By Steve Silverman
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Jerry Reese has a lot of work to do if he wants the Giants to remain in the conversation as one of the top teams in the NFC next year.
That message came screaming home on Wednesday when longtime defensive end Osi Umenyiora signed a free-agent contract to play with the Atlanta Falcons.
Reese has maintained that Umenyiora was one of his favorite players. If Reese was a fan, that might be a fair statement. But Reese is in charge of handing out contracts, and he was not about to give Umenyiora the kind of money he wanted.
It seemed that Atlanta would be his likely landing spot as soon as John Abraham was cut by the Falcons and subsequently signed by the Broncos.
Sometimes the dominoes fall exactly as expected.
Umenyiora signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Falcons and $5 million of the deal is guaranteed. This is not the deal of Umenyiora’s dreams, but it is certainly more than Reese was willing to give him.
The Giants will feel the loss of Umenyiora. They still have Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck as the starters at the defensive end position. Veteran outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka will also move into the defensive end rotation, but the Giants lost quite a bit of the dynamic that made them a formidable defense with Umenyiora’s departure.
The defense obviously fell off in 2012 when the Giants finished 31st in yards allowed, but their poor secondary play was the main reason for that. The pass rush was not as strong as it had been, but that unit still had talent. Losing Umenyiora hurts badly and the Giants must retool in that area in the draft next month.
The Giants looked at Umenyiora, 31, as a player who was in the downhill-slide portion of his career. The Falcons don’t look at him the same way, and that’s why they gave him a new deal.
The Giants also took another shot when former Super Bowl hero Chase Blackburn signed with the Carolina Panthers. Blackburn had intercepted a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski in Super Bowl XLVI, a play that gave the Giants a chance to win the game and the championship.
But Blackburn was not just a fluky big-game hero like David Tyree. Blackburn was a consistent performer who had 98 tackles and five forced fumbles for the Giants’ defense last year. Blackburn is not a great athlete nor is he the biggest and strongest linebacker in the league, but he played the game hard, studied long and was almost always in the right position.
The Giants may have thought that Blackburn, 31, wasn’t as quick or as athletic as they wanted, so they had no problem with bringing in Dan Connor, 27, to take over his position.
It’s not that simple. Teams that figure their key contributors have a shelf life and are slowing down because they are a year older — and not because of any evidence on the game film — are making a mistake.
That’s what the Giants have done with Blackburn.
Losing Umenyiora and Blackburn means that the Giants have a lot of work to do the rest of the offseason if they still want to be considered one of the league’s elite teams.
Reese may have firm control over the team’s purse strings, but when it comes to bringing in talent, he may not be up to it.
How big do you consider these losses, Giants fans? Is Silverman overreacting or right on point? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…