NFC East: New York Giants

A 7-9 record in 2013 earned the New York Giants the No. 12 pick in next month's NFL draft. After an offseason that has seen them sign 15 outside free agents, they still have needs at tight end, wide receiver and on the offensive line, one of which could reasonably be addressed with that pick. It also wouldn't be out of character to see them add a defensive lineman if that's who they felt the best player was at No. 12.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's latest mock draft is up today here on It's two rounds long this time, and you have to have Insider access to read it. His picks for the Giants are aimed at finding some help for quarterback Eli Manning.

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Giants actually add Josh Freeman

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
Even after we spent the past couple of days discussing it here, and even after Matt Flynn went back to Green Bay and left Josh Freeman as the last man standing in the New York Giants' search for an extra quarterback for the offseason, it was still hard to believe it would happen. Freeman washed out of two organizations last year, and the one game he played for the Vikings after the Buccaneers cut him was hardly a helpful audition. You'll remember that "Monday Night Football" fiasco as the Giants' first victory of the season, and the fact Freeman obviously wasn't at all prepared to play in the game was the main reason they were able to stop their losing streak.

But they did it. The Giants have in fact agreed to terms with Freeman on a one-year deal, which means he'll likely be in the building next week when they start their offseason program and will be a candidate to take some of the snaps in OTAs and minicamp if starting quarterback Eli Manning's recovery from ankle surgery takes longer than expected.

I guess, if he shows something, Freeman could beat out Curtis Painter for the backup quarterback job. That assumes second-year project Ryan Nassib can't get into that mix, but given the level of his competition I don't know why he couldn't.

I know there isn't much out there on the quarterback market, and that Freeman was the best and most experienced of the candidates once Manning had surgery last week, and the Giants decided they needed to add a reserve quarterback. But if Freeman is on the 2014 Giants, I can't see how that helps them. Nothing we've heard about Freeman over the past year has indicated he'd be a useful backup. And while I'm willing to give him a pass for his ugly exit from Tampa Bay because I believe loony former Bucs coach Greg Schiano to have been at least as much at fault for their conflict as Freeman, it says a lot that he couldn't beat out Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder for playing time after the Vikings signed him in October. It also says a lot that this week was the first time any sort of market materialized for Freeman this offseason, given the state of the quarterback market.

So if you think Freeman is going to be some sort of diamond-in-the-rough signing for the Giants, or that having him on the team makes them better prepared to weather a potential Manning absence than they were yesterday, I'm going to take the opposite point of view. The best thing you can say about this move is that it probably can't hurt. But if the addition of Freeman has any impact on the Giants' 2014 season, they're in trouble.

How well do the Giants pay?

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
A look at the ESPN The Magazine/Sportingintelligence Global Salary Survey shows that NFL teams don't pay their players very much, at least compared with teams in other sports leagues around the world. This list ranks all of the professional sports teams in the world by average salary per player, and you'll see that the New York Giants this year came in at No. 139 worldwide with an average of $2,089,848 per player. That figure ranks the Giants 12th among NFL teams, just behind the Cincinnati Bengals and just ahead of the San Francisco 49ers. But the highest-ranking NFL team on this list (the Minnesota Vikings) ranks just 115th in the world in terms of average salary per player.

You can see an explanation of the methodology used to assemble this list here, and this here is a link to some charts showing the top-paid athletes in the world overall and by sport. Giants quarterback Eli Manning no longer ranks among the 10 highest-paid players in the NFL.
In the wake of the surgery quarterback Eli Manning had on his ankle last week, the New York Giants are bringing in some veteran quarterbacks to have a look at them. Manning is hoping to be able to run by the end of May, and if that's the case he should be fine for the start of the team's offseason practices. But in case his recovery takes longer than expected -- or in case he's not able to participate in May and June drills to the extent he normally does -- the Giants know they may need a quarterback who can take some of the reps he has to miss.

To that end, the Giants will host former Buccaneers and Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman and former Packers quarterback Matt Flynn for visits Tuesday. There's a chance they could sign one of them. There's also a chance they could send them both home and either keep looking or just decide to stick with their current backups, Curtis Painter and Ryan Nassib. The Giants' preference would be that this all ends up unnecessary -- that Manning is fine in time for OTAs and they don't need Freeman, Flynn or any other outside help at quarterback. But there's no harm in looking, and there is plenty of potential harm in bring unprepared.

If I had to guess, I'd predict they sign Flynn. Freeman is the better player, the better athlete and the more accomplished NFL player, but Flynn worked with new Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo in Green Bay from 2008-11 and again last year. And Freeman is coming off a bad year in which questions surfaced about his off-field preparation habits. If the Giants were looking for someone to play games at quarterback for them, Freeman might make more sense. But if all they're looking for is a willing backup who'll take whatever reps come his way for however long Manning has to sit out, Flynn is probably the safer play. But we'll see. You might have an answer by this time Tuesday.
The New York Giants have been in contact with the representatives for free-agent quarterback Josh Freeman and could have the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first-round pick in for a visit and workout next week, sources familiar with the situation said Friday.

Nothing official has been scheduled in terms of a visit, and it's unclear whether the Giants' interest predates Thursday's news that starting quarterback Eli Manning had surgery on his ankle. But the timing of the Freeman news is interesting in light of the possibility that Manning could have to miss time in the offseason as he recovers from his surgery.

As I mentioned in Thursday's analysis of the Manning news, the Giants don't generally employ a fill-in-starter type of backup quarterback. Manning hasn't missed a game since he got the starter's job during his 2004 rookie season, and the Giants count on him to be able to suit up and play every Sunday. In recent years, backups such as Curtis Painter and David Carr have had their jobs mainly because of their abilities to portray opposing quarterbacks on the scout team every week.

But Freeman, who has started 60 NFL games since the Buccaneers took him with the 17th overall pick in 2009, could represent a viable fill-in, either in the preseason if Manning is slow to recover or in the regular season if the Giants are concerned Manning might be at risk of missing games for the first time in his career.

Of course, there's no guarantee Freeman would be a good backup quarterback or the Giants' interest will lead to a signing. Freeman was cut by the Buccaneers last year due to a variety of off-field concerns and a personality conflict with since-fired coach Greg Schiano (who obviously had his own issues). He was signed by the Vikings and started just one game -- a horrible one on "Monday Night Football" in MetLife Stadium that turned out to be the Giants' first victory of the 2013 season. He certainly showed the Giants nothing that night that would make them interested in him, but he has shown some talent and had some degree of success in the league. If the Giants can satisfactorily answer whatever questions they have about those off-field concerns, it's possible they could offer Freeman a job.
I mean, I guess the question has to be asked. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had ankle surgery Thursday, one day after photos surfaced of him, his brother and some of their teammates on the basketball court at Duke. So if you are wondering whether Manning re-injured his already-sprained ankle playing basketball, you're not out of line for asking.

The Giants deny it, and the photos do not show Manning playing basketball -- only posing for a picture with some of the other guys who were there for the annual passing camp the Manning brothers conduct with their receivers. He's holding a ball in one of them. If you put a gun to my head, I'd have to guess he at least took a jump shot at some point.

But here's what I'll say on this: Manning also did football stuff at Duke this week, as he does every year. The ankle was already bad as a result of the sprain suffered in the final game of the 2013 season. Whatever he did at Duke -- be it football, basketball, getting out of bed in the morning, whatever -- alerted him to the fact that his ankle wasn't all the way healed, and he and the Giants decided to get the surgery done Thursday to clean it up. Presumably, this was always a possibility, and they were just hoping to avoid surgery the same way any rational human being would hope to avoid surgery.

I'm willing to give Manning the benefit of the doubt. And that's not me being naive. I am well aware that these things happen. I was covering the Yankees in the winter of 2003-04 when third baseman Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing basketball in the offseason and set off the chain of events that led to Alex Rodriguez's ill-fated Yankees career. It is entirely possible that Manning did something he shouldn't have done this week and made the ankle worse, and that the Giants aren't being straight with us. Teams and players fiddle with the truth on injuries all the time -- all teams, in every sport.

My point is that, at this point, this has no effect on anything. Manning is not yet in line to miss any on-field work, even in the offseason. If he does, and if that has a negative effect on anything that happens in the 2014 season, any grumbling that follows is perfectly justified. I just think this is a player who's shown a remarkable ability to take care of himself and avoid injury. So I'm not eager to rush to judgment about how he's handling this situation.
The specifics of Eli Manning's ankle injury, which was requiring him to have surgery Thursday, are not really at issue here. His recovery will be what it will be, and the timetable at this point does not seem as though it will conflict with the significant on-field portion of the New York Giants' offseason program. Those who would panic over Thursday's news are no more or less correct than those who would dismiss it outright.

This is not nothing. The franchise quarterback is being operated on, and there are things he'd normally be doing at this time of the year to prepare for the season that he won't be able to do. But at this point it also does not appear to be something about which to be overly alarmed. If it lingers into June, and the Giants are on the field learning the new offense without Manning, then we can talk about ways in which it might affect the 2014 season. For now, we can give the most durable quarterback in the NFL the benefit of the doubt.

But because Manning is the most durable quarterback in the league, having not missed a game since he got the starter's job as a rookie in 2004, it's worth examining the concept of an Eli Manning injury in general. He doesn't, in any meaningful way, ever have them. Oh, sure, he has played through pain and maybe even an ailment or two that would have sidelined other quarterbacks. But an injury that forces Manning away from the field is not something the Giants have had to confront. Ever.

That's important. The Giants make their plans, every year, around the idea that Manning won't miss any time. He doesn't miss games, practices or offseason workouts. He is always there, without exception, and that and his two Super Bowl MVP awards are the reasons he's paid as one of the top quarterbacks in the league. The Giants don't really employ a backup quarterback in the fill-in-starter sense. What they look for in a backup is a good scout team quarterback. Curtis Painter isn't a real option to play if Manning has to miss a bunch of time, and Ryan Nassib remains what he was on draft day last year -- a long-range project who may or may not ever play for them. If Manning were to have to miss games, the Giants would quite honestly have little reason to show up for those games. He's as important to his team as any player in the league, and the key to that importance is the reliability of his health.

Which is why this is a faint-sounding, long-range alarm bell if not a short-range one. Manning is 33, which isn't old by modern NFL quarterback standards but certainly isn't young. There will come a time when he's not able to answer the bell for every single game and every single practice. Whether that time comes this year, next year or five years down the road, it is coming. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the Giants will have to answer questions at quarterback that Manning's reliability has kept them from having to address for the past decade. News that their indestructible franchise quarterback is having surgery is cause to appreciate what Manning has meant to the Giants, and a warning that he won't always be there for them.
The New York Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far this offseason, adding 14 free agents from outside their organization and re-signing 10 of their own. But free agency is no cure-all, as we've all heard countless times. So each day this week, we'll take a look at one question that still remains following the Giants' spring splurge. Today we ask:

Can the pass rush bounce back?

Only five teams in the NFL had fewer sacks than the 34 the Giants had in 2013, and 14 of those 34 walked out the door with the free-agent departures of Justin Tuck and Linval Joseph. The only addition they have made to the defensive line is former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who's known as a strong edge defender against the run but has only 12 sacks in five NFL seasons so far and was mainly a part-time player in Denver in spite of having been a first-round pick in 2009.

The Giants did beef up on the back end of the defense, adding cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman and bringing back Trumaine McBride to go with Prince Amukamara. The hope there is that better coverage down the field will help enable their pass-rushers to get to the quarterback more quickly. That could represent a big philosophy shift for an organization that's always believed in building a defense front to back, but the Giants have spent a fair amount of time over the past two years lamenting teams' ability to get the ball out quickly against them and neutralize their pass rush.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Giants need a healthy and productive Jason Pierre-Paul.
Anyway, that's all just the setup. Only one player matters in regard to today's question, and he's not a cornerback. Nor is he Ayers or Mathias Kiwanuka or Damontre Moore, whichever of those guys claims Tuck's starting spot at left defensive end. The player on whom the Giants' 2014 pass rush will rise and fall is Jason Pierre-Paul, who is far from new but is capable of transforming the pass rush all by himself.

Pierre-Paul followed up his 16.5-sack 2011 season with a hot start in 2012, but back problems plagued him throughout the second half of that season. He had surgery on his back last June, and the effects of that surgery slowed him significantly in the first half of 2013. Once he was finally feeling like himself again, he hurt his shoulder and was unable to play in the final month. He ended up with two sacks for the season -- the only two he's had since the first week of November 2012.

So this is your answer, folks. The Giants' plan for the pass rush is to hope Pierre-Paul is as healthy as he says he feels and that he returns to the monster form he flashed during that last Super Bowl season in 2011. Everything rides on this. If he can do it, it's going to make the whole defensive line look good, not to mention that rebuilt secondary.

Moore looks like a big-time athletic talent, but the Giants can't know when or if he'll be reliable enough to be counted on as a starter. Kiwanuka is what he is -- a reliable veteran who does everything he's asked, but not a big-time playmaker at the defensive end position. Ayers cold be a late bloomer about to pop, but he also could just continue to be what he was in Denver, which would make him a helpful rotational piece and nothing more.

But Pierre-Paul, as we all know, can be a dominating player when he's on his game. Just two years ago, following that 2011 season, he was in the conversation about the best defensive players in the entire league. He is still only 25 years old and surely capable of doing what he did in 2011 or more. If he does, he's the kind of player who can elevate a defense from good to great. He could make those defensive ends on the other side of the line look better just by drawing blocking attention away from them. Pierre-Paul is the player in whom the Giants are putting their faith this year on defense. They believe he will justify it.

It's a big year for Pierre-Paul personally, as he's eligible for free agency when it's over. So he has that added incentive along with his built-in motivation to show the world he's still the player he was in his breakout second season. The Giants are counting on him to be that player. If he is, that's a bigger "addition" than any they made in free agency, by far.
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the first round of this year's NFL draft after their 7-9 season in 2013. Even after signing 14 outside free agents and re-signing 10 of their own, the Giants have a variety of specific needs and an overall need to improve the quality of the depth of their roster. You could reasonably make a case for them to draft an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a wide receiver or even a tight end with that first pick.

Todd McShay's fourth mock draft of 2014 is out today. It's an Insider post, but it stretches two rounds. His choice for the Giants in the first may not be the exciting pick for which Giants fans are hoping.

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Yes, still one more month to go. Remember, the NFL pushed back this year's draft by three weeks because of a scheduling conflict with a new Easter show at Radio City Music Hall. So the first round isn't until May 8, which means another month of mocks and rampant speculation.

Speaking of which ...

The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the first round of said draft, and they still have any number of ways they can go with it. The popular consensus at this point has them taking North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron with that pick. Sensible pick, as they need a tight end and I can't imagine they're too excited about continuing to go with year-to-year stopgaps at the position (especially if they are down to Kellen Davis already). But popular consensus a month out isn't worth much unless you have the No. 1 pick in Andrew Luck's draft, and this is clearly not the case here.

So where else could the Giants go with that pick?

Wide receiver: Mike Evans is another popular pick at this point, and a look at the Giants' offense on paper right now shows that Eli Manning could use some exciting new targets.

Offensive line: I like Zack Martin or Taylor Lewan here, because I think they need more long-term helpers in the pipeline at offensive line. Get someone you can imagine playing on the same line as Justin Pugh for the next 10 years.

Defensive line: Pitt's Aaron Donald has to at least be temping for defensive tackle after letting Linval Joseph walk.

Defensive back: Sounds crazy, but their draft history as well as their 2014 free-agent activity shows the Giants believe they can never have too many defensive backs. If there's one sitting there at 12 that they had rated in the top five or six on their board, they will think about it for sure.

Me, I go line -- one or the other. I think they should take the best lineman available to them at that pick, be it defensive or offensive. When you're picking that high in the draft, you look for building blocks, because the reason you're picking that high is that you need them. I could endorse a pick of Ebron or Evans on the basis that what they have at those positions right now isn't good enough and likely won't be good enough long-term. But you can say the same about the lines, and they're more important from a foundation standpoint. The Giants' problems are with their foundation.
You've got questions, I've got answers. Especially if you used the #nygmail hashtag with your question on Twitter.

Giants add TE Kellen Davis

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
The New York Giants' 24th free-agent signing of the offseason is, at long last, a tight end -- former Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks tight end Kellen Davis, to be exact. Davis is a blocking tight end (he has 50 total receptions in five NFL seasons), so to answer your first question he does not eliminate Eric Ebron as a first-round draft target next month. But he does give the Giants someone at the position with some NFL experience -- a body in camp, if nothing else, at a position where they have very little.

And you'll never guess how old he is! That's right -- 28 years old, right in the Giants' free-agent wheelhouse. It's as though non-28-year-olds need not apply.

Davis played the first four years of his career for the Bears and then spent 2013 with the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks, though he was a non-factor in Seattle. He had three catches all year and was not active in the Super Bowl.

He joins Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells as the tight ends on the Giants' roster. The Giants have patched the position together with one-year stopgaps for several years now, and if they don't address the position with a draft pick, it's possible they could elect to do so again with one or more from that group.

Davis is the 14th free agent the Giants have signed from outside the organization, the highest number of any team in the league so far this offseason.
Even after all of their dizzying free-agent activity, the New York Giants' hopes for a return to contention in 2014 still rest on a player who has been on their team for the past 10 years.

The Giants have signed 23 free agents since the new league year started March 11, but not a single one of them will have as much to say about the success or failure of next season's team as will quarterback Eli Manning. He remains the one aspect of their roster that they know, from experience, can elevate them from average to championship-caliber. If he recovers from his career-worst season the way he did in 2011, all of Jerry Reese's offseason moves have a chance to look brilliant. But if Manning has another bad year and continues his decline, those moves are going to look useless.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesFor the Giants to have future success, Eli Manning must recover from a 2013 season in which he threw 27 interceptions.
Even the manner in which Reese has gone about this rebuild shows you it all comes down to Manning. Of the 23 free agents the Giants have signed, only nine play offense. They changed offensive coordinators, and Ben McAdoo will bring significant scheme changes with him, but considering how horrible the Giants offense was in 2013, they've so far acquired rather little in the way of help. A new starting left guard, a new running back, maybe a new center but maybe not. There's no tight end. The depth chart at wide receiver is Victor Cruz and an array of question marks. Three of the five projected starting offensive linemen come with red injury flags.

Sure, there's the draft yet to come, and maybe even some more free-agency activity. But as with almost all of their moves so far, any free-agent moves yet to come will be Band-Aids. The Giants know they can never count on immediate help from a draft, and they will work to make judicious choices next month to help their roster as a whole for the long term. If, during that process, they come up with a receiver or a tight end or a lineman who helps make Manning better in 2014, so be it. But that's not the primary goal of any Giants' draft. They draft in order to build and maintain a deep roster.

So Manning has a lot of work to do, and this is why the Giants pay him $20 million or so a year. They count on him to be able to carry them to great things. They know, if they didn't already before last year's crater of an 0-6 start, that they can't just let the whole roster erode around him and expect him to work miracles. But they know that if they do put a representative team around him, he's the kind of quarterback who can win playoff games and Super Bowls with it. That's why his salary is what it is, and that's why the Giants go into 2014 crossing their fingers that 2013 was just a hiccup and not a sign of a player on the way down.

Their hope, as articulated in interviews by head coach Tom Coughlin this offseason, is that the arrival of McAdoo will "energize" Manning, and that he'll enthusiastically embrace an offensive scheme change after 10 years without one. I think there is some merit to this hope -- a chance they'll turn out to be right. The reason for Manning's problems in 2013 was a complete breakdown of his protection, but he himself did little to overcome those issues, the Hakeem Nicks issues and whatever else was going wrong. The player the Giants believe can elevate them above their station failed in that assignment, and he and the whole offense had a wasted season. If the firing of Kevin Gilbride and the arrival of McAdoo and his new system can serve as a wake-up call, it's possible that Manning could look more like his old, problem-solving self again in 2014.

But if he doesn't, the Giants are in for another rough year and -- worse -- a 2015 offseason in which they'll have to totally re-evaluate their quarterback situation for the short term and the long term. It has been a decade since the Giants were worried about quarterback, and they have no desire to face those questions again anytime soon. Their organizational hope is that Manning is fantastic in 2014 and they can look ahead to another half-decade of faith that they're set at the game's most important position.

Manning has played under tremendous pressure throughout his career and generally done very well with it. He's under a great deal of pressure in 2014 to recover from his 27-interception season and put the team's recovery on his shoulders. The Giants can sign as many free agents as they like, and it appears they're trying to do just that. But in the end, as it has for years with the Giants, it still all comes down to Eli Manning.
The New York Giants hold the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NFL draft following their 7-9 season. The Giants have been the NFL's most active team so far in free agency, signing a total of 13 free agents, including 13 from outside their own organization. They have filled a lot of holes, but that doesn't mean they are without needs both immediate and long-term.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out today. If you're an Insider, you have access to the three-round mock and will see that his first-round pick for the Giants fills a glaring present-day hole with a pick that could bring long-term benefits as well.

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Stop me if you've heard this one before: The free agent with whom the New York Giants agreed to terms Wednesday is 28 years old, was a high draft pick not too long ago, and has shown some quality flashes while not living all the way up to expectations so far in the NFL. The Giants were able to get him at a relatively low price, which is important given the remarkably high number of free agents they've had to sign this offseason to replenish their roster. He adds depth at a position of need, and if the light goes on and he plays to his pre-draft potential, they could really have something here.

When you put it that way, defensive end Robert Ayers sounds like almost every other free agent the Giants have signed in the past three weeks.

[+] EnlargeRobert Ayers
Paul Spinelli/AP PhotoThe Giants have added Robert Ayers, a former first-round pick, to their defensive line rotation.
Ayers is the 23rd free agent the Giants have signed so far, the 12th from another team and the fourth who was once a first-round draft pick. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Denver Broncos, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Tennessee. He's never really developed as an NFL pass-rusher, recording just 12 sacks in five professional seasons. But his 5.5 sacks in 2013 were a career high, and he's well regarded as a run defender.

Ayers is not a Justin Tuck replacement, per se. Tuck had 11 sacks just last season; you don't replace him with a guy who has only had 12 in five years. But as an edge rusher who can play the run, he could be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive end. Heck, it's not ridiculous to think that, with a good training camp, he could beat out veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore for the starting defensive end spot opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. He isn't Tuck, but he's younger and cheaper, and the extent of the Giants' free-agent roster overhaul this offseason has been predicated on those two traits.

It's also worth pointing out a bit of a trend in these bargain-bin guys the Giants have picked up. Ayers is like center J.D. Walton and tackle Charles Brown in that he was regarded well enough out of college to be a relatively high pick but hasn't produced the way his original team had hoped. Adding guys like that -- who have talent but haven't put it all together -- can be a smart way of playing the bargain end of free agency, especially when the players are still young, as these three are. (You could add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to this list, since he's played well as a pro but is thought to have elite talent, but he was a big-money signing and thus more of a gamble.)

There are worse bets to make than one on a former first-round pass-rusher (or former third-round center, or former second-round tackle) who has experience as a starter in the league. And if you make three or four such bets, and you believe in the abilities of the people on your coaching staff, your odds of hitting on one or two of them are pretty good. We'll see which of the Giants' signings work out and which don't. But at worst, the Ayers signing continues at least the following theme: The Giants had a hole and filled it with what they believed was the best option available at this point in free agency. It will be months before we can accurately judge which of their many holes they've filled well and which will need filling again next March and April.