New York Giants co-owner John Mara and general manager Dave Gettleman have expressed the belief that you have to build the core of an NFL team via the draft. I agree. That said, you cannot fill every hole or every spot on a 53-man roster with a player you draft or sign as an undrafted free agent.
There is a place for signing veteran free agents, and while you can’t simply throw money at all of your deficiencies signing a handful of the right free agents can be a huge help.
So, with the NFL free agency signing period set to open March 18 it is time for us to begin looking into specific players who might fill useful roles for the Giants.
First up for us is Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 205
Experience: 6 seasons
2019 salary cap hit: $4.39 million
2019 stats: Games: 9 | Tackles: 37 | Interceptions: 0 | Passes defensed: 5
Pro Football Focus: Snaps: 495 (339) in slot | Overall grade: 72.2 (No. 21 among cornerbacks) | Coverage: 76.0 | Run defense: 57.7 | Receptions against (18 in 33 targets — 54.5 percent) | Passer rating against: 79.6
Dennard isn’t a free agent who’ll be signed early for a lot of money, but rather one that would be a great addition for low cost after everything plays out. He’s devoted his time to the slot and has thrived in that role. Over the last three years, Dennard owns the 12th best slot coverage grade among 42 qualifying cornerbacks and has had two of those three seasons end with a top-30 finish among all cornerbacks in PFF WAR. On targets of 10-plus yards from the slot in that timespan, Dennard has allowed the lowest catch rate in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals were clearly bad in 2019, but Dennard was one of the positives of their season as the third most valuable player on the team despite playing just 495 snaps.
The Giants have an interesting situation at cornerback. Having moved on from Janoris Jenkins the Giants really have very little NFL experience at the position. With none of those players being a sure thing, they could use more talent at the position. They could especially use, in my view, a stable veteran player who could both upgrade the talent and be a good influence on the team’s younger players.
Again in my view, the Giants should be concentrating on finding a quality slot cornerback. Grant Haley has yet to show in two seasons that he is up to the task of covering NFL slot receivers, and Corey Ballentine showed last season that his future is likely on the outside.
He has never been named All-Pro or made a Pro Bowl. His name doesn’t come to mind immediately when thinking about the better cornerbacks in the league. When it comes to slot cornerbacks, though, that is what Dennard appears to be.
Of the slot corners that played 50%+ of their snaps inside, Darqueze Dennard ranks FIRST in catches allowed (14), yards (134), passer rating (68.4), yards per snap (0.57), snaps per target (9.0) and snaps per reception (16.8).— Jeaux Goods (@JoeGoodberry) December 31, 2019
That's every category PFF keeps data on. Every one.
Dennard, because of work he does in the community, is also a player teammates see as a role model.
So, why hasn’t Dennard garnered more attention? Perhaps partially because he has been playing for a bad team. Also, though, because durability is a question. In six seasons, he has played a full 16 games only once.
As Pro Football Focus indicated above, Dennard probably isn’t a player who is going to command a huge long-term free agent contract. If he can be had for a low-cost one- or two-year deal, might Dennard be a player worth gambling on?