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Position Review: Giants cornerbacks at a crossroad

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The Giants cornerback depth doesn’t look too bad for 2019, but the performance definitely needs to be better

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants came into 2018 with a handful of questions regarding the talent they had at the cornerback position, which of course included two players from last year, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple, who each drew suspensions for attitude issues, and which also added some journeymen to compete for the depth.

By the time the dust settled, the good news is that there were no suspensions. The bad news, however, is that very few questions had been answered, leaving this position as one that is likely to undergo a makeover in the offseason.

2018 review

2018 roster: Janoris Jenkins, B.W. Webb, Tony Lippett, Grant Haley, Sam Beal (IR)

The Giants shook things up around mid-season when they moved on from Eli Apple, their first-round pick in 2016.

Apple, who initially showed remorse over acting like a petulant child in 2017 — his actions getting him a one-week suspension and at least one fine from then head coach Ben McAdoo — looked as though he was ready to finally start acting and preparing like a professional.

Unfortunately, the train came off the rails, and general manager Dave Gettleman, concluding that Apple had no future with the team, was able to swing a trade with the Saints, getting a fourth-rounder in 2019’s draft and a seventh-rounder in 2020.

That left journeyman B.W. Webb, one of several second- and third-tier veteran free agents, to move into the starting lineup, with youngster Grant Haley, an undrafted free agent out of Penn State, to play the slot cornerback spot. Webb actually was a pleasant surprise in that he played a lot better than anyone anticipated.

Per Pro Football Focus, he finished with a team best 83.5 NFL Rating among the cornerbacks, allowing one touchdown while coming up with one interception. He also allowed just 59.1 percent of the pass targets thrown at him to be completed while finishing with four passes defensed, second on the team behind Jenkins’ eight.

Meanwhile, Gettleman, who during his tenure as general manager in Carolina drafted six cornerbacks in his five draft classes, uncharacteristically opted to not draft any cornerbacks in the main draft.

He did, however, spend a draft pick—a third rounder in the supplemental draft—on Sam Beal, but Beal never really got a chance to show if he could be part of the solution moving forward as a shoulder injury ended his rookie season before it had a chance to get started.

2019 look ahead

Although Beal didn’t get on the field as a rookie, he’s expected to be 100 percent healthy when the Giants reconvene for the start of the offseason program in April. He’s also being viewed as a potential starter for this team moving forward.

Webb’s solid play likely helped earn him a second contract with the team, though he’ll probably compete with Haley for the nickel back role.

Meanwhile the big decision the team needs to make is with Jenkins, who started out slowly in 2018 (this due to a nagging injury Jenkins revealed he was dealing with earlier in the season which ultimately got better).

Jenkins led the Giants cornerbacks with 11 tackles in run support and his 109.3 NFL Rating was second highest, behind rookie Haley’s 142.3 rating. Jenkins was also flagged for a career-high 11 penalties, eight of which were accepted.

He carries a $14.75 million cap hit in 2019 of which $10.15 million is his base salary. He also has a $1 million roster bonus due by the fifth day of the new league year, a bonus which, if paid out, means the Giants plan to keep him.

Some might argue that the Giants should either move on or try to rework Jenkins’ 2019 number. Neither scenario is likely to happen. In the case of reworking his number, remember that Jenkins did so last year when he was coming off an injury-shortened season.

As for moving on from him, such a step would create a hole on a defense that already has more than enough issues that need to be resolved. While Jenkins’ numbers weren’t anywhere near his 2016 Pro Bowl level, the Giants must also figure out if that was a result of solely his doing or the lack of a consistent pass rush not creating opportunities for the back end.

As of right now, the feeling is that Jenkins, who would cost the Giants $7 million in dead cap space but save them $7.75 million if he’s released before June 1, will be back in 2019 with an opportunity to see how well he fares with an improved pass rush in front of him.