We have, sadly, reached the offseason for the New York Giants. While the playoffs are ongoing to determine who will reach the Super Bowl next month at MetLife Stadium, the Giants are planning for next season.
Here is one plan for how to fix the Giants in 2014.
Players to Build Around
Offense: Eli Manning, Justin Pugh, Victor Cruz.
That's it. There are other players who will return, but those are the three foundation pieces. Manning has several years left and the Giants need to get him better blockers, runners and receivers. Head coach Tom Coughlin praised Pugh on Friday, and it's obvious he is the only offensive lineman you can feel good about right now. Will Beatty isn't being cut as the Giants still owe him $15.5 million in guaranteed money. Could he switch positions? Coughlin did not rule out moving Pugh from right tackle to another spot on the line next season, including left tackle. You might argue Rueben Randle belongs on this list, but he didn't show the consistency or game-to-game and route-to-route reliability needed during 2013.
Defense: Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins, Damontre Moore, Jon Beason, Antrel Rolle, Will Hill, Prince Amukamara.
Yes, pretty obvious the defense is in better shape than the offense. We'll deal with free agency more later, but re-signing Beason is a must. Linval Joseph would be nice, but there is a good possibility the Giants get outbid for Joseph's services.
We are talking here about players from the 2013 team who will be free agents and should be brought back. It's a shorter list than you might think, with about two-dozen players heading to the market. For me, the 'must-return' guys are as follows:
Beason, defensive end Justin Tuck, safety Stevie Brown.
I will take or leave everyone else on the list. Retaining Joseph would be a definite plus,and placekicker Josh Brown should be brought back if he wants to stay. Depending what else the Giants are able to do in free agency and the draft the return of Kevin Boothe might make sense. Also running back Andre Brown depending on the market.
Stevie Brown makes my list first because he is an excellent player and second because when you have Will Hill as a key player you always have to have a Plan B. Brown, Rolle and Cooper Taylor should give the Giants that. Hill reportedly could be facing a third suspension in as many years after his recent arrest. If that happens it would be an eight-game ban, and you wonder if the Giants would finally cut ties with him.
Hakeem Nicks? Forget it. He played like a guy who didn't want to be in New York and his lack of production is a big reason the offense was "broken." He might get big money from somebody, but he shouldn't get it from the Giants.
There are also a handful of veteran players like Chris Snee, David Baas, Corey Webster and David Diehl who can't be brought back.
Rebuilding the 'Broken' Offense
No matter who the Giants bring in as offensive coordinator it isn't going to make much difference without a massive upgrade in personnel throughout the offense.
Co-owner John Mara repeatedly said fixing the offensive line is the first priority. Coughlin has made the same point. The only offensive lineman who can be completely trusted right now is 2013 first-round pick Justin Pugh. Coughlin hinted Friday he is open to a position change for Pugh, who spent his rookie year at right tackle. Best guess is that will depend largely on what the Giants are able to do in free agency and the 2014 NFL Draft. That kind of flexibility is a big reason the Giants drafted Pugh in the first place.
Could the Giants make a run at a veteran center like Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns or a tackle like Branden Albert of the Kansas City Chiefs? A veteran center seems like an obvious target, with Boothe as a potential fallback.
There are other items on the offseason shopping list for the offense.
Running Back -- There has been word that there may be mutual interest between the Giants and free-agent Andre Brown, the team's leading rusher in 2013, about a return. My reaction? What's the hurry, especially from the Giants' perspective. Brown energized the rushing attack for a few games, but gained only 68 yards on 40 carries over the final three.
There are likely to be a ton of running backs on the market like Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate, Rashad Jennings, Darren McFadden, Joique Bell and others. Former Giant Ahmad Bradshaw is also likely to be available.
Before the Giants rush to re-sign Brown get an offensive coordinator in place, see who fits and see an upgrade over Brown is available. Of particular interest should be backs with proven pass-catching skills, something the Giants did not have in 2013 and which cost them dearly.
Tight End -- Brandon Myers is a nice player and seems like a good guy. He was miscast with the Giants, however. He's not an inline blocker, doesn't really seem to be a guy who can get vertical in the passing game and never really developed a chemistry with Manning. Neither Myers nor Bear Pascoe should be in the plans for next season.
Best guess is the Giants would like Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson to step up and handle that role. I can't see a huge expense on a tight end in the free-agent market, but someone like Scott Chandler of the Buffalo Bills (who spent time with the Giants a couple of years ago) or even Jake Ballard might be inexpensive insurance policies for the young guys. I would not rule out drafting a player early at tight end if the Giants find someone they really like.
Wide Receiver -- Are Victor Cruz, Randle and Jerrel Jernigan enough at wide receiver? Probably not. Why not make a run at Jeremy Maclin if the Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver shows he has recovered from knee surgery. Ex-Giants Mario Manningham (if he is healthy) and Domenik Hixon might be on the market if the Giants are looking for supplemental players, and a little 'comfort food' for Manning. If I'm the Giants I look for smart, reliable receivers instead of just pure speed guys or athletes. There has been some speculation about wide receiver in the first round of the draft. It would be hard to complain about adding a big target like Mike Evans of Texas A&M to Manning's arsenal of pass-catchers.
The 2014 NFL Draft
Mara admitted in his end-of-season press briefing that the Giants have missed on some draft picks in recent years, and said one of the reasons for that is that they have willingly taken some risks players who have not panned out.
That is the kind of thing that an upper-echelon team that feels like its cupboard is well-stocked can do. Having depth allows you to swing for the fences because if you strike out the players you already have can pick up the pieces. Unfortunately for the Giants, too many misses and a handful of free-agent mistakes have left them without that safety net.
Admittedly, every draft pick is a risk. You can never be certain of what will happen with any player. This May, however, the Giants would be well-advised not to take any more risk than they absolutely have to. They need to re-stock the cupboard. GM Jerry Reese always says you want the guys you take in the first three rounds to contribute quickly. He needs to give Coughlin players who can.