The sexiest thing the New York Giants have done this offseason to upgrade a defense that simply was not good enough to win with in 2014 was to bring Steve Spagnuolo back to replace deposed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
Have the Giants done enough in free agency to help Spagnuolo turn the defense, 29th overall in the league in 2014, around?
They certainly haven't done anything splashy. They have, however, done some things that are useful and could lead to upgrades.
Antrel Rolle, Mathias Kiwanuka, Jacquian Williams, Spencer Paysinger, Walter Thurmond, Mike Patterson, Quintin Demps and maybe Stevie Brown
Linebackers J.T. Thomas III and Jonathan Casillas, defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and defensive end George Selvie
Jason Pierre-Paul, Jon Beason, Chykie Brown, Mark Herzlich
What it all means
We will get to the safety situation eventually, but let's focus first on what the Giants have done in the front seven.
First and foremost, they guaranteed that the best player in their front seven, Pierre-Paul, would be back in 2015 by placing the franchise tag on him. That means Spagnuolo has a stud defensive end to move around and try to create mis-matches with, something we know from past experience they like to do.
They also brought Beason back, ensuring that they have leadership and an anchor in the middle -- unless, of course, he gets hurt again.
On the defensive line they replaced the aging and no longer effective Kiwanuka and Patterson with younger, more able-bodied players in Selvie and Ellis. During our most recent podcast, co-host Pat Traina expressed how much she loves the Selvie signing, comparing it to last year's acquisition of Robert Ayers. Selvie is a good player, and an upgrade from Kiwanuka.
The same can be said when comparing Ellis to Patterson. Ellis is younger, bigger and at this point in their career a better run-stuffer than Patterson. Another upgrade.
Significantly, both moves should improve the Giants' run defense. As much as the glory, and the focus of the fans, goes to the pass rush you must be able to defend the run to win. You can't get into pass-rush situations, where you create most of your turnovers and game-changing plays, if you can't stop the run and force teams into long-yardage on late downs.
At linebacker, the Giants have chosen to move on from the athletic but undisciplined Williams, replacing him with Thomas. They have also swapped Paysinger for Casillas, bringing in a similar but possibly more athletic player but one who played for Spagnuolo in New Orleans and would seemingly be trusted by the defensive coordinator.
Will Thomas be an upgrade from Paysinger? We don't know, although 'Rap's' fine film review gives us reason for optimism. The view here is that is was time to move on from the mistake-prone Williams, so whether that replacement ends up being Thomas, Casillas or a draft choice (egads, draft a linebacker?) I'm OK with it.
At safety, let's not freak out about the absence of Rolle and the fact that right now there are no safeties on the roster with NFL starting experience. Rolle, for all his locker room leadership, wasn't exactly setting the world on fire with his play. Despite his own proclamations to the contrary, his on-field contributions the past couple of seasons are thoroughly replaceable. You also have to believe there will be at least one veteran safety on the roster by the time training camp begins.
Besides, fans always scream that young players don't get enough opportunities with the Giants, and here is a huge one for youngsters Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor. The way things look right now, if neither of them earns prominent roles on the defense in 2015 that's on them -- not on Spagnuolo or Tom Coughlin.
Let's not forget, too, that in Spagnuolo's first tenure as Giants' defensive coordinator, the safety position was not stocked by brand-name players. The Giants won a Super Bowl with journeymen Gibril Wilson and James Butler starting at safety, along with the underwhelming Michael Johnson and Craig Dahl seeing some playing time.
It's about the pass rush for Spagnuolo.
At this point let's see if the Giants add a pass-rushing defensive end in the draft, or how they prioritize the safety spot. The defense is far from a finished product, but as of now I have to believe the moves that have been made put the Giants in a better place than they were when the 2014 season ended.
Your thoughts, Giants fans?