With Free Agency looming (feels so good to say that in February again), the New York Giants have several questions to answer and holes to fill. Some of these holes appear in areas where they already have considerable talent.
After proving that depth leads to championships, the Giants will need to examine each facet of their offense heading into the busy months to come.
Move along, nothing to see here. At least not as the starting spot is concerned. But we knew that. After inadvertently calling his shot this past summer, Eli Manning backed up his assertion that he was in Tom Brady’s class. With two Super Bowl wins/MVPs and an excellent 2011 season under his belt, Manning has finally silenced the straggling doubters.
Behind him is David Carr (should he choose to return). Though Carr is currently a free agent, it appears that he gave up on pursuing a starting job.
At age 32, Carr has been a member of four franchises. This includes being the first ever draft pick of the Houston Texans' expansion in 2002. Perhaps the victim of being charged with leading a fledgling organization, Carr’s career never quite got off the ground.
After a failed attempt to resurrect his career in Carolina, Carr accepted the role of backup QB behind defending Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning in 2008. In 2010, he attempted one more shot at a starting job but failed to beat out incumbent Alex Smith in San Francisco.
My gut tells me that Carr will stick around and provide the Giants with a reliable backup should Manning ever be forced to miss time. Thus far, he has completed 30 passes for 240 yards and three TDs as a Giant in mop-up time.
If Carr does decide to bolt, I don’t expect the Giants to get too fancy searching for his replacement. They’ll likely pick up another veteran along the way.
While Mario Manningham has been running his mouth, Brandon Jacobs has been running his as well. The difference? Jacobs is vocally campaigning his desire to stay with the team.
Even if he is willing to take yet another hefty pay cut, would a returning Jacobs benefit the Giants?
In reality, Jacobs hasn’t been the punishing RB that the Giants could rely on since 2008. He amassed a paltry 571 yards on the ground in ’11, a free-fall from the 1,089 he notched during the height of his career three seasons ago.
This unit finished dead least in rushing during the regular season last year and it is hard to imagine that some personnel changes wouldn’t be forthcoming after such an embarrassing showing. Ahmad Bradshaw certainly wouldn’t be the sacrificial lamb if that were to be the case.
Bradshaw didn’t have a career year either. He battled injury and only played in 12 regular season games, but he came on big during the homestretch and provided the dagger during a must-win season finale against Dallas. Ironically, his first ever Super Bowl touchdown (that ultimately proved to be the game winner) occurred by accident when he was unable to fall down on the inch line and burn the clock.
The entire offense plays better when he’s in the mix and the only true concern regarding his future is his health. Though still dangerous, it often seems that he is missing a step because of the permanent screws in his foot. A new partner to split time with him may just be what the Giants need.
Enter Da’Rel Scott. Scott was barely used in 2011. When he did see the field, on both returns and at RB, he wasn’t effective. Scott wouldn’t be the first Giants offensive star to lay low during the first year of his career. Manningham hauled in four receptions for 28 yards in his rookie season and followed that up with 57 catches for 822 yards and five TDs in a sizzling sophomore campaign. Derrick Ward barely saw the field during his first three seasons as a Giant, only to gain 602 yards in eight games in ’07 and 1,025 yards in 16 in ’08.
The other backs currently in the stable include DJ Ware and Andre Brown (practice squad in ’11). Each has shown potential, but neither has made a strong case for a more prominent role in the offense. Should Jacobs be shown the door, Ware’s best shot thus far at the second slot on the depth chart will be this season, but my favorite to split time with Bradshaw is Scott. Despite his silent beginning, he has talent and a year of pro experience now under his belt.
Of this current group, only Bradshaw and Scott are sure things to make the final 53 (barring injury).
For the second year in a row, the Giants put forth an impressive trio of star receivers in 2011. This time, the cast had been slightly altered and featured Victor Cruz instead of 2010 star Steve Smith. Can the Giants do it again in 2012 with yet another personnel change?
Mario Manningham is as good as gone. With two other young star receivers on the roster, it does not make sense for the Giants to break the bank or alter their ball-spreading formula for the third rung on the ladder.
Manningham always wants a monster deal and more targets, so keeping him simply isn't a reality.
Regardless of practicality, the Giants have found a formula that works in the three-receiver system and therefore would like to replicate it. Can they find a WR worthy of replacing Manningham on their budget and recreate the aerial attack that was strong enough to carry a last-place ground game?
I tend to think so. On their current roster, the Giants have several reserve receivers. One of these reserves, Domenik Hixon, had a shot at a starting roll not too long ago.
Hixon joined the Giants midseason in 2007 and was the kick returner through the Super Bowl run. During the 2008 preseason, he notched three TD’s in a single quarter (two receiving, one free kick return) and even nabbed the lead story on NFL.com for his efforts.
Taking notice of his potential, the Giants turned to Hixon when Plaxico Burress was suspended for one game in October of that year. Hixon started his first game for New York in Week 4 against the Seahawks and put up four catches for 102 yards and a TD before leaving with a concussion. His next “shot” (Burress pun) at the starting lineup came in December after Plaxico’s suspension.
Though he caught multiple passes per game for the remainder of the season and contributed a key two-point conversion reception against Carolina, Hixon did not win the starting job when the receiving corps was reshuffled in 2009.
Two torn right ACLs (2010, 2011) later and the speedster Hixon may have played his last game in a Giant uniform. However, he will be given a chance to prove himself.
He may be competing against Devin Thomas. Thomas is currently a free agent, but the Giants are very happy with his contributions to special teams. Once a high draft pick by rival Washington, Thomas’s agility and speed have not translated into an illustrious professional career thus far (not counting being a part of a Super Bowl-winning roster of course). He was given opportunities as a slot receiver in four-man sets last year. He walked away with three receptions for 37 yards. His longest was a 14-yard catch.
Ramses Barden should be the favorite to claim Manningham’s spot, but thanks to another season riddled with injury and negligible production, Barden is on the bubble yet again. He did not dress (despite being healthy) for the entirety of the postseason.
Barden’s size and wingspan would give the Giants' passing game a new variable to play with. Unfortunately, he has failed to impress, and I don’t see that changing.
The man with the inside track will be Jerrel Jernigan. Jerry Reese is high on Jernigan’s speed. His hands need work, but if Jernigan can impress, he would be a cheap solution to their Manningham problems.
I don’t expect the Giants to dedicate an early-round draft pick to this problem, but Reese is known for taking value over need. Should someone fall to them that he feels is special, than perhaps Manningham’s replacement is not yet on the roster.
Henry Hynoski came up big for New York in 2011. After learning that Madison Hedgecock would be forced to retire because of a severe back injury, the team was in a tough spot. The backup FB, Bear Pascore, would be needed at TE now that Kevin Boss had departed for Oakland.
Hynoski is not only a skilled run blocker, but he also gives the Giants yet another passing weapon out of the backfield. Against Dallas in the regular season finale, he recorded four receptions for 31 yards.
At TE, the Giants have an already thoroughly documented issue. Unlike at WR or RB, there is no doubt that players will be added to help remedy this situation.
Scott Chandler, currently a free agent in Buffalo, could be one answer to the problem. Chandler competed for a job on the 2010 Giants roster but was cut in training camp. He made a splash this season as a starter for the Bills. If he isn’t re-signed, he could be a good stop-gap, a veteran solution to the TE dilemma.
The TEs of the Giants' present and future will both be missing at least half of the season (and probably more) with ACL tears suffered during the Super Bowl. It is unlikely that both Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum can remain with the Giants without at least one of them heading to IR before ever playing a down in’12.
Bear Pascoe is still serviceable and Reese is confident that practice squad member Christian Hopkins from Toledo can play his way onto this team. Should the Giants look to a young gun to build this position around going forward, Coby Fleener out of Stanford will be on their radar with the 32nd pick.
This unit certainly shoulders a great deal of the blame when it comes to finishing dead last in rushing. It stands to reason that it will undergo a makeover for 2012.
Kareem McKenzie is expected to be a cap casualty. One of the key three free agents brought in in 2005 (alongside Burress and Antonio Pierce), his age and ailments make him expendable.
The other T, David Diehl, might not be safe either. One of the longest tenured Giants (drafted in 2003), Diehl had been the starting LT on two Super Bowl-winning offensive lines.
I’m still a supporter of Diehl and I don’t see a better option at LT currently on the roster. He certainly has struggled at times and can wear down easily against more aggressive pass rushes. But he is an iron man and did not miss his first game as a professional until 2010. Should he also be a cap casualty, Stacy Andrews, Will Beatty and James Brewer will battle it out for the two T positions.
I’m not a huge fan of Beatty, and the line as a whole played better when he was removed from the lineup. Chances are, he will regain a starting role next season as the front office has invested a lot of time in him.
The constant is Chris Snee who is easily the best player in this unit. But Kevin Boothe’s versatility has served the Giants well over the past two years. I am very interested to see if Boothe can nab the starting LG roll should there be an opening after cuts are made.
Of course, don’t forget Mitch Petrus. With Snee and David Baas as the only two guaranteed starters in ’12, there should be a hell of a battle in camp along the O-Line.