Grading the 2017 “New” York Giants: Free Agency

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The New York Giants had much more of a quiet free agency approach this year due to their lack of cap space. While last year they were throwing money around to land top-tier players like it was nothing, this year they mainly focused on retaining their own guys and shopping for bargain-bin free agents. This doesn’t mean the Giants didn’t make some quality moves, however. They made moves that can definitely improve their team this season and get them closer to being Super Bowl contenders. Lets check out my grades and analysis for the 2017 New York Giants:

WR Brandon Marshall

Before free agency officially began, the Giants wasted no time and inked super star wide out Brandon Marshall to a 2-year, $11 million deal. After being released, the former Jets receiver had the Giants as his number one destination. He didn’t want to leave the New York/New Jersey area and he wanted to play for a contender. In the end, this deal worked out perfectly for both Marshall and the Giants.

Marshall fills a huge need in the Giants offense and provides much more of an upgrade than what Victor Cruz brought to the table last year. Not only does Marshall give the Giants that big, tall target they desperately needed, but he also brings an element of physicality and leadership that will pay huge dividends. Odell Beckham Jr. may be one of the best players in the NFL, but he also can be one of the biggest headaches in the NFL. Having a guy who’s been where Odell is right now will be monumental for Odell’s growth and maturity.

Marshall, being only one year removed from a monster season where he racked up 14 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards receiving, gives Eli a legitimate security blanket who would take a huge load off of Odell. Now the Giants possess arguably the NFL’s most dangerous reviving core with the three-headed monster of Marshall, Odell, and second-year man Sterling Shepard. Marshall will be a leader on and off the field, a great locker-room presence, and a big success with Big Blue. This was a match made in heaven that can really put this Giants team over the top.

Grade: A+

TE/FB Rhett Ellison

Blocking in general, whether it was at the offensive line or the skill positions, was a big problem last season. The Giants knew this, so they signed Rhett Ellison, the 6th year TE/FB who will add a much-needed dimension to the offense that was nonexistent last year after Will Johnson got hurt. Ellison, a tough and physical pounder, is a very underrated but smart signing by Jerry Reese and Co.

When I say Ellison is tough and physical, I mean tough and physical. Check out this video of him absolutely destroying Von Miller if you want some proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VehxtjQmIHQ

Yeah….that is what he will bring to this Giants offense. I don’t know about you, but seeing that gets me really excited. And aside from tearing his patellar tendon in the Vikings 2015 regular-season finale, Ellison hasn’t suffered any major injuries and has remained relatively healthy. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t that the same injury Victor Cruz had?” Yes it is, but the difference between the two is that Ellison had a much easier road to recovery than Cruz. Also, Cruz’s position required lots of speed and shiftiness, while Ellison’s position really requires none of that. Ellison also made a relatively quick recovery, and he was back for the start of the 2016 season, which is remarkable. That goes to show the kind of effort and determination Ellison has.

This guy will be a nice fit in the Giants offense and he will end up being a valuable piece in terms of helping out the offensive line in run-blocking and pass-protection, and in terms of depth at the tight end position.

Grade: B+

OG/OT DJ Fluker

Finally turning at least a little bit of their attention to the offensive line, Jerry Reese went out and snatched 2013 first-round pick DJ Fluker. In four seasons with the Chargers, Fluker was an average player but mostly considered a disappointment since he never blossomed into the legitimate lineman he was expected to become. Despite his disappointing career up to this point, Fluker is eager and hungry to prove his value in this league and silence all his critics, which is why I think this was a smart signing by the Giants.

By inking Fluker to a one year, $3 million prove-it deal, the Giants are risking close to nothing. If Fluker blossoms into a good player with the Giants, then he’ll play out the deal and try to earn a nice paycheck next offseason. If he remains a disappointment, the Giants can just let him go after this season and they only would have paid him a minimal amount of money. This is a low-risk, high-reward type signing that could make Jerry Reese look like a genius if it works out.

Grade: B+

QB Geno Smith

The Giants shocked and confused many people around the league by signing troubled quarterback Geno Smith to compete for the backup role behind Eli Manning. In four seasons with the New York Jets that were filled with injuries and off-the-field problems, it remains to be seen why the Giants chose to sign Smith after being known to stay away from guys with his kind of history. And coming off a torn ACL last season, Smith is still recovering and probably won’t be fully healthy until training camp.

With all that being said, maybe a change of scenery is what Smith needs. There is no doubt he’s a talented player, possessing great athleticism, arm strength, and a quick release. Ben McAdoo even went the distance to say that Smith could very well be Eli’s successor. While I don’t see that happening at all, if Smith comes back healthy and shows drastic improvement both on-and-off the field, then I guess it’s a possibility. And with a very cheap deal, the Giants have barely any money at all tied into Smith. The most likely scenario, though, is that Smith will either play out his one-year deal as the backup to Eli, or he won’t even make the 53-man roster.

Grade: C

CB Valentino Blake

After losing some depth at the cornerback position when Coty Sensabaugh signed with the Steelers, the Giants quickly took care of that by scooping up 6th-year defensive back Valentino Blake. There isn’t really much to make of this signing. Blake has been a solid role player throughout his time in the NFL while also being a nice special teams contributor. With the top three cornerback spots locked in barring any injuries, Blake probably won’t see a whole lot of time with the defense and will most likely see the majority of his snaps on special teams. Blake will provide veteran depth, though, which is always a valuable asset to have just in case someone does get hurt.

Grade: C+

QB Josh Johnson (re-signed)

What was even more surprising about the Geno Smith signing is that the Giants signed him right after they re-signed backup quarterback Josh Johnson. While it’s clear that they want Johnson and Smith to battle it out for the backup quarterback position in training camp, I still don’t like the Smith signing. Anyway, getting back to Johnson, I like that the Giants brought him back. He is a veteran option who knows the system and will only improve in understanding the playbook this season.

The hope and likely scenario is that neither Johnson nor Smith will ever see the field once the regular season begins. In the one-in-a-billion chance that Eli does get injured, I would feel much more comfortable with Johnson taking over then I would with Smith.

Grade: B

OG John Jerry (re-signed)

The Giants once again turned back their attention to the offensive line by bringing back a familiar face in guard John Jerry, who has started 40 out of 48 games for the Giants while never missing a single game. Jerry, while he isn’t perfect, was a real solid lineman for the Giants last season. He worked extremely hard last offseason and his improvement showed. He earned a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 77 and an 84.1 grade in pass blocking. Those are pretty good numbers.

Jerry, Fluker, and third-year linemen Bobby Hart will provide nice competition on that right side of the line. My prediction is that Jerry will maintain the right guard position, Fluker becomes the starting right tackle, and Hart becomes the main backup at both positions. Jerry was signed to a nice, affordable deal (3 years, $10 million) and can become a leader to the guys he is competing with. The offensive line may not be perfect, but bringing back a guy like Jerry is big because you most likely wouldn’t find anyone better at that spot and Jerry will continue to grow in a system he is now familiar with.

Grade: B+

LB Mark Herzlich (re-signed)

Before the Giants made an effort to retain some of the centerpieces of their defense, they went and brought back some valuable role players as well. That’s exactly what they did when they re-signed 7th-year linebacker Mark Herzlich to a 1-year deal for $855K. Herzlich may not be a starting linebacker, but he is definitely a valuable role player and special teams guy. Herzlich has also been a great leader to this Giants team ever since he was unsigned as an UDFA back in 2011. This is a guy who has overcome a lot and he deserves to be back with the Giants for at least one more year.

Grade: C+

 

DE Jason Pierre-Paul (re-signed)

The number one goal for the Giants this offseason has been to keep their defense together, with bringing back Jason Pierre-Paul being the most prominent move. Well, a couple of months after slapping him with the franchise tag, the Giants and JPP were able to come to terms on a fresh four-year deal. This was huge for a number of reasons. If the Giants would have lost JPP, that would have been a colossal blow to their elite-ranked defense. With all that time and money spent by Jerry Reese last offseason to improve the unit, it would seem like almost a waste if you lose one of the main centerpieces the following year. The Giants then would have had to desperately try and find guys to make up for JPP’s absence and it would have just turned into one big mess.

While JPP did miss a good part of last season with a groin injury, including their playoff game against Green Bay, when he was healthy he showed that he was just as dominant as before he suffered his infamous July 4th fireworks incident. Besides, JPP is one of those guys who needs to be a Giant for life. It would just look too strange seeing him playing for any other team. Kudos to the Giants for accomplishing their number one goal and retaining their most important free agent for at least the next four years.

Grade: A

LB Keenan Robinson

The Giants most recent transaction was the re-signing of linebacker Keenan Robinson. I, for one, am really happy the Giants and Robinson were able to come to terms on a contract. Robinson was an under-valued piece on this Giants defense, and while his ratings (78th out of 87 qualifiers on PFF) may not be so good, he was definitely our best coverage linebacker. He racked up 86 tackles last season, and he also played his first full 16-game season. Robinson will only continue to grow in the system during year two and should improve in the areas where he wasn’t as strong in.

Grade: B