Every year since taking over as the New York Giants' general manager in 2007, Jerry Reese has been praised for his offseason genius, skillfully adding and subtracting necessary talent while also balancing a temperamental budget known as the NFL salary cap.
The 2013 offseason was no different for Reese and the Giants.
The past few weeks of roster shuffling has set New York up with a solid core of starters, and strong drafting in late April could quickly springboard the Giants back into playoff contention. No move is easy in free agency, but Reese and the Giants thrive in the first couple months of the league year, which begins in March.
The hardest moves Reese had to make were his first three. Before the league year even began, veterans Michael Boley (linebacker), Chris Canty (defensive tackle) and Ahmad Bradshaw (running back) were cut from the team. All three players were key contributors on the 2011 Super Bowl team, and Bradshaw was an upstart rookie on the 2007 championship-winning squad.
Parting ways with three experienced contributors was not an easy choice, but it was one Reese had to make. After missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record in 2012, a mini-rebuilding period was just what the Giants needed. It certainly wasn’t time to gut the team, but the roster was in need of a shape-up.
Unfortunately, Boley, Canty and Bradshaw were the veterans to fall on the sword. All three players have extensive injury histories, and the Giants cleared a ton of cap space by releasing them. These cuts were Reese’s most pivotal moves of the offseason.
The Giants are a frugal organization, rarely overpaying a player—even a key contributor. Such was the case for safety Kenny Phillips, linebacker Chase Blackburn, tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive end Osi Umenyiora this spring. All four players were starters for Big Blue, but have since signed contracts elsewhere.
Phillips, who reached an agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles, was a former first-round pick by the Giants. Umenyiora, who will play with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, is one of the franchise’s all-time best pass-rushers with 75 career sacks. Phillips, Umenyiora and Blackburn, who recently signed with the Carolina Panthers, have never suited up for another NFL team. Still, their loyalty was not enough to warrant their desired contract in New York.
Even Bennett, a former Dallas Cowboy who had a breakout season in his only year with the Giants, hit the road this offseason. He signed with the Chicago Bears, hoping to recreate with Jay Cutler the connection he found with Eli Manning.
Although he hasn’t signed with a new team yet, kicker Lawrence Tynes is also expected to be with a new team in 2013. He hit game-winning kicks in both the 2007 and 2011 NFC Championship games.
Letting each of these players walk was a tough decision for Reese and the Giants to make. All of them could have had a potential impact with the team in 2013, but in each case the price was not right.
Struggling to stay under the cap, the Giants only had enough flexibility to bring back the players that were absolutely necessary or provided solid depth. These moves, although not flashy, will end up being the most essential. These are the players that will become the Giants' core in 2013.
There was clearly an emphasis on retaining the structure of the offensive line. Left tackle Will Beatty was tied up with a long-term contract, which projects an earnings of $38.75 million over the next five years. Left guard Kevin Boothe was brought back on a one-year deal after an extended stint on the open market. Right tackle David Diehl took a pay cut, and center David Baas restructured his deal, keeping last year’s improving O-line intact.
Former restricted free agents Victor Cruz, Stevie Brown and Andre Brown are all expected to play under their respective one-year tenders in 2013. Cruz is one of the league’s most exciting young receivers, and both Browns are looking to build upon breakout performances in 2012.
Other thrifty moves to increase depth were tendering all three of the team’s exclusive rights free agents—center Jim Cordle and defensive ends Adrian Tracy and Justin Trattou—and re-signing defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, running back Ryan Torain, tight end Bear Pascoe and linebacker Keith Rivers.
Reese’s focus on retaining quarterback David Carr to serve as Manning’s backup illustrates his desire for a well-rounded and deep squad.
The New Guys
Giants co-owner John Mara reminded New York fans that they wouldn’t see any "Albert Haynesworth-type" deals this offseason. The team didn’t break the bank for any hot names on the free agency market, but fans should be content with the talent New York was able to haul in.
Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, formerly of the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, may have been the Giants' biggest acquisition, earning a contract worth $8 million over three seasons. Tight end Brandon Myers, who last played with the Raiders, and ex-Cowboy linebacker Dan Connor are also front-runners for starting jobs.
Other newcomers, such as field-goal kicker Josh Brown, will surely take on an important role in their first season with Big Blue. After spending a season in Jacksonville, former first-round cornerback Aaron Ross will team up with Ryan Mundy to bolster New York’s shaky secondary. Even Louis Murphy, a speedy wide receiver from the Carolina Panthers, possesses interesting downfield potential.
Reese and the Giants quietly added a lot of talent in these first few weeks of free agency. On the surface, each individual move may not seem monumental. But as a whole, Reese is building the foundation for a team that appears to be competitive for the foreseeable future.