The Giants have a bunch of holes to fill – and a bunch of cash to throw at free agents – and at first it seemed like they’d swing and miss on all. But the nature of the very fluid free agency period proved to be beneficial for Big Blue.
Wednesday marked the official new calendar year in the NFL, which means teams could sign and re-sign players. The first order of business was the re-signing of defensive end Jason Pierre Paul to a one-year deal worth up to $10.5 million, meaning the former Pro Bowler is betting on himself this upcoming season with hopes he can hit a big pay day next offseason.
Pierre-Paul’s re-upping wasn’t the end-all for Big Blue in fixing its pass-rushing dilemma, but it was a start. The end, however, could be the inking of former Miami Dolphin defensive end Olivier Vernon, who was signed to a five year, $85 million deal, including $52.5 million guaranteed. It’s the second-highest total for a defender in the NFL – even higher than that of Houston Texan J.J. Watt. The deal was so rich that the Jaguars bowed out, despite entering the frenzy with a record $81 million in cap space.
But the splurging was a necessary evil for general manager Jerry Reese, as the Giants originally lost out on a handful of their primary targets, without even getting an official visit from many. Big names like Mario Williams, Malik Jackson, Bruce Irvin, and Charles Johnson were scratched off the list by early Wednesday.
Williams (two-years, $17 million deal -- including incentives that can push the deal to $20 million), Jackson (six-years, $90 million), Irvin ($37 million over four years), and Johnson (one-year, $3 million to remain in Carolina) were all on the Giants’ wish list, but none are headed this way.
Aside from Vernon, Reese was able to rebound nicely by stealing Damon Harrison from the neighboring Jets.
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Of the remaining interior defensive linemen, Harrison was the crown jewel, as he’ll be the perfect sidekick to Johnathan Hankins. Harrison, who inked a four-year, $46.25 million deal, is primarily a two-down nose tackle with little pass rushing ability. But paired with the recovering Hankins – whose torn pectoral should be fully recovered by training camp – Big Blue will have a great 1-2 tandem in the middle to alleviate pressure on the linebackers.
Reese had to do something to fix a defense that was anemic in all phases – points allowed (30th), sacks (30th), stopping the run (24th), and stopping the pass (last, and second worst in league history) – as well as ranked dead last in total defense.
Today’s defensive line signings should help a defense that only tallied 23 sacks last season. But what can also aid a pass rush is having guys who can help a defense get coverage sacks.
Big Blue helped that cause when they signed former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins to a five-year, $62.5 million deal. It was a rare deep-pocketed maneuver by Reese – but a necessary one. The signing will likely mean the end of the Prince Amukamara era, as he was too inconsistent and injury prone during his tenure. Jenkins could be a great complement for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Jenkins's full deal includes $29 million guaranteed, and will pay him $40 million over the first three years. The contract will be the second-highest deal for a cornerback in the league – only behind the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis, who shares the same agency, Schwartz and Feinsod.
The secondary was scorched last season, which made the Jenkins’s signing necessary. But if the pass rush can’t get to quarterbacks, Jenkins will be just another guy – much like Amukamara was last season – and the splurging will be in vain.
Perhaps the Giants reached, but they’re in reload mode, not a rebuild, as their own Manning is also getting up in age. And if the Super Bowl showed anything, a great defense can carry a team a long way.
Big Blue notes:
-There were other free agents that the Giants missed on, including two Bengals – wideout Marvin Jones and safety George Iloka. The former signed with the Detroit Lions to help fill the immense void left by Calvin Johnson’s retirement, while the latter re-upped with Cincinnati for five years and $30 million.
-One key to the Giants' deal with Jenkins was having secondary coach Tim Walton already on staff. Walton was Jenkins’s defensive coordinator in St. Louis during the 2013 season.
-Pro Football Focus, a site designated in placing value on players, had Vernon as the third-ranked edge defender – trailing only dual-All-Pro linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack of the Raiders, and the Super Bowl MVP, linebacker Von Miller of the Denver Broncos. Vernon led all 4-3 defensive ends with 30 quarterback hits to go with his 7.5 sacks.
-Free agent defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr., who had a career year with Big Blue, could feel the pinch, following the big signings by the Giants. He’s set to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week.