The relatively recent success of the New York Giants was predicated on pressuring the quarterback and winning the trenches. Names like Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora all come to the forefront of our minds as we reminisce with bliss on what once was. There was also a glimmer of hope in 2016 with Jason Pierre-Paul and Oliver Vernon manning the Giants’ pass rush, but that was short-lived.
The more recent history hasn’t been so kind to Big Blue. Injuries, draft busts, and JAG players have reduced the effectiveness of a once potent and feared positional group. The Giants had a double-digit sack player in 2020, but it was defensive lineman Leonard Williams who accomplished achievement with 11.5.
After Williams, both Dexter Lawrence and Kyler Fackrell were tied with 4.0 sacks - one a defensive lineman, the other now a free agent. New York finished with 40 total sacks in 2020. Behind Fackrell, the next most sacks from EDGE players were Markus Golden and Jabaal Sheard at 1.5 sacks. The circumstances with the injuries to Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines must be factored into this reality.
Injuries can be devastating, but this team still consistently struggled to win on the EDGE and there have been talks about upgrading the position for years. The Giants have some interesting cap decisions that must be made in the next few weeks. The fates of Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson have to be determined, as does the retention of Golden Tate, Kevin Zeitler, and Nate Solder. Restructuring of contracts could open up immediate money as well, so the cap space is maneuverable to a point. Let’s look at five high-priced free-agent pass rushers that may interest the Giants.
Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers
Barrett was franchise tagged by the Buccaneers heading into 2020. He’s totaled 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons and had 8 sacks in 2020 (regular season), while recording a sack in the Super Bowl and 3 in the conference championship game. Barrett was linked to the Giants last offseason and is now available once again.
Barrett has 41.5 sacks and 55 tackles for a loss in his career. Before arriving in Tampa Bay, Barrett was a situational pass rusher for the Broncos behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. He’s been nothing short of excellent in his two seasons in Tampa Bay.
He’s a 6-foot-2, 250-pound, pass rusher who has twitch, explosiveness, bend, and a lot of different pass-rushing moves. Barrett is 28 years old and is looking to capitalize on another big contract. The 98 (10 in the Super Bowl) pressures he earned in 2020 would be welcomed by the Giants.
Carl Lawson, Bengals
Lawson fell to the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft because he had a lot of injuries that many NFL teams feared. His hip was a major concern and he had other lower-body ailments. The Bengals were rewarded with a very good football player on Day 3, and it didn’t take long for Lawson to impose his will on the league.
Lawson had 8.5 sacks in his rookie season while pressuring the quarterback 59 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Lawson plays with excellent leverage, has a great long arm and hump move that he employs, while also flashing a crafty use of hands - he’s technically proficient with how to win as a pass rusher.
Lawson can bend well through contact and has the balance/center of gravity to dip around the top of the arc and corner. He’s got good explosiveness, and he’s still only 25 years old. Combining Lawson and Leonard Williams with Patrick Graham would make a very interesting pass-rushing duo in two completely different molds.
Haason Reddick, Cardinals
The best game Reddick had in 2020 was against the Giants where he recorded 5 sacks on 7 pressures - the guy was playing out of his mind. But it wasn’t just that one game, as he finished the season with 12.5 sacks and 56 pressures in his new role as more of an EDGE player. The Cardinals went through several coaching staffs during Reddick’s short tenure in the league.
He’s shown the ability to be an adequate off-ball linebacker, but he really stepped up as an EDGE player in 2020. Reddick fits the versatile, fluid, Patrick Graham mold of defense. He can line up in multiple alignments and execute different types of assignments. He’s been asked to cover, he’s played in the box as an adequate run defender, but he made a home for himself at EDGE in Vance Joseph’s defense.
He really seized the attention of the league after Chandler Jones suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5. Reddick is only 26 years old and he still has room to grow as a pass rusher, for he’s relatively new to the position as a full-time player. New York needs to upgrade the position group and Reddick makes sense, but the money can’t be too extreme for a player who only has one quality year at EDGE under his belt.
Bud Dupree, Steelers
Dupree had an excellent 2019 campaign after starting the first few years of his career in a slow manner. This prompted Pittsburgh to franchise tag Dupree, and the pass rusher was having another great season before suffering an ACL tear in Week 12. Pittsburgh is now in a bit of a quandary - do they franchise tag him again with that cap number rising and the overall salary cap situation declining?
Finding talented pass rushers on cheaper prove it deals was once thought to be difficult, but Jadaevon Clowney signed one last offseason with the Titans, and it didn’t exactly work out for him, or the Titans. However, Dupree could be a different case. He should be ready by the start of the season and his developmental curve was ascending exponentially before his injury.
Dupree recorded 11.5 sacks and 51 pressures in 2019 while sacking the quarterback 9 times with 42 pressures in 11 2020 games. He’s not as technically developed as some of the other pass rushers on this list, but he’s explosive, has excellent short-area quickness, and is one of the better backside defenders in the league.
Will that burst be lost due to the injury, it’s possible, but a low-risk, incentive-based, contract for Dupree could be a wise move. His presence would certainly help both the run and pass-rushing portions of the Giants' defense.
Matt Judon, Ravens
An important contributor in Wink Martindale's heavy pressure scheme of the Baltimore Ravens. Judon is 6-3, 261 pounds, has heavy hands, and brings power rushing elements to the defense, while also being a solid run defender who can drop in space when asked. Judon, much like Shaquil Barrett, was franchise tagged in 2020.
Judon now hits the market as a 7-sack, 46-pressure, type of player. He’s not the bendiest or twitchiest pass rusher, and he’s going to be 29 when the season starts, but I can see his utilization with Patrick Graham being effective. Judon would be an immediate upgrade to any of the players in the Kyler Fackrell role. I don’t think the Giants are positioned to invest big money into a player like Judon, but his name should still be mentioned.