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NFL free agency 2023: Should Giants reunite with Jabrill Peppers?

Former Giants seems to have a skill set that Wink Martindale would like

New York Giants v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Jabrill Peppers spent three seasons with the New York Giants after an offseason trade that sent star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. Peppers was a team captain and one of the more prominent voices in the Giants’ locker room from 2019 through 2021.

Several injuries marred Peppers’ time in New York. He suffered a fractured tailbone that ended his 2019 season in Week 12. He missed one game with a Grade 2 ankle sprain in 2020, where he played a career-high 912 defensive snaps. His 2021 season ended after he tore his right ACL in Week 7.

The former first-round pick out of Michigan is only 27 years old. When he was healthy, he provided the Giants a physical presence in run support - he’s only missed four tackles in the last two seasons.

At the end of the dismal 2021 season, Peppers followed former Giants’ coach Joe Judge to the New England Patriots, where he signed a one-year, $2 million contract.

The basics

Age: 27 in the 2023 season
Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 213
Position: Strong Safety
Experience: 6 seasons
2022 stats: 17 games | Tackles: (60) | Tackles for a loss: (2) | Stops: (20) | Passes defended: (1) | Reception percentage: (81 percent) | Missed tackles (2, 3.6 percent)

The skinny

According to Pro Football Focus, 2022 was Peppers’ best season by most metrics in their grading. Peppers’ 2018 season was comparable, but it was a refreshing bounce-back year for the New Jersey native in a more reserved defensive role.

Peppers was a sub-package safety playing 186 snaps in the box with 101 at slot cornerback. Peppers’ ability to fit the run aggressively allowed the Patriots to go into lighter personnel with an effective run asset as the apex/overhang defender. This is one reason why Peppers could be enticing for the Giants.

Wink Martindale’s system is predicated on versatile defensive personnel that relies on speed at the second level. The Giants led the league by a wide margin in quarter personnel package (7+ defensive backs on the field). Aligning in such personnel gives the offense a natural run advantage when it’s not third-and-long.

The Giants ran 65 non-third-down-plays in quarter personnel this season. Some were second-and-long, others were first-and-10. Martindale was comfortable matching the opponent’s 11 personnel with his quarter package, but there were instances where Martindale employed a nickel package against 12 personnel.

We witnessed this against the Minnesota Vikings in the Wildcard round. Depending on the formation, the Giants would use safety Xavier McKinney in the box with Nick McCloud as the slot defender.

In the subsequent week against Philadephia, the Giants attempted to match some 12 personnel with their nickel package, and the end result was not desirable for Big Blue. Teams who employ athletic 12 personnel packages put defenses in a bind when a smaller defender can’t successfully fit the run and their linebackers can’t cover.

The safeties and the overhang weren’t the primary issues with the Giants against Philadelphia, but finding defensive pieces who can allow Martindale to employ his desired personnel has to be one tenet to success for Joe Schoen this offseason.

Peppers could certainly help the Giants in that regard. New York has decisions to make on 2022 captain Julian Love, Landon Collins, and Tony Jefferson. Love will easily earn the biggest contract of those three, and adding Peppers to the Giants’ defensive back room doesn’t preclude the Giants from signing Love, nor would Peppers be his replacement.

If the Giants were to add Peppers, it would be on a short-term cheap deal as a rotational safety in sub-packages. He would not be the every-down starter that he was when he previously was with New York. He would essentially play the Jefferson or Collins role.

Peppers was a rotational player for the Patriots, and he was able to make it through the season unscathed. We know the Giants operate on smart, tough, and dependable. Peppers is a smart player who is tough when he can stay healthy. He’s competitive and he loved being a Giant.

Relegating Peppers to a rotational role can mitigate the risk of injury and allow him to be utilized closer to the line of scrimmage, where he’s typically more successful. If injuries were to happen to the starters (presuming Peppers doesn’t win the job in training camp), then Peppers is reliable enough to spot-start.

I don’t know if Schoen or the Giants’ coaching staff would be open to bringing Peppers back, but finding more defensive backs who can fit the run is necessary for the Giants’ current defense. His injury history is concerning, but the contract would be cheap, and there’s still some upside with the former Heisman Trophy finalist.