Training camp is only two weeks away, and the good news for the New York Giants is that the target is off their backs. They're no longer defending champs, which has to take some of the pressure off, right?
Not for these six Giants, all of whom are entering seasons that will have a major impact on the rest of their respective careers.
1. DE Justin Tuck
Unofficially, Tuck is a two-time Super Bowl MVP runner-up. He's made it. But now his career is at a crossroads as he enters a contract year at the age of 30. The pass-rushing specialist has had six or fewer sacks in three of the past four years and has missed five games since the start of 2011.
With Osi Umenyiora gone and Jason Pierre-Paul's health status up in the air, there's a lot of pressure on Tuck to reemerge as an elite edge-rusher in 2013. If he can do that, he'll earn one more lucrative contract in New York or elsewhere. But if he can't, he'll likely have trouble finding anything better than a one-year deal next spring.
2. WR Hakeem Nicks
This isn't just about guys entering contract years, but that's a major factor when it comes to making or breaking, especially in an industry in which the average career is less than half a decade. Nicks has been a stud when healthy four years into his NFL career, but the former first-round pick has yet to make it through a full season, and he really struggled with foot and ankle ailments in 2012.
The Giants recently gave slot star Victor Cruz a long-term extension, and the team used a second-round pick on LSU wideout Rueben Randle last April. So if Nicks can't stay healthy and deliver in 2013, there's a decent chance he'll have to find himself a new home in 2014.
3. RB David Wilson
Already? Yes, already. There's quite simply no room for running backs to develop slowly nowadays.
Sure, Wilson could break out in year three or four, but we can usually tell if a back is going to be a true No. 1 or a star by the time his second season has wrapped up. And since the Giants dumped the pricey Ahmad Bradshaw in favor of the younger, cheaper Wilson, the pressure is on for the 2012 first-round pick.
He won't have to carry the entire load as a sophomore. But even with Andre Brown's help, you'd have to think the Giants front office is expecting the 22-year-old Virginia Tech product to push for 1,000 yards while contributing on special teams with some big returns in 2013.
4. S Antrel Rolle
We were surprised to see the Giants keep Rolle around despite his $7 million salary this year. But I suppose the team didn't want to overdo the overhaul, if you will, and lose both safeties. Still, Rolle is 30 now, and the dude has received negative grades from Pro Football Focus each of the last two seasons.
He is the only experienced safety on the roster and the G-Men don't have a lot of options on the depth chart right now, but if he struggles again in 2013, there's no way they'll pay $7 million to bring him back for a contract year in 2014.
5. LB Keith Rivers
Rivers showed glimpses when he was healthy and given opportunities to contribute in 2012. Now, it looks as though he'll have a chance to start from the get-go in a final effort to revive a once-promising NFL career.
The 27-year-old former top-10 pick will make less than a million bucks on a one-year deal this year, so this is probably the season that decides whether he's out of the league by 30 or a potential key contributor for years to come.
6. S Stevie Brown
Was last year a fluke? Brown came out of nowhere and forced 10 turnovers while starting only 11 games. That was surely a factor when the Giants decided to let Kenny Phillips walk. But now the 25-year-old has to prove that he can contribute consistently in run defense and over the top in coverage while also making plays like he did in 2012.
He's playing this year on a $2 million tender, but Brown is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next spring. What he does this year with the Giants will have a major impact on his place with the team and within the league going forward.
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