New York Giants' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
The blueprint for the New York Giants to have a winning free agency this offseason is not just about their ability to sign available players off other teams.
They also must make important decisions regarding their own players. For example, cutting longtime members of the franchise with bloated contracts may be necessary, as well as retaining some of their own free agents who figure to be crucial to the chances for a successful 2014 campaign.
There will be many moves concerning free agency that the Giants will make between now and the start of training camp in late July. The following five slides detail the ones that must happen, in ascending order of importance.
New York doesn’t necessarily have to complete all five of these moves for free agency to be deemed a triumph. However, failing to execute on more than one could lead to Big Blue not properly building a team that is a legitimate contender to make the playoffs.
Let’s begin with the first of three critical cost-cutting decisions that will lead to significantly more cap room.
Sign Antrel Rolle to a Contract Extension to Reduce His 2014 Cap Hit
Coming into the offseason, a popular belief in the media was that the Giants should extend the contracts of Eli Manning and Antrel Rolle in order to lessen the respective 2014 cap hits for each player.
It looks like a Manning extension is not in the front office’s plans, according to Conor Orr and Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, so the signal-caller’s monstrous 20.4 million cap hit for this upcoming season won’t budge.
New York, though, should definitely extend Rolle for a few reasons.
For starters, he wants to retire a Giant and is therefore open to lengthening his current deal past 2014, instead of becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2015.
For example, one good option is to extend Rolle for two more seasons. With Rolle on the books through 2016, the Giants can then reduce his $7 million non-guaranteed base salary in 2014 to $3 million guaranteed. For 2015, they can guarantee a $4 million salary and, in the final year of the extension, they can make his cap number $9 million, with $2 million guaranteed.
This deal would lower Rolle’s cap hit to a more reasonable $5.25 million in 2014. In addition, it would provide him with $9 million in guaranteed money over the next three seasons that he wasn’t slated to get under his current deal. Of course, he also has the ability to make an additional $7 million in 2016 if the Giants deem him important enough at that point to absorb a $9 million cap hit.
Based on his play to-date with the team, that is very well possible. This brings us to our final reason extending Rolle makes sense—he is an incredibly valuable member of Big Blue and shows no signs of slowing down.
The nine-year veteran is arguably the vocal leader of the defense, and he has proven to be team-first by flexibly filling in at cornerback in nickel situations, due to injuries at the position. He is also incredibly durable, having not missed a game since joining the team prior to the 2010 season, and productive as a playmaker. Rolle has 25 pass defenses, 11 interceptions, four forced fumbles and two-and-a-half sacks in 64 regular season games in New York.
Everything points to Rolle playing at a high level for at least another two seasons, which is why extending him carries little risk, and will pay huge dividends in valuable cap room.
Sign a Quality Free Agent Running Back
The running back position is filled with question marks for New York.
David Wilson had successful neck surgery in January and, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, is on target to be ready for training camp. Even with this good news, Tom Coughlin is still worried about the 22-year-old staying healthy after such a serious injury and subsequent surgery.
The Giants leading rusher in 2013, Andre Brown, is an unrestricted free agent. Given his injury history (he has a broken leg, fractured leg and torn Achilles all on his resume in his five NFL seasons) and limited experience spanning just 214 career carries, New York can probably retain him on a one-year deal worth between $1 million and $2 million. Even if they do keep him, he is not a dependable option for the same reasons he won’t command a lucrative multi-year contract.
Michael Cox is the final running back in the mix for playing time in 2014. The 2013 seventh-round pick only produced 43 yards on 22 carries in his rookie season. He looked hesitant and unsure when running the ball, which neutralized his somewhat elusive running style and adequate speed. The 25-year-old looks closer to being off the team than a breakout performer this upcoming season.
With all this uncertainty, it is imperative that the Giants bring in a quality veteran free agent that can potentially be the lead running back if necessary.
The first name that comes to mind is the Houston Texans’ Ben Tate. While the four-year veteran has a healthy 4.7 yards per carry average in 421 career regular season totes, he looks to be too expensive. For example, Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) believes he could exceed the four-year, $16 million contract Reggie Bush received in free agency from the Detroit Lions in 2014.
Both players have been highly productive in their NFL careers, sporting identical 4.7 yards per carry averages. Blount, however, has a significantly larger sample size, with a 1,000-yard season and two 750-yard seasons to his credit during his four years in the league. Gerhart has 303 less carries than Blount and the best season in his four-year career was a 531-yard effort in 2011.
Gerhart does have the edge as a receiver. He has better hands and looks more comfortable catching passes out of the backfield. The numbers show it too, since Blount only has 202 yards on 23 receptions in his career, while Gerhart has caught 77 balls for 600 yards.
With new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo stating last week that screen passes will be a focal point in the offense, this may incline them to lean towards Gerhart over Blount, if they indeed have interest in signing one of these two players.
Cut Chris Snee and David Baas
One of the goals for New York this offseason should be to continue to make tough decisions on players that were a part of one or both of their recent championship teams, yet no longer provide value.
They started doing this last offseason when they cut running back Ahmad Bradshaw. It appears they are letting Corey Webster, a key member of the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl-winning squads, walk after they voided his contract in early February.
This purging should also include a pre-June 1 cut of Chris Snee, and releasing David Baas post-June 1.
At 32 years old and coming off a season that saw him play in only three games due to a torn hip labrum, Snee can’t be counted on to be remain healthy enough to start at right guard. Relegating him to a reserve role doesn’t make much sense either, since he has been a starter his entire career and it is preferable to have a backup who isn’t injury-prone. Why would you want a player that is a significant risk to get injured filling in for a starter who is either injured or underperforming?
Cutting the 10-year veteran would save New York a whopping $6.8 million in cap room because they would only owe him the remaining $4.5 million of his signing bonus on an $11.3 million 2014 cap hit. This is more than enough money to pay the first-year salary of a younger, healthier starting-caliber guard acquired in free agency (more on this later).
As for Baas, he is in a similar stage of his career to Snee, but without the same track record as a Giant. The 32-year-old missed 13 games last season due to a knee injury that ultimately ended his year for good in late October.
As Raanan explained in an NJ.com column back in mid-January, cutting Baas after June 1 would open up $5 million in cap room. This is compared to only $1.775 million prior to June 1.
There are some caveats that come with a post-June 1 cut. First, the difference of $3.225 million that would count against the cap in a pre-June 1 cut moves to 2015 in a post-June 1 cut. Also, since almost all the useful free agents will be locked up by the time Baas is cut, his money would not be helpful in free agency.
However, the $5 million can be used to sign the six new players the Giants expect to get in the draft. Just from that standpoint, cutting Baas after June 1 makes a lot of sense.
Even though these two moves would open up an additional $11.8 million in cap room for New York, the Giants appear inclined to simply to get both Snee and Baas to take pay cuts, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. This is obviously not the worst outcome, but the fact that the Giants are willing to carry salaries in 2014 for two players unlikely to help is concerning.
If they are worried about depth, they should just retain the services of free agent Kevin Boothe. The 30-year-old can play either guard position or center. He has not missed a game in three seasons and probably would only command the veteran’s minimum, which he played for in 2013. For 2014, that would only be $855,000, based on Boothe’s eight years of NFL service.
Re-Sign Jon Beason
New York has several key unrestricted free agents on defense this offseason. Re-signing defensive captain Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph, a strong run-stopper in the middle of the Giants front four, must strongly be considered if the money is right.
Jon Beason, however, is the one player the Giants must retain on this unit; even it means modestly overpaying to keep him.
The 29-year-old fell in Big Blue’s lap last October via a trade from the Carolina Panthers. He immediately filled a gaping hole at middle linebacker and became one of the leaders on defense, along with Tuck and Rolle.
Beason accumulated 93 tackles, second only to Rolle on the team, in only 11 games played with New York. He was also widely praised by his teammates and coaches as the leader the Giants desperately needed at the much-maligned linebacker position.
Initially, it appeared Beason and the Giants would hammer out a new deal before free agency started. However, Jerry Reese stated at the combine that he is okay letting Beason test the market and they don’t plan to overpay him. As of March 3, though, according to Raanan, re-signing Beason once again appears to be a main objective for New York as the March 11 start of free agency approaches.
Reese, though, would be mistaken to let Beason walk, unless he commands a contract longer than three years and well north of $5 million a year.
Outside of Beason’s play for the team in 2013, there is also no one worthy of replacing him on the roster. We’ve all seen at this point that Mark Herzlich is not the answer, and he is the only one who has middle linebacker experience on the team, other than Beason.
Free agency contains the likes of an aging Karlos Dansby and Brandon Spikes, who is an excellent run-stopper, yet terrible in pass defense. He also battled a knee injury and was a constant source of turmoil last season with the New England Patriots.
The Giants could draft a player such as C.J. Mosley in the first round to play middle linebacker. However, do they really want to trust such a vital position, which relies heavily on leadership and experience, to a rookie?
Based on his play, and the options available to replace him, re-signing Beason is a no-brainer.
Sign a Young, Starting-Caliber Guard
The Giants don’t have a guard on the roster that can be relied upon to start this upcoming season. It is fully expected they will try to address the position in the first three rounds of the draft.
Getting a young, starting-caliber guard in a free agency is a must, though, if the Giants truly want to stick by their offseason motto to rebuild the offensive line.
While there isn’t a top-tier guard on the market, like Andy Levitre was in 2013, the position contains several solid players in their mid-to-upper 20s.
Asamoah has been a better overall performer than Beadles, with PFF ratings north of 6.5 in each of his last three seasons. The 25-year-old, though, only logged 682 snaps, playoffs included, in 2013 due to a combination of a nagging shoulder injury and the strong play of fellow guard Geoff Schwartz (also a free agent for the Giants to consider).
Beadles wins out in the durability department, having not missed a game in his four-year career. Given the age and injury issues the Giants had at guard last season, having a player that can be depended on to start every game is an intriguing proposition for Big Blue.
While Beadles' play has been up and down in his time in the league (2012 was the only season he had a positive PFF rating) his ability to protect the quarterback is impressive. Peyton Manning was only sacked twice on Beadles' watch in 2012 and 2013 combined. I’m sure Peyton’s brother wouldn’t mind having that piece of mind.