The Combine has come and gone, and as the NFL calendar nears its turn – the official season begins March 9 – it’s time to take a look at team needs for the New York squads.
Both the Giants and Jets are seeking help in different ways, as the former is starting a new regime with plenty of holes to fill, while the latter is knocking on the playoff door and just a few pieces away from being an actual contender.
Big Blue’s needs are a laundry list, but for a team that insists it’s not in a rebuild, they’d be better off looking to fill gaps via free agency since a draftee may take years to contribute, unless he breaks out like Odell Beckham Jr., but that’s not often realistic – even with the No. 10 pick. Luckily for them, there’s plenty of good veterans that can fill immediate holes. And even more fortuitous, the Giants have an abundance of cash (an estimated $58 million) to splurge. Sure, it’s never been general manager Jerry Reece’s policy to shop hard in free agency, but with his seat as hot as it’s ever been, he may just have to break his self-imposed embargo.
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Here are needs to fill for Big Blue:
1.Defensive end/pass rusher: It may be one of the most obvious needs in the league, but with the Giants having only 23 sacks last season, it’s a glaring hole. Whether they re-sign defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (one sack and 25 tackles) or not, the Giants need a major upgrade. Add to the fact that versatile defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and rush ends George Selvie and Robert Ayers Jr. (9.5 sacks) are also free agents, Big Blue may be looking to stock up this offseason. Names to keep an eye on include former Buffalo Bills lineman Mario Williams, ex-Dolphin Olivier Vernon, Broncos free agent Malik Jackson, and former Seahawk Bruce Irvin, who is deft at splitting time between outside linebacker and rush end on obvious passing downs.
2. Linebacker: This unit is as desperate for talent as the deprived defensive line. Aside from outside linebacker Devon Kennard, the Giants have no playmakers on the second level. And as much potential that Kennard has flashed, he has a difficult time staying healthy. Last season’s corps was a mix-and-match unit with non-descript names like Mark Herzlich, Jasper Brinkley, J.T. Thomas, and Uani Unga seeing considerable action. It’s been a long time since the Giants had a stud at linebacker – and even longer since they drafted one. So, look for the upgrading to come via free agency with names like Irvin, Danny Trevathan of the Broncos, and former Ram James Laurinaitis, who was drafted by the Giants’ current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo when he was head coach in St. Louis, in 2009.
3. Defensive back: Defense seems to be the theme for Big Blue, and the secondary is no different. Although it wasn’t nearly as anemic as the front seven, the secondary could definitely use an upgrade. Cornerback Prince Amukamara may not be re-signed, but even if he is, the Giants need to get more talent in the back four. Running mate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the top returning cornerback, and safety Landon Collins could be a future star, but after them it’s a who’s who. Names like Cooper Taylor, Nat Behre, Trumaine McBride, Craig Dahl, and Jayron Hosley don’t strike fear into opponents. So, look for the Giants to try and woo names like Janoris Jenkins of the Rams, or Casey Hayward of the Packers. Jenkins’s teammate, Trumaine Johnson, would be a better option, but reports are that the Rams will slap the franchise tag on him. And Giants fans can essentially forget about Josh Norman of the Panthers, who will likely get tagged – but it would have been great to see how he and Beckham could’ve co-existed.
The Jets, unlike their co-tenants, have the luxury of adding great talent through the draft and meld them with their veteran leadership. Or, they can dabble in free agency to fill holes, but with roughly $14 million in cap space, their best route is to add stellar – and affordable -- collegiate talent via the rookie pay scale.
While sitting at No. 20, there is still value for them, as many mock drafts have them selecting a guy who could be a plug-and-play rookie who also addresses a need. Ohio State University running back Ezekiel Elliot could still be there by the time the Jets pick. And with Chris Ivory set to be a free agent, Elliot could slide right in and be the linchpin in the backfield.
Another position where a youth movement could be served is rush linebacker. Last season, first-year head coach and defensive genius Todd Bowles needed to blitz a lot to create havoc on quarterbacks. But if the Jets select former University of Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, Gang Green could have the guy to take the torch from an aging Calvin Pace, who will turn 36 next season. Floyd’s Combine was a coming out party for him. He had a vertical jump of 39 ½ inches (second among linebackers), a 10-foot-7-inch broad jump (third best), and ran a 4.60 40-yard dash (fifth best). He measured at 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds -- 13 pounds heavier than his listed weight at Georgia, which showed he’s trying to erase the stigma that he’s too light to combat NFL offensive tackles. An NFL comparison to the lean and explosive Floyd is Browns rush end Barkevious Mingo. And while Mingo’s role has never been fully defined for dysfunctional Cleveland, Bowles would know just what to do with the freakishly-athletic Floyd.
-The 2016 NFL Salary Cap is set at a record $155.27 million.
-The Jets have placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. The tag price for a defensive end is $15.7 million.
-The time to see if Reese finally opens up team owner John Mara’s wallet is near, as the Giants are expected to roll-over unused cap space into the 2016 season. The additional amount is an estimated $11 million extra to use in their salary cap total, since they didn’t spend their allotted amount last season. No more excuses.