By Ernie Palladino
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The saddest part about the Giants’ pickup of Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor over the weekend will be the resulting departure of Chase Blackburn.
The fact that Jerry Reese signed Connor indicates just how unstable the team’s linebacker situation was in the first place. For the past four years now, the linebackers have been the weak spot of the defense, which is saying something considering what has gone on with the injuries at right cornerback and safety.
Losing Blackburn, a very possible side effect of signing the Cowboys’ eight-game starter at middle linebacker, only sheds light on that dilemma. He’s not gone yet, but it’s likely some other team will come up with something that trumps the Giants’ one-year, minimal offer to the guy who saved their butts during the 2011 Super Bowl season.
Blackburn didn’t even have a job until Nov. 30 of that year, having been cut in training camp and unwanted by anyone else. He was all set to take a teaching job when a spate of injuries prompted Reese to call him.
Blackburn fell right into the old rhythms of the position, and eventually turned Super Bowl XLVI around when, down 17-15, with Tom Brady’s long, downfield shot headed straight for the Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, he got position at the Giants’ 8 and made a tremendous interception. The pick, his second off an all-world quarterback, following up one in his first game back Dec. 4 off Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, didn’t win the Giants the game. But it turned momentum and, well, we all know what happened after that.
Blackburn had a solid 2012 with 15 starts at MLB. But now, Connor will probably stand at the head of the line to take his place.
One can argue that this isn’t such a big change. Middle linebacker in the Giants’ scheme is more of a part-time position. That guy generally comes off the field on passing downs in favor of the extra DB or faster linebacker, like Jacquian Williams. The issue here, though, is that Blackburn’s spot isn’t the only one that changed. Reese also let Michael Boley go.
Assuming Mathias Kiwanuka remains the starter at the other outside linebacker — the possibility of switching him full-time back to defensive end is always possible — it means two of the three starting linebackers will have changed. And that would be fine if the two starters were doing downhill fast. But Blackburn was only 30 and coming off a 34-tackle, three-sack, one-interception season. He was solid enough to remain there, and certainly deserving of at least a two-year offer.
Connor is a question mark. He has done little of note since breaking into the league with the Carolina Panthers in 2008. The Cowboys kept him for only one year, and now it appears he’s coming to the Giants on a one-year, league-minimum deal. The former third-round pick, who stayed with the Panthers through 2011, is not even a lock to beat out reserve Mark Herzlich for the starting job next season.
For that, they’re ready to dump Blackburn, a guy who still has plenty left in the tank, a guy with a proven track record.
It’s a curious move, and one unlikely to give the Giants what they need — a long-term solution to an unsettled unit. The re-signing of Keith Rivers will help, but only if the injury-plagued backer can stay healthy. Williams, Rivers, and Spencer Paysinger figure to battle for Boley’s spot, though Williams should have an edge there because of his outstanding speed. Unfortunately, he often uses that speed to make up for mistakes.
The Giants had better hope Connor can do the job in the middle. They could have kept Blackburn right there. He would have been worth the investment.
Big Blue fans — do you like the signing? Sound off in the comments…