A major part of the New York Giants' draft philosophy has been to select the best player available, but with an eye toward developing that pick to potentially start down the road as opposed to right away.
But with two dozen projected starters and contributors playing on one-year deals or entering the final year of their contracts, the Giants enter Thursday's draft almost having to think about drafting players who may start in 2014.
That's why the Giants would be thrilled if Alabama left tackle D.J. Fluker is there when the team drafts at 19th overall Thursday night. And it's why if Fluker isn't available, Giants general manager Jerry Reese will have his eyes on two of the best safeties in Texas' Kenny Vaccaro and LSU's Eric Reid.
The Giants' offensive line is mostly set for this season with the exception of right tackle. But left guard Kevin Boothe and tackle/guard David Diehl are free agents after this year. And the Giants still have to find out if James Brewer is the answer at right tackle.
The 6-foot-4, 339-pound Fluker would not only give the Giants a massive lineman with first-round pedigree to plug in next year, but also the type of personality that could lead the offensive line in the future.
"Well in this day and age of bringing your draft picks in and just sitting them for a year or two, I think those days are dwindling away," Reese said. "I think you have to bring them in and get those guys ready to play.
"You like to develop guys," Reese continued. "And quite frankly, guys are really not ready to come in, but sometimes you have to force them in there. And you see a lot of teams playing a lot of young players."
Only a year removed from winning it all, the Giants still have the core of the 2011 championship team intact after Reese had to painfully part ways with veterans like Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley earlier this offseason due to salary-cap constraints. The team believes it just needs to surround Eli Manning and Jason Pierre-Paul with a few more young pieces to contend this season. But if the Giants fail to make the playoffs for a second straight year, several more veteran faces -- including Justin Tuck, Corey Webster and Diehl -- who were key components of the Giants' recent championship runs could move on.
The GM signed several free agents like Dan Connor, Aaron Ross, Keith Rivers, Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers among others to affordable one-year deals. And key starters like Boothe, Linval Joseph and Stevie Brown will be looking for new deals after this season.
Reese wants to lock down his star receiving duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to long-term extensions and will eventually need to do the same with Pierre-Paul, so the salary cap is always a major consideration.
That's why the draft is such an important lifeline for the Giants. As opposed to spending in free agency, the Giants can lock down talent through the draft under affordable rookie contracts for multiple years and keep the major chunk of their salary cap invested in their star players like Manning.
If Fluker is not available at 19, the Giants will look at safety. Even though they have Antrel Rolle, Brown, Will Hill, Ryan Mundy and Tyler Sash there for this season, the Giants can use a safety for the future.
Kenny Phillips, whom the Giants picked in the first round in 2008, is gone to Philadelphia. Vaccaro or Reid can give the Giants a young safety to roam the field and provide insurance with Brown playing on his one-year tender. Also, Rolle will be entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
"In the past, people have said you bring in the young players as developmental," Reese said. "And we like to develop players. But nowadays, you really have to get them ready to go pretty quickly."
Reese plugged several holes for this season in free agency. He brought back the starting left side of his offensive line, added beef at defensive tackle (Cullen Jenkins, Patterson, Rogers) and signed much-needed linebackers and a tight end. He also kept veteran experience at cornerback (Webster) and offensive line (Diehl) at a reduced price.
But for 2014, Reese may need starters at guard and/or tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle, cornerback, linebacker, tight end and safety.
Some positions, like defensive tackle and linebacker, might be filled in free agency like they were this year.
The same can be said for tight end, where Brandon Myers was signed to replace Martellus Bennett, who was signed to a one-year deal the year before. But if Fluker, Vaccaro and Reid are gone by 19, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert becomes a consideration if he's still available.
As for Eifert's college teammate, Manti Te'o, a source said it is unlikely that the Giants will draft the Notre Dame linebacker in the first round. If Te'o drops to the second round, the linebacker could be under consideration then.
"We need linebackers," Reese said. "We need D-line, we need the offensive line and we need every position. We are trying to get as many players at every position that we can."
Reese has assembled two Super Bowl-winning rosters since becoming GM in 2007. He'll look to continue working toward another one on Thursday night when he picks 19th overall.
"We don't like picking 19," Reese said. "That is early for us. We hate picking this high. But hopefully we can get a player who can come in ... I always say this: Your first three picks, you want those guys to come in and contribute for you right away.
"Hopefully you will get a couple of starters out of them," Reese added. "So hopefully we will get a good player at 19. I think we will."