Commentary

Free-agency primer: New York Giants

Big Blue might stick with 2011 blueprint: Spend wisely, keep your own players

Updated: March 12, 2012, 7:37 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

The Super Bowl celebration is over. Now, the New York Giants begin the process of defending their championship with the start of free agency on Tuesday and then the NFL draft in April.

Last year, it felt as if the Giants did more subtracting than adding in free agency, but GM Jerry Reese seemed to make all the right moves.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Giants make few splashy moves in free agency while trying to re-sign some of their own again. ESPNNewYork.com explores a few questions facing the Giants as free agency begins:

1. Bringing unsexy back?

Last summer, Reese absorbed a huge amount of heat and criticism from fans and the media for not making any sexy, splashy moves like the Eagles did. Instead, the Giants let veterans like Rich Seubert and Shaun O'Hara go while watching Kevin Boss and Steve Smith leave in free agency for bigger paydays. The Giants brought back a few of their key free agents, like Mathias Kiwanuka and Ahmad Bradshaw, and their most expensive free-agent signing was center David Baas.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Goff
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireThe Giants want Jonathan Goff back in blue in 2012.

Don't be shocked if Reese takes a similar approach this free-agency period. The Giants have cleared nearly $12 million in cap space by restructuring Eli Manning's contract and releasing Brandon Jacobs. But they were $9 million over the cap recently, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

So the expectation is that the Giants will try to re-sign a few of their own free agents but not do a ton of spending, while being fiscally responsible since they have to pay their own young stars down the road.

2. Can the Giants re-sign their key free agents?

The Giants have 19 unrestricted free agents after re-signing Domenik Hixon and franchising Steve Weatherford. They want to re-sign cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff.

Coach Tom Coughlin says Thomas and Goff -- both are coming off ACL injuries -- are a part of his plan this season. Thomas expressed confidence that he will be back, but then again not many thought Boss and Smith would leave last year, either.

The Giants will lose some of their key free agents. Wide receiver Mario Manningham, cornerback Aaron Ross and defensive end Dave Tollefson are among those who could depart. Right tackle Kareem McKenzie also is expected to move on.

3. What will happen with Super Mario?

Manningham says he wants to return, but the odds are he will be joining a new team. The wide receiver wants to capitalize on his big postseason, and he surely would like a bigger role than being the third receiver with the Giants.

Considering that the Giants will have to pay Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz down the road, Reese likely will not pay big bucks for a third receiver. The Giants could replace Manningham internally with Jerrel Jernigan, Ramses Barden or Hixon. Or they could sign a free agent.

4. Could Steve Smith return?

One free agent the Giants could sign is Smith, who is open for a reunion, something Schefter reported last fall.

If Smith is healthy, he could come in and easily slide into the third receiver spot in the slot, and probably would not need long to get on the same page with Manning.

Plaxico Burress is another free-agent ,and he mentioned the Giants as a possibility recently. But Smith seems a likelier possibility.

5. What will the Giants do at tight end?

The Giants lost Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum to torn ACLs in the Super Bowl and are down to two healthy tight ends on the roster (Bear Pascoe and Christian Hopkins). Considering how they were able to replace Boss last season with the undrafted, second-year Ballard, the Giants might opt not to invest a ton in a tight end, whether it be in free agency or the draft.

On Monday afternoon, word came out that the Raiders will release Boss, a source told Schefter. If both sides are up for a reunion and the money can be worked out, the Giants and Boss make a whole lot of sense.

The best tight ends available in free agency appear to be Boss, Visanthe Shiancoe, Martellus Bennett, Dallas Clark, John Carlson and Jeremy Shockey, among others. The Giants could pick up a cheap veteran or use a late draft pick on a tight end.

6. What will the Giants do without Jacobs?

After releasing Jacobs, the Giants need a veteran backup running back. They currently have D.J. Ware, Da'Rel Scott and Andre Brown behind Bradshaw.

Last year, when Bradshaw was a free agent, Ronnie Brown's name was mentioned as a possibility for the Giants. Coughlin has mentioned that he likes sticking with the formula of having a big back to go with Bradshaw. They could also use a draft pick on a running back.

Free agents like Michael Bush, Mike Tolbert and Peyton Hillis are strong, big running backs. But they are expected to come with expensive price tags and likely are looking for starting gigs.

7. What will the Giants do at right tackle?

With McKenzie expected to leave in free agency, the Giants have to figure out what to do on their offensive line. Will Beatty has been cleared again and could return at left tackle. The Giants could move David Diehl, who started at left tackle after Beatty needed eye surgery, to left guard or perhaps right tackle. Last year's fourth-round pick, James Brewer, could also be a candidate at right tackle.

And perhaps the Giants could look for another offensive lineman in free agency or the draft.

8. What will happen with Osi?

Osi Umenyiora will likely have to wait for his contract situation to be addressed after free agency. The defensive end still wants a raise as he enters the last year of his deal worth just under $4 million.

The Giants have to figure out their cap situation and re-sign some of their own free agents before dealing with Umenyiora, whose situation could heat up near draft time.


TOP UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Mario Manningham, WR, 6-0, 185, 4 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: He provides Manning with a third terrific receiving weapon and is capable of making big catches, as evidenced by his postseason performance.

Potential snag: Manningham wants a lucrative contract and a bigger role -- and the Giants can't offer either.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Manningham is a luxury and the Giants eventually have to pay Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Manning has also shown that he can develop receivers.

Possible replacement: Jernigan, Barden, Hixon or Smith.


Terrell Thomas, CB, 6-0, 191, 4 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: He was the Giants' most productive cornerback in 2010, leading the team in tackles and interceptions before tearing his ACL last preseason. The team felt he was going to have a Pro Bowl-type season.

Potential snag: Another team offers Thomas more than the Giants are willing to give.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Only his knee and money would be reasons not to bring Thomas back. But Coughlin has said Thomas is expected to be healthy by the season opener.

Possible replacement: Prince Amukamara.


Jonathan Goff, MLB, 6-2, 241, 4 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Goff knows the defense, and many teammates felt he was on the verge of having his best season before he tore his ACL prior to the season opener.

Potential snag: Goff finds another suitor willing to give more than the Giants.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Goff's knee isn't ready now, but Coughlin has said Goff is expected to be ready for the season.

Possible replacements: Greg Jones, Mark Herzlich.


Aaron Ross, CB, 6-0, 190, 5 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Ross started every game in 2011 and played better as the season progressed.

Potential snag: Ross could receive a bigger contract offer from another team, more than the Giants are willing to pay.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: The Giants probably prefer Ross as a third cornerback and can't afford to pay him like a starter, which is something Ross is likely looking for.

Possible replacement: Thomas, Amukamara.


Dave Tollefson, DE, 6-4, 266, 5 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Tollefson provides valuable depth on the defensive line, leadership and can contribute on special teams.

Potential snag: Giants' cap situation.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Tollefson is a luxury with Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora at defensive end, and Kiwanuka also playing end. Also, Tollefson could receive more money than the Giants are willing to pay.

Possible replacement: Justin Trattou.


Kareem McKenzie, RT, 6-6, 330, 11 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Has been the starting right tackle since 2005 and helped the Giants win two Super Bowls.

Potential snag: Giants have told McKenzie to shop in free agency.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Giants need to get younger and Kevin Boothe's emergence at LG could allow the Giants to move Diehl to RT.

Possible replacement: Diehl, Brewer.


Deon Grant, S, 6-2, 215, 12 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Was the Giants' third safety and brings valuable veteran leadership.

Potential snag: Giants' cap situation and other priorities.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Tyler Sash waits for his chance.

Possible replacement: Sash.


Chase Blackburn, LB, 6-3, 247, 7 years

Most compelling reason to re-sign him: Was a huge addition late in the season and gave the defense stability and leadership at linebacker.

Potential snag: Giants have limited cap space and have other priorities.

Most compelling reason not to re-sign him: Giants have several young linebackers to develop.

Possible replacement: Jones, Herzlich.


ON THE RADAR

Steve Smith, WR, 5-11, 195, 5 years (Eagles): He never wanted to leave, knows Manning as well as anybody, and knows offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's offense, too.

Ronnie Brown, RB, 6-0, 230, 7 years (Eagles): His name was linked to the Giants last year when Ahmad Bradshaw was a free agent. And now the Giants need a veteran backup to replace Jacobs.

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE, 6-4, 250, 9 years (Vikings): Giants need a tight end, and Shiancoe spent his first four seasons with the Giants. How much will he cost, though?

Martellus Bennett, 6-6, 270, 4 years (Cowboys): Tantalizing size and potential, but the former second-round pick could be looking for more than the Giants have to offer.

Ryan Grant, RB, 6-1, 222, 5 years (Packers): He's a former Giant who is expected to hit the free-agent market. Grant could help replace Jacobs, but he could end up back with the Packers.

Kevin Boss, TE, 6-6, 255, 5 years (Raiders): Reunited and it feels so good? Oakland is releasing Boss. Less than a year after leaving in free agency, Boss seems to be the perfect solution at tight end for the Giants if the money is there.

Plaxico Burress, WR, 6-5, 232, 10 years (Jets): He says the Giants are on his radar but his top team is Philadelphia. The Giants did sit down and meet with Burress last summer before he joined the Jets.

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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