By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Rex Ryan has entered the Witness Protection Program in the wake of Woody Johnson’s sacrifice of Mike Tannenbaum. Tim Tebow is undoubtedly headed out in a few weeks, and Mark Sanchez is probably stuck with a coach who doesn’t want him and an organization he can’t win with.

So what subject can bring an early 2013 smile to a football fan’s face and yet stay faithful to the realities of the NFL offseason?

The Giants, of course. They’re going to undergo some changes, too. But they’ll have at least one true, unexpected bright spot sticking around and likely starting next season — Stevie Brown.

We already know that Osi Umenyiora is headed out that big, blue door in East Rutherford, and there will be a few other defensive players going with him. One of them probably will be safety Kenny Phillips, a really good guy with a really bad set of wheels.

Brown has made the first-rounder of 2008 all but unnecessary. He’s a restricted free agent, but if there is anybody on this team worth a first-round tender, it’s Brown. And the Phillips situation, let alone other looming decisions to make elsewhere in the secondary, makes it imperative that the Giants offer him at that level. They’d be crazy not to, in fact.

Acquired April 3 as a free agent, the former Oakland Raiders’ seventh-round pick of 2010 made everybody forget Phillips while the starter sat out nine games with a right knee strain. Even when Phillips did play following his first hiatus after starting the first four games, he was used only as a situational player.

Now comes word that Brown was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for a second time, making him the only safety in Giants history to win that honor multiple times.

To say that Brown has earned a permanent starting spot in the Giants’ secondary next year is a gross understatement. The man has been a virtual turnover machine since stepping in full-time on October 7 against Cleveland, recording eight interceptions that he returned for a franchise-record 307 yards, obliterating the team’s single-season return record held by Dick Lynch and Hall of Famer Em Tunnell.

For a secondary beset with injuries on the right side and a rocky season from Corey Webster on the left side, Brown and Antrel Rolle at least brought some hope in the middle. And Brown was dynamic as he highlighted his year with two picks, a fumble recovery and six solo tackles in a Week 8 win over Dallas. He finished up with an interception against Philadelphia’s Michael Vick in last week’s finale.

Brown thus becomes the one sure thing in the secondary. Phillips is probably gone. They have to make a decision on whether Webster is worth the $7 million he’s owed next season — the final year of his contract — after the absolute torching he received at the hands of Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. And right cornerback has its own issues, as the Giants must decide whether to give twice-injured Terrell Thomas another shot there, or simply cut bait and stick with booboo-prone Prince Amukamara and up-and-coming Jayron Hosley. Or they could pick up a veteran in free agency.

It’s a quandary for general manager Jerry Reese. It’s not quite as bad as what beckons the eerily silent Jets this offseason, but serious enough. About the only spots in the defensive backfield that Reese won’t have to fiddle with are the safeties, with Brown, Rolle and Will Hill, the first-year player who made 19 tackles and broke up two passes in a situational role.

As close as the Giants might be to returning to the playoffs next year (read that as no major tinkering), there are still some bodies to be moved.

Brown is not one of them.

Was Brown the defensive MVP for the Giants this season? How good can he be in this league? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below…