As the new league year – and pending free agency period – draws closer, the Giants find themselves at a bit of a crossroads.    

There are plenty of holes to fill. And with the franchise tagging of star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, that means Big Blue’s already modest salary cap space goes from $25 million to roughly $15 million – unless the team and Pierre-Paul can come to an agreement on a long-term deal.    

Should the franchise tag stick for the upcoming season, the Giants will be on the hook for $14.8 million, with an option to tag the defensive end again ($17.8 million) at the start of the next season’s new league session. Both sides have until March 10 to reach an agreement, or else Big Blue will be doing the same dance next March.  

It’s likely the two sides will be able to reach an extension, and unlikely that another team will come after Pierre-Paul and offer a new deal – while also throwing in two first-round picks, per the franchise-tag stipulation -- which means the Giants can begin rebuilding their defense around their singular star.      

But that doesn’t mean Big Blue is in the clear just yet.     

While Pierre-Paul is currently taken care of, and head coach Tom Coughlin will avoid lame-duck status, there’s still work to do for general manager Jerry Reese. The maligned Reese hinted at last month’s Scouting Combine that there’s a pressing need to re-tool a defense that is under new management -- led by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.         

Reese and Coughlin will be very busy next week trying to figure out the best pieces to fit Spagnuolo’s puzzle. 

Spagnuolo, who was the Giants’ defensive coordinator from 2007-09, will already be without the services of one of his favorite players, Mathias Kiwanuka, as the versatile defensive lineman was released last week for cap purposes. The new defensive coordinator may also lose other key veterans should they refuse to provide the Giants with cap-friendly pay cuts or contract restructuring. Two names that may reportedly be asked to take a financial hit – or hit the road – are linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Prince Amukamara.   

But with the pricey Pierre-Paul back in the mix, the Giants are going to have to get creative in free agency and really hit on all prospects in the draft, because Spagnuolo may not have much left to work. The defense that Spagnuolo will install relies on pressure from its front-four linemen. But if they can’t generate the necessary rush, then the entire defense is compromised.    

Spagnuolo’s scheme will be compromised if he doesn’t have the necessary tools. His biggest challenge will be developing young talent like underachieving third-year defensive end Damontre Moore and surprising defensive end Kerry Wynn – who may or may not be a one-year wonder. Spagnuolo will also see what he can do with burgeoning defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, as well as finding a definitive role for veteran lineman Robert Ayers, who is recovering from a torn pectoral injury.     

Should he be able to maximize players’ potential, Spagnuolo just may be able to get their defense back on track – but they’ll likely have to do so at bargain prices.  

 

Big Blue notes:

- The release of Kiwanuka has now made Pierre-Paul the longest-tenured defensive lineman on the roster.      

- One way the Giants could instantly improve their defense, is by going after free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The All-Pro is set to hit the open market on March 10 after the Detroit Lions decided to not apply the franchise tag. Suh’s tag would’ve been $26.1 million. And with the idea that he feels he deserves a bigger contract than Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, Suh will come with an even higher price tag. His contract demands are reportedly six years-$100 million – too rich for the Giants’ blood, as currently constituted. But with Suh reportedly saying he loves the idea of playing in the New York market, perhaps he could give Big Blue a discount. It’d have to be a considerable salary slash, though, considering the Giants still have to find a way to re-sign beloved safety Antrel Rolle, and maneuver the cap by restructuring high-priced deals like Amukamara, Beason, and quarterback Eli Manning.