Where were we? Oh yes, the 2012 free agency market. If you enjoyed my last addition to this series, you will absolutely love this one. (Cue the theme song from The Celebrity Apprentice - originally recorded by The Ojays) The salary cap is going to be the toughest battle for the New York Giants since the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 Conference Game. There are some players that we need to re-sign and some that we need to go after, in both cases we will have to throw money at them and see if it sticks.
There are, without a doubt, some stand out positions that need to be filled. Mike Farley and I have been addressing them since the start of this series. The Giants have been lacking at the linebacker position for some time now, more specifically - the middle linebacker slot. I do not see the need to throw a big chunk of money at any free agent linebacker. I think the Giants will be able to pick up a quality LB at the NFL Draft. Most of the free agent linebackers, the ones who are worth their salt, will be looking for a big contract. We are not in a position to comply.
Let me get this out of the way, so as not to offend anyone's delicate sensabilities, Michael Boley, Mathias Kiwanuka and Chase Blackburn really brought it in the offseason. Boley was semi-solid in the regular season, relatively speaking. Kiwanuka's play wasn't too shabby either. However, this has been a spotty area and one that requires some dependability. How does one do that in the free agency market without breaking the bank? Two words: Lofa Tatupu.Lofa Tatupu entered the NFL in 2005, with the Seattle Seahawks, and immediately made his mark. He was voted to the Pro Bowl from 2005-2007, the first three years of his career. Tatupu would have played in the 2008 Pro Bowl, but, and here is where the plot thickens, injuries kept him from doing so. Tatupu suffered a groin injury in mid-2008 and his production began to decline. Prior to that, he suffered a knee injury in the preseason, which was diagnosed as a "bone bruise."
That "bone bruise" stuck around like an unemployed cousin. Ultimately, it developed into double knee surgery that decreased his value. That, of course, is the short version. Tatupu underwent the aforementioned surgeries in January 2011. It was a long-time coming, as Lofa played with bad knees for years.
In early 2008, Tatupu signed a six-year contract extension with the Seahawks worth, a whopping, forty-two million dollars, with an eighteen-million dollar guarantee. In Week 6 of the 2009 NFL season, Tatupu tore his left pectoral muscle, putting an end to his season. He returned in 2010 and put up some decent numbers. The head honchos at the Seahawks front office asked Lofa Tatupu to take a paycut before the start of the preseason. Tatupu was not a happy camper and asked to be released. Given the nature of his bloated paycheck and questionable health status, the Seahawks obliged.
Tatupu shopped himself around to other teams. But no one seemed willing to offer the six-season veteran the kind of money and lengthy contract that he was seeking. Thus, he sat out the entire 2011 season. Recently, Tatupu has been hitting the streets, trying to find a new home. He has shopped himself out to the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. Both teams seem concerned about his health - are his knees strong enough to last the entire season? One other thing that could be stalling other teams from signing him, is the dollar amount and length of the contract he is seeking. He is most likely learning that his number and length must drop significantly if he wants to be the bread winner in his family once again.
On his double knee surgeries - this type of procedure is very common these days. The "double" in that sentence can be off-putting. Yet, in 2008, Donald Driver underwent the very same procedure and came back swinging, recording over one-thousand yards in all sixteen games the following season. Tatupu has always been a tough guy. This is why he was one of the highest paid linebackers in all of the NFL.
His strength has never been as a pass rusher. The Giants can manage with the fierce front four that they have. Tatupu's strength is against the run. He also has a keen eye and a highly developed ability to read a play. Tatupu manages to get his hands on the ball quite a bit, as well. In his six-seasons, he recorded thirty-five pass deflections, ten interceptions, two touchdowns, eight-and-a-half sacks and seven forced fumbles. These aren't staggering numbers. Yet, they tell the tale of a solid linebacker who has the ability to defend the pass, stop the run and rush the quarterback. In short, Tatupu is a well-rounded player.
He has had all of the 2011 season to rest his knees and deflate his ego. The Saints and Titans not jumping at the opportunity to sign him has probably hit home. Last season, he expressed interest in playing for a Super Bowl bound team. The problem was that he set his sights on the wrong team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid and co. didn't seem as interested in Tatupu as he was in them. Knowing that he will have to drop his price and get more realistic about the type of contract that would make him more attractive to other teams, adding in to the fact that he would prefer to play for a winning team and throwing in to this "Tatupu needs a job" concoction that the New York Giants are the reigning Super Bowl Champs - with a shot at repeating, it makes a great deal of sense for Tatupu to make some concessions and ask his ex-teammate, Deon Grant, to patch him through to Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin.
Is he the best middle/inside linebacker of the 2012 free agency? Certainly not. Most of the guys that are out there now will be re-signed by their respective teams, like London Fletcher and Curtis Lofton. The others who won't be re-signed would require money that we simply can not afford to spend on this position. Lofa Tatupu could be one of those Jerry Reese "rock solid talent at a rock-bottom price" acquisitions in this offseason. Questionable knees, an entire missed season and two teams already having passed - Tatupu's stock is plummeting. The Giants could use a guy with his abilities, assuming he still has them. One thing is for sure, you get a guy like this, coming off of a missed season and double knee surgeries, he will hit the field with a huge chip on his shoulder knowing that his livelihood and reputation are at stake. He could very well be the steal of this free agency.