There is no denying that the New York Giants have some holes to fill this offseason after not making the playoffs in 2012. Unfortunately, their cap situation will force them to be creative and selective in terms of what weaknesses they fix.
Big Blue is projected to be $4.7 million over the cap heading into 2013.
They will have to get under the cap by restructuring sizable contracts of veterans like Corey Webster, David Diehl and possibly even Eli Manning. Dealing with their own free agents—Victor Cruz, Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe and Martellus Bennett—will eat into some of the cap space they open up from restructuring current player contracts.
This, in turn, will prevent them from being particularly active in acquiring other teams' free agents.
With these limitations and the ability to realistically pick impact players only through the first three rounds of the draft, I expect the Giants to really focus on shoring up their defense in the offseason. Assuming the Giants re-sign Cruz and Bennett, they will be set at all of their offensive skill positions. The right side of the offensive line is showing some age with David Baas, Chris Snee and Diehl all over 30 years old, but transforming the line is something that will likely take place slowly over the next few seasons.
Here are three holes at each of the three levels in the Giants defense that must be filled during the offseason.
Run-Stopping Defensive Tackle
Over the last few years, the Giants have tried to get Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul all on the defensive line together to maximize their pass-rushing potential. While this unit was a terror to block in 2011, it was not as fearsome this season and lacked the ability to effectively stop the run.
The Giants would be smart to let Umenyiora walk in free agency. This would allow them to go back to a more conventional front four with Tuck and Pierre-Paul on the ends and Linval Joseph in the middle. Who fills the other defensive tackle position alongside Joseph, however, is a question that New York must answer.
They could hope that Chris Canty bounces back from a poor 2012, but at this stage of his career he is probably better as a part of the rotation instead of being a main cog. Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin are other options as well, but neither has the experience or upside to be depended on for such a critical hole.
The Giants will likely need to address this defensive tackle deficiency through free agency. The draft is another route, but the Giants have more pressing needs in the defense that should be handled in the early rounds of the draft (more on this later).
Unless the Giants get lucky, the later rounds probably won't contain an impact defensive tackle that can help right away.
One free agent that is intriguing is the Raiders Richard Seymour. The 12-year veteran is definitely past his prime and is coming off an injury-plagued season. He likely won't command a long-term contract or a lot of money, however, due to these negatives.
More importantly, Seymour still is very good at stopping the run—as witnessed by his 8.5 rating in this area when he played in 2012, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Another, more expensive option is the Bears Henry Melton. While not as good against the run as Seymour, Melton is only 26 years old and is a strong pass-rusher. He has accumulated 13 sacks over his last two seasons and had 26 QB hurries in 2012, sixth best among defensive tackles. He would fit well with the sack-happy Tuck and Pierre-Paul while stopping the run more effectively than Umenyiora.
Bringing in Melton, though, might require spending more money than the Giants would like.
This is probably the Giants most glaring need in the offseason. While Chase Blackburn was able to make some big plays and create turnovers in 2012, he was awful at stopping the run and has trouble in pass coverage. He needs to be allowed to walk in free agency and replaced by a better all-around player.
In free agency, if the Giants want to take a risk and go the cheap route, they could sign free agent Rey Maualuga. The Bengals will likely let the former USC product go in favor of Vontaze Burfict. Maualuga is coming off a poor season and has struggled to keep his weight down, but he is still relatively young at 26 and has a lot of upside.
A safer bet would be the Ravens Dannell Ellerbe, though he will be more sought after, and therefore more costly, than Maualuga. His stock has increased due to a strong postseason (23 tackles and one interception in three games) and free agents on Super Bowl teams tend to be popular in the open market.
His strength lies in his run-stopping ability but he can be exposed in coverage.
The Giants could also look to the draft to shore up this position. Georgia's Alec Ogletree is someone that may be around when New York picks 19th in the first round and LSU's Kevin Minter could be available for the Giants to pick in the second round.
Selecting from the stacked SEC conference is usually not a bad way to go.
Cornerback to Start Opposite Prince Amukamara
In today's NFL, do you really want one of your starting cornerbacks to be an over-the-hill Webster or Jayron Hosley, who is coming off an uneven rookie season? Probably not— unless you want your defense to be shredded by the plethora of strong quarterbacks in the league.
Amukamara improved in his sophomore campaign and I expect him to be a solid, dependable cornerback in 2013.
Who will be his partner in crime is another story.
The Giants may choose to try Webster or Hosley opposite Amukamara, but this would be a mistake. New York should look to free agency to fill this hole. Brent Grimes is intriguing since Atlanta may let him walk due to a torn ACL that cost him most of 2012. He was a All-Pro caliber cornerback from 2009-2011 though and could be a steal if he recovers well.
To see his impact, just look at how Joe Flacco shredded New England in the second half of the AFC Championship game after Talib left with a thigh injury in the first half.
If the Giants choose to address cornerback in the draft, they should look to trade up into the top 10 to get Alabama's Dee Milliner. He is clearly the best player at his position in the draft and could be an immediate starter for Big Blue. If they don't go after Milliner, they are better off waiting until the second round where an intriguing option like Jordan Poyer might be waiting.
The Oregon State product is flying under the radar but has tremendous athleticism and is coming off an excellent senior season.