The New York Giants have some tough decisions to make this offseason, as a few of the key players on their most recent Super Bowl team are set to become free agents in one month. While players like Jason Pierre-Paul and Antrel Rolle helped New York win a championship just three years ago, the Giants haven’t been back to the playoffs since, and might decide it’s time to go in a different direction.
New York ended the 2014 season with a 6-10 record, their worst mark since Tom Coughlin took over as head coach 10 years earlier. Despite missing the playoffs for three straight years and speculation that Coughlin might be fired, the oldest coach in the NFL returns for a 12th season with the organization. General manager Jerry Reese and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo are also still with the team.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was the biggest casualty, losing his job after spending five years with the team. He’s replaced by Steve Spagnuolo, who helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII in the same position. In two of the last three years, New York has ranked 29th or worse in total defense.
The defensive line, linebacking corps and secondary for the Giants can all stand to be improved. The Giants are projected to have about $15 million in space under the salary cap, and the team has a few tough decisions to make when it comes to spending that money.
The final year on Pierre-Paul’s contract has become void, and the Giants can either use the franchise tag to keep him or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. New York isn’t likely to give the defensive end the near-$15 million that it would take to franchise him, but there’s a chance they’ll give him a long-term deal.
Giants owner John Mara has said the team wants to re-sign Pierre-Paul, but at the right price. Pierre-Paul recorded 42 sacks in five seasons with New York, including 16.5 sacks in 2011 and 12.5 sacks this past season. However, he totaled just 8.5 sacks from 2012-2013, and struggled at the beginning of 2014 when the Giants fell out of the playoff race. Mario Williams and Robert Quinn are the league’s highest-paid 4-3 defensive ends, earning $16 million and $14.25 million per year, respectively.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka will likely be looking for a new home. The nine-year veteran and career-long Giant is expected to be released before the start of free agency. The final year of his contract accounts for a $7.45 million cap hit, and his last season was probably the worst of his career. Kiwanuka recorded just 2.5 sacks in 11 games, and he isn’t likely to restructure his contract, since he was unhappy about doing so last year.
Another mainstay on New York’s defense could be gone in 2015. While Kiwanuka is one of just three remaining Giants to win two titles with the team, Rolle hasn’t missed a game since coming to the Big Apple in 2010. The safety has been a two-time All Pro with the team, but he’s New York’s highest-paid free agent. At 32 years old, he might be looking for more than what the Giants are willing to pay him.
Additional free agents include cornerback Walter Thurmond and linebacker Jacquian Williams. Safeties Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps both spent time starting at free safety, and New York must decide if they want to rely on either free agent next season.
A few top defensive players are set to hit the market, if they don’t sign new contracts with their respective teams. Justin Houston, Ndamukong Suh and Devin McCourty could all be in play for teams that have room under the salary cap.
The Giants could look to replace their losses on the defensive end in the draft. Defensive ends Leonard Williams and Shane Ray are considered top prospects, though they will likely be gone before the Giants pick at No.9 overall. Top pass rusher Randy Gregory (Nebraska), defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington), or safety Landon Collins (Alabama) could all be in play for New York.
Improving their offensive line is a priority for New York, and they could look to do so in the draft. Offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (Iowa) and T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh) are considered two options for New York. The Giants may also target a guard beyond the first round. A.J. Cann (South Carolina) is projected to be available in the second round.
The skill positions for the Giants might not experience much change in the offseason. Eli Manning will return as the team’s starting quarterback, and he’ll be armed with one of the NFL’s best pair of wide receivers. Odell Beckham Jr. played as well as any wide receiver in the final 12 games of 2014, catching 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 scores. Victor Cruz missed most of the season with a knee injury, but totaled 2,092 receiving yards in the previous two seasons.
Tight end Larry Donnell is an exclusive-rights fee agent, and is expected to be back in New York after having a breakout season. Full back Henry Hynoski might be the team’s best offensive free agent.