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Five things I think I think: Building the 2017 New York Giants

Five-point plan for addressing the team’s needs

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Cincinnati Bengals
Andrew Whitworth
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone seems to have their own ideas for fixing the New York Giants. By the way, how much “fixing” should a team that went 11-5 really need? Anyway, since everyone else is doing it I figured I would use this week’s “Five things I think I think” forum to lay out my own five-step plan for constructing the 2017 Giants.

Each step along the way is filled with options and contingencies, because you can plan all you want but things never go exactly the way you hope they will. This, though, should give you a pretty good idea how I’d build the 2017 Giants if they suddenly decided to give me Jerry Reese’s job.

Fixing the offensive line

Of course we have to start here. The Giants simply have to do something to upgrade at tackle.

Free agencyAndrew Whitworth, the 35-year-old from the Cincinnati Bengals, is the apple of everyone’s eye, it seems. He would be a great short-term get for the Giants, moving Flowers to right tackle and giving them time to find or develop a long-term answer at left tackle. I’m all for pursuing Whitworth, but if he wants $10-12 million annually that might be too rich for me. The danger with Whitworth is spending big money for a guy who’s skills will suddenly disappear, or who’s body will finally break down.

The free agent tackle I would make a big run at? Right tackle Ricky Wagner [profile] of the Baltimore Ravens. Spotrac estimates his market value at $27.6 million over four years, $6.9 million annually. I would give him that in a heartbeat. Yes, it means Flowers stays at left tackle, but unless I can get Whitworth I’m going to live with that for 2017. His technique is going to be awful no matter which side he plays. As for guard, at 6-foot-6 and with a tendency to play too high I have had scouts tell me he would be a disaster inside.

I’m not spending big money in free agency on a guard. I would be OK with bringing back John Jerry on an inexpensive deal, but if he wants too much money letting Brett Jones, Bobby Hart and a draft pick compete at that spot would be just fine.

NFL Draft — If I can get Wagner, or maybe Riley Reiff as a fall back at right tackle, that lessens the need to draft a tackle early. If I whiff in free agency, I would be hard-pressed to pass on Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin or Garret Bolles of Utah in Round 1.

Assuming I get Wagner, I’d love to snag a developmental tackle like Julie’n Davenport of Bucknell in the middle rounds. A guard prospect like Dion Dawkins of Temple on Day 2 is also a possibility.

Weapons, please!

Whether it is wide receiver, tight end or running — or all three somehow — the Giants need more playmakers for Eli Manning. They parted ways with Rashad Jennings, Victor Cruz and Larry Donnell Monday, so there are openings. Here is how I’m adding talent at the skill positions.

Wide receiver — I’m trying to add a big wide receiver in free agency, but I’m not spending big dollars on Alshon Jeffery. My primary targets are Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. Britt has a bit of a complicated history, but the former Rutgers star and Bayonne, N.J. native caught 48, 36 and 68 passes for the offensively-challenged Rams the past three seasons. Quick [profile] isn’t a bad option, either, after a career-best 41-catch season. I’m also curious if Roger Lewis Jr. or Darius Powe, a 6-3, 220-pound player who spent last year on the Giants’ practice squad, can step forward.

Tight end — At some point, I’m drafting one. Honestly, the only one of the six to eight top tight ends in the draft class who doesn’t tempt me is the guy so many people want to connect to the Giants — O.J. Howard of Alabama. For all the athletic ability he has, I’ve heard too many negatives about his consistency and too many questions about whether or not he plays hard all the time. As many of his games as I’ve watched I’m also still waiting for him to have a “wow” moment that shows me he can be special.

If he’s sitting there in Round 1 it would be really hard for me to pass on David Njoku of Miami. Failing that, or going in another direction if I have to, my Day 2 target is Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech, a 6-foot-7 matchup nightmare. If I miss on those guys, I’m certain there will be a tight end worth selecting on Day 3.

Running back — Yeah, the Big Blue View Rules for Draft Success say don’t take a running back in Round 1. Then I went and broke my own rule during a recent mock draft. Christian McCaffrey of Stanford is a guy who can do a lot of things as a running back, split out as a receiver and as a returner. He’s a Swiss Army Knife who would help the Giants in a lot of ways. My priority remains the offensive line, but if I can get Wagner or Whitworth in free agency and McCaffrey is sitting there at No. 23 I have to think about it.

I don’t want to spend money on a veteran back, but I do want to add help for Paul Perkins. Depending on how the board falls in later rounds, Alvin Kamara of Tennessee, DOnta Foreman of Texas, Corey Clement of Wisconsin and James Conner of Pitt are intriguing players who might complement Perkins.

Keeping the band together?

I’m talking about the defensive line. The dream scenario is to keep both Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins. The nightmare scenario is losing both guys as free agents. Everything being equal, if I have to choose I’m keeping JPP. Defensive tackles are easier to replace than premier defensive ends.

Everything, though, isn’t equal. If Pierre-Paul wants a contract equal to or surpassing the $85 million Olivier Vernon deal there is no chance I’m going there. He’s two years older than Vernon, with a mangled hand and a long injury history. That’s a bad investment. I might give him four years, with a deal structured such that I could get out of it after two if need be.

If he won’t take that, I’m going to let him walk and concentrate on keeping Hankins. I’d sign a veteran like Devin Taylor to help bridge the gap and would have to consider a defensive end like Taco Charlton in Round 1. If I miss there, a developmental guy like Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova would be a target.

The quarterback question

I’m not spending a lot of time here. I have said over and over that I do not believe the Giants need to spend a first-round pick on a quarterback. In this year’s draft I’m not spending a Day 2 pick on a quarterback, either. If the right guy is on the board in the fourth or fifth round, then I would take him. Who is the right guy? Chris loves Davis Webb [prospect profile], and from the games I’ve watched I can see why. He has all the physical tools, even if he’s never played in a pro-style offense. The guy I’ve been told multiple times the Giants like is Jerod Evans of Virginia Tech. I would take a fifth-round flier on either of them given the opportunity.

Could this finally be the year?

It wouldn’t be a discussion of the 2017 Giants if I didn’t lay out a plan for the linebacker position.

First and foremost, I’m bringing back Keenan Robinson. He’s not a star, but he’s the best coverage linebacker the Giants have had in a long time and his skill set fits the way the game is played now.

I’m not bringing back Kelvin Sheppard. The snaps that went to him last season can go to 2016 fourth-round pick B.J. Goodson next season.

As for the draft, the question that always comes up is when will the Giants use a first-round pick on a linebacker. They haven’t done it since 1984 when they took Carl Banks. I wrote recently that the Giants have more pressing issues than linebacker, and that’s true.

There is, however, one linebacker I would think seriously about selecting 23rd overall if I have been able to address some other issues in free agency. That would be Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt [prospect profile]. Remember what I said about “wow” moments with Howard? Watch Cunningham’s tapes, and they are filled with “wow” moments. I can’t ignore needs on offense and the defensive line if they are still there, but in the right circumstance I’d have no problem selecting Cunningham with the 23rd pick.

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