Jerry Reese will earn every last penny of his salary this offseason. The New York Giants have tough decisions ahead of them, which ultimately will determine where this team is headed in 2013 and beyond.
With a similar group of core players, the Giants produced very different sets of results the past two seasons.
The all-important question bouncing around Jerry Reese's head must be, "Is this the 9-7 team that won Super Bowl XLVI, or the team that stumbled through another November swoon in 2012?"
Tough decisions emanate from having a long history with a particular player. Or believing a precocious rookie may be ready to take the reins. Regardless of the scenario, a seismic shift could be in the cards for New York's roster. Here are some of the tougher decisions the Giants face this offseason:
Trade Up in the Draft
Moving up in the draft is always a high-risk/high-reward maneuver. In this case, a deal for Georgia's Alec Ogletree would pay large dividends for Jerry Reese.
Reese has a tremendous track record with first round selections. Alec Ogletree would continue that tradition by shoring up one of New York's largest deficiencies (see below).
Find a Middle Linebacker
The two players who will wear no. 52 on February 3 are the type of leaders and playmakers the Giants desperately need.
Nobody will confuse Ray Lewis or Patrick Willis with Chase Blackburn and Mark Herzlich on Super Bowl Sunday.
Blackburn and Herzlich's penchant for being a day late and a dollar short contributed to the Giants' woes against the run. Their overall lack of speed and athleticism are a signal that Jerry Reese must keep up with the times.
New York was statistically weak across the board on defense in 2012. The insertion of a tackle machine in the middle of that defense is the best remedy.
Cut 'em or Keep 'em
To release, or not release, that is the question. The performances of two Giants players have plenty of people pondering this around New York.
Corey Webster and David Diehl were frequent scapegoats in 2012, and each player is due a significant base salary next year.
Webster is set to earn $7 million in 2013, a figure that is difficult to justify. If he accepts the terms of a renegotiated contract, the Giants should keep him. New York is thin at cornerback and it may be in their best interest to see if Corey Webster can have a bounce-back year.
It's almost become a tradition for the Giants to release a veteran offensive lineman in the offseason. Rich Seubert, Shaun O'Hara and Kareem McKenzie were all shown the door in recent years. At 32 years of age, it appears David Diehl is next in line.
Restructure Veteran Contracts
Jerry Reese will have to maneuver yet another dicey salary cap situation in 2013. The most effective way of doing so is by restructuring the contracts of proven commodities.
While restructuring a contract gives a team salary cap relief, it does not necessarily imply that a player will be paid less.
The Giants can create space by giving certain players guaranteed money up front, essentially minimizing their hit against the cap. This move can be a gamble, so the Giants must choose their candidates wisely.
Eli Manning is an obvious choice for restructuring when you take his 135 consecutive starts into consideration along with his high salary cap figure ($20.85 million). Antrel Rolle is another nominee, due in large part to his versatility on defense. Rolle's cap hit is in the neighborhood of $9 million for 2013.
Choose Between Kenny Phillips and Martellus Bennett
New York has several valuable players set to hit the free-agent market this offseason. What sets Kenny Phillips and Martellus Bennett apart from these players is the amount of uncertainty surrounding their futures.
The predictable free-agent decisions will be to bring back the left side of the offensive line in Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe, while allowing Osi Umenyiora to leave in search of more money and playing time.
Kenny Phillips and Martellus Bennett's outlook is not nearly as clear.
Bennett will ask for much more than the $2.5 million the Giants paid him this season. Kenny Phillips will also seek a pay raise, despite missing most of 2012.
Without Phillips' presence on defense, the Giants were historically porous this year. New York surrendered huge plays through the air week after week. At the very least, retaining Kenny Phillips will allow New York to minimize those big plays.
The decision to part company with either Phillips or Bennett will be unpopular, but it must be made.
How Much for the Salsa?
The process of locking up Victor Cruz is about to take shape this offseason. The Giants would be wise to use their first-round tender on the restricted free agent. This would pay Cruz $2.9 million in 2013, or force a team to relinquish a first-round pick and plenty of money in exchange for his signature.
Of course, the ideal outcome for both sides would be to agree to a long-term extension. The Giants and Cruz have been coy in regard to the numbers being discussed in negotiations.
An amicable figure could be in the neighborhood of five years, $48 million. This is a shade under the five-year, $55.55 million contract Vincent Jackson received from Tampa Bay.
As we saw with Mike Wallace and the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, these situations can often turn ugly. New York will hopefully avoid that type of disaster by securing Victor Cruz's future with the club for many years to come.