@DanGrazianoESPN: Well, as a Bills fan, you'll be happy to learn that Marcell Dareus is not a free agent, since the Bills picked up the 2015 contract option on their 2011 first-round pick last spring. But pass-rusher Jerry Hughes and running back C.J. Spiller are free agents, and both are interesting names for the Giants. Hughes is among the top pass-rushers available on the free-agent market, assuming Buffalo lets him hit that market, along with the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul. I wouldn't expect the Giants to try to sign both of those players, as they'd be over-committing financially at one position to do it, so my guess would be Hughes is a high-end option who would only be on their radar if they decided to let Pierre-Paul leave. As for Spiller, he interests me a lot. I wrote last week about one of the ways in which the Giants plan to upgrade their run game -- namely, by signing offensive linemen who can upgrade their run-blocking. But I also expect them to pursue a change-of-pace running back to fill the role they had planned for David Wilson last season, and Spiller's speed and elusiveness put him in that category along with players such as New England's Shane Vereen and Atlanta's Antone Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers. Depending on what the market will bear -- and I highly doubt anyone's going to be paying Spiller feature-back money -- he could land on the Giants' radar for sure.
@DanGrazianoESPN: They will definitely make an effort to sign Pierre-Paul long-term. And if they can't get that done, they may well use the franchise player designation on him to hold him in place for one year at around $15 millon. Otherwise ... uh ... I don't know. Antrel Rolle, if he'll cut them a deal (which I kind of think he won't)? Stevie Brown and Mike Patterson if they're still cheap? Jacquian Williams if his concussion symptoms are cleared up? Mark Herzlich is part of the furniture, and I'd guess he returns. But the Giants' didn't have the kind of defensive season that makes you scream, "Bring everybody back!!!" The most interesting one to me is Walter Thurmond, as I wonder what his price is going to turn out to be after he signed a one-year, prove-it deal and went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2. I know they like him, but it's possible the injury has changed their mind on whether he's their nickel corner of the future.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I would think it's safety, because whatever you or I may think of Will Beatty and Justin Pugh as starting NFL tackles, they have proven they can be that. Yes, I think the Giants can upgrade at both of those spots, but if they have to go with Beatty and Pugh as their starting tackles, they believe they can get the job done. But right now, the only two safeties on the roster are 2013 fifth-round pick Cooper Taylor and 2014 fifth-round pick Nat Berhe. It'd be a huge bonus if even one of those guys played his way into a starting role in 2015, and to expect both of them to do it would be folly. (And even if they did, they'll need at least one backup, right?) In the recent past, the Giants used a first-round pick on Kenny Phillips and signed Rolle to a five-year, free-agent deal, so we know they have a history of using major resources on safety. I believe they have a crying need at that position, whether they bring back Rolle or not, and I expect them to be big-game hunters when it comes to safety this offseason.
OL issues: Is it a question of scheme, technique, personnel? what approach will change for this upcoming year? #nygmail— Ben Rosenberg (@BenRNJ) January 30, 2015
@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants' problems on the offensive line are the result of years of neglect. They ignored the line at the top of the draft for more than a decade before taking Pugh in the first round two years ago. And adding Geoff Schwartz as a free agent and Weston Richburg as a second-round pick last year didn't solve the underlying problem, which is that they have failed to draft and develop offensive line talent for years now. Beatty is being paid as a franchise left tackle but doesn't always perform like one. He was a second-round pick. But mid-rounders such as James Brewer never developed, the pipeline got dry, and they've spent the past couple of years trying to play catch-up. Unless you commit significant high-end resources to the line (as the Cowboys have, taking a lineman in the first round in three of the past four years) or develop one and let it mesh together for a period of time, you can't expect consistently dominant production there. The great Giants line of Diehl/Snee/O'Hara/Seubert/McKenzie carried them for a long time, but once those guys got old, the Giants did a rotten job of re-stocking their positions, and they are obviously paying the price.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the Super Bowl. We'll be back next week.
PHOENIX -- NFL Defensive Player Of The Year J.J. Watt was a unanimous selection as The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player Of The Year for 2014.
The ultra-energetic and versatile Houston Texans end collected every vote from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.
"It's special," he said. "It's a testament to my coaches and teammates and everything they did throughout the year. There are so many people who helped make this possible."
He is the first unanimous choice for an AP award since Tom Brady won Most Valuable Player in 2007, and the first for top defensive player under the current voting setup.
In his fourth pro season, Watt earned his second such honor with 20.5 sacks, 78 tackles -- 29 for losses -- 50 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and 10 blocked passes.
He is the first NFL player with multiple 20-sack seasons. Watt also had 20.5 sacks in 2012, his other top defensive player season.
Watt finished second in the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player voting behind Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, who also took the honor in 2011, received 31 votes for the 2014 award from a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.
Watt, seeking to become the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, got 13 votes. Since the number of voters for the AP MVP was reduced to 50 in 1999, the 13 votes by Watt are the most for any defensive player.
"They said I was starting to get arthritis in my knee," Schofield said Sunday. "But honestly, who's not playing with something?"
He wound up re-signing with the Seahawks -- and now he and his teammates are going back to the big game. He played in the defensive-line rotation against the Packers, and finished with two assists and a quarterback hit. He lined up all along the defensive front, from end to nose tackle. ...
He'll again be a free agent in a few weeks, and he hopes his efforts have opened the eyes of some general managers -- and maybe some team physicians -- to what he can do.
Until then, he gets to finish the ride with the Seahawks.
"To possibly have the first two Super Bowls in franchise history and have them back-to-back and be a part of both of them? What more could you ask for?" he said. "That's a storybook ending for anybody."
I bring this up because the short-lived Schofield signing was an example of something the Giants might do again this offseason. Though they will be focused on re-signing free-agent defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they are always looking to beef up the pass rush. They added Robert Ayers late last year as Justin Tuck's replacement, and with Mathias Kiwanuka likely on his way out the door this offseason (and Pierre-Paul not a sure thing to return), they will be looking for one or two more bodies, at least, for that pass rush.
The free-agent pass-rusher market this year is loaded with familiar names, and you are going to want to know about guys like Buffalo's Jerry Hughes, Washington's Brian Orakpo, Philadelphia's Brandon Graham, etc... But the Giants had a specific reason for liking Schofield as a linebacker who could help their pass rush by lining up in different spots all around the formation. And even if they don't go back to that particular well, expect to hear a name or two out of the blue and off the beaten path as the Giants scour the market for pass-rushers. After all, as they have often said, you can't have too many.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Usually art imitates life, but Thursday, life imitated art -- in record-breaking fashion.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees brought to life a Visa commercial to set a Guinness World Record for most one-handed catches in a minute, completing 33 on the ESPN Super Bowl set.
"He was throwing them perfect," Beckham said.
The event recreated a commercial that aired during the football season and featured Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald catching one-handed passes from Brees, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. That commercial digitally imposed the three quarterbacks, but Thursday's event was very real.
The passes had to travel at least 10 yards. The event was officiated by Arizona Interscholastic Association football official Tyler Cerimeli and was verified by Guinness World Record adjudicator Alex Angert.
Former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, who now plays for the Raiders, was a guest on "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio this morning, and he discussed a number of topics involving the upcoming Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl. One of the first questions the guys asked Tuck was about Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, who is creating a stir this week with his one-sentence protests of the group media availabilities.
"No. I don't think so," Tuck said after a pause. "I think Coach Coughlin is a little bit more to the line. Him and Marshawn wouldn't get along very well, because [Coughlin's] not about individuality in that case, when it brings attention to a certain player and not to the team.
"Now, I agree with you. I think Pete is perfect for Seattle and the athletes and the guys they have on that football team, and it's worked well for them, obviously. Those personalities feed that team. I don't think it would have worked well for us and how the New York Giants were built, from top to bottom, from Mr. Mara down. I don't think that would have worked well."
Tuck wasn't criticizing Coughlin -- just analyzing his style versus what the Seahawks and Carroll have built in Seattle. There are many ways to skin the coaching cat, and obviously Coughlin and Carroll have had great success doing it their way. Tuck goes on to discuss Coughlin's style and the ways in which he used to stress to his star players that they had to be focused on the team first.
Tuck also talks, later in the interview, about Sunday's game. As a member of a Giants' defense that beat Tom Brady's Patriots in the Super Bowl twice -- including the year New England came into the game 18-0 -- Tuck believes the Seahawks need to repeat the Giants' defensive formula from those games.
"The way you beat Brady is to pressure him with the front four," Tuck said. "Seattle's front four has to dominate the football game. I know the 'Legion of Boom' is getting all the pub, and rightfully so. But the game is going to be won up front, like it always is."
Spoken like a true defensive lineman.
Amukamara also said he'd heard nothing yet from the Giants regarding his contract, which is a potentially interesting situation that may yet be addressed in the next few weeks.
Because Amukamara was their first-round pick in 2011, the Giants had the right to exercise a fifth-year option on him for 2015, which they did last offseason. If he plays out the season on that option, he'll make $6.898 million in 2015 (a figure determined by averaging the third through 25th highest cornerback salaries in the league in 2013). So far, that money is only guaranteed against injury, but it becomes fully guaranteed if he's still on the Giants' roster on the first day of the new league year, which is March 10.
The Giants like Amukamara, who was having a strong year before the injury, and they consider him part of their future. He'll surely be on the roster on March 10, and if they have to pay him $6.898 million in 2015, they can afford to do so.
But it's also possible that the Giants will approach Amukamara about signing a longer-term contract -- say a two-year or three-year deal that rolls the $6.898 million into a larger guarantee and helps them lower his cap number for this year. Amukamara said he and his agent had not yet been approached about that, but he'd be willing to listen if they wanted to have such a discussion.
Of the 32 first-round picks from the 2011 draft (the first one to which the fifth-year option rule applied), 21 had their options picked up. Of those 21, only four have signed long-term deals, and they are what Amukamara described as "no-brainers" -- Houston's J.J. Watt, Arizona's Patrick Peterson, St. Louis' Robert Quinn and Dallas' Tyron Smith. An Amukamara deal wouldn't come in as a mega deal along the lines of those four, but if the Giants can get him to agree to something reasonable that keeps him there for two or three years, it might help them with a little bit of extra cap room in the short term.
Obviously, when you have consecutive seasons under .500, your hope is that you're building something for the future. But at least in the eyes of our talent scout, the Giants are behind three-fourths of the NFL in terms of the quality of young talent on their roster.
We've talked a lot in this space about how the Giants' drafts from 2008-12 were pretty much complete wastelands, but when you're looking at 25-and-under talent you really can't go back further than that 2011 draft. That one delivered first-rounder Prince Amukamara (who doesn't turn 26 until June), but after him it was a mess of Marvin Austin, Jerrel Jernigan, James Brewer, Greg Jones, Tyler Sash, Jacquian Williams and Da'Rel Scott. Amukamara and Williams were defensive starters for the Giants in 2014, and Williams helped win the Super Bowl as a rookie, but that's clearly not a good draft.
The 2012 draft hasn't worked out very well either, as first-rounder David Wilson was forced into early retirement by neck injuries. Second-rounder Rueben Randle is a quality NFL receiver, though not a star. Third-rounder Jayron Hosley was a complete bust, and the Giants have received very little in contributions from Adrien Robinson, Brandon Mosley, Matt McCants and Markus Kuhn.
The Giants got starters in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft with Justin Pugh and Johnathan Hankins. Damontre Moore is still only 22, so there's still a chance he learns how to play the run and stop committing dumb penalties. And they're happy with fourth-rounder Ryan Nassib as a backup quarterback. But he's shown little to indicate he'll be any more than that, and late-rounders Cooper Taylor, Eric Herman and Michael Cox haven't shown much.
Of these drafts, 2014 obviously shows the most promise, with first-round superstar Odell Beckham Jr. leading the way. Matt also lists second-rounder Weston Richburg, who could be the team's starting center in 2015, among the Giants' top five 25-and-under players. They also found potential starters in the fourth round (Andre Williams) and the fifth round (Devon Kennard), and it's early to judge lightly-used guys such as Jay Bromley and Nat Berhe.
If this were a ranking of players 23 and under, then the drafts from the last two years likely would push the Giants up the list. But they're still lugging around the mistakes and misses from that dark half-decade when they couldn't figure out the draft, and that's why they're sitting there in the bottom quarter of Matt's rankings.
Cruz signed his long-term deal prior to the 2013 season. He has four years left on that deal at an average salary of $7.5 million per year and an average cap hit of $9 million per year. This year's salary is a palatable $6.15 million. Next year's is a more exorbitant $7.9 million. None of the remaining salary in his deal is guaranteed.
Now, if Cruz produces the way he produced in the two years before he signed the deal -- two years in which he averaged 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns -- these numbers are no problem. However, his production dropped in 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards, 4 touchdowns and missed the final two games due to injury). And in the sixth game of the 2014 season, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and had to have major surgery that ended his season.
There is no guarantee Cruz comes all the way back from the injury, or that he's the same kind of explosive player he was before it happened. The Giants hope he makes a full recovery, and he and they are optimistic he will. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has some creative ways to use Cruz that he didn't get to show much in 2014 before the injury. The team's preference would be to have Cruz all the way back and earning his contract in their new offense for the next four years.
But this is a cold business, this NFL contract business. And with Odell Beckham Jr. having exploded onto the scene as a superstar talent and producer in Cruz's absence, the Giants may well have the leverage they need to seek a reduction in Cruz's salary over the remaining four years of the deal. And it may be in their best salary-cap interest to seek that reduction. They can point out the 12 missed games over the past two years and use Beckham's emergence to help their case and maybe shave a couple of million bucks off of that cap number this year.
Doing this would run the risk of alienating one of the team's best and favorite players. Cruz is a selfless, team-first guy who showed up in 2014 training camp after signing the deal and told the coaches he wanted to work on becoming a better downfield blocker in the run game. He's a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they may decide this isn't a road they want to travel. That contract definitely means something to him, and it may well hurt his pride if they come to him and threaten him with a release while telling him Beckham has passed him -- even if it's just a negotiating tactic.
Cutting Cruz would only save the Giants $2.425 million cap space this year, so assuming they believe he's going to make it all the way back that's not a worthwhile way to go. But given the way things have gone since Cruz signed that deal a year and a half ago, it's not crazy to at least look at making some changes to it.
One of the most important rules about interviewing professional athletes is to remember that they are not doctors. Beckham can tell the New York Post, if he likes, that he played the whole season with two tears in his hamstrings. He may even technically be correct, because any kind of muscle pull or strain is, in point of fact, a tear of the soft tissue. But all he's doing is using a different word to describe an injury about which everyone already knew. If you go out in the backyard and throw the football around with your kids and you pull your calf or your quad or your hamstring, you will go to work the next day with at least one tear in your muscle. Congrats on toughing that out.
Now, of course, Beckham's job requires him to use his hamstrings to a much more spectacular extent than you or I use them, so the fact that his preseason hamstring injury never fully healed is interesting. But what you have to remember is this: After Beckham pulled his hamstring in the first practice of training camp last summer, and after he pulled it again in a partial practice a couple of weeks later, the Giants sat Beckham out until they were completely sure he could play without risk of reinjuring that muscle. He likely could have played in Week 4 against Washington, but they waited until Week 5 against Atlanta for his debut simply because they wanted to make sure. (And because, if you remember, they only needed Larry Donnell to beat Washington.)
During the season, Beckham would occasionally discuss the hamstring. Once in a while, he would be discussing a particular play or route and say that was one where he felt he might not be able to go full speed because of his hamstring. Wisely, on these occasions, he slowed down so that he might continue playing in the rest of the game. That is the extent to which Beckham's hamstrings affected him after Week 4, and it's possible he could have stretched it out on any or all of those plays and not been affected.
Beckham was absolutely dazzling this season. His 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games are likely to be rewarded Saturday night with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Might he be even better next season if his hamstring is fully healed after an offseason's worth of rest? Sure. A full offseason program, training camp and slate of preseason games are likely to help him as well, as could the return from injury of fellow star wideout Victor Cruz.
But Beckham's accomplishments and ability require no embellishment. They are great enough on their own, and the words he chose to discuss his hamstring issues Sunday night don't mean anything in the big picture of what this young man did or can continue to do going forward.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had so many athletic catches that he inspired T-shirts and all forms of Internet creativity in his rookie season, revealed after Sunday's Pro Bowl that he is still affected by a hamstring injury that kept him out of much of the Giants' offseason program, training camp and the first month of the regular season.
Beckham, who still closed out 2014 with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, missed the first four games of the season and didn't have a game with more than four receptions until Nov. 3 when he had eight catches for 156 yards against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I was never fully healthy," Beckham said following Team Irvin's 32-28 win over Team Carter in the NFL's all-star game. "... I was just trying to manage it and maintain it. ... It's still not right. [I'm] still working on it."
Beckham added it was a "long process" for his recovery.
The Giants' first-round pick from the 2014 draft (12th overall) finished Sunday's affair with five receptions for 89 yards for Team Irvin, including a full-layout 48-yard catch on a pass from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the first half.
Beckham added after Sunday's game that he had actually suffered two hamstring injuries before the season -- one in an early-offseason workout and another in a preseason game. He said he intends to rest in the coming weeks to try to get his leg feeling better.
We'll take a quick look at the New York Giants' end of it. PFF has them six above-average players away, which doesn't sound bad. They have only one player in the "Elite" category -- Pro Bowl rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- and seven in the "Good" category (Johnathan Hankins, Robert Ayers, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Will Beatty, Rueben Randle and Daniel Fells).
Check out the project and click on the Giants' link and you'll see I have a bit of a rundown on where I do and don't agree with PFF's evaluations (and why). And you can decide for yourself where you do and don't agree with them. And you can look around the rest of the league to see how other teams' problems stack up with those of the 6-10 Giants. For me, I think the evaluations are generous. But with the Giants, they always seem to be -- until the season ends and we look at the record.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Mathias Kiwanuka is the most obvious New York Giants cap casualty this offseason, as it's been a long time since his production matched up with his salary and they can save $4.85 million by cutting him. Also looming as potential cuts are linebacker Jon Beason and center J.D. Walton, though Walton's not overpriced and the decision on him could come down to how much other work they're able to do on their offensive line this offseason. Beason's case is an interesting one. They obviously like him and believe he makes a difference to their defense. And he's guaranteed $900,000 in salary this year anyway. But the $7.37 million cap number is unwieldy, and they'd save about $3.53 million by cutting him. They could try to talk him into a pay cut, but if they really believe Jameel McClain functioned as a capable replacement, then it's not crazy to move on from Beason at this point.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Obviously, a lot depends on what they do in free agency. And even after that, the Giants do have a tendency not to target specific positions but to go with the best possible player at their spot. If you're looking for a basic framework, my sense is that the market will send them toward offensive linemen in free agency and defensive players in the draft. Given where they're drafting, they could have a chance at a top-flight pass-rusher or a stud safety like Alabama's Landon Collins at No. 9. And while they don't tend to draft linebackers, they do have a significant need at that position, so maybe they'll try for one of those in the second or third round. And even if they do sign a bunch of offensive linemen in free agency, they could (and maybe should) find a tackle or a guard in the second or third round with an eye toward the long term.
@DanGrazianoESPN: It was something of a surprise that the Giants spent big on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in March, even as part of their big free-agent frenzy. But it does show you where their priorities are focused right now, and I think if they did spend big on a marquee free agent this year it would be on the back end of their defense, possibly a safety like Devin McCourty or Da'Norris Searcy. They will make offensive line a priority, but since they consider themselves set at left tackle with Will Beatty, they're unlikely to bring in any "marquee" names on the line. (Guards and right tackles aren't generally marquee names.) The only two safeties on the roster right now are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, and there's some question about whether they'll bring back free agent Antrel Rolle, so this is a place where they have significant resources to spend.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I do not think taking a top quarterback such as Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston would be a good use of the Giants' first-round draft pick this year, even if one of those guys fell to No. 9. The Giants' roster is not in strong enough shape to allow them to double up major resources on the quarterback position, where they're heavily committed to Eli Manning this year and likely to extend his contract into the future. If they believed they were moving on from Manning after this year, then you could maybe make the case for taking Mariota in the first round. But let's be honest -- Mariota or Winston would do well to ever be half as good an NFL quarterback as Eli Manning already is. The Giants know this, and with Manning still in his prime, they're not interested in cutting bait and turning the franchise over to an unproven commodity at the most important position.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the Pro Bowl.
"It's been a guy that I've looked up to for a long time," Beckham said after Friday's Pro Bowl practice at Scottsdale Community College. "A guy who's been at the top and a guy who's been all the way down at the bottom and still remained the same the entire way through.
"Skills like that is something that I admire in a person -- someone who goes through such controversy and adversity and is still able to overcome it."
But Beckham never thought Mathieu would give up.
"Just says a lot about the person and his character," Beckham said. "It's something that I expect from him. I expect nothing but greatness from him. That's what he gives every time."
Beckham experienced some of that adversity during his rookie season in 2014.
He missed the first four games with a hamstring injury but recovered to lead all rookie receivers with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. His injury, coupled with the knee injury Mathieu suffered in Week 14 of 2013, kept them from working out together during last offseason.
The two New Orleans natives kept in touch and would "chop it up back-and-forth," Beckham said. They also share a similar style: Like Mathieu, Beckham has the top of his hair dyed blonde.
"I don't know if it's really [a tribute] to him," Beckham said. "It's our little style, so it just works out."