needs to be done to help Eli Manning recover from his 27-interception season: "Taking care of the football is the biggest factor in winning and losing games. Fundamentals can help you there. At the same point in time, everybody on the offensive side of the ball needs to play better. With that being said, everyone comes in with a clean slate. This is going to be a new operation on offense. There are some new coaches in place, there are some coaches who have been here who have been in different spots, but at the end of the day everyone has a clean slate. That’s how we’re going to start, and that’s important for the players to know. Also, winning in this league, the quarterback gets a lot of credit and gets too much credit. When you don’t play so well and you lose in this league, the quarterback gets a lot of blame and probably too much blame. But that is the nature of the beast."

My take: McAdoo's is a new voice in Manning's ear after 10 years of the same one. I think Manning will be energized by the change.

The importance of the screen game in the offense: "We’re definitely going to spend time in the screen game. It’s something that will be a focal point, and needs to be installed. We’ll have different types of screens, whether they’re sidewalk screens or half screens, so fourth and so on, just like everybody else in the league. At the end of the day, it comes down to fundamentals and guys getting enough repetitions where they’re productive."

My take: The deterioration of the screen game because of the injuries to and eventual departure of Ahmad Bradshaw was a huge part of why the Giants' offense went downhill the past two years. They absolutely need a running back or two who can help in the pass game as a blocker and a receiver.

What kinds of players the Giants have who might fit his system: "Well, first things first, it’s not my system. It’s our system here, and we’re building it right now. I’ve had a chance to meet different guys going through the building. It’ll be exciting. A lot of guys are in and out right now, so I haven’t had a chance to meet all of them. Victor [Cruz], we had over at the Pro Bowl, and Eli, it’ll obviously be exciting to get going with those guys. Henry Hynoski, I’m familiar with, he played at Pitt and Southern Columbia High School. I’ve followed him since he was in high school really. A lot of other guys. Rueben Randle, I had a chance to meet yesterday, he’s excited to get going. Just to name a few that I had a chance to talk to. Chris Snee has been in the weight room a ton, I’ve run into him and [Kevin] Boothe and all of those guys, so it’s been great seeing them and I look forward to getting going."

My take: I think Cruz is going to be huge for McAdoo as a guy who can make plays once he gets the ball in his hands, and I don't think it's a coincidence he's the first player he mentioned in this answer.
You don't think the New York Giants plan to bring back free-agent wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and neither do I. Nicks is going to hit the open market, some team is going to look at his skill set and his pedigree vs. the rest of the free-agent wide receiver market and pay him a lot. The Giants aren't likely to be that team, not after the year he just had, not with a new offensive coordinator whose system may be more geared to the Victor Cruz/Jerrel Jernigan-type receivers they already have.

Nicks
However, the Giants will need to replace Nicks somehow if he does leave. They were terribly thin at the position last year, and even if you project Jernigan as a capable contributor based on his final three games and assume some development for Rueben Randle, the best you can say is the Giants go into next season with optimism about wide receiver but very little certainty.

We have discussed the possibility that the Giants use the No. 12 pick in the draft on a wide receiver such as Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans, but these are not things on which you can count. The draft is nearly two full months after the March 11 start of free agency this year, and 12 isn't a high enough pick to engender confidence about who'll be available and who won't. The Giants will have to look at the free-agent wide receiver market and see what their options are there.

Andrew Cohen at overthecap.com has taken a look at seven free-agent wide receivers -- Nicks, Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin, Julian Edelman, Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate and James Jones -- and taken a stab at predicting where they'll end up and how much they'll get. He predicted none of the seven to the Giants, and he's predicting Nicks signs with the Lions for three years, $30 million with $13 million guaranteed. (I've been saying Patriots for Nicks, but if those are the figures then there's no chance.)

I could see the Giants targeting someone like Tate or Jones (both of whom are projected here to the Jets) as a Nicks replacement. I don't foresee them joining the Decker bidding (and don't really think they should). Maclin isn't likely to get out of Philadelphia, and he's recovering from ACL surgery anyway. Maybe he's a target next year if he's healthy. Boldin is 33, and not a long-term solution. Edelman is likely to be viewed as a Tom Brady creation and probably won't get the money he seeks even off his big year. Maybe he ends up being a worthwhile bargain for the Giants.

Of this group, I think Jones, who is 6-foot-1, makes the most sense for the Giants. His history with new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo in Green Bay could help (or hurt, I guess, if McAdoo didn't like the guy). He won't break the bank, which makes sense given what they're already paying Cruz and the other needs they have for their salary cap room this offseason. And while he may not produce at Nicks' peak levels, the new Giants offense may not need him to do so. If they like Randle, want to give Jernigan some run and plan to throw it to Cruz 100-plus times anyway, this may be exactly the kind of guy they need.
As you likely know by now, our team of NFL Nation reporters surveyed 10 players on each team, on the condition of anonymity, and asked a series of questions. In recent weeks, we've revealed the NFL's most respected player, the player most of his peers would pick to start a team and which player is the most feared. We have much more to come, and it's all very interesting, but the question whose answer we reveal today is:

Who’s the player (active, non-teammate) you’d most like to see in the Super Bowl?

The winner, with 59 of the 320 votes, is Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. He won by three votes over retiring Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was fourth with 15 votes, but you can scratch him off the list in 10 days, when he participates in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The only Giants player who got even a single vote was defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, with one.

Players were asked to vote for a player who hasn't played in the Super Bowl, and most of the players on the Giants have. Justin Tuck, Eli Manning and Victor Cruz would likely feel that their championship rings are more valuable than getting recognized on this particular question.

NFLN survey/franchise player: Giants

January, 16, 2014
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Our NFL Nation team of reporters surveyed 10 players from each team, on the condition of anonymity, and we're rolling out the answers to our questions in advance of the Super Bowl. One of the questions was "If you had to start a team with one player, whom would it be?" The winner was Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, with 62 votes out of the 320. A close second was Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, with 56 votes. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were next on the list with 41 and 40 votes, respectively, and Calvin Johnson was the top non-quarterback wit 37 votes.

The only New York Giants player who got a vote on this question was wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who got one. I'm a fan of Nicks -- or at least the pre-2013 version of Nicks -- but I'd happily pick second in an all-NFL-players draft in which someone took him at No. 1. Eli Manning remains the Giants player you'd take if you were starting a team tomorrow, or maybe you could make a case for Victor Cruz due to Manning's age.

Speaking of age, I'd probably have answered Luck to this question, since I interpret the question to mean I'd be starting a team and intending to build it to win long-term. Peyton Manning is turning 38 in March, and while I'd definitely take him first if I were picking a team to play this weekend, I think the 24-year-old Luck is the guy you take if you're thinking about building something around your top pick that can last a long time.

Would franchising Nicks make sense?

January, 15, 2014
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In Tuesday's post on the potential cost of re-signing free-agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph, we addressed the manner in which the New York Giants traditionally have and have not used the franchise player designation. In summary, they don't tend to use it to freeze a player in place on a one-year deal because they're not ready to make a long-term commitment to him. They prefer to use it for its originally designed purpose -- to keep a player off the market while they finish the final details of a longer-term deal with him.

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks had 56 catches for 896 yards but no touchdowns during the 2013 season.
However, I wonder if wide receiver Hakeem Nicks could challenge that philosophy this year. Nicks is an unrestricted free agent who's coming off his most disappointing healthy season, having played 15 of 16 games and failed to catch a touchdown pass. He was a source of obvious frustration to the coaching staff as the year went along, and multiple people within the organization have publicly cited substandard play by the team's outside receivers as a key reason the offense couldn't get on track. Add in Tuesday's hire of West Coast offense disciple Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator, and you wonder if the outside receiver will remain a high-priority position, especially with a significant amount of money already committed to slot receiver Victor Cruz.

But Nicks is also a former first-round pick of the Giants and a player who helped them win a Super Bowl just two seasons ago. He has shown an ability to thrive as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. The Giants have seen the best of Nicks as well as the worst, and if they believe that he's capable of returning to top form (he just turned 26 on Tuesday), they could decide they want him back.

If they do, it's unlikely they'll be willing to offer Nicks a long-term deal after the season he just had. Which means he'll want to test the market and trade on his name and past success to score as large a deal as possible. If he makes it to the open market, the Giants aren't likely to compete with other teams to sign him. But if they decide they want him back and they believe 2013 was an aberration, they could certainly franchise him and keep him from ever hitting the market.

There are problems with this strategy, not the least of which is that it could result in an unhappy player who causes the same problems in his 2014 contract year as he did in his 2013 contract year. The Giants have seen what Nicks is like with free agency hanging over his head, and it wasn't pretty. Franchising him and not extending him beyond 2014 could conceivably bring about a repeat of his performance from this past season. Another problem is cost, as the franchise number for wide receivers is likely to exceed $11 million this year. Nicks isn't worth that money based on his 2013 performance, and while the Giants do have cap room they also have many other needs on which to spend it.

Some will suggest that the Giants franchise Nicks and then try to trade him, perhaps for a second-round or third-round pick to a team that gets shut out of the Eric Decker market, needs a big-time threat at wide receiver and still views Nicks as one. But such deals are rare and difficult to pull off, and if the Giants franchised Nicks with that plan in mind and were unable to deal him, they'd be stuck with a player they don't necessarily want at a cost that makes it difficult for them to make their budget.

If they don't tag Nicks and let him sign elsewhere, it's possible the Giants would get a compensatory draft pick for him in 2015, but that depends on who else they lose and who they sign in free agency this year.

In the end, franchising Nicks makes sense for the Giants only if they believe he will play better in 2014 than he did in 2013, which means he'd have to somehow convince them that the contract issue wasn't part of his problem. Since he hinted strongly at every possible opportunity that it was, it would be hard to believe him. You never know how these things will work out, and it's possible that the Giants will be more desperate than we expect and give Nicks a longer-term deal. It's possible the deal Nicks seeks won't be out there for him and he'll agree to stay for a smaller or shorter-term deal. But the most likely scenario to me is that a team other than the Giants decides they like him and are willing to bring him in based on his reputation, age, physical talent and past achievements. And if that happens, the Giants will wish him well and look somewhere else for wide receiver help, if they haven't already.
The New York Giants don't do this, which is why it's so noteworthy. They don't grab for the hot new toy. They stick to their guns, believe in their program, stress the importance of continuity. ... Heck, let's just come right out and say it: They're boring.

So when the Giants announced Tuesday night that they'd hired 36-year-old Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo as their new offensive coordinator, you were justified in perking up your ears and considering it at least a mild surprise.

The early favorite to replace the retired Kevin Gilbride had appeared to be Mike Sullivan, whom the Giants know well as a former Gilbride assistant with whom quarterback Eli Manning had found great success. Sullivan knows the offense and the terminology, and as long as the Giants remain committed to Tom Coughlin as their head coach (which they do), the in-character thing for them to do would have been to hire him and maintain the aforementioned continuity.

[+] EnlargeBen McAdoo
AP Photo/Mike RoemerBen McAdoo, right, takes over the Giants offensive coordinator position from the retired Kevin Gilbride.
But another thing the Giants don't do is go 7-9 with one of the worst offenses in the league -- at least not since Coughlin's been there. So after they did just that in 2013, there was a sense around the building that a somewhat dramatic change might be welcomed. Team owner John Mara has made no secret, in his public comments since the season ended, that he believes the offense to be "broken" and that something different from Gilbride would be welcomed. Manning hasn't said anything either way, but there's a sense around the team that he'd welcome something fresh and new after 10 years running the same system. And for all of Coughlin's belief in sticking to his program, he is a man who has shown a willingness and ability to make major changes when the writing is on the wall.

So here's McAdoo, whose offensive coaching pedigree doesn't look much like that of a Coughlin/Gilbride guy. McAdoo has worked under Mike McCarthy for the past nine years -- in 2005 when McCarthy was the 49ers' offensive coordinator and for the last eight years in Green Bay with McCarthy as the head coach. While Coughlin is an admirer of McCarthy's schemes and playcalling, there are stark differences between the Packers' system and the Giants' system. McCarthy's offense is basically a West Coast offense with some zone blocking principles sprinkled in, which also backs the comparisons you may be hearing between McAdoo and a young Andy Reid. The Giants' offense under Coughlin and Gilbride has been an evolution of the run-and-shoot, though with a bit more reliance on the running game and the tight end than that offense had in its original incarnation decades ago.

"We're going to try to compromise the system with what we have here," Coughlin said in the team's official news release announcing the hire. "However, there will be change, and that change will be very positive and very well-received by our team and players. And if our players are scrambling around to learn a new system -- good. That's another fire in their rear end."

Assuming McAdoo is being brought in to run something along the lines of what they run in Green Bay, the difference should help Manning and could elevate wide receiver Victor Cruz to new heights. The principles of the Packers' offense rely on the ability of the quarterback to go through his progression quickly (a Manning strength) and deliver the ball accurately to playmakers in space. Receivers like Cruz and maybe Jerrel Jernigan (assuming the final three games of 2013 weren't a fluke) should benefit from that and be productive in such a system. The deep threats on the outside aren't irrelevant in this system, and Manning would still be asked to throw downfield when it's called for and available. But where under Gilbride they were reliant on the big play and the ability to stretch the field, McAdoo's background is with an offense that operates in a more controlled fashion near the line of scrimmage, with the explosiveness coming mainly after the catch.

The Packers also ran the ball effectively this year, though much of their playbook had to be scrapped due to the large number of games quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed due to injury. While rookie Eddie Lacy starred in his role as the feature back, the Packers' offense has excelled for years without a traditional workhorse running back, and it's possible the Giants could continue to mix-and-match at the position and have success under McAdoo.

Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit here, since we don't know what McAdoo plans to run. Maybe all this time he's been convinced McCarthy's got it all wrong and he has his own ideas about how to do it better. When a hire like this is made, we assume we know he'll stay true to his background. And when it's nine years' worth of background working for the same offensive coach, that assumption has a solid foundation. Odds are, if McAdoo is as smart and thoughtful as he's purported to be, his offense will evolve over time and take on a flair and substance he himself imparts upon it. And we'll all find out together what that is. There's no way to know how it will go. McAdoo has never before had a job where he was responsible for calling plays, as he will be now.

But as of right now, on the night McAdoo has been hired to run the Giants' offense, it's worth taking note that this is the Giants doing something they don't normally do. They're taking a chance on a fresh, new face with ideas that differ from theirs. They're dipping their staid blue toe into new waters, mainly out of an admission that what they were doing for so long had stopped working. It's a pretty big deal, and however it works out, it speaks to the state of the franchise right now. After 10 years of Manning and Coughlin, they don't believe their run is coming to an end, but they're at least admitting to themselves that they'll need to try something different if they want to be right.

New York Giants season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 23
Preseason Power Ranking: 12

Biggest surprise: The 0-6 start. There appeared to be little shame in losing in Dallas and at home to Denver to start the season, but when the Giants gave up six sacks in the first 17 minutes of a 38-0 Week 3 loss in Carolina, alarm bells went off. They were still a month away from winning a game at that point, and by the time they started doing that, they were too far behind. Their season was buried under a mountain of turnovers, done in by an incompetent offense that couldn't keep its quarterback upright and never got on track for so much as a game.

Biggest disappointment: Eli Manning. Everything collapsed around the Giants' two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. The line couldn't protect him. The running backs couldn't pick up the blitz or gain yards on their own. Former No. 1 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was ineffective all year. And Manning responded to the adversity by playing as poorly as he has since his rookie season. He led the league and set a new career high with 27 interceptions. He finished with his lowest completion percentage in six years, his lowest passing yardage total in five and failed to reach 20 touchdown passes for the first time ever in a full season.

Biggest need: Offensive line. It was their biggest question mark heading into the season, and that was before starters David Baas and Chris Snee went down with injuries. The Giants will need at least three new starters on the line, and possibly four if left tackle Will Beatty's broken leg sets costs him 2014 time. They need a complete rebuild on the line, and it will require their attention in free agency and early in the draft. But if they want to avoid a repeat of this year's offensive meltdown, it's the most important place to start. Team owner John Mara said Monday he hoped the offensive line would be the top offseason priority, and when the owner says something like that there's a strong chance it happens.

Team MVP: Defensive end Justin Tuck. A critical part of the Giants' strong run defense all year, Tuck also ended up with 11 sacks thanks to the six he got against the Redskins in December. He's a defensive captain and a team leader who played hurt, set an example and produced at a high level, whether asked to play on the end of the line or in the middle of it, as he sometimes is in passing downs. He helped keep spirits up during the losing streak and epitomized a team that played hard when others might have shut it down. Safety Antrel Rolle deserves mention for many of the same reasons, and Jon Beason's contributions as a strong veteran presence at middle linebacker after the early-season trade that brought him were valuable as well.

All-NFC East: New York Giants

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 
There are four New York Giants on this year's All-NFC East team, and it's no surprise that all four of them play defense. The Giants finished the year ranked eighth in the league in total defense and 28th in total offense. There was no offensive player on their team worthy of any consideration other than wide receiver Victor Cruz, and there's no way to argue that he should have cracked the division's top three ahead of DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant or Pierre Garcon.

So the defensive players who made it were defensive end Justin Tuck, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and safeties Will Hill and Antrel Rolle. Unlike past years, when I ran the NFC East blog and picked the team myself, this year's team was voted on by the four team reporters who cover the NFC East's teams -- myself, Todd Archer in Dallas, Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia and John Keim in Washington.

I approve of the choice of Tuck, who had a fine year and finished with 11 sacks thanks to the six he got in December against the Redskins. And I voted for Hill and Rolle as the division's starting safeties. Rolle gets (and attracts) the attention and played well, but I think Hill was the better player this year once he was back from his season-opening four-game suspension. The two of them function very well together in the Giants' system at safety, and that was a concern after they let go of Kenny Phillips -- finding a partner who could switch off with Rolle during the games and depending on the situations. Hill has done it and done it well.

The Giants were very strong at defensive tackle this year, and Jenkins is a worthy pick. I think Linval Joseph is the better and more impactful all-around player at the position, but Jenkins played well all year against the run and helped with the pass rush. He should be back next year, and you can't say the same with certainty for Joseph as he hits the free-agent market. I can't make a case for anyone else on the Giants to have made this team except maybe Joseph.

All-NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

January, 2, 2014
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

 
IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys had eight players on the All-NFC East team with Tony Romo being the biggest snub.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles won the vote of the four NFL Nation bloggers that cover the NFC East. Foles had a terrific season taking over for Michael Vick, finishing with 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Romo also had a terrific season with 31 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 15 games before back surgery knocked him out of the finale.

To the victor of the NFC East go the spoils, so Foles got the nod.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, tight end Jason Witten, left tackle Tyron Smith and left guard Ronald Leary were named to the team. Bryant was dynamic. Witten was Witten but his opportunities were down. Smith might have had the best season of any left tackle in football. Leary’s inclusion might speak to the dearth of good offensive line play in the division. Mackenzy Bernadeau played better.

Normally a case could be made for DeMarco Murray, but not so much in a division with LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

The Cowboys had the worst ranked defense in the NFL and had two players on the division’s defensive squad. Jason Hatcher was one of the two defensive tackles after he finished with a career high 11 sacks. Sean Lee missed five games with hamstring and neck injuries but still showed he was the best middle linebacker in the division. If he can stay healthy he might be able to show he is among the best in the league.

If there is a snub on defense it would be cornerback Orlando Scandrick. He did well versus Victor Cruz and DeSean Jackson this year and came up with the biggest play in the win at Washington when he took on Pierre Garcon for a third-down deflection. But he had only two interceptions and missed a few others.

Dan Bailey missed only two field goal attempts on the season and was named the division’s best kicker. There should have been little doubt here. Dwayne Harris averaged 30.6 yards per kick return with a long of 90 yards and 12.8 yards per punt return with an 86-yard TD against the Redskins. He has a great feel for the return game.

New York Giants coach Eli Manning doesn't know who his offensive coordinator is going to be next year. More than once, when asked about potential coaching staff changes Monday, Manning repeated the same line.

"I'm going to assume everything is the same until I hear differently," he said.

[+] EnlargeCruz/Manning
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesEli Manning wants to get in sync with his receivers this offseason.
Which is fine, and what he should be saying, since he's got to work with whoever ends up coaching him. But Manning did talk a little bit more about the Giants' situation at wide receiver, which was thorny all year and remains so as they head into the offseason. Victor Cruz played well before injuring his knee in Week 15, and Jerrel Jernigan performed well as his replacement in the slot. But on the outside, Manning struggled all year to find consistency from and with Hakeem Nicks and second-year man Rueben Randle, who said he thought Manning and the receivers were "not on the same page from time to time" in 2013.

Cruz and Nicks both missed offseason practice time last year due to the way they were handling their own personal health and contract issues, and both said that they would make sure to put in a full offseason this year (for Nicks, that assumes he doesn't leave via free agency). Manning said he'd appreciate that, no matter who his wide receivers are.

"I think the offseason is very important," Manning said Monday. "That’s where you kind of set your fundamentals and you get on the same timing with a lot of things. If there are things from the season before you needed to improve on, that’s the time where you kind of can dedicate those hours and you have time in the offseason to make those improvements, to talk things over and to make sure if you have bad habits, you can fix them. So I think that’s what the offseason is for because once you get into the regular season, everything has got to be in place. It’s got to be kind of set in stone. You can make little improvements here, but the practices are more. ... You’re going against the scout team and you don’t get as much live coverage like you do in the spring and during the offseason."

Nicks seems likely to leave as a free agent, but whether he's back or Manning's working with a new guy, he's going to need more consistency and reliability from the position as a whole if he's to rebound in 2014 from his very disappointing 2013.

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