We have completed our look at the defense as we go position-by-position through the New York Giants roster heading into the 2017 offseason. Before we turn our attention to the much-maligned offense, let’s detour and look at special teams.
Dwayne Harris earned a Pro Bowl nod. That, though, was mostly for his work as a punt gunner and, perhaps, as a career achievement award for a guy who has been one of the league’s best special teamers since entering the NFL in 2011. Harris had a poor season returning kicks. He was last in the league in punt return average among returners with 20 or more attempts, at 5.9 yards per return. He was fifth in the league returning kickoffs at 24.2 yards per return, but that is down from the 28.7 yards he averaged in 2015. Harris’ struggles led the Giants to use Odell Beckham Jr, to return punts. That’s exciting and Beckham is really good at it, but it probably isn’t something the Giants want to do full-time.
Punter Brad Wing had a good season, averaging 45.6 yards per punt with a net of 40.3. An odd number — as often as it seemed like wing was able to pin opponents deep, he was only 30th in the league in percentage of kicks downed inside the 20-yard line at 29.7 percent. Maybe that speaks as much to the ineptitude of the offense and the positions he punted from as it does his work.
Placekicker Robbie Gould went 10-for-10 in field goals with a long of 47 yards in 10 games. He was, of course, the team’s third placekicker of the season.
2017 free agents
LS Zak DeOssie (Unrestricted)
PK Robbie Gould (Unrestricted)
Offseason decisions to make
The first is likely whether or not to count on the 35-year-old Gould as their placekicker next season. Gould is a 12-year veteran and a solid placekicker, but doesn’t have an extraordinarily strong leg. Do the Giants re-sign him and hand him the job? Re-sign him and bring in a young kicker to compete? Move on, probably with a younger kicker?
Will the Giants bring back DeOssie for an 11th season? He remains a good snapper and key part of the punt coverage team. Plus, at a $1.1 million salary for 2016 he really doesn’t cost that much.
Maybe the Giants’ biggest special teams decision revolves around Harris. Can the Giants continue to count on him as their primary return man? Harris is an extraordinarily tough guy. He played through injuries to his toe, knee, back, shoulder, wrist and ribs in 2016. At least, those are the documented ones. Were those injuries responsible for Harris’ decline as a returner, or has he lost a step? He will be 30 next season. Harris is entering the third year of his five-year, $17.5 million contract. He carries a $3.8 million cap hit and the Giants could save $1.4 million by cutting him. That seems unlikely, though, because of his overall value.
Draft/FA priority level
Low. I would seriously doubt the Giants would use a draft pick on a placekicker, or a return specialist. I would expect the Giants to look around and see which placekickers are available, but the guess is that Gould returns. Harris might face some competition for the return jobs from whoever is in camp.