The New York Giants are not in the best position to invest money when the free-agent period commences. Big Blue swung for the fences during the 2021 free agent cycle under former general manager Dave Gettleman, but the result was a massive whiff.
Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll were hired from Buffalo, and New York is tasked to shed $40-million in cap space. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Devontae Booker - two players signed last season - were the first victims of the massive shed. Punter Riley Dixon was shown the door a week later. Tight end Kaden Smith was waived (failed physical), and Blake Martinez and Sterling Shepard took pay cuts to remain.
There are still moves that will transpire. The free-agent period officially starts on March 16th at 1 p.m. Eastern time, but the tampering period begins on March 14th. The Giants won’t be heavy investors in free agency, but they will attempt to add several cheaper veterans who could help the roster reflect the image of the Giants’ new coaching staff and front office. Here’s a list of the more prominent (in terms of snaps played) offensive free agents that were Giants in 2021:
QB Mike Glennon
RB Devontae Booker (released)
RB Elijhaa Penny (won’t return)
WR John Ross
WR C.J. Board
WR Dante Pettis
TE Evan Engram
TE Kyle Rudolph (released)
OT Nate Solder
OG Will Hernandez
OG Matt Skura
OC Billy Price
Many of these players will find new homes. Some defensive players, like Jabrill Peppers, would thrive in Wink Martindale’s system. If he were fully healthy and would sign at the right price, I wouldn’t complain. Lorenzo Carter is another player who would thrive under Martindale.
The roster will look much different in training camp than now, but free-agent spending will be difficult. A new regime typically brings a lot of turnover. Here’s a list of several cheaper offensive free agent options that the Giants might pursue.
[NOTE: Recently released free agents - like Matt Gono - can sign before the league year starts. Former Buffalo Bills’ IOL Jon Feliciano falls into that category and makes sense at the right price.]
Nick Mullens, QB
Ideally, the Giants could afford Marcus Mariota or Mitchell Trubisky to back up, and possibly compete against, Daniel Jones. However, New York’s cap situation may prevent the Giants from investing the money those two quarterbacks might command. Big Blue might have to look at cheaper options, and Mullens fits the criteria.
He signed a one-year, less than one million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns after starting 16 games through four seasons with Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers. Mullens appeared in one game as a member of the Browns; he completed 66.7 percent of his throws for 147 yards and a touchdown in a 16-14 loss against the Browns.
Does the 26-year-old inspire hope? Not really. Is he an upgrade over Mike Glennon? Yes. Mullens has some mobility, solid experience, and can be functional in a spot start scenario. It’s not an ideal addition, but the Giants aren’t in an ideal spot.
Chad Henne, QB
Henne is familiar with offensive coordinator Mike Kafka from their time in Kansas City. The 36-year-old won’t command much money, but he won’t be an exciting signing, either.
Henne started for the Dolphins and Jaguars before arriving in Kansas City as Patrick Mahomes’ backup. Henne spent the 2019 season on injured reserve and has only started one game as a member of the Chiefs - a 2020 Week 17 game against the Chargers.
Tyrod Taylor, QB
New York could go the route of a veteran quarterback with no ties to Kafka or Brian Daboll, and Taylor makes some sense. He shouldn’t command a hefty contract on the market, and he’s played solid football when he started.
Taylor is still fleet of foot at the age of 32. In 2021, he threw for just under 1,000 yards with five touchdowns, five interceptions (three of the five interceptions came against Miami), and a completion percentage of 61. Taylor struggles to stay healthy, which is an obvious problem, but he’s a true professional and an upgrade over Glennon.
Darrel Williams, RB
New York will likely not invest money into the running back position via free agency (they’ll more than likely draft one on Day 3), but a cheaper option with upside would be Darrel Williams. The former Kansas City Chiefs’ running back had an excellent season in 2021 while starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire was dinged up.
Williams is a dual-threat. He rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns on 145 carries while catching 47 of 55 targets for two touchdowns. He has a relationship with Kafka from their time in Kansas City. It’s unlikely to happen, but he would be a cheaper option than other free agents available at the running back position.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR
Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com had an excellent article detailing the relationship between McKenzie and Giants’ head coach Brian Daboll. I encourage the readers to check it out.
McKenzie credits his late-season breakout to Daboll, for the former Bills’ offensive coordinator constantly worked with the speedster. McKenzie was a fifth-round pick out of Georgia by the Denver Broncos in 2017 and ended up in Buffalo with Brian Daboll in 2018.
It’s plausible that McKenzie would want to reunite with Daboll. The two became very close, and Daboll took McKenzie under his wing. McKenzie has never had more than 300 yards receiving in a season, but he was a true red-zone threat in 2020. Despite his 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame. McKenzie caught six touchdown passes that year.
I don’t believe adding McKenzie duplicates the skill-set of 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney. They can co-exist on the roster. McKenzie could be prioritized by Buffalo, especially if Emmanual Sanders retires. He resigned a one-year deal with Buffalo last season. If he’s available at the right price, I will welcome his addition to the Giants.
Pharaoh Brown, TE
The 27-year-old spent 2021 with current Giants’ tight ends coach Andy Bischoff as a member of the Houston Texans, but that’s not the only reason Brown to the Giants makes sense. Brown is 6-6, 258 pounds, with receiving and some athletic upside. His past injuries suffered in college at Oregon were always a concern, but he was healthy the last two seasons with Houston.
Brown caught 23 of 32 targets for 171 yards. He presents a big target up the seam with a large catch radius. Brown’s 35⅝-inch arm length is in the 99th percentile for tight ends, and his 10⅜-inch hands are 86th percentile. He could be signed cheap at a significant position of need.
Jordan Akins, TE
Akins is a 29-year-old free agent at 6-4, 243 pounds, with more receiving upside than Brown. Akins was also with Bischoff last year in Houston and may be looking for a change of scenery. Akins caught 24 of 31 targets for 214 scoreless yards in 2021 but had more than 400 yards in each of the previous two seasons. Bischoff said this about Akins last offseason:
“He acknowledges his strengths, and he acknowledges his weaknesses, and he wants to get better. He’s been nothing but a real pro and a welcome student to what I’m trying to get done.”
Akins is a bit more of a receiver than a run blocker - he’s solid after the catch for a tight end. He’s a much smaller option than Brown, but he could be a cheap target for the Giants that Bischoff worked with in the past. Pro Football Focus projects him to sign a two-year, $6.8-million contract.
Maxx Williams, TE
The 27-year-old was poised to have a career receiving year after securing 16 of 17 Kyler Murray targets for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Cardinals. Unfortunately, Williams tore his ACL in Week 5 and is now a free agent. The Cardinals may want to retain Williams, especially if they allow free-agent Zach Ertz to leave. PFF has Williams’ projected contract at three years, $13 million.
Williams was selected in the second round of the 2015 draft by the Baltimore Ravens (Ozzie Newsome loves tight ends). He’s one of the better run-blocking tight ends in the league. Williams worked with Bischoff when the Giants’ tight ends coach was a quality control coach, an offensive assistant, and the assistant tight ends coach over three years in Baltimore. The fit makes sense, but Williams may want to return to a more contending team. He could sign for a discount because of the injury.
Riley Reiff, OT
The 34-year-old signed with the Cincinnati Bengals last offseason, playing 711 snaps before suffering an ankle injury that landed him on injured reserve. Reiff is a respectable veteran with slightly less than 10,000 snaps played under his belt. He’ll more than likely want to play for a contending team, and he’s still an adequate asset - he surrendered 21 pressures and four sacks on a poor offensive line last season.
I’m not sure how to gauge his market. Pro Football Focus projects him to sign a two-year, $14-million contract. That could be too expensive for New York’s current cap situation. If it is cheaper, Reiff would make an ideal swing tackle, or an adequate option on the right side who could be a bridge for the eventual replacement.
Mike Remmers, OT
Should the Giants reunite with Remmers, who spent the 2019 season with the Giants under Pat Shurmur? That should be a consideration. Remmers is 32 years old and suffered a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve last season — not ideal. His 2020 with the Kansas City Chiefs was serviceable at right tackle. He played 914 snaps, starting games at every position on the line other than center. He allowed 31 pressures and two sacks through 15 games in 2020. PFF projects him to make one-year, $2.75 million - relatively inexpensive.
It wouldn’t be an exciting addition, but a veteran presence with positional versatility is necessary. The career injuries with Remmers, as well as last year’s knee injury, are concerning. Remmers also spent the previous two seasons with Kafka. Adding Remmers shouldn’t be viewed as addressing the starting right tackle position; it would be a depth signing for a swing tackle.
Dennis Kelly, OT
Kelly played 361 snaps for the Green Bay Packers in 2021. He only allowed nine pressures and two sacks on 221 pass-blocking snaps. The 32-year-old, long-time Tennessee Titan could be a great option as a swing tackle. PFF projects his contract at one-year, $1.5 million. It’s affordable, he’s adequate, and he could start if the Giants don’t select a competent tackle to start right away. Kelly could compete with Gono for the swing tackle position.
Ryan Bates, OL
The former Buffalo Bill is a versatile offensive lineman familiar with Daboll and Joe Schoen. Bates started 2021 games at center, left tackle, left guard, and played nine snaps at right guard in Week 12 against New Orleans. Bates is just 25 years old.
Adding Bates would be a no-brainer if he was an unrestricted free agent at the right price. Bates is a restricted free agent, so the Bills could tender him at a one-year $2.43 million contract (to my understanding); if they do that, they won’t receive any draft compensation for the loss if he chooses to play somewhere else.
If Buffalo wants a draft pick, they need to offer him around $4 million in salary just for 2022; they would receive a second-round pick from the team that signs him, which is highly unlikely. New York’s in no position to chase restricted free agents whose teams tendered them. However, if Bates is available to sign with no compensation, he’s an interesting option for a Giants team that needs offensive line help.
Ted Karras, OG
The 28-year-old former New England Patriots would be a great addition to the Giants’ offensive line room. Karras has played 3,498 snaps in his career; he’s coming off an 891-snap season where he only allowed three sacks and 13 pressures at right and left guard. PFF projects his contract at three years, $13-million. He would be an immediate upgrade over any guard on the Giants roster.
Austin Blythe, OC
Blythe only played 12 snaps in 2021 with the Chiefs, but he was the full-time starter for the Rams in the previous three seasons. Blythe’s pass protection was an issue in Los Angeles. He’s more of a fit for zone schemes. PFF projects his contract around $1.13 million. Unlike Karras, Blythe shouldn’t be relied on as a starter - he has to earn that.
It would be great if the Giants were in a position to add players like OGs Alex Cappa, Brandon Scherff, James Daniels, or OTs like Duane or Trent Brown, but the cap situation continues to be a hindrance. The Giants will sign some players to reshape the roster to Schoen and Daboll’s liking, but the home run swings to make the Giants relevant in 2022 seem unlikely.