By Curt Macysyn
Maybe it is simply a question of semantics. New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin indicated on Monday that he did want to continue in the role he has held since the 2004 season, when he met with the media after a tough 7-9 campaign. “On my end, I’ve always been a coach,” Coughlin stated when asked if he considered stepping down. After two Super Bowl titles, Coughlin has certainly earned the right to fix what is broken after two consecutive playoff misses.
Both Giants general manager Jerry Reese and team president and CEO John Mara indicated that they would like to see Coughlin return in 2014, although both strongly hinted that there would be significant changes made throughout the organization after another non-playoff season for the G-men. All three men agreed that an upgrade in personnel will be necessary for the team to compete for a championship, with Mara being the most vocal about the failures of 2013.
With Coughlin set to return, perhaps changes to the coaching staff are in order? But what if Coughlin resists any changes to his staff?
When asked about changes to the coaching staff, Mara was non-committal, but only slightly when he replied,”Certainly there are some changes that need to be made within the entire organization.” The most frequent talk has revolved around the job status of offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Gilbride was brought on by Coughlin as quarterbacks coach in 2004 and has been Giants offensive coordinator since 2007. Mara also referred to waiting three years to find out wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan can play, which appeared to be a dig at Gilbride.
Perhaps it is simply a matter of semantics, but Mara sounded like an owner whose patience has run out.
‘Our Offense Is Broken’
With those four words, John Mara summarized the feeling of Giants fans in the tri-state area. Expect significant changes in the offensive unit of Big Blue prior to next season. The offensive line will be a top priority in the draft, as well as in free agency, but before that happens, the team will say goodbye to some long-time contributors.
Versatile lineman David Diehl is an unrestricted free agent and unlikely to be retained by the team. Former All Pro guard Chris Snee has had two season-ending hip surgeries over the past two seasons and will likely be cut, if he does not retire. Center David Baas has two years remaining on his original five-year contract. Baas has been plagued by injuries in his Giants tenure and is also a candidate to be released. For salary cap purposes, it makes more sense to release Baas after June 1.
Left tackle Will Beatty broke his leg in Sunday’s victory, and Reese was cryptic in his prognosis on Monday. Moving Beatty to right tackle is possible, which would require Justin Pugh to move inside to guard. Many draft analysts believe Pugh is more suited for guard because of his short arms. The rookie from Syracuse played in all 16 games at right tackle for New York.
The prognosis for second-year running back David Wilson also remains uncertain, as Reese alluded to the possibility of neck surgery. In any case, the Giants have to bolster the running back position regardless. Andre Brown will be a free agent, and he would provide depth to the position, but only at the right price. Reserve halfback Peyton Hillis deserves another look in training camp, but does not represent a long-term answer at the position.
The return of Brandon Jacobs was a feel good story for New York when the team needed a spark, but at age 31 and coming off of knee surgery, Jacobs may have seen the end of the line.
Neither Mara nor Reese discounted the thought of bringing wide receiver Hakeem Nicks back to New York. Nicks will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, but he is also coming off his worst season as a pro with zero touchdown catches. Rueben Randle’s production decreased as the season wore on, but Jerrel Jernigan was a revelation in the final games of the year. Jernigan should become a bigger part of the offense under Gilbride or a new coordinator.
Tight end Brandon Myers does not block as well as a Giants tight end is expected to, and he has a voidable contract after this season. Look for the team to void the contract and go in another direction. The signing of receiver Louis Murphy Jr. has been a waste of money and a roster spot for New York.
If Kevin Gilbride, Sr. is not retained; it would make sense that his son, Kevin Gilbride, Jr., would be fired as wide receivers coach as well. And based upon Eli Manning’s play this season, quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan may want to dust off his résumé.
Tuck and Rolle
The Giants defense started the season as poorly as the offense ended it. But the unit righted the ship midway through the campaign, when the team acquired linebacker Jon Beason in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. In the five games before Beason’s arrival, the defense gave up an average of 36.4 points per game. In the final 11 games, the team gave up an average of 16.5 points per game. Beason brought a presence to the middle of the Giants defense, and the unit performed cohesively with him in the lineup. The Giants should make Beason a priority signing in the off season.
The rest of the linebacking corps could use an upgrade. Jacquian Williams is under contract for next season, while Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger are restricted free agents. It would not be surprising to see the team not offer a tender to either or both Herzlich and Paysinger.
Antrel Rolle should have been voted into the Pro Bowl this season. Rolle was among the league leaders in interceptions and led the Giants in tackles. The veteran safety’s contract runs through 2014, but it may make sense for the team to extend him and buy additional cap room in the process. Will Hill performed well down the stretch and is under contract for next season. But Hill’s personal transgressions dictate that the Giants have a Plan B in place; whether or not Plan B includes free agents Ryan Mundy or Stevie Brown should be considered carefully.
Fill-in cornerback Trumaine McBride becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and competent cornerbacks are always at a premium in the pass-happy NFL. Hopefully the Giants and McBride can come to an agreement that makes sense for both parties. Retaining defensive back Aaron Ross will not be a make or break decision for New York.
Jason Pierre-Paul suffered through an injury-riddled campaign, so Big Blue needs him to step up in a big way next year. A revitalized JPP could do wonders for a defensive line and pass rush. The biggest decision on the line is whether or not to re-sign Justin Tuck. The veteran defensive end was a force down the stretch and ended the season with 11 sacks, which led the team. The nine-year veteran from Notre Dame turn 31 years old before the 2014 NFL season begins and has already gone on record that he will not give the Giants a “hometown discount.”
The presence of rookie defensive end Damontre Moore would hopefully minimize the loss of Tuck on the field, but not in the locker room.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph also becomes an unrestricted free agent and based upon the team’s track record at the position, the team may pass on re-signing him. Youngsters Markus Kuhn and Johnathan Hankins could be counted upon to replace Joseph, as Mara seemed more in favor of giving younger players an opportunity to produce. Veteran Mike Patterson can also leave via free agency and should be considered in the mix only at the right price.
From the coaching standpoint, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell appears to be safe, but special teams coach Tom Quinn could be in jeopardy because of the sub-par play of his unit.
The franchise’s Super Bowl XLVI championship was preceded and succeeded by two consecutive non-playoff season, meaning the Giants have missed the post-season in four out of the past five seasons. The 2013 campaign will certainly be viewed one of lost opportunity, given the state of the NFC East division, so the sting of finishing out of the playoffs, may last longer than usual.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.