The New York Giants have been the league leader in free agency this year. They've signed 14 new players and re-signed another seven of their own players.
The consensus has been that the Giants have markedly improved over the 7-9 debacle that was the 2013-2014 NFL season a year ago. While I have no doubt that they will certainly do better this year, I definitely have some questions about the free agency strategy employed by GM Jerry Reese.
Robert Ayers Right Replacement For Justin Tuck?
Will the Giants end up being proven right in replacing the veteran Tuck with the younger, less expensive Ayers?
A question I don't think we'll ever have an answer to before the end of the season, yet I think is completely fair to ask, is whether the culture that I think the Giants have created, that of competition, is one that's worth having. The sheer amount of roster turnover that Reese has created is incredible.
You are talking about a team that has a total of 29 free agents (unrestricted, restricted, and exclusive rights). There will be fighting, clawing, and untold amounts of pressure in order to get playing time. Some say this is necessary. That it will push players into squeezing out their best performances.
That is the obvious argument for this sort of mass building approach. However, the risk you run is that players fail to trust each other. Teammates are not looked at like teammates. Players will look for any advantage to leapfrog someone else. Is that the sort of culture we want to risk having?
Another very real possible issue is jealousy. Rumor was with the Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team" that Eagles players harbored resentment towards Nnamdi Asomugha for his big contract. Howie Roseman recently cautioned against any big moves for that reason:
The guys that you've drafted, they look around and they say, 'Well, this guy they brought from somewhere else, and they're paying him maybe more than he's worth,'" Roseman said. "So you have to be very careful in free agency."
The only player that fits into this category would be Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who recently received a five-year, $35 million contract. I don't believe this will be a huge issue in the Giants locker room given that Antrel Rolle likely takes him under his wing, but it does seem like there is room for some resentment to be found.
Justin Tuck was a very well-liked player in the locker room by all accounts. In his place, and already receiving his No. 91 is Robert Ayers. Linval Joseph was also very well liked (reportedly) and is now gone as well. Will Prince Amukamara take Tom Coughlin's quote about DRC taking on the other team's top WR in stride? He is also in a contract year and a No. 1 corner makes a heckuva lot more money than a complementary player. Terrell Thomas was a Giant for quite a long time and had by all accounts a decent year. Still languishing on the market, the Giants wasted no time replacing him with Walter Thurmond.
These questions lead me to ...
Let's take a look at the Seattle Seahawks last year. How many of their players were slated to become free agents? As we stated before, 29 Giants will be free agents after this year. The Seahawks only had five players become free agents according to OverTheCap.
It's the trust. Remember the days of our pass coverage consistently having miscommunications in 2011 and 2012? Now throw in two new, likely starting cornerbacks in Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond. Add in a player responsible for quite a few of those miscommunications and that missed a full year in Stevie Brown, and you see a recipe for disaster.
The linebackers on the field definitely trusted that Justin Tuck, one of the best run-stopping defensive ends in the league, would set his edge and open up gaps for them to get through. Do they have that same trust in Damontre Moore or Ayers? That bit of hesitancy could be the difference between a tackle for loss and a first down run.
No matter what you thought of their on the field production, respected veterans Kevin Boothe, David Diehl, and David Baas are now gone, and the entire line has been rebuilt with the additions of John Jerry, Charles Brown, Geoff Schwartz, and J.D Walton. That isn't including any new offensive linemen brought in through the draft.
We all know that an offensive line's success is virtually based on the chemistry formed from the five players on the field. With a seemingly infinite number of possibilities when it comes to offensive line combinations and brand new personalities in the locker room, your guess is as good as mine to see just how well they can gel together.
On top of all of this you have a new offensive coordinator who is installing a brand new scheme. That adds an extra layer of difficulty towards making this team work cohesively. I'm not saying it isn't necessary, just that its a lot of moving parts at once.
When you look at what Jerry Reese and the Giants have done in free agency, it's hard not to get excited. Heck, I've been off the walls crazy about some of these guys myself. However, I've tried to push myself back a bit and be a bit more cautious with my enthusiasm.
With 14 new free agents, seven draft picks, and another boatload of UDFAs, you have more than 25 percent of your 90-man roster as new faces come training camp. That's a lot, and it would be unreasonable to expect that they come in and mesh together right away.
There will be pitfalls, there will be fights, and there will be mistakes. How many will there be? Well that depends on two things. The leaders in the locker room and the coaching staff.
I think that on defense, Rolle and Jon Beason have acquitted themselves nicely as team leaders unafraid of calling out teammates (like Rolle did with Tuck in 2011) that haven't been putting in the time. On offense, while Eli Manning remains the quiet leader (and yes, he is considered the leader of that offense), we must hope that Chris Snee stands as the glue guy for the offensive line.
How will the coaching staff do? Hard to tell. Perry Fewell seems to be well liked (though the defense does have those blips of mutiny every so often), but the offense will be brand new. With Ben McAdoo as the offensive coordinator, Danny Langsdorf as the QB coach, Craig Johnson as the RB coach, and Kevin M. Gilbride as the TE coach, we will see what they're made of right off the bat.
One thing I have to say is that this was necessary. There's no denying that, and I'm not suggesting that such roster turnover should not have happened. The previous roster was aging, complacent, and slow to adapt. They did, however band together and had team chemistry. The problem was that they just weren't good enough.
Is that Jerry Reese's fault? I won't deny that he has had his struggles. I will defend his drafting ability for hours, but I've been critical of his free agency strategy before (and I am again now). I do question some of the moves he's made this year as well, but remain optimistic that these moves work out. If they don't, the light (and accompanying scrutiny) will shine even brighter on him. [Sidenote: See! I AM capable of criticizing Reese!]
It will certainly be a challenge for this current team to hold together. There is guaranteed to be similar roster turnover next year and the players are aware. Will they crumble amidst in-fighting and struggling with the new playbook, or will the competition cultivate a locker room of strong-minded and hardy individuals that rise up and find a way to succeed?
Only time can tell.