By Jason Keidel
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The good news is the Giants have had a better offseason than their co-tenants. But who hasn’t had a warmer winter than the Jets?
CBSSports.com, which has graded every NFL club so far this free agency period, has given the Giants a C. Better than the Jets, who bagged an F before their first free agent was signed.
But if Big Blue wants to trump Gang Green and the rest of the league, they need to do more. Everyone knows the Giants need to beef-up the offensive line. You can’t pass the ball without blockers. Nor can you carry it. But the Giants have perhaps the best receiver tandem in the sport, in Odell Beckham Jr. and newly-signed Brandon Marshall. But you can’t run the rock without a high-end running back.
The perfect tonic for the G-Men would have been Latavius Murray, but they lost him to the Vikings. Murray is young, relatively cheap, and has a bloodhound’s nose for the end zone. And, no, the last person the Giants need is the Vikings running back Murray just replaced. Even if he longs to play for Big Blue, Adrian Peterson’s number should be the first one general manager Jerry Reese deletes this month.
So sans Murray, who was the best running back from the free agent buffet, the Giants are left with the leftovers, like the buffalo wings at your local gentlemen’s club.
Here’s a vote for a pseudo-graybeard who still has some touchdowns left in the tank. And some others if you are allergic to men of a certain age.
After signing Rex Burkhead, who joins Dion Lewis and James White, the Patriots have a pretty robust backfield. Provided Bill Belichick doesn’t covet a fourth running back, perhaps the Giants might take a gander.
Yes, Blount just breeched that toxic chronology, turning 30 in December. But leaving his 20s didn’t keep him out of the end zone. Blount just broke a Patriots record for rushing touchdowns in a single season. So age can be deceptive. Not only did Blount cross the goal line 18 times in 2016, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Over the last two seasons, he has scored 24 rushing TDs, the most in the NFL in that span.
Sure, the goal of every team is to get younger and cheaper. But that’s what the draft is for. If the Giants pluck a running back in April, they can ease him into the lineup while feeding their new, if older, bull of a back the ball until the rookie is ready.
You likely have concerns about Blount’s ability (or willingness) to play with others. During his transitory stay with the Steelers, he got a big, fat F. In his final act, he left the field before the game was over, and fled the locker room before the press could press him for reasons. But he’s been a model citizen and monstrous runner for Belichick. So either Blount is simply allergic to the water flowing from the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny, or he only plays hard when Tom Brady hands him the ball. Either way, he’s a risk worth taking.
Another vintage running back looking for a starting role is DeAngelo Williams, who turns 34 during the draft. Believe it or not, Williams led the league in rushing while filling the three-game void left by Le’Veon Bell, who was serving a suspension.
Williams hasn’t taken the pounding common among starting halfbacks. Despite his athletic splendor, has never taken the aggregate shots we see from most Pro-Bowl caliber backs. Even in his prime, Williams split the load with another primo runner, Jonathan Stewart, while both played for Carolina. I believe Williams not only has a few more yards in his legs, but his time sharing the ball in Carolina and Pittsburgh shows he’s the quintessential team player.
If the Giants are allergic to anyone in the shadow of their 30th birthday, consider the following:
Karlos Williams. He is a beast, and is just 24. Of course, Williams has some personal demons to conquer before he can conquer defenders. But perhaps he needs a stable, family-run football team to keep him straight. Like his last employer, the Steelers. Or perhaps the other iconic, family business: the Giants.
Isaiah Crowell. Also just 24, with all kinds of ability, Crowell could be just what the G-Men need. Cleveland has tendered Crowell, who has some off-field issues. But if he were too toxic, the Browns would not likely have required a second-round draft pick as compensation.
Mike Gillislee. How about a guy who averages 6 yards per carry? Gillislee is just 26, and scored seven touchdowns despite playing in a crowded Buffalo backfield that included perennial All-Pro LeSean McCoy.
Chris Thompson. How about a guy who is equally (if not more) dangerous catching the ball as he is running it? That would be Thompson, who is 26, and made a paltry $675,000 last year. Washington tendered him to $2.7 million this year, so the Giants would surrender a second-round draft pick if they signed Thompson to a multi-year deal and the Redskins refused to match.
The remaining stable of tempting running backs have either signed (Eddie Lacy, Danny Woodhead, Burkhead, Jacquizz Rodgers, Andre Ellington) with their home clubs or other clubs. Unless you have an odd appetite for second-tier halfbacks (Tim Hightower, Christine Michael, Shaun Draughn, or Fozzy Whitaker), the season for big-game hunting is almost over. And while Big Blue devotees may be tempted to sign (former) studs like Peterson or Jamaal Charles, you’re far more spellbound by their names than what’s left of their respective games.
Or the Giants can just bring back their own back. But there’s a reason Rashad Jennings’s cellphone isn’t buzzing all night. No one really wants him. That’s often the case with halfbacks about to turn 32 and averaged 3.5 yards per rush at age 31. He can stay as a pass-catching threat, third-down back and backup to Paul Perkins, but that would mean the Giants would essentially the same team they were a year ago. Only a year older. Maybe a year wiser.
But not a year better.
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