Ed is allowing me to fulfill my fantasy today by getting to play armchair General Manager for the New York Giants. I'm going to lay out a detailed plan on how I would approach the off-season if I were the GM.
This is obviously only an exercise, but it's fun and I challenge any or all of you to post one in the Fanpost section and perhaps we can push a few to the front page.
Even though this is fun, I'll obviously defer to what Jerry Reese and the team decide to do in real life because the results speak for themselves. Now if this was bigcatcountry.com (the Jacksonville Jaguars SB Nation blog) or a team of that ilk then I could say with conviction that I am confident in my abilities to be able to put together a roster that could lose 13 games.
I'm going to outline the current roster, the cap situation and then give a free agency and draft plan.
Current Depth Chart (from ourlads.com)
The players that are in all caps, bolded and a different color are positions that I think absolutely MUST be upgraded. Players names that are italicized are positions that should be upgraded.
The NFL cap has been set at $123 million, plus an additional $900,000 dollars for some reason I don't understand. According to Spotrac, the Giants have $118,881,198 committed in salary right now when you subtract the $1 million cap carryover they are being allowed. Essentially, that leaves the Giants about $5.1 million to spend if these numbers accurate.
Clearing More Cap Space
Cut offensive linemen David Diehl
He's been a great Giant and I could understand why the Giants might want to keep him because of his ability to provide depth at a few positions, but being able to play four positions along the line poorly isn't doing the team any good. Diehl has a cap figure of $6.825 million for 2013. If he is cut the Giants can save $4.475M -- his base salary - against the cap.
Cut Corey Webster's Pay
I've thought a long time about what I would do with Webster and this is a decision that would be easier to make if I had access to the Giants doctors. Was Webster's poor play because of injuries, or a deteriorating skill set? Webster has to take a pay cut, or be outright cut. Webster is going to cost the Giants $2.5M in dead money either way, but the Giants could cut his base salary down to $4 million this season from its cut $7 million. This would still make Webster a well-paid player, but the Giants don't have to make a long-term commitment to him as the starting cornerback by extending his contract. And they retain him in case Terrell Thomas is moved to safety or is not up to par. His new cap hit, this way, would be about $6.5 million.
Cutting Diehl and slicing Webster's contract in this manner would add about $7.5 million to the Giants salary cap space.
That would make the Giants new cap space $12 million, which is not much room to do anything considering the Giants have to pay their rookies ($4.5 million), tender Victor Cruz and Stevie Brown (about $5 million more in cap hits most l). Andre Brown will likely receive the original draft round tender (fourth round) and will not see a significant pay increase
That leaves the Giants $3 million in money to play with in free agency. The good thing is that the Giants have enough players under contract already and few positions that MUST be filled. I'm also going to give myself a $1.5 million leeway which could come from any number of restructures or releases. There are positions that need to be upgraded, but the Giants could literally not add anyone in free agency or the draft and field a respectable team next year. And that's the route I'm going in this exercise.
Other Cap Options
There are other things the Giants could consider here, but the one thing I'm not doing in this exercise is pushing the cap problems off to next year. I'm not looking to restructure everyone because that only makes the problems worse in the future. There are some players who I could extend far into the future and potentially reduce their cap hits this year. By extending contracts you're going to guarantee the players more money up front and into the future -- so you don't want to do that unless you're sure they are going to stick around for a while like Hakeem Nicks and Eli Manning are likely gong to.
Nicks and Manning are the two most obvious options. I imagine for a cap expert there are ways to clear up $5-7 million on Manning's contract by extending him this year because his cap number is so large -- the largest in the NFL, in fact. Nicks maybe you could shave a million dollars off of his contract. Antrel Rolle, if he is part of the long-term future, is another one who makes sense to restructure
Now that Joe Flacco has signed his contract, the Giants might be able to convince Manning to agree to an extension that could provide relief this year and pay Eli handsomely until he retires. That could benefit the Giants long-term, too, because quarterback contracts aren't getting cheaper.
The Giants could also cut Justin Tuck and save an additional $5 million, but that is not going to happen and if the Giants feel confident Tuck will bounce back I'd rather retain him, anyway.
I know this is coming to no surprise to anyone, but I won't be signing a million free agents in this exercise. Re-signing players is not going to happen much, either.
Kevin Boothe is a nice player, but guards are probably among the easiest players league to replace.
Sign Detroit Lions tackle Gosder Cherilius to a five-year, $30-million dollar contract
I originally slated Bengals tackle Andre Smith here, but he's asking for $9 million a year, and while he's a better all-around blocker, I'll take Cherilus' ability as a pass blocker and ability to move in space for David Wilson because I trust his consistency moving forward more and I think Smith is going to command too much money.
This is a good year for the Giants to get a tackle in free agency because the tackle position in the draft is considered talented and deep and there are a flood of quality tackles set to hit the free-agent market, which means that these offensive linemen are not going to receive huge paydays, especially a player who is a right tackle. According to Spotrac a base salary of $6 million per year would make Cherilus the seventh-highest paid tackle (left or right in the league).
Cherilus is a talented player who finally came into his own in 2012 after a few years of underachieving. Cherilus, according to Pro Football Focus, was the eighth-rated offensive tackle and excelled in pass blocking. By signing Cherilus (or Loadholt, Smith, etc.) the Giants would take care of two needs along their offensive line. Boothe is also a free agent and in this scenario would be leaving, allowing James Brewer and Brandon Mosley to compete for the starting left guard spot.
If Cherilus is going to make more money than that (and like I listed above I don't think he will) Loadholt is a good fit for the Giants and a great option as well.
Other than the five starting tackles already listed Jake Long, and Branden Albert are also set to hit the free agency market. One of these tackles will be available for the Giants price and would instantly fill the Giants biggest need on the team.
Manning is key to the Giants success the Giants should try to keep him upright this year.
The Giants have enough cap space or so in this scenario to play with to easily get Cherilus' first year of this contract under the $123 million cap.
Re-sign Sean Locklear
Locklear won't cost much money to re-sign, and provided he's healthy will provide depth at left tackle and right tackle.
If Locklear won't be healthy the Giants should just sign someone of that ilk. Someone with experience who can back up both spots there's a whole list of them out there. Jeff Otah, Max Starks, Winston Justice, Byrant Mckinnie are all guys that will come cheap and provide depth.
Re-sign Keith Rivers
Talented guy, but often injured was the knock on him in Cincinnati and Giants fans didn't see anything different. Still, when you're bargain hunting it's hard to do better than Rivers.
That's it. Not a very sexy off-season, but it clears up the problems on the offensive side of the ball and the Giants can focus on defense.
Tight end is still an issue, but you hope that Adrian Robinson is ready to start. Too many holes and not enough cash flow to solve all the problems in free agency.
I'm also hoping that Bradshaw can come back at a huge discount if he can't find any play anywhere else. Perhaps Jacbos could be an option too, but at the veteran minimum.
Other Avenues to look into (Option B)
If the Giants decide not to spend almost their entire cap on fixing right tackle there, or in my scenario none of the quality ready to start right tackles will take that kind of money, there are a few cheaper positions and here's the direction I'd go. In this scenario I fill multiple needs, but with serviceable players instead of of one impact player. I'd rather have the impact player, serviceable players are not hard to find.
Rob Bironas, PK
David Buehler is not a place kicker, but the Giants need an upgrade from Lawrence Tynes. Bironas, provided he comes cheap, is an interesting option considering how consistently bad the Giants red-zone offense is. Bironas has a big leg and is used to kicking outdoors, though not in this kind of weather.
Rey Maualaga, LB
The Giants aren't going to have a ton of money to play with in free agency, but the key is to leave free agency having taken care of at least two of their positions of major priority (A starting offensive linemen, upgrading the linebacker corps, tight end or kicker).
David Thomas, TE
Or some other low-level tight end. The Giants should hope Robinson is ready to start, but if not they should and will likely look into adding a low-priced option or mid-round draft pick to the position to compete with Robinson.
Other available tight ends are:
I think Keller and Davis are particularly enticing options. Davis is coming off a season-ending injury and could be looking to prove he is healthy before cashing in big. Keller is a good tight end who was stuck on a terrible team. The Giants could offer Keller the same kind of "prove it" deal they offered Bennett this year and Keller gets to stay in his own house and establish a better price on himself for next off-season.
Leodis McKelvin, CB
McKelvin can return kicks and punts (effectively) and is good cornerback depth.
I'm going to assume that the Giants get one compensatory sixth-round pick. I'm also proceeding as if I was able to sign Cherilus to play right tackle
To provide value for each pick I'm going to use Drafttek's big board, and choose from a range of players in an area unless I think they are very wrong about a player (for example I think LB Sio Moore is a second- or third-round pick -- he's a sixth round pick on this big board). This is also not a prediction of what the Giants will do in the draft, but the direction I would take.
1st round (19th overall)-Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia Bulldogs
This pick will come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading the draft coverage here.
There are two knocks against Ogletree that have merit. The first is that he carries the "character concern" label. He has a DUI (recently), was suspended for failing a drug test and was convicted of misdemeanor theft in his freshman year (he was in possession of a missing scooter helmet).
The second knock is that Ogletree is not a guy who sheds blockers to make plays on the ball carrier.
But neither of those things are major issues to me, provided the background check proves that Ogletree's actions stem from doing dumb kid things and not indications of a larger problem. Since I do not have access to Ogletree I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
In today's NFL, and especially an NFC East that has RG3 and Chip Kelly, being able to play sideline to sideline and excel in pass coverage is more important than taking offensive linemen head on all game. The game is just not played that way anymore.
Ogeltree is a former safety who has turned into a terrific linebacker prospect. He's fast, long, athletic and very smooth in coverage. Ogletree can easily play his coverage responsibilities in Tampa 2 coverage and also can play any of the three linebacker positions. It's been too long since the Giants had a difference maker at linebacker, and Ogeltree is a difference maker.
The other four players I'd consider here that I think might actually be available are Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson and offensive linemen Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper if the Giants don't add an offensive linemen in free agency.
2nd round (49th overall)-Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
The other three options I like here are cornerback Johnthan Banks, who I'd be surprised if he was available but he may be after a poor combine, Jesse Williams the Alabama NT/DT, but as the best pure nose tackle in the class might not be available and North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson who was great in 2011, poor in 2012, and great at the combine.
There should be a lot of intriguing options available for the Giants with their second-round pick. Williams is considered a late-first round possibility, but it's very possible that he's available with the Giants second-round pick when you factor in that he's 49th on my board, which includes no quarterbacks, and there will likely be 4-5 quarterbacks drafted by this pick.
Based on Drafttek's board I'd grab Kawann Short, but I don't think he'll actually be available.
3rd round (81st overall)-Gavin Escobar, TE, San Diego State
Escobar didn't run as well as expected at the combine and the fact that he's from a smaller school means that there is a very reasonable chance that the big, talented tight end is available when the Giants select in the third round. I know we consider cornerback a big need for the Giants, but if they retain Webster that gives the Giants four players that they believe can start at cornerback in 2013: Prince Amukamara, Webster, Thomas, and Jayron Hosley. The two big question marks are obviously Thomas and Webster, but if they are on the roster they will be expected to compete for starting positions.
4th round (about 115th)-Tharold Simon, CB, LSU
The Giants finally add more talent to the secondary. I think the Giants will go safety and/or cornerback early in the draft and I think they should. I think a big part of it will depend on whether or not they think they are going to keep Thomas at cornerback or move him to safety. Either way, adding talent to the secondary is important at some point in the pre-draft process.
5th round ( about 153rd)-A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State
Klein is a player the Giants could bring in to compete for a starting spot and help out on special teams. By adding players like Klein and Ogletree the Giants can completely remake their linebacker corps in an off-season. Next year Jacquian Williams can take over one of the starting spots, Ogletree another, and Klein/Herzlich/Paysinger can compete for the third spot.
6th round (about 189th)-Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State
One of, if not the best, kickers in the draft. This is not the approach the Giants typically take, but they need a better placekicker.
6th round compensatory (about 200)-Duke Williams, S, Nevada
He hasn't done anything yet in the pre-draft process. Wililams has a sprinter background and has good speed and great range for a safety prospect. Williams was very productive in 2012 with a 105 tackles, 9 passes broken up, and 5.5 tackles for loss. He has the physical abilities to become a starter down the road.
7th round (about 226)-Marquees Wilson, WR, Washington State
At one point Wilson was a player who could develop into a first-round pick, but he clashed with the coaching staff and left the school. On the way he out he ripped the coaching staff (Mike Leach) and he'll have to answer questions about that. Despite his talent, one thing that scares NFL guys more than off-the field incidents are players who don't get along with coaching staffs. Wilson has good size (6-foot-3) and good long range speed and very promising talent.
This situation from the outside seems very similar to what happened to Arian Foster. He had a disagreement with the coaching staff was considered a "bad seed" and went undrafted because of it. He is now one of the best players in the game and one of the league's greatest role models. I'm hoping the Giants end up with Wilson in the draft.
Undrafted Free Agent targets
Vanderbilt RB Zac Stacey, Ohio State OT Reid Fragel, Illinois offensive linemen Graham Pocic, Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rogers, DE Kapron-Lewis Moore Norte Dame, Oklahoma LB Tom Wort.
Final Depth Chart
I can't envision the Giants filling all of their perceived holes, meaning there are one or two positions the Giants will head into the season just hoping they pan out.
The Giants have been connected to defensive end a lot and it makes some sense, but in my plan the Giants leave the position alone. They move Kiwanuka back to defensive end full time (where he belongs), and let Matt Broha, Adrian Tracy, and Adewale Ojomo fight it out for the fourth defensive end spot. Ojomo flashed last year. This position rests on Tuck rebounding, or Kiwanuka being a good starting caliber defensive end. If there's a guy available that the Giants think is a future Pro-Bowler they should take him, but defensive end should be okay this year and even though important is more of a luxury pick in my mind.
Between Escobar and Robinson the Giants should have at least an adequate if not a good starting tight end. Both are very talented players who have good size and can be useful blockers in the run game.
The key to what the Giants do in the secondary, in my mind, depends on how healthy they think Thomas is. A healthy Thomas solves a depth and talent question at either corner or safety. Personally, I've thought for awhile that Thomas should be a free safety. He has good ball skills and coverage instincts. Either way, the secondary struggled last year, but you have to think like getting Thomas back is like signing a free agent.
You also have to assume that Amukamara and Hosley will continue to get better. Webster you hope bounces back. Either way, adding Simon and Duke Williams gives the Giants more depth in the secondary. Safety is a question mark, but both Brown and Hill flashed enough to make you believe they can be serviceable starters.
To me the biggest need on the team is getting a GOOD starting right tackle. Beatty, Snee, and Bass are all fine players. I think either Brewer or Mosley can start and be as good as Boothe. Right tackle is a big question mark. That's the position I'm addressing. The key to the Giants is making sure Eli can play at his best.
I'm leaving David Wilson as the kick returner. Andre Brown can start, or Wilson can start at running back -- it doesn't matter. Getting that kind of consistently good field position is more important than Wilson getting "the first carry". He should get 10-15, maybe 20, touches a game out of the backfield plus another 1-5 as the return man. That's 20-25 touches, which is fine, and he should make an impact.
Teams that host the Super Bowl are the new "Madden curse." Let's hope that's not the Giants.