We have talked many times about the New York Giants' "Band-Aid" approach to the linebacker position. They have been plugging that level of their defense with stop-gaps for years, a philosophy that sometimes works and sometimes turns into a train-wreck.
Currently? Train-wreck. You can argue that there isn't a single dependable, impact linebacker on the roster. Devon Kennard? Maybe, except for the small matter of actually getting on the field. Kennard is the team's best linebacker, but he has missed 11 games in two years and has a lengthy, growing injury history dating back to his collegiate days.
Beyond Kennard? Maybe J.T. Thomas can be adequate if he can stay healthy. Mark Herzlich? Uani Unga? Jonathan Casillas? Please!
Thus, the Giants are once again in the position of hunting for linebackers. The dream scenario would be if UCLA linebacker Myles Jack fell to them at No. 10 in the 2016 NFL Draft. That seems uncertain, at best. Besides, with the Giants' aversion to using early picks on linebackers, not having using a first-round pick on one since Carl Banks in 1984, they might pass on Jack, anyway.
So, Giants' fans turn their hungry eyes to the free-agent market.
The big fish
Bruce Irvin of the Seattle Seahawks is probably the best linebacker on the market. He is a good, but not great three-down linebacker with coverage and pass rush skills. Is he worth the $9 million or more he would cost on the open market? Would he even be available to the Giants? Rumors are that Irvin's primary suitors include two teams coached by former Seattle defensive coordinators - the Jacksonville Jaguars (Gus Bradley) and the Atlanta Falcons (Dan Quinn.
Danny Trevathan of the Denver Broncos is a 26-year-old middle linebacker many would like to see the Giants pursue. Trevathan is a 2012 sixth-round pick. The question, as raised by SB Nation, is how much of Trevathan's success is due to his own ability and how much is due to the immense talent around him in Denver?
For teams considering Trevathan as a free agent signing, they must weigh his productivity against how they expect him to perform outside of Denver. In most NFL cities, the defense doesn't have two All-Pro edge rushers like Miller and DeMarcus Ware nor do they possess a defensive interior loaded with players like Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson. Trevathan certainly benefited from playing alongside such talented defenders and could see his play dip if exposed by a weaker supporting cast. Still, his age and upside make him an enticing option.
The obligatory James Laurinaitis discussion
Ever since the Los Angeles Rams parted ways with Laurinaitis there have been some Giants fans screaming "sign this guy now!" Is that really a good idea? Laurinaitis would bring leadership, a familiarity with Steve Spagnuolo and a big name to the Giants. Would he really bring any play-making impact? Here is what I wrote when Laurinaitis was released, and what I will stand by:
Laurinaitis is 29, and will turn 30 during the 2016 season. He has been durable, never missing a game. Truthfully, though, injuries have begun to impact him and his production has steadily been declining. His tackle numbers, 109 the past two seasons, are the lowest of his career. His number of solo tackles has declined three straight seasons. He had 117 in 2012, 85 in 2013, 81 in 2014 and only 61 in 2015, by far a career low. In his seven seasons, Laurinaitis has never been named an All-Pro or even been to a Pro Bowl, and he appears to be a player in decline. Honestly, any time a team that has had a player as long as the Rams had Laurinaitis releases that player it should be a red flag. They know him better than anyone.
Pro Football Focus says "no one should be paying him starter-type money."
He's always been a below-average defender against the run, but last year he took it to another level. Any time an offensive lineman found him at the second level, Laurinaitis was stuck on it like flypaper. His 3.8 run-stop percentage was the worst in the NFL.
Walter Football opiness that Laurinaitis "was so bad last year that he could've been considered the worst starting linebacker in the NFL."
A dark-horse candidate
I wrote about Tahir Whitehead of the Detroit Lions a few days ago. He will be 26 next season, has starting experience in the middle and on the outside, appears to still have upside potential, and Martin Mayhew, who drafted him in Detroit, now works for the Giants. Here is what SB Nation's Pride of Detroit said about Whitehead:
In addition to talent, Whitehead still has youth and room to grow. Whitehead will turn 26 in a month and has been reliably healthy throughout his career. In his four years with the Lions, Whitehead has appeared in all but two games. He's talented, improving and reliable. What else could you want?
More names to consider
Let's just list a few other players who could be available.
- Rolando McClain of the Dallas Cowboys is set to hit the market.
- Long-in-the-tooth veterans Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali of the Kansas City Chiefs are free agents. Could either be a one-year stop-gap?
- Nick Perry of the Green Bay Packers is a former first-round pick who never reached his potential. Could he be a reclamation project for the Giants, with former Packers assistant Ben McAdoo now as the head coach?
- Indianapolis Colts middle linebacker Jerrell McClain could be available.
Walter Football has complete lists of the inside and outside linebackers set to become free agents:
Check out the most recent "Big Blue Chat" podcast for much more free agency discussion.