By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants have experienced another inconsistent campaign in 2014, and several defensive players have contributed to the disappointment. As Big Blue heads into the off season, the team will have to make hard decisions about a few unrestricted free agents who populate the roster.
In addition, the team will also have to consider the futures of at least two high priced veterans, currently under contract for 2015, who were not worth the money in 2014. Conservatively, the G-men could see as many as four new defensive starters next season, with a distinct possibility of seven new faces as defensive starters in 2015.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka has likely played his last game for the Giants. Kiwanuka has been placed on injured reserve, and New York would save almost $5 million in salary cap space if they cut him in the off season. Kiwi played 558 snaps for the Giants, and he was graded an abysmal (-18.3) by Pro Football Focus, which was good for the next to last ranking (58th) among defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme. Releasing the veteran from Boston College would seem to be a no-brainer for Big Blue.
Robert Ayers is also injured, but signed for next year. According to OverTheCap.com, his salary cap number is an affordable $2.5 million. Even though his playing time was sporadic, PFF gave him a (+17.6) grade, which means his encore will strictly depend upon his return from a torn pectoral muscle in 2015.
Youngsters Kerry Wynn and Damontre Moore still have a lot to prove, and neither is anywhere close to a full-time performer at this point. But in glimpses, both have shown promise, and the Giants control each contractually for the next couple of years, so they will both be back.
Both Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins are under contract for next year, and Big Hank is fast becoming a player that the team can build around. His (+21.4) grade by Pro Football Focus, ranks him fifth in the league, just below Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh. More on Suh later.
The 800 lb. gorilla in the room is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and his contract demands heading into free agency. Based upon his PFF grade (+17.9), JPP has had a solid season. Pierre-Paul gives the appearance that playing in New York has only minor appeal to him, but the Giants have every right to expect more than the seven sacks he currently has, if they sign him to a big contract.
Looking into the crystal ball, the Giants may be best served by grabbing free agent Ndmukong Suh to team with Hankins on the inside, with Markus Kuhn, Jay Bromley and Cullen Jenkins also in the rotation. Mike Patterson has not shown much this season and may be at the end of the line. New York should make an attempt to re-sign Pierre-Paul, but only at the right price. If not, then priority one should be a defensive end in the draft. Remember the names Randy Gregory (Nebraska) and Shane Ray (Missouri) when the time comes for the G-men to pick in the first round.
This position should be an area of concern for New York because the unit has underperformed for years now, but no one knows how the front office will approach it. In the past, the team has brought lousy draft picks (Greg Jones, Phillip Dillard, Clint Sintim), and lousy veterans (Aaron Curry, Keith Rivers, Dan Connor) to vie for playing time with little success.
Rookie Devon Kennard looks like a keeper, and he has played the strongside (SAM) and weakiside (WILL) for the G-men this season. A lot will depend on what the Giants think they should do with Jameel McClain, who is graded by PFF at (-5.0) at the middle linebacker spot, as well as if the team brings back injury-prone Jon Beason.
Under a scenario where all three return, then Beason mans the middle, McClain goes to the strongside, and Kennard plays the weakside. Spencer Paysinger appears to be on his way out with New York, and it certainly would not hurt the team to bolster this position through the draft or via free agency. If Mark Herzlich re-signs, it will mostly be for special teams and a reserve role.
Jacquian Williams also becomes a free agent at year’s end, and he should be let go. Williams accumulated tackles, but most were downfield, and his pass coverage skills were highly over-rated. Keep an eye on Dan Skuta (San Francisco), Pernell McPhee (Baltimore) and K.J. Wright (Seattle) in free agency.
This is one area where injuries were to blame for the overall underperformance of the unit. The team lost Walter Thurmond, Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride to season-ending injuries. Remember that Zack Bowman was brought in as a reserve and special teams performer and was thrust into a starting role. Disappointing draft pick Jayron Hosley was kept on the roster out of training camp, despite a four-game suspension, and he has graded out to a (-6.7) in his role as slot cornerback. Needless to say, he should not be brought back.
New York has replenished the position during the season by bringing in Chykie Brown and Mike Harris. Brown was dumped by the Baltimore Ravens, and he was given immediate playing time with the Giants and has had so-so results. Harris has played the past two games and shows promise, after being plucked from the Detroit Lions practice squad. He should be given a return ticket to MetLife Stadium and a full training camp to prove his worth.
Thurmond did not prove valuable enough this season to sign to another contract, especially when McBride performed well in the slot. Bringing Bowman back may make sense, and sniffing around free agency for a bargain player would be prudent. The G-men will have a lot of money locked up with Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie next year, so additional spending on the position would be overkill, especially given the needs in other areas of the defense.
Except for Nat Behre and Cooper Taylor, the Giants have no one signed for the strong and free safety positions in 2015. Even in this season of injuries, the Giants have not played Behre much on defense, so he cannot be looked upon as starting material next year. Taylor looks every bit the part of a strong safety, but he cannot stay on the field.
For once, the Giants received value for the length of a free agent contract with Antrel Role, but the free agent to-be would have to take a significant pay cut from his $9 million yearly salary to make a return performance in New York a possibility. In addition, Rolle’s on-field play has declined this season, so the length of the contract would also have to make sense.
Quintin Demps has looked more comfortable in the defensive scheme as of late, and a longer term contract remains a possibility. Stevie Brown looks better now than he did early in the season, so the question becomes, what is Brown’s worth in a multi-year deal? Surely he cannot be given a big raise based upon this year performance, and another one-year deal only kicks the can down the road for the G-men.
Safety would appear to be an area to address in the 2015 draft with a mid-round draft pick, and a couple of interesting prospects would include Codey Prewitt (Mississippi) and Kurtis Drummond (Michigan State).
For more Giants news and updates, visit Giants Central.
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 aExaminer.com.