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Is Deone Bucannon a free agent the Giants should target?

Bucannon had success with James Bettcher as a “moneybacker,” but his play has been declining

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New York Giants v Arizona Cardinals
Deone Buccanon against the Giants in 2017.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

James Bettcher brought a new scheme to the New York Giants when he was hired as defensive coordinator a season ago. He transitioned the Giants from a 4-3 to a base 3-4 team that was often a hybrid team using a 4-2-5 alignment.

Such a transition requires fitting players into new roles, or finding new players altogether who fit what you are trying to do. In the first year of a schematic change, you can be left with some players who just don’t fit — who are square pegs in round holes.

Was that the case with the Giants in 2018? If so, how can they fix it?

Could at least part of the answer be to turn in free agency to a player for whom Bettcher created a whole new position while with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015? That would be Deone Bucannon, who made his reputation in a new position the Cardinals dubbed the “moneybacker.” Bucannon was really a strong safety moved to middle linebacker at 216 pounds and given a variety of responsibilities.

There was some thought with the Giants that Landon Collins could fill a similar role, but the Giants didn’t really use Collins that way. Collins spent 593 of 886 snaps (66.9 percent) playing as a box safety or slot corner generally responsible for guarding tight ends.

Let’s look more closely at whether it would make sense for the Giants to bring the original moneybacker to New York.

The basics

Age: 27 in August
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 216
Experience: 5
2018 cap hit: $8.718 million
2018 stats: Games started (6) | Tackles (38) | Sacks (1)

Pro Football Focus: Overall grade (45.3) | Run defense (51.4) | Tackling (71.4) | Pass rush (67.2) | Pass coverage (43.0)

PFF lists Bucannon as one of the free agents to avoid this offseason:

Arizona Cardinals’ Deone Bucannon had a career year playing his hybrid linebacker/safety role in 2015, giving reason to believe the former Washington State first-rounder could be a difference-maker in the NFL for years to come. That simply hasn’t been the case.

Bucannon has failed to come close to his career-high 72.6 overall grade in 2015 in the three seasons following, earning extremely low run-defense and coverage grades in the process. He’s a former first-rounder with a lot of natural ability, but paying him the big bucks in the offseason could prove costly.

The skinny

There is a reason why Pro Football Focus slapped the “buyer beware” label on Bucannon. He has never come close to matching the impact he had in 2015, his first year as a moneybacker.

That season, Bucannon had 109 tackles, 11 for loss. He hasn’t come close to that number of tackles since, and has only eight tackles for loss over the past three seasons.

Bucannon’s PFF grades have gone down each year.

  • 2015 — 72.6
  • 2016 — 61.3
  • 2017 — 47.8
  • 2018 — 45.3

Bucannon’s passer rating against was 92.5 in 2016, but rose to 103.2 in 2017 and 120.5 in 2018.

Bucannon didn’t really have a place in the 4-2-5 the Cardinals played under Steve Wilks in 2018m, and played just 558 defensive snaps.

Bucannon recently told what he is looking for in free agency:

“I want to play for a team that sees me for my value, understands what I can do on the field, understands what kind of player I am,” Bucannon said.

Whether that’s the Giants or not remains to be seen. With his declining production, Bucannon certainly doesn’t appear to be worth a big-money, long-term deal. A one-year “prove-it” flier, though? Perhaps.