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New York Giants offseason plan: Filling holes on the defense

Let’s see how the Giants can upgrade a defense that may have overachieved in 2020

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants
Patrick Graham (left) and Joe Judge
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday I unveiled my offseason plan for upgrading the New York Giants offense. The defense doesn’t need as much attention, but major decisions need to be made and pieces still need to be added. Here’s how I would approach the offseason.

Defensive line

Under contract: Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, RJ McIntosh, Niko Lalos, Breeland Speaks
UFA: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Austin Johnson

What to do about Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson has to be where this conversation starts.

Williams — I have said over and over that, in my view, Williams and his multi-faceted skill set has to be the priority over the run-stuffing Tomlinson if only one can be signed. I am also on record as saying that I would not use the franchise tag on Williams. I simply believe that devoting $19.4 million (or more, if Williams wins a grievance to be considered a defensive end) would cripple the Giants’ ability to add useful players to the rest of the roster. A four-year deal somewhere between $72 and $80 million that would allow the 2021 cap hit to be kept as low as possible is what I would be aiming for.

Tomlinson — It would be nice if the Giants could sign Willams and Tomlinson, bringing the Williams-Tomlinson-Dexter Lawrence defensive front back intact. Spotrac’s Market Value Tool estimates a four-year, $45.8 million deal for Tomlinson ($11.47 million per year). That’s probably realistic. If the decision is up to me, I try to make it happen. I will not, though, get into a bidding war for Tomlinson and spend more than I’m comfortable with.

Free agency

I am entering into this discussion under the belief that Williams is back with the Giants in 2021, but that I have unfortunately had to sacrifice Tomlinson because of the declining salary cap.

I’m going bargain hunting for defensive tackle help. That starts by bringing Austin Johnson. He played on a one-year, $1.3 million deal in 2020, and should cost around that.

To supplement, I’m looking for a veteran player who will take a one-year deal at a low or reasonable cost. Former Dave Gettleman draft pick Kawann Short would be part of that mix. Here is the current list of free agent defensive tackles. There will likely be more as teams make moves over the next few days to create cap space.

I’m pretty confident that I can add a low-cost veteran to the defensive line rotation in this scenario.

Draft

If there is one thing the Giants have been good at over the last 15 years or so, it has been drafting and developing defensive tackles. There have been a couple of misses (William Joseph, Marvin Austin, Jay Bromley), but far more hits (Barry Cofield, Linval Joseph, Johnathan Hankins, Tomlinson, Dexter Lawrence ... I might even include B.J. Hill on this side of the ledger).

I’m not going to hesitate to dip into that Day 2 defensive tackle pool, which has long been the defensive tackle sweet spot for the Giants. Guys like Christian Barmore of Alabama, Alim McNeill of N.C. State and Levi Onwuzirike of Washington are on my radar. Even someone like Carlos Basham of Wake Forest, who is considered an edge by some but is really a versatile down lineman. There are a number of other early Day 3 possibilities, as well.

Again, I feel fairly confident about the ability to supplement this spot.

Outside linebacker

Under contract: Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Trent Harris
UFA: Kyler Fackrell, Jabaal Sheard

The Giants, as everyone knows, need more dynamic play-making ability at the edge. Kyler Fackrell is a free agent, and I’m probably letting him go. He’s a good player, but his athletic limitations in space bother me.

Lorenzo Carter is coming off an Achilles injury. Oshane Ximines is coming off a shoulder injury, and didn’t appear to curry the favor of this coaching staff last year before he was injured. Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown had only small roles on defense in 2020, and it’s unknown whether they will be able to handle expanded ones.

Free agency

If I can bring in an edge like Kyle Van Noy or Hasson Reddick, I’m making that happen. Spotrac estimates Reddick’s value at four years, $46.6 million, roughly $11.6 million per year. If I can find that money I would be willing to spend it for a 26-year-old former first-round pick I think just really came into his own in 2020. Beyond those two, I’m bargain hunting for players who can play both going forward as rushers and dropping occasionally into space.

Draft

We have been over this one. I am not a big fan of using the 11th overall pick on either Kwity Paye or Gregory Rousseau. I might take a chance on Jaelen Phillips of Miami [Prospect Profile] at No. 42, even with his concussion history, but I don’t think he will be there.

I like players like Azeez Ojulari of Georgia, Quincy Roche of Miami, Joe Tryon of Washington and Joseph Ossai of Texas. Jayson Oweh of Penn State has the tools, but his lack of production makes him a difficult projection for me.

Whether it’s the draft or free agency, talent has to be added here.

Inside linebacker

Under contract: Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder, TJ Brunson
UFA: None
RFA: DeVante Downs

I am optimistic about the possibility that Tae Crowder could be the answer for the Giants next to Blake Martinez. He impressed as a rookie with his intelligence, athleticism and coverage potential. That, though, doesn’t mean I think Crowder is a sure thing. I also think Carter Coughlin and Cam Brown could play roles here. Again, though, not a sure thing.

I’m probably not spending big free agent money on this position. I might not even address it at all in free agency, even after cutting David Mayo. To be honest, I can take or leave bringing back restricted free agent DeVante Downs.

If Micah Parsons of Penn State is available at No. 11, he would have to be in the conversation for me. Players like Zaven Collins of Tulsa [Profile] and even Nick Bolton of Missouri would be tremendous values at No. 42.

Pro Football Focus loves Bolton, despite his apparent lack of elite athletic traits. From the PFF draft guide:

You’ll hear about Bolton’s physical knocks all spring. He’s not going to be close to the biggest, fastest or longest linebacker in the class, but when it comes to playing the game of football, he just may be the best. He had the most stops of any linebacker in SEC play in each of the past two seasons. He’s a tone-setter in every sense of the word. Bolton wants to send a message to every player he comes in contact with. There are no role projection concerns with Bolton, either. Put him at Mike linebacker and profit.

There are also intriguing guys like Jabril Cox of LSU, Baron Browing of Ohio State, Cameron McGrone of Michigan and Chazz Surratt of North Carolina who could be tremendous value on Day 2 or Day 3.

Cornerback

Under contract: James Bradberry, Darnay Holmes, Madre Harper, Isaac Yiadom, Jarren Williams, Quincy Wilson, Ryan Lewis, Sam Beal
UFA: None

Giants fans know the story at this position. James Bradberry was outstanding in his first season with the Giants after signing a three-year, $43.5 million contract. The outside corner opposite Bradberry was a revolving door with Corey Ballentine, Ryan Lewis, Isaac Yiadom (twice) and Julian Love all getting opportunities. For the most part, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham schemed around that position, probably playing more zone defense than anyone had anticipated.

The Giants drafted Darnay Holmes, and he did an acceptable in the slot for much of the season. Jabrill Peppers manned the slot some, and Xavier McKinney played in the slot late in the season. It’s a spot where the Giants have plenty of options and talent, thus not one that requires real offseason attention.

That second outside cornerback spot, though, is where attention needs to be focused.

Free agency

I’m bargain hunting for a veteran cornerback to complement Bradberry. I’m not sure the Giants have the money to go after more expensive options like William Jackson or Shaquil Griffin. My top target is probably Michael Davis [free agent profile] of the Los Angeles Chargers, should he reach the open market. He is one of the few cornerbacks I’d make a significant commitment to, though I’m not going anywhere near Bradberry money to reel him in.

Otherwise, I’m looking for veteran players who might be willing to take one-year deals. In a market likely flooded with mid-tier plays, I think some will be available. Perhaps veteran Desmond Trufant, who spent several years with the Atlanta Falcons while Giants defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson was the team’s defensive passing game coordinator. Here is a full list of unrestricted free agent cornerbacks.

Draft

I want to supplement this position in the draft if the opportunity arises. How big a priority that is, though, has everything to do with whether or not I’m able to add a starting-caliber cornerback in free agency.

If I can sign a starting-caliber No. 2 cornerback in free agency, even on a one-year deal, I’m likely to look for a mid- to late-round developmental cornerback. Someone with the physical tools Patrick Graham likes. Benjamin St-Juste, Trill Williams, Keith Taylor, Eric Stokes or someone like that with length, speed and athleticism.

If I can’t sign someone I think should at least be a short-term starter opposite James Bradberry, the position becomes a higher draft priority.

Would I go so far as to draft Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley in Round 1? Listen, I’m trying to be a good general manager. I’m an old-school, build your defense from front to back guy. Joe Judge and Patrick Graham, though, come from New England. The Patriots in recent years have seemed to prioritize back to front, coverage before pass rush. With so many receivers on the field now and so much quick passing in the game, that has merit. If that’s what my coaching staff wants and the value makes sense based on who else is available, I can do that.

On Day 2, players like Asante Samuel Jr., Ifeatu Melifonwu or Greg Newsome might be capable of playing right away.

Safety

Under contract: Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Julian Love
UFA: Nate Ebner, Adrian Colbert

The Giants made their big move here — one I fully support — by signing Logan Ryan to a three-year, $31 million deal. For bookkeeping purposes, the Ryan contract is really a two-year deal. The Giants can get out of Year 3 (2022) if they want with only a $1.5 million cap hit and $9.25 million in cap savings.

I don’t know if there will be room on the roster for both Ebner and Colbert, who are more valuable on special teams than they are as backup safeties. If it were my choice I would re-sign Colbert on a one-year deal at or near the veteran minimum — he’s a more useful defender than Ebner. Joe Judge is an Ebner supporter, though, so it’s probably more likely that Ebner returns.

If I’m running the Giants offseason, I’m not looking to add at safety in either free agency or the draft.