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Big Blue View mailbag, 5/30: Larry Warford, DeAndre Baker, free agents, more

The mail’s here!

Things might be slowing down in the NFL world, but the mail still comes. So, let’s open this week’s Big Blue View Mailbag.

Anthony Versace asks: Why aren’t the Giants interested in signing LG Warford, who was basically the best guard in the NFL?

Ed says: Anthony, I boiled this down to the essential part of your question. I will deal with the rest of it, which is to be honest little more than an anti-Dave Gettleman rant, as we go along with my answer.

First off, Larry Warford is nowhere close to “basically the best guard in the NFL.” If he was that, the New Orleans Saints — a good team with Super Bowl aspirations — would not have let him go and used a first-round pick on his replacement, Cesar Ruiz.

Warford, in his seventh season, gave up three sacks (second-most in his career) and had four penalties (most in his career) in 2019. said there was “a significant drop-off in his performance in 2019,” particularly in pass protection.

Pro Football Focus had Warford as the 14th-highest graded guard in the NFL in 2019, just 39th overall as a pass blocker and 11th as a run blocker. That’s certainly not up to the level of “best guard in the NFL.”

I few other things I take issue with in your rant.

Will Hernandez isn’t a first-stringer.”

What? Hernandez is a 2018 second-round pick and, in my view, most definitely a top half of the NFL starter at left guard. He surrendered 2.5 sacks (less than Warford) and had four penalties in 2019. He didn’t take the step forward toward dominant status that was hoped for, but let’s remember that offensive line play has to be judged as a whole. Hernandez played with a struggling Nate Solder to his left and a sub-par center in Jon Halapio to his right. Those things had to impact his play. Per PFF, Hernandez was the 74th ranked guard, finishing 33rd as a pass blocker but an unacceptable 117th as a run blocker.

Hernandez had a rough 2019 season, but is still an ascending player. If you don’t believe he is a starting-caliber NFL player and a building block for the Giants going forward I have no idea what you’re looking at.

Let’s also realize that Hernandez is a 25-year-old who should have his best football ahead of him. Warford is entering his age 29 season, and may have already played his best football.

Gettleman “didn’t improve the OL enough during the draft.”

Well, he used the fourth overall pick in the draft on the player the Giants considered the best offensive lineman in the draft — tackle Andrew Thomas. He used a third-round pick on a guy many evaluators think has a chance to become a good starting right tackle in Matt Peart. The fifth-round pick of Shane Lemieux, a guard in college who is already cross-training as a potential center of the future, has been widely praised.

I’m not sure how much more he could have done. Was he supposed to draft an offensive lineman with all 10 picks.

Oh, and the Giants signed Cameron Fleming in free agency, one of those second-string Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen you say are “better than the Giants first-string linemen,” to be their swing tackle.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. It would have been great if they could have found a veteran starting center. I would say, though, that Gettleman and the Giants did a pretty darn good job of addressing the offensive line this offseason.

Eugene Jennings asks a DeAndre Baker question: How is it the defense lawyers can get sworn statements from the witnesses. Would the police attending the Incident not of interviewed everyone and got statements. What is the difference?

Ed says: Eugene, I know you asked a number of Baker questions. This is the one that perhaps has not been addressed enough at Big Blue View or that needs to be reiterated.

When I had Wallach on the podcast he said, basically, that the affidavit that goes along with the arrest warrant is signed by the arresting police officer giving his recollections of what witnesses at the scene told him. Smart defense lawyers circle back to those witnesses getting them to sign, and in some cases have notarized, their own statements. If they differ, Wallach said a court will give more weight to the signed witness statements than the recollections of the police officer.

Wallach put it this way:

“A sworn statement taken by a lawyer is going to carry more weight than an interview conducted by a police officer where the witness didn’t swear to it under oath. So the case(s) against Baker and Dunbar have been compromised by virtue of how smooth and sharp that these lawyers were in getting in there right away to get the witness to change their stories.”

Jeffrey Itell asks: We’ve learned that DeAndre Baker finished last year as about the worst rated cornerback, has poor study habits, was benched more than once, was flagged by more than one NFL team for the 2019 draft, and, at best, seems to have some questionable social habits. Can you think of any comparable NFL players with such a dismal career start who recovered to enjoy an above-average, first-round worthy career? Or, regardless of jail and suspension, should we consider Baker a sunk cost?

Ed says: Jeffrey, when you put it that way you wonder if there is any chance Baker could ever be a competent NFL player.

I am, however, going to say that is is waaaaaaay too early to just write Baker off and consider him a “sunk cost.”

First of all, he has been arrested and accused but he has not been convicted. Let’s let the Florida legal system play out and see what happens. If he isn’t convicted he may still face some form of discipline from the NFL, probably a suspension of however many games the league deems appropriate.

When and if he is able to get back on the field, there is no reason to believe he can’t become a good NFL cornerback.

Baker was awful the first 10 or so games of 2019, justifiably drawing criticism for his lack of preparedness and an occasional lack of hustle. Remember, though, that he did miss two weeks right before the start of the season with a knee injury. Missed time is critical for a young player adjusting to the NFL.

Following is what I wrote about Baker back in January:

“Baker’s rookie season was undoubtedly not what the Giants had hoped for. Early struggles, a midseason admission that he was still uncertain of the playbook and some questions about his effort at times. All of that led to an ugly 130.9 passer rating against and eight touchdowns surrendered among the 50 completions he allowed. The Giants had hoped for better after moving back up into the first round to select him.

“Still, there was a stretch of five games from Week 10 to Week 15 that offered a glimmer of potential. During that time period Baker allowed just seven completions and one touchdown in 23 targets.

“After what the Giants invested in him, giving up on him this quickly wouldn’t seem to be an option. Let’s hope that a humbling season and a new coaching staff will help Baker realize the potential that made Gettleman go get him in the first place.”

All of that still holds true.

The example that you always come back to with the Giants is Corey Webster. A second-round pick in 2005, Webster really did little to nothing for the Giants until the 2007 playoffs. After that memorable interception of Brett Favre in the 2007 NFC Championship Game, Webster became a solid player for the Giants from 2008 thru 2012.

Prince Amukamara is another example. His teammates thought so little of him that Jason Pierre-Paul once picked him up and dumped him in a cold tub. After a slow start to his career, though, Amukamara has become a solid, though albeit unspectacular, player.

Cornerback is not easy to play at the NFL level, where offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will pick unmercifully on a struggling player. It is, however, far too soon to simply write Baker off.

Glenn Mausolf asks: What do you think about the Giants strategy the past two years, and maybe this year, where the defensive line uses three defensive tackles that are better known for run stuffing, but provide little in the way of pass rush? Lawrence and Williams, would most likely be interior defensive linemen handling A Gap and B Gap, on many other teams. Do you think the Giants would be better served using slightly smaller and quicker DE for more pass rush?

Ed says: Glenn, thanks for the question. I know you asked several, but I thought addressing this one was the most useful.

I think that this question offers a chance to review the general responsibilities of down linemen in a 3-4 defense vs. those in a 4-3. There are two really useful ‘Summer School’ posts in this regard:

The 4-3 defense places a premium on defensive ends who can rush the passer — like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul.

The 3-4 is a different animal. The traditional two-gap 3-4 is a defensive where linemen are tasked, basically, with occupying blockers so that the four linebackers can run free and make the plays. In the more modern one-gap 3-4 (use the Summer School piece above for fuller explanations) there are more opportunities for defensive linemen to penetrate and make plays. A 3-4 “defensive end” is really a defensive tackle and, while it would be helpful to the defense if someone like Leonard Williams would finish more plays and earn more sacks, the primary pass rushers even in this defense are expected to be the standup EDGE players.

Now, also realize that the Giants quite often last season played with just two down lineman, and at other times played a four-man front with some combination of Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines, and Lorenzo Carter with their hands in the ground. That was a type of hybrid approach, and we’re going to see even more of that with Patrick Graham.

I think saying a team runs a 4-3 or a 3-4 is becoming antiquated. Teams do a little of everything based on opponent, down, distance, and score.

In retrospect, I think the Giants would have drafted a pass-rushing end at No. 17 a season ago but Brian Burns was taken by the Carolina Panthers one pick in front of the Giants and they felt Lawrence was the most impactful front seven defender left on the board. The way he played as a rookie made it hard to argue.

As for the original question, while I don’t think it really matters where pass rush comes from I think the bigger issues for the Giants the past two years was the lack of a really dynamic player coming off the edge.

Marcus Mewborn asks: Are there any lingering free agents you could see the Giants trying to nab during the off-season that could fill a need for this team?

Ed says: Marcus, there are a couple. Obviously, the Giants have placed the free agent tender on Markus Golden. It would be a nice addition if Golden doesn’t find a suitor and ends up having to sign the tender. Golden has until July 22 to find a new team or his rights revert solely to the Giants.

If they want a veteran center I like the idea of bringing in Justin Britt. I’m not sure about his health or the health of Jon Halapio right now, but Britt has had a more successful career.

I also still wouldn’t mind seeing a veteran cornerback like Logan Ryan or Darqueze Dennard added to the secondary. Perhaps that depends on what happens with DeAndre Baker.

None of those are make-or-break franchise-changing moves, but I wouldn’t object to seeing any of these guys playing for the Giants this fall.