NY Giants' Best and Worst Free-Agent Acquisitions over the Last 10 Seasons
The NFL draft might still be the backbone of teams around the league, but since it was first introduced 20 years ago, free agency has become just as important.
Selecting the right veterans for a team's locker room can often have a significant impact on a team's performance as well as its chemistry.
As followers of the New York Giants have seen throughout the years, when the team brings in the right free agents, it can make all the difference in the world.
When it doesn't, it can set things back financially and in terms of personnel, especially if a team doesn't address a position because it thinks it has a long-term fix via the free agent.
As the NFL prepares for the start of the three-day window in which teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents from other teams—no contracts can be executed until March 11 at 4 p.m. ET—here's a look back at some of the Giants' best and worst veteran free-agent signings since 2004, the start of the Tom Coughlin era.
Best: Linebacker Antonio Pierce
Antonio Pierce (2005-2009) joined the Giants as an unrestricted free agent in March 2005 after signing a six-year deal worth $26 million.
Right away, Pierce became an every-down middle linebacker and a locker room leader who was one of approximately a dozen players named to head coach Tom Coughlin’s first-ever leadership council in 2007, a group of veteran players who served as a conduit between the head coach and the rest of the locker room.
Pierce was also part of the Giants' Super Bowl XLII defense that harassed New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady en route to a 17-14 Giants victory.
Besides being a solid player, Pierce, who started 69 games for the Giants, brought a fiery type of leadership and accountability to the locker room.
A student of the game, he often times was so well-prepared for games that he could correctly anticipate what the opponent was going to run before the ball was even snapped. He also demanded that kind of dedication and accountability from his teammates.
A defensive co-captain and 2006 Pro Bowl selection, Pierce logged a career-high 137 combined tackles that season, the first of two straight 100-tackle seasons he had as a Giant.
Pierce, who never made it a secret of his disappointment of having been passed over in the draft, said he kept a list of the 30 linebackers chosen ahead of him and how he was determined to be more successful that those players, per an interview with Rafael Canton of Complex Sports:
I was one of the most pissed off players after that Draft. I watched 30 linebackers get drafted before me. I thought I had a chance to get drafted because I had a solid to pretty good college career and things just didn't work out. All I wanted was an opportunity, and when I got that opportunity, I said ‘You know what? Now they’re screwed’ because I had my list. I just constantly started marking off names and remembered every player that got drafted in front of me. My goal when I left the National Football League was to be more successful and prove people wrong, and hopefully I did that.
Although he was was forced to retire after the 2009 season, a year in which he only played nine games due to a neck injury, he finished his nine-year career with 686 tackles, seven interceptions, 36 pass breakups, 9.0 sacks and a coveted Super Bowl ring.
Pierce, an ESPN analyst and Cadillac car dealership owner, will add a new title to his resume: head coach of the Long Beach Poly football team, a post he'll take up next fall.
Worst: Receiver Louis Murphy
Louis Murphy (2013) signed as an unrestricted free agent to a one-year minimum qualifying offer worth $845,000, which seemed like a bargain at the time.
Given his lack of production—six receptions for 37 yards and one touchdown—it turned out to be a poor investment.
When Murphy was signed, general manager Jerry Reese, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Giants.com) painted a portrait of a receiving threat that would add a new element to the Giants' vertical passing game.
I think he’s going to add another dimension to our offense. ... This guy is a knife. This guy can take the top off your defense. He's an interesting guy. He gives us a different dimension in our offense. ... We haven’t had a guy who can run like this guy.
The problem is that Murphy barely got onto the field, and when he did, the only impact of note that he made was his poor route run against Green Bay that resulted in yet another interception charged to quarterback Eli Manning.
What's worse is that Murphy, who had looked so promising in the spring and summer, admitted that he was to blame for the breakdown when he failed to communicate with Manning.
"I had hard inside leverage and I just wanted to sell a hitch, make the cornerback jump it and then go inside," Murphy said, via The Star-Ledger. "We just weren't on the same page.
Once Jerrel Jernigan passed Murphy on the depth chart, the handwriting was on the wall for the five-year receiver's potential return in 2014. Come March 11, he'll look for his fourth NFL team.
Best: Center Shaun O'Hara
Fixing a messed-up offensive line is nothing new for Tom Coughlin, who, when he inherited the Giants head coaching job, dealt with a similar situation.
In 2003, the Giants offensive line surrendered a whopping 44 sacks, tied for second-most in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals that season.
However the signing of Rutgers product and former Cleveland Browns player Shaun O'Hara (2004-2010) to a three-year deal worth $5.035 million was the start of a fix that would help franchise quarterback Eli Manning lead the team to better days.
From 2005 until 2010, his final season, the offensive line under O’Hara's leadership never allowed more than 32 sacks in a season.
In 2010, the Giants tied with the Indianapolis Colts for the fewest sacks allowed (16) in a season.
The Giants also had seven 1,000-yard rushers behind an O’Hara-led offensive line, one in each season with the exception of 2008, when they had two (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward) and in 2009, when they didn’t have any.
When O'Hara's first Giants contract expired, he was signed to a new five-year deal worth $19 million. Unfortunately, a series of injuries that included his ankle, Achilles and foot ultimately did him in to where he was cut shortly after the lockout ended in 2011.
O’Hara, who was also part of the first-ever leadership council and who earned three Pro Bowl berths as a member of the Giants, has since retired. He is currently an analyst for the NFL Network and also contributes to Giants.com.
Worst: Safety C.C. Brown
Ceandris Nehemiah Brown—"C.C." for short—joined the New York Giants in 2009 on what The Star-Ledger reported was a one-year, $1.6 million contract following four years of his career with the Houston Texans.
Brown’s one season as a Giant was nothing short of a disaster as he lived up to his rather unflattering “Can’t Cover Brown” moniker.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown was targeted 33 times in coverage, allowing 23 receptions (69.7 percent) for 339 yards and six touchdowns—stats good enough for a 142.6 NFL rating, the second-worst grade for a safety that season.
Surprisingly, Brown was tendered a one-year contract the following season, but the Giants would later rescind the offer and sign Deon Grant instead. Brown, meanwhile, finished his NFL career with the Detroit Lions.
Best: Safety Antrel Rolle
The marriage of safety Antrel Rolle (2010-present), the former Arizona Cardinal who was a salary-cap casualty just before the start of the 2010 free-agency period, and the New York Giants appeared doomed from the start.
Signed to a five-year, $37.1 million contract in March 2010, the outspoken Rolle appeared to bristle against what he perceived to be a tightly controlled environment by head coach Tom Coughlin.
In a January 2011 radio interview with WQAM-AM in Miami (h/t NFL.com), Rolle, who expressed admiration for the way the New York Jets ran their football program, had some advice for his new head coach.
“Just let us have a little fun a little bit, man,” he said of Coughlin. “I like the coach, I understand what he's trying to do, but he has to understand it's 2011, man, things have changed.”
After winning a Super Bowl championship in 2011 doing things Coughlin’s way, Rolle has since become his coach’s biggest disciple.
On the field, the three-time Pro Bowler has been one of the few highly paid Giants free agents who consistently proves his worth.
In addition to posting at least 96 total tackles in each of the last three seasons, including a career-high 98 in 2013, the 31-year-old Rolle also posted career-highs in sacks (2.0) passes defensed (12) and interceptions (six).
Rolle, who last year was voted as a defensive co-captain, is entering the final year of his contract in 2014. While it doesn't appear that the Giants plan to extend his deal as of this moment, if he continues to play at a high enough level, there’s no reason to think that he might not be wearing a Giants uniform for the rest of his NFL career.
Worst: Tight End Brandon Myers
After losing tight end Martellus Bennett to the Chicago Bears via free agency, the Giants hoped that Brandon Myers (2013), who was coming off a breakout season with the Oakland Raiders in which he caught 79 receptions for 806 yards and four touchdowns, would be a solid replacement.
Such was not the case for Myers, who signed a contract that in reality was a one-year deal worth $2.25 million, despite having three voidable years tacked onto the deal to help ease the sting of his $1.5 million signing bonus.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Myers was targeted 71 times in 2013, catching 47 balls for 522 yards and four touchdowns.
His receiving yardage was the lowest by a Giants tight end since 2008 when Kevin Boss recorded 384 yards on 33 receptions with six touchdowns.
If that wasn't bad enough, Myers, whose talents are better suited for a West Coast offense, was a poor run blocker, earning a minus-8.8 grade from PFF in run blocking.
Not surprisingly, his contract was voided five days after the Super Bowl, making him an unrestricted free agent with zero chance of returning to the Giants.
Best: Defensive Tackle Fred Robbins
Before Linval Joseph and Barry Cofield, there was Fred Robbins (2004-2009), a former second-round overall pick of the Minnesota Vikings in the 2000 draft who migrated to East Rutherford.
Robbins, who per The Star-Ledger signed a six-year $20 million deal with the Giants, was an underrated yet key part of the Giants defense during his time in blue.
His best season might have been in 2006, when in addition to posting a career-high 45 tackles and two interceptions, his three fumble recoveries for 67 yards put him in the top 10 league-wide in those categories.
In addition to stopping the run, Robbins contributed as a pass rusher as well. He recorded 5.5 sacks per season between 2006 and 2008.
A starter on the Giants 2007 Super Bowl championship team, Robbins was also a picture of durability, missing only two games as a member of the Giants, both coming in 2008.
Robbins left the Giants via free agency after the 2009 season, signing a three-year deal with the St. Louis Rams to play for Steve Spagnuolo, his defensive coordinator with the Giants in 2007 and 2008, who went on to become the Rams head coach.
Robbins was cut by the Rams after the 2011 season and has since been out of football.
Worst: Linebacker Barrett Green
Barrett Green (2004-2005), the son of former Giant Joe Green, came over from the Detroit Lions as an unrestricted free agent with the intent of becoming a permanent fixture at the weak-side linebacker spot.
Signed to a five-year contract worth more than $13 million, per ESPN, Green never got a chance to fulfill that contract thanks to what became a career-ending knee injury suffered against Washington in 2004.
That injury prompted Green to file a lawsuit against Gregg Williams, Washington's defensive coordinator at the time, who was later disciplined for his alleged role in a bounty scandal during his time with the New Orleans Saints.
The unfortunate injury aside, Green didn't exactly light things up when he was healthy. He played 11 games in two seasons with nine starts as a member of the Giants, posting no sacks and just 39 tackles (27 solo) over those two seasons.
Best: Safety Deon Grant
The path that safety Deon Grant (2010-2011) took to get to the Giants is an interesting one.
As an unrestricted free agent after the 2006, Grant, then with the Jacksonville Jaguars, found himself being courted by several teams.
After committing to sign with Seattle, the one team he hoped would come calling, came around when it was too late.
That team was the Giants, of which Grant told Inside Football, “I really wanted to come (to the Giants). “Had it been a situation where I hadn’t gone to Seattle and New York would have called me before, hands down I would have been here.”
It took a few years, but ultimately, Grant got his wish to become a Giant when he signed a one-year contract worth up to $4 million in 2010.
Despite the fact that he wasn’t assured of a starting job after signing his first contract with the Giants, which placed his streak of 144 consecutive games in jeopardy, Grant came to New York with an open mind.
His faith was rewarded. He re-signed with the Giants in 2011 to continue his role in defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s three-safety package, a key staple in the team’s 2011 Super Bowl-winning defense.
The impact Grant made in the Giants locker room was even greater. A well-respected leader, Grant was a student of the game whose work ethic and study rubbed off on younger safeties such as Kenny Philips and Antrel Rolle.
Grant, nicknamed the ”The Godfather” according to the Bergen Record, also became the defense’s unofficial spokesman.
While he was never elected a co-captain of the unit, it was clear to anyone who witnessed the interactions in the locker room and on the field that his was among the most respected voices.
On the field, Grant might not have had the foot speed that he had when he was younger, but he more than made up for it with his football IQ.
He logged 136 tackles in 32 regular-season games for the Giants, also posting two sacks, 16 passes defensed and four interceptions.
In the postgame Super Bowl locker room, I managed to speak with Grant about his plans for the future. He told me that he thought he had a “lot of football left,” even though he had finally won himself a championship ring.
Once things settled down, he decided to retire after 12 NFL seasons, his career ending with the team he had always wanted to be a part of.
"I want to retire as a Giant because I want to be a Giant for the rest of my life," he said in a team press release announcing his retirement.
He got his wish and rewarded the Giants for the investment they made in him.