Despite the crash-and-burn that was Wild Card Weekend, the Giants put together a successful season in which they returned to the postseason for the first time since winning the Super Bowl in 2011. Sure there were the ups and downs, the surprises and disappointments, but in the end there is definitely a lot to be excited about for Giants fans going forward. The Giants have a very important offseason coming up. It’s crucial for them to have success both in free agency and the draft like last year in order to seriously contend for a championship while Eli Manning is still under center, which isn’t much longer.
Last season was a fantastic offseason for the Giants. They spent a truckload of money on durable defensive stars to turn the league’s worst unit in 2015 to one of the league’s best in 2016. They also had a very productive draft class where even a number of undrafted free agents became quality contributors for this team. It was exactly what they needed, but they’re going to need it again.
It’s going to be harder for the Giants to add quality pieces this offseason with a number of players becoming free agents, less cap space, and a lower draft pick. But they can do it. If they follow my guide to another successful offseason, the Giants will win the franchise’s 5th Super Bowl next season for sure. The cheat sheet is right here, all Jerry Reese needs to do is read this article. You’re welcome Jerry. With that, let’s dive in:
Bring back Jason Pierre-Paul
The Giants have a number of their own free agents who they would like to re-sign, but at the top of the list should be Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP has been cornerstone for this team ever since getting drafted 15th overall in 2010. He is one of the NFL’s most explosive pass rushers and he proved this season that he can still be elite even with 7 1/2 fingers due to his July 4th fireworks accident.
JPP isn’t coming cheap, he’s reportedly only signing a long-term deal for around what the Giants paid Olivier Vernon last year. That’s going to be a lot of money invested into the defensive line, but it’s worth it. When healthy the triple threat of JPP and Vernon along with Snacks in the middle was absolutely dynamic. Jonathan Hankins is another key guy becoming a free agent. He is a very good player but his game is too similar to Snacks. They need more of a pass rushing presence to pair with Snacks on the inside rather then two run-stuffers.
The Giants know what they have in JPP. He may have trouble staying on the field at times, but they can’t risk losing a proven talent like him. If JPP goes somewhere else the defensive line will have a big hole and the Giants will be forced to go with a bunch of unproven options. The Giants need JPP and need to do everything in their power to keep him.
Keep DRC, cut Cruz and Jennings
Cutting players is never easy, and the Giants are going to be faced with a number of tough decisions this offseason. Players like cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, wide receiver Victor Cruz, and running back Rashad Jennings are veterans who are getting paid a good amount of money and might need to be let go in order to clear up cap space. What the Giants should do is keep DRC and cut Cruz and Jennings, and there are a number of reasons for this.
In the beginning of the season I understand why DRC would be on the hot seat, especially with the selection of Eli Apple in the first round of last year’s draft, but now the Giants would be insane to let him go. DRC had arguably the best season of his career this season, racking up 49 tackles and 6 interceptions while splitting time on the outside and in the slot. He was named a Second Team All-Pro and proved he’s still a top corner in the NFL. He also serves as a quality leader for the younger guys in the secondary like Apple. The Giants need to keep him around.
When it comes to Cruz, this one breaks my heart. Ever since coming into the league Cruz has been my absolute favorite player and I adore both him and his story. But he just isn’t the same player that he was before his two major leg injuries. This season he managed 39 receptions for 586 yards and only 1 salsa dance which came all the way back in Week 1. He was moved to the outside a lot of the time with rookie Sterling Shepard playing the slot, and you could tell he didn’t look as comfortable there. Cruz is slated to make around $10 million in 2017, and the Giants can save a large amount of money by cutting him. It just makes too much sense. That is simply too much money tied into your third wide receiver who is now a shell of his former self. We all love you Vic, none of us want this to happen, but unfortunately it’s time to move on.
With Jennings, this is another fan favorite amongst Giants fans. Since being signed by the Giants in 2014, Jennings has become a leader and valuable role model for younger players. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to him, but his production and salary just don’t add up. Last season especially, Jennings struggled to do much at all when he had the ball in his hands. Too often he produced a series of 1-yard runs and didn’t make it past the line of scrimmage a whole lot. He only put together 794 all-purpose yards, scoring 4 total touchdowns in the process. He is also 31, so his game is on the decline. The Giants want to build their ground game around promising rookie Paul Perkins and add another back via the draft most likely. They can save around $3 million by cutting Jennings, and even though it will be difficult to see such a loyal and popular player go, the Giants need to make this move.
Find a legit left tackle already
Just writing about this pisses me off. The Giants have overlooked the most important position on the offensive line for long enough now, and it needs to stop in order for this team to be successful. The right guard and right tackle positions along with the overall depth of the line could use some strengthening as well, but left tackle is the most important need. Especially with a 36-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback who is on the decline, the already huge need for an adequate blindside protector becomes even bigger.
Ereck Flowers isn’t going to cut it. I know Reese and Ben McAdoo are going to continue to try and defend the 2015 1st-round pick all they can, but it’s time to recognize the mistake that’s been made and move him to the right side. I mean Flowers has just been awful. When he isn’t getting flagged for holding he’s actually shoving edge rushers into Eli. I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do that. Flowers is the perfect example of why technique is more important than physical abilities. Hopefully by moving him to the right side it will save Reese from yet another wasted draft pick.
It would be best for the Giants to go out and grab an established veteran through free agency. They don’t have the time to put another rookie or unproven player in there and wait for him to develop. They need someone who can step in and contribute right away. Andrew Whitworth, the 11-year man from the Cincinnati Bengals, would be the perfect signing. At 35, Whitworth is a proven veteran who knows how to get the job done. He made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons (including this season) and made First Team All-Pro in 2015, which proves he’s still playing at an elite level despite his age. He may not be a long-term solution, but he is the perfect win-now option. Eli will feel very comfortable having a left tackle close to his age. Sign him to a two-year deal, add an experienced leader to that line like Whitworth and it will go a long way next season.
Draft OJ Howard
The Giants need another tight end. Larry Donnell should be cut immediately. What was once a guy who looked like a hidden gem has become a turnover waiting to happen whenever he catches a pass. Will Tye is a reliable chain-mover, and rookie Jerell Adams is raw but he showed flashes this season. I expect Adams to take a big step next season, but the Giants still need to add another tight end to the mix. That guy should be Alabama star OJ Howard. Yes there will be good options in free agency and some might think it makes more sense to focus on a tight end later in the draft since this draft class is the deepest we’ve seen in years, but taking Howard with your first round pick is definitely the best option.
When you look at Howard’s game, he is as well-rounded as they come. Like everybody there are some things in his game that he could touch up on, but there aren’t any major weaknesses. He has great size and strength at 6’6″ and 250 lbs. He has great hands, route running ability, and breakaway speed. He’s also proven to be a very strong blocker in the running and passing game. He’s an intelligent guy and a team player, and you can tell he’s serious about maximizing his full potential by staying at Alabama an extra year. While it is uncertain, even to Howard, as to why he got relatively low usage at Alabama, Howard has played well enough to prove he’s the best tight end prospect in this stacked class. He balled out this past week at the Senior Bowl, which will only help his draft stock even more.
Howard is the kind of player who can step right in immediately and help the Giants offense. He would give Eli a much-needed security blanket and take pressure off guys like Odell and Shepard. With the way his stock is rising it may be more unlikely that he’s available when the Giants pick, but this team needs Howard and they should do whatever they can to make sure he’s on the roster next season.
Start to focus on Eli’s successor, but don’t rush it
That time all Giants fans have been avoiding for years has unfortunately arrived. Eli Manning may still have a few more seasons left in the NFL, but it’s time to start thinking about who will take over once he retires. However, while this season is a good time to start looking at quarterbacks who can be potential replacements, that doesn’t mean you go out of your way to draft one and call the offseason a failure if you don’t find anybody you like. The last thing anybody wants is Jerry Reese making a panic move for a guy the Giants aren’t even sure they want.
Since it would make the most sense for the Giants to draft and develop Eli’s replacement, this offseason should be the time where the Giants start looking at quarterbacks beyond this draft class. Unless Deshaun Watson or Deshone Kizer fall to them, which probably won’t happen, the Giants shouldn’t be banking on this draft class to be the one where they find their man. The 2016 class isn’t a particularly strong one for quarterbacks, with even the top guys plagued with question marks. Now that might not matter as much with the Giants cause they won’t need a guy to step in right away, but it’s still definitely something to consider. Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech is the only guy I could see being a nice mid-round pick if he lasts that long, but the Giants might want to focus on more immediate needs.
Maybe the Giants will pull together a blockbuster trade for a quarterback already in the NFL. We don’t know, but you have to admit it would be pretty cool to see Jerry Reese do something like that. However they choose to land Eli’s successor is up to them, but even Jerry Reese knows it’s time to start looking. Ryan Nassib isn’t the answer. Josh Johnson definitely isn’t the answer. It’s time to start getting your feet wet and taking a look at the options you have going forward.
Don’t forget about linebacker, running back, etc.
Lastly, the Giants could really use some upgrading in multiple positions. Linebacker is the most glaring one, but they also need to add another running back and receiver. These aren’t as major as the needs in the offensive line or at tight end, but they should be strengthened to make the team more well-rounded.
The one weakness of the Giants stellar defense this season was the linebacking group. Steve Spagnuolo lacked a big-time playmaker at the linebacker position and it would have been really useful to have one. Jonathan Casillas proved to be a true leader for the defense and had a good year all around, racking up almost 100 tackles. Devon Kennard shredded the injury-prone label this season and had a solid year overall, while free agent signees Keenan Robinson and Kelvin Sheppard were solid contributors who I think should be brought back. You also got rookie 4th-round pick B.J. Goodson who was really good on special teams and should get a lot more playing time with the defense going forward. But the Giants really need to add a dynamic linebacker to take the defense to the next level. There are a number of ways Reese can attack this. The draft offers some promising options, and maybe Reese will break his trend of not drafting linebackers in the first round by drafting a guy like Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt or Tim Williams from Alabama. They could also try and sign a linebacker via free agency like Melvin Ingram or Nick Perry. Whatever they do they should definitely try and add a legit playmaker to this group.
When it comes to running back the Giants already have a guy who can be a feature back in this league with rookie 5th-round pick Paul Perkins. Perkins showed great vision, speed, and shiftiness when given a chance and a lot of people are excited about him. However, just cause they have something with Perkins doesn’t mean the Giants couldn’t use a big and powerful runner to pair up with Perkins. The really could and they really should get one. They could look to free agency at guys like Eddie Lacy or LeGarrette Blount, but I think they should try and draft D’Onta Foreman from Texas instead. Foreman rushed for over 2,000 yards this year and has the ideal blend of size, speed, and strength to excel in the NFL. when it comes to adding another receiver the Giants need to bring in a big-bodied guy. Odell and Sheppard are fantastic players but they stand at 5’11” and 5’10” respectively. Throw in a guy with size and this can be the most dynamic receiving core in the game. Think guys like Alshon Jeffery or Terrelle Pryor in free agency, assuming they hit the market.
As I mentioned before, this is going to be an extremely important offseason. It might even be more important than last year. Jerry Reese is once again going to be put under the ultimate general manager test following an 11-5 season. We’ll see if he can keep at least the majority of the defense together while improving major needs on the offense under a limited cap and a draft pick in the early 20’s. If he does, then the Giants very well might be holding up that 5th Lombardi at this time next year.