|Catches like this one by Plaxico Burress are why the Philadelphia Eagles said the New York Giants are not as good without Burress. It is also why we finally have to admit that the Eagles are right.|
Let's begin our New York Giants off-season coverage (God, I hate having to use that phrase right now) by acknowledging that the Giants have many questions to answer before training camp begins again this summer.
I think we know what most of those questions are, but for the sake of being thorough I will list what I think are the major ones.
- The wide receiver question
- The coordinator question
- The running back question
- The linebacker question
- The defensive line question
- The kicker question
It's a long off-season -- longer than we hoped it would be, and I won't delve into each of these questions right now. Instead, I will take them one at a time over the course of the next week or so.
Let's begin with what is probably the biggest question. To me, that is without a doubt The Wide Receiver Question. This is the most complicated question of the off-season, and quite possibly the most important.
It was painfully obvious as the Giants went 1-4 in their last five games -- those played without Plaxico Burress, of course -- that the Giants simply weren't the same on offense once Burress shot himself in the leg.
In fact, let's stretch that out to six games, since the Giants beat Washington 23-7 right after the Burress fiasco to reach their high-water mark, an 11-1 record.
In the 11 games prior to the Burress shooting, the Giants averaged 29.9 points per game and seemed able to do pretty much anything they wanted on offense. And, yes, I understand Burress missed a couple of those games.
In the six games following Burress' shot himself and shot the Giants' hopes of back-to-back titles to smithereens, the Giants averaged 18.2 points per game and went 2-4. They scored more than 30 points just once, and in two games -- including Sunday -- were held out of the end zone altogether.
Eli Manning passed for 305 yards in that Washington game, his only 300-yard passing game of the season. After that, though, his performances were anywhere from pedestrian to awful. He didn't reach 200 yards passing in any other game, and bottom out Sunday with an awful two-interception game and a 40.7 quarterback rating for the day.
As much as we love Steve Smith, Amani Toomer, Domenik Hixon and Kevin Boss it became clear that Eli was never sure where to go with the ball when he needed a play. In addition, it was clear that offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride never completely figured out how to run the offense and distribute the ball without No. 17.
So, how do the Giants fix it? Let's consider the possibilities.
The Plaxico Burress Question: Despite what it cost them on the field, the Giants did the right thing by suspending Burress for the season after the shooting. Unless, of course, you want to become the Bengals or Cowboys. But, what now? GM Jerry Reese has said he would consider bringing Burress back next season. Whether he means it or not, what else can he really say right now? Will he even be a free man? Can Tom Coughlin still coach him? Does Eli want him back and will he go to bat for him? Can his teammates accept him back in the locker room and trust him? Can Plaxico accept, and abide by, the stringent rules I'm sure the Giants would insist on if they take him back? That's a lot of questions to answer, and I think all of that makes it highly unlikely Burress is a Giant next season. Yes, the Giants need a No. 1 receiver with Burress-like skills. It's just that it might not be Burress.
What about Amani Toomer?: The guess here is that the leading receiver in Giants' history has played his last game in New York. His 48 catches were the lowest full-season total for the 34-year-old since 1999. If he were to come back next season I'm not sure he would be any more than the fourth wide receiver. I'm not sure he would want to do that. Also, I'm not sure the Giants would want a fourth or fifth wide receiver who can't play special teams. Time marches on, and -- sadly -- I think the Giants will be saying goodbye to Toomer. He is a class act and a historically good Giant, but his time has passed.
What about the young guys?: I love Steve Smith, and he will be a valuable possession receiver for a long time. But he isn't a deep threat, or a No.1 guy. Domenik Hixon is a deep threat, but he is better suited to be a playmaker as the No. 3 receiver and a kick returner. Mario Manningham might be a player some day, but not a big, physical target who can be a go-to guy. Forget the rest, including Sinorice Moss, who will never be more than an extra player.
Who can the Giants bring in?: If they don't bring Burress back, the Giants still need to get Eli a No. 1 receiver. There is always the draft, and Florida's Percy Harvin might be available when the Giants pick late in the first round. I hate the thought of using a No. 1 pick on a receiver, though. There has been some speculation that the Arizona Cardinals would be willing to trade the outstanding Anquan Boldin because he can be a free agent in a year. The Giants have extra draft picks thanks to the Jeremy Shockey trade, and they should explore this. Boldin has caught more than 100 passes twice, caught 89 this season and at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds is a physical beast who could really be an asset in the swirling winds of Giants Stadium. I have seen Calvin Johnson's name floated here at BBV, but he is the Detroit Lions best player, he is entering just his third season and I don't see how the Lions benefit from dealing him. It's a nice thought, but unlikely. T.J. Houshmandzadeh of Cincinnati is the best receiver hitting the free-agent market. He caught 112 passes in 2007 and 92 this season. He is a possession guy and isn't large at 6-1, 197 pounds, but he could be a viable option for the Giants. Here is a breakdown of all the available free-agent wide receivers.
Next up: The coordinator question.