The New York Giants linebacker corps was the critical vulnerability of the 2022 defense. Joe Schoen and the Giants’ front office cycled through players until signing Jarrad Davis off the Detroit Lions practice squad late in the season. Davis started two playoff games alongside Jaylon Smith; both are now free agents.
New York’s inability to fit power gap and counter concepts plagued the team throughout the season. The Eagles' game plan in the playoffs was essentially scripted to exploit the obvious liability at the second level.
The Giants finished with the second-lowest total defensive rushing EPA (Expected Points Added) in the NFL. They allowed the 28th-most rushing yards per game in the league, a total of 146.3 rushing yards per game.
The need for linebackers is at the forefront. Buffalo Bills’ LB Tremaine Edmunds is a popular name linked to the Giants, and for good reason. However, the Giants' cap situation may be restricted depending on the possible upcoming contracts to quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley.
Could T.J. Edwards of the Philadelphia Eagles be part of the solution for the Giants?
Edmunds will command more money than Edwards, but the latter is still a significant upgrade over anything the Giants trotted out at linebacker last season. Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers are the only Giants at linebacker and the former was benched at the end of the season for Davis. Beavers, a 2022 sixth-round pick, missed the season with a torn ACL.
The addition of Edwards would likely be cost-effective, yet it would dramatically help Wink Martindale’s defensive unit.
Age: 27 in the 2023 season
Height: 6-foot-1 | Weight: 242
Experience: 4 seasons
2022 stats: 14 games | Tackles: (159) | Solo Tackles: (99) |Tackles for a loss: (10) | Stops: (52) | Pressures (11) | Sacks: (2) | Missed tackles (20, 10.7 percent) | Passes Defended: (7)
Edwards was an undrafted free agent in 2019 out of Wisconsin where he was a four-year starter for the Badgers. The linebacker thrived in Jim Leonhard’s aggressive system that resembles many principles of a Martindale defense. His impact was immediately felt by the Eagles on special teams, but he assumed a starting role in 2020.
The long-time Badgers leader wasn’t known as an athletic linebacker, which was one reason why he fell in the draft. He’s not flashy, but he understands how to play linebacker, and he does it well.
Edwards is an instinctual defender with excellent discipline and processing ability. He’s tough and dependable as well, only missing some time in 2020 with a hamstring injury. In his four years as an Eagle, he’s compiled 389 tackles, 20 for a loss, 5 sacks, 13 passes defended, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. He only has a missed tackle rate of 8.6 percent in his career.
In 2022, Edwards was one of four players on the Eagles to play more than 1,000 snaps; Edwards played 1,129 snaps as the primary linebacker. The Eagles run mostly two-linebacker sub-packages (Nickel), but Edwards operated as the dime linebacker as well, which Philadelphia ran only 4.1 percent of the time. The Eagles did not run quarter personnel like Martindale.
Pro Football Focus had Edwards No. 3 in total tackles behind Kansas City’s Nick Bolton and Jacksonville’s Foyesade Oluokun. Edwards’ innate ability to understand route combinations and react in a prompt manner allowed him to knock seven passes down in 2022. He may not be the most fluid athlete in man coverage, but he understands leverage and space.
A player like Edwards is exactly what the Giants need to help solidify their run defense. He’s not a liability athletically, albeit that’s not his strength. Detractors of Edwards suggest he’s thriving in a system with talent all around him - they’re not wrong.
Edwards has one of the best defensive lines in recent memory in front of him, and he has a great secondary that consists of cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry on the outside. Playing alongside that kind of talent assisted Edwards with achieving career marks at linebacker, but that shouldn’t take away from the traits he does display on film.
Despite having all the talent around him, Edwards still positions himself to execute his assignments and he can do so irrespective of how his teammates are performing. He can be proactive when necessary and he quickly reacts to offensive intentions after reading his run keys in a quick manner.
He’s physical, smart, tough, and dependable. He’ll likely not earn nearly as much as other free agents on the market. He’s currently an Eagle and can be watched on Super Bowl Sunday, and he would certainly be a welcomed addition to the Giants’ defense.