NFC East: New York Giants
PHOENIX -- It began innocuously enough, with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin answering a question about Odell Beckham Jr. by saying his team had done a study on the behavior of "Millennials" in an effort to better understand and communicate with their young players. Coughlin said one of the things they learned was about the ability of people in that generation to multi-task and divide their attention between multiple devices and activities.
Then the 68-year-old Coughlin began telling a story about his own experiences with modern technology, in particular the GPS guidance offered by the Siri feature on his iPhone. I'll just let it roll from here:
"Two weeks ago I'm trying to get to my grandson's roller hockey game. So [Giants VP of player evaluation] Marc Ross had showed me how to talk to this phone. I don't trust the lady in GPS. I don't trust her, because they don't send you the right way. I hit the button and I say, 'Park Ridge, N.J.' And she comes back on, she's giving me directions. So now I figure out where I am. I hit the thing and I say 'Thank you very much, I know exactly where I am now.' And she comes back and says, 'You don't have to thank me.' I swear to god that's what she said. And then I couldn't get her to shut up. Every turn, 'Take a right here.' I know where I am. I know where I am. I'm a block away from my house and she's telling me where to go. I said 'I know where I'm going.'"
Ah, those disembodied whippersnappers. Just can't get em to shut up.
Anyway, cute story and all, but I don't know how much I buy it. I mean, Coughlin is the oldest head coach in the league, but this is still a man who coaches an NFL team. He designs game plans, runs meetings, organizes weeks' and months' worth of schedules for players and coaches and staff. He's as meticulous and detail-oriented as anyone I've ever met. I'm inclined to believe he can work his iPhone, and that he's well past the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer phase of marveling at every little bit of modern technology. Fun to play up the old-guy Coughlin angle, but my guess is he's laughing at the rest of us laughing at him.
PHOENIX -- At this point in the offseason, the New York Giants have nothing but question marks at the safety position. All three players who started games for them at safety in 2014 became free agents. One of those three, Antrel Rolle, has signed with the Chicago Bears. The Giants have not re-signed Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps or any other safety on the market, and at this point the only safeties on their roster are their two most recent fifth-round draft picks -- Nat Berhe and Cooper Taylor.
"That's an issue, no doubt," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL owners meetings Wednesday. "We do have one more access to bringing in personnel, obviously, the draft. And we have a couple of guys in the program including Berhe, who we really liked as a rookie and a special-teamer. We have injured players coming back that can help. But there's concern, no doubt."
Taylor played only on special teams as a rookie in 2013 and then missed the entire 2014 season due to a foot injury that required surgery, so they don't know what they have in him. Berhe played almost exclusively on special teams as a rookie in 2014 but got a couple of late looks as a free safety.
"I think he can come down in the box, too," Coughlin said of Berhe. "His special-teams play would lead you to believe that. We threw him into a lot of responsibility on special teams and I thought he handled it well. So he's adaptable, he's smart, he's anxious and he's eager for the opportunity, for sure."
It remains possible that the Giants could re-sign Brown and/or Demps, but to this point there has been little movement on those fronts as both players are still hunting for better offers. Coughlin also raised the possibility of converting one of the Giants' cornerbacks to safety. Candidates for that would include Chykie Brown and 2014 sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson, who also is recovering from injury.
The top safety in the draft is Alabama's Landon Collins, though most projections seem to consider him a reach at No. 9 overall, which is the Giants' pick in the first round.
PHOENIX -- New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is making positive strides in his recovery from a torn patellar tendon, coach Tom Coughlin said Wednesday. But Coughlin is reluctant to predict a timetable for Cruz's return to the field.
During the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meetings here, Coughlin said the team was hoping to have Cruz back in time for training camp, but that even if they did that wouldn't necessarily mean a full return to action.
"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."
Cruz tore his patellar tendon in the team's Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery a couple of days later and missed the rest of the 2014 season. Coughlin said Cruz has begun running and that he saw him working out with trainers in the field house in East Rutherford, New Jersey, recently. But he indicated that Cruz's recovery could stretch into the season and compared it to the delayed start Odell Beckham Jr. got last year off of his training camp hamstring pull.
"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."
The New York Giants are signing defensive end George Selvie, a pass-rusher who had seven sacks two years ago and three last season for the Dallas Cowboys, and who played his college football with Jason Pierre-Paul at South Florida. Our man Adam Schefter reports that it's a one-year, $1.4 million contract with a $200,000 signing bonus.
The Giants will be Selvie's fifth NFL team since he entered the league in 2010. He didn't start a single game for the Rams, Panthers or Jaguars from 2010 to 2012, but he blossomed a bit under Rod Marinelli in Dallas, starting all 16 games in 2013 and 13 games in 2014. He just turned 28 two weeks ago, so it's possible he's a late bloomer.
And yes, the Giants still need a starting safety. But this addition is a reminder of where their current priorities lie. The Giants have brought back Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, and you know that means they are determined to be as strong and fearsome as possible up front. They franchised Pierre-Paul to start at one of the defensive end spots, and the other starting spot could go to Damontre Moore, Robert Ayers or maybe even Selvie at this point. The idea is to stack volume on the defensive line, and to be able to put as many pass-rushers on the field as possible when the situation calls for it.
The Giants really like Moore and hope this is a big developmental year for him. They see Ayers as a good rotational piece and likely see Selvie the same way. They like what Kerry Wynn flashed in limited action at the end of 2014. They signed run-stuffing defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis this week to play on the early downs and help Johnathan Hankins focus more on penetrating and rushing the passer. They know they can move Ayers, Wynn or Pierre-Paul inside to defensive tackle when they want to load up with four pass-rushers on passing downs, and Selvie gives them another piece to use in a creative rotation of pass-rushers. It wouldn't be shocking to see them add another one in free agency or the draft. They do not want to run out of pass-rushers.
So that's what this move is -- a volume move to help the depth of the pass rush. They couldn't get in on top-end guys like Jerry Hughes or Pernell McPhee at the start of free agency. So for what they're looking to spend, Selvie seems like a decent fit.
New York Giants owner John Mara spoke publicly Thursday at a ribbon-cutting for a newly renovated Police Athletic League facility in Manhattan, and he said he was pleased with the way his team has approached free agency so far. Per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post:
"There were obviously some star players out there, but for the most part I thought it was a mediocre free-agent class," Giants co-owner John Mara told reporters Thursday at the PAL’s William J. Duncan Center in Manhattan.
Mara’s family donated $250,000 for building renovations.
"And I think a lot of guys got paid more money than maybe they would have in other years, because there was a lot of cap room out there. I think the guys who we got will help us, but we still have a long way to go."
The Giants have signed six outside free agents and retained nine of their own so far. Of the new additions, none is projected as a surefire starter, though Shane Vereen should have an impact as a third-down running back and defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis and linebacker J.T. Thomas will get chances to win starting jobs in camp. They continue to look around for defensive line help, and will host former Cowboys defensive end George Selvie for a visit in East Rutherford on Friday. But they haven't done much to upgrade their offensive line, they still need at least one starting safety and possibly two, and they have a lot of work to do to turn around a team that has gone 13-19 the past two years and hasn't come close to contending for a playoff spot.
Mara's point about mediocrity and free agency is a good one. As he said, the Giants checked in on Ndamukong Suh and made a strong play for Devin McCourty, but couldn't get either one. Those were the two premium defensive players on the market, and they would have been worth stretching the budget. But to simply move down the line and give McCourty money to the next-best safety just because it's burning a hole in your pocket would be a poor strategy.
Nonetheless, the Giants clearly must do something to improve their roster, and the only way to do that at this point in the market is to find creative solutions and/or hope all of last year's injured guys come back healthy and productive. I give the Giants credit for not going nuts in a market that doesn't inspire them, but I think it's legitimate to worry whether they think their current roster is better than the results of the past two seasons say it is.
To celebrate the five-year anniversary of MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants are asking fans to select the best play in the stadium's young history. You can check it out and vote here. It's set up like a March Madness bracket. It's cute, and there are some good choices, from Odell Beckham's one-handed touchdown catch to Victor Cruz's 99-yard catch-and-run Christmas Eve 2011 touchdown against the Jets (a play that's not likely to show up on the Jets' version of this same exercise).
Anyway, the Philadelphia Eagles' official Twitter account decided to have a little fun with this:
.@Giants, went to vote for the greatest play in MetLife Stadium history and this one wasn't listed #miracle: http://t.co/e3NlPXt3Sk
- Eagles Insider (@EaglesInsider) March 18, 2015
That link directs you to a replay of the play that actually is the most amazing in MetLife Stadium history -- DeSean Jackson's game-winning punt return touchdown against the Giants at the tail end of Philadelphia's Dec. 19, 2010, comeback victory. Of course, that play also stands among the most heartbreaking plays in recent Giants memory, so it's no surprise the Giants didn't see fit to include it in their bracket.
Some Giants fans have responded to the post with the usual cracks about the fact the Eagles have never won the Super Bowl, but as of this writing the Giants' official Twitter account had yet to fire back. It's a slow March day, so we kind of hope they do.
Ellis is a 6-foot-4, 346-pound mountain who played his first four NFL seasons for the Jets. He is 27 years old, and with the Giants he could get the chance to be a starter for the first time in his NFL career. A rotational player in the Jets' 3-4 front, Ellis could fit as a first-down and second-down run-stuffer on the interior of the Giants' four-man defensive line.
Ellis has an interesting background, and not all of it is good. He dropped to the third round of the 2011 draft because of issues he had in college, including failed drug tests that got him kicked off the South Carolina team and a felony assault charge incurred while at Hampton. He has not had any off-field issues since entering the league, though he did serve 45 days in jail (23 in 2012 and 22 in 2013) as a result of the assault incident in college.
The Giants have been looking for a big run-stopper to add to their defensive line mix and pair on the interior with Johnathan Hankins. They were among the teams to express early interest in free-agent defensive tackle Dan Williams, who ended up signing with the Raiders. Ellis could be a buy-low on a former top prospect who struggled for playing time behind the stars on the Jets' defensive line.
Most significant signing: Of the five new players the Giants signed early in the free-agency period, it's possible none will be a starter in 2015. But running back Shane Vereen has the opportunity to affect the offense as a third-down back and a short-range pass-catching option out of the backfield for quarterback Eli Manning. With uncertainty lingering about wide receiver Victor Cruz as he works to recover from a serious knee injury, and with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams slated for the early-down work, Vereen is the Giants' fresh hope for an added dimension to the Ben McAdoo offense that showed flashes of real promise in 2014.
Most significant loss: The Giants rarely get burned by letting free agents walk -- especially free agents in their 30s. So it's hard to make the case they should have matched the contract the Bears gave safety Antrel Rolle. But talking to Giants players in the wake of the news that Rolle was really gone, you got the definite impression that he'll be the loss they feel the most. Rolle isn't the player he used to be, but a year after they let defensive captain Justin Tuck leave without a fight, doing the same with Rolle means the Giants will be looking for new leaders on that side of the ball.
Biggest surprise: The relative inactivity, really. Letting Rolle walk was one thing, but the Giants have watched free-agent safety after free-agent safety fly off the board without signing one. They made a big early play for Devin McCourty, who stayed in New England, and they continue to discuss a return with Stevie Brown. But there was a lot of middle ground between McCourty and Brown on the safety market, and it's surprising the Giants haven't yet added a player at that position. Likewise, it's doubtful Marshall Newhouse is the answer they're looking for on the offensive line, and it's a bit surprising they haven't signed a starter-caliber guard or tackle.
What's next: The Giants got busy during the second week of free agency last year, and they got busier than any team in the league, so there's still hope for some activity. They don't have as many roster holes to fill as they did last year, though, so don't expect that kind of shopping spree. I wouldn't be surprised to see them bring back Brown or a safety or two at that level and then shop the bargain bin for offensive line solutions. Blocking tight end Daniel Fells is still a possibility to return, though he's also talking to other teams.
Look, I don't get it, either. Let's get that out of the way up front. Either New York Giants GM Jerry Reese is very stubborn, or he liked his 2014 team better than anyone else did, or both. We can't do much besides speculate, because Reese does not make himself available to answer questions when he signs free agents. The next time we hear Reese's voice will be April 23, when he gives a news conference that's ostensibly about the upcoming draft and not free agency. By that point, maybe Reese will have signed some free agents who aren't backups and special-teamers, and the mid-March questions about his relative inactivity on the market will be outdated.
But even if that's the case, it's still not going to have answered the question of why Reese has signed the specific players he's signed for the amount of money he's paying them. And the two signings the Giants announced Monday only add to the confusion.
The Giants announced Monday that they have re-signed guard John Jerry and cornerback Chykie Brown, two people who played for the team in 2014 and did nothing that demanded an encore. Each got a two-year deal, and Jerry got $3.3 million with $1 million guaranteed, and I just continue to not understand why the Giants are paying above-market prices for replaceable players.
Jerry started 16 games at right guard for the 2014 Giants, who went into the offseason convinced they had to get better on the offensive line. They will tell you that Jerry held up OK in pass protection, and that may well be true. But if you can't hold up in pass protection in front of quick-slinging Eli Manning and an offense designed to get him to unload the ball even more quickly than his heritage dictates, then you don't belong in the league. Where the Giants really had issues in 2014 was in run blocking, and Jerry's Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade was minus-16.4, which ranked him No. 76 on the list of 78 guards who played at least 25 percent of their team's snaps. That's No. 76 in a league that features 64 starting guards on a full-schedule week. That is not good. There are literally at least a dozen lower-cost options on the market who played better last year.
Brown graded out as PFF's No. 85 cornerback in 2014 -- No. 86 in terms of coverage. He began last year with the Baltimore Ravens, where new Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was the defensive backs coach, but he was cut midseason for poor performance. The Giants signed him prior to Week 10, after they'd lost three cornerbacks to season-ending injured reserve, and he played quite poorly for them. His three worst single-game PFF grades of the year were all with the Giants -- Week 13 in Jacksonville, Week 6 in St. Louis and Week 17 against the Eagles. Brown signed for two years and $2 million.
Now, you'll say these guys were signed to be backups, but I don't think it's that simple. As of now (and yes, they still have time), they haven't upgraded Jerry's spot on the offensive line. Geoff Schwartz's anticipated return from injury will fill one guard spot, but Weston Richburg is vacating the other one to move inside to center. At this point, either Jerry or newly signed backup Marshall Newhouse looks like a good bet to start. And Brown is one of a couple of candidates (along with Mike Harris and Trumaine McBride) to play that nickel corner spot, which is pretty close to a starting job.
And the larger problem continues to be that you're not supposed to be spending money on backups in free agency. The Giants are in this sub-.500 lull because they haven't found enough NFL-quality players in the draft to fill the backup and special-teams roles on their roster. So they're having to pay premium prices for backups on the market, and that's not a recipe for quality roster building.
Some of you out there continue to trust Reese in spite of his fundamentally weak record as a drafter and roster builder. Super Bowl titles buy a GM that clout, and Reese continues to get the benefit of the doubt for that reason. But as much as this is a Giants team that's won two Super Bowls in the past eight years, it's also one that has missed the playoffs in five of those years. And when you look at them through that prism, these offseason moves get a lot tougher to believe in.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has one year left on his contract and makes a ton of money. His $17 million salary is the second highest in the league in 2015, and his $19.75 million salary-cap number is the sixth highest. The Giants are paying a premium for their durable, reliable, two-time-Super-Bowl-champion quarterback, and we have discussed at some length in this space the pros and cons of extending Manning's contract this offseason to provide some short-term financial relief.
A major development on this front struck late last week, when the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a five-year, $99 million contract extension with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Manning, Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers all were drafted in 2004, and each entered this offseason with one year left on his contract. Roethlisberger is the first of the three to sign an extension, and as such he provides some guideposts for Manning, Rivers, the Giants and the Chargers when it comes time to do those extensions.
Now, this isn't about which of these players is better than the other, because the point is that Manning and Roethlisberger are quite similar. Each has won two Super Bowls, though Roethlisberger has played in three. Manning was MVP of both of his. Wide receivers won the MVP awards in Roethlisberger's title-game wins. Roethlisberger has a better career completion percentage (63.7 to 59.0), passer rating (93.9 to 82.4) and average yards per pass (7.88 to 7.09). Manning has 698 more passing yards and eight more touchdowns than Roethlisberger has, but of course he has also thrown 54 more interceptions. Manning has never missed a game. Roethlisberger has missed 15 due to injury or suspension. Manning is 14 months older.
Regardless of fan loyalty or personal preference, it's clear that Roethlisberger and Manning belong in the same contractual bucket. So the question the Giants have to ask, as they consider whether to extend Manning now or wait another year before doing so, is whether they're ready to give him this Roethlisberger deal or something that approximates it.
Manning isn't about to cut the Giants a deal. He has no reason to do so. Roethlisberger just got $20 million a year without hitting the open market. If Manning were to make it to free agency next year, given the current state of the quarterback position league-wide, he'd get a deal that would make Ndamukong Suh feel like a pauper. That's his hammer, he knows it and he'd be a fool not to use it. So if the Giants are going to extend Manning, it's going to be for something in the $20 million-per-year range and likely for at least four years. Roethlisberger's guaranteed money is being reported at a little more than $60 million, and Manning and his agents are well aware of this, too.
The only thing the Giants have to gain by doing Manning's deal now -- as opposed to a year from now -- is cap space. But they have something like $8 million left in cap space for 2015, and the sluggish way they've approached free agency so far indicates they're in no rush to exhaust it. Short-term cap relief is not a sound reason upon which to base a major, long-term franchise decision, so if the Giants can get through this offseason without needing the $11 million or so that a Manning extension could provide, then they'd be wise to do so, and I think that's the realization to which they have come.
Waiting a year to do the Manning extension comes with very little risk on the team's end. His best-case scenario is a monster year and a third Super Bowl title, which would put him in line to land a record-breaking quarterback deal. But they'd have to give him something awfully close to that to lock him up now, and they could always franchise him next year for premium money anyway if they wanted to keep him off the market, so what's the harm in waiting? Another year gives them a chance to answer some lingering questions. What if Manning is in decline? What if this new offense of theirs doesn't really require a $20 million-a-year quarterback? What if they bottom out, get a super-high draft pick and have an opportunity to completely reshape the franchise around a new quarterback, as they did with Manning in 2004?
Roethlisberger's deal with the Steelers did nothing to help the Giants' bargaining position with Manning. If he comes to them this offseason with terms they find agreeable, then yes, it's entirely possible they could get something done now. If some surprise free agent or trade target becomes available in the coming weeks or months that requires a big cap spend, it's possible they could get something done then. But it's also possible -- and in many ways, sensible -- to wait another year. As long as the price is as high as the Roethlisberger deal says it is, the Giants have no reason to rush into a new Manning deal, and I don't think they will.
This isn't a terrible question. In my reporting on free agency during the past week, I have heard this expressed as a concern of three players, each of whom signed elsewhere. The sense that Tom Coughlin might only be the Giants' head coach for one more year is a factor in players' decision-making with regard to the Giants, and you really can't blame them. If you're going to sign for three, four or five years, it's completely fair to ask whether you can count on the current head coach being there for more than one of them.
Let me be completely clear on this: I do not believe, based on what I have heard, that Coughlin's job status is the reason the Giants haven't been able to sign a bunch of big-name free agents so far. I do believe it's one of many factors in players' decision-making process. This is a list-the-pros-and-cons process for these guys, and one of the cons on the Giants' side right now is uncertainty about the long-term future of the coaching staff.
However, there is a sense around the Giants and across the league that another sub-.500 season could mean big changes and even the end of Coughlin's time with the team. And the reason for that is not -- as it might be in other places -- fickle ownership or uncertainty about the quality of the coach. The reason there's uncertainty about Coughlin's long-term status is the performance of the team during the past several years. And that, if anything, is the reason the Giants might not gleam quite as brightly as a desirable free-agent landing spot as they once did.
This is a Giants team that has not finished better than .500 since 2012 and has missed the playoffs in five of the past six years. That's a pretty long track record of disappointment, and the fact a Lombardi Trophy showed up in the middle of it can only go so far in erasing the questions about the overall quality and direction of the team. Yes, the Giants have won two Super Bowls in the past eight seasons. But they've also missed the playoffs in five of them. At some point, that second thing starts to loom at least as large in the minds of prospective employees as the first thing does. Coughlin and Eli Manning are the kind of coach and quarterback who can win you a Super Bowl, yes. They have proved that. But their record also tells you they very rarely qualify for the postseason.
So, in answer to the question of whether Coughlin's job status is having an adverse effect on the Giants' pursuit of players, I'd say yes, but only as part of the bigger picture. If the Giants still were the consistent winner of an organization they hold themselves out to be, then Coughlin's job status wouldn't even be a topic for discussion. But based on the way things have gone the past three years, they're just not.
It's their business strategy, and it's basically a good one. There are very few players who have left the Giants as free agents who make you say, "Yeah, they really should have kept that guy."
But with all due respect to Rolle, whose departure has saddened many of his teammates, losing him isn't the major problem here. The Giants' bigger problem is that, as is the case at many other positions, they haven't groomed a replacement. Yes, they'll add a safety or two in free agency, and the holes will get plugged as they always do. But over the past few years there have been too many holes that needed free-agent plugs, and that's a continued sign of a systemic, long-term problem that's not going to be fixed quickly.
The issue here continues to be a five-year stretch from 2008 to 2012 during which the Giants got almost nothing out of the draft. They made 38 picks during that time, and we can generously estimate that nine of those picks became NFL starters. I'm counting guys like Jacquian Williams and Rueben Randle there, along with Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas, Hakeem Nicks, Will Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Prince Amukamara, so you can't say I'm cheating them here.
Of the 38 picks the Giants made during that five-year stretch -- which began seven years ago -- only eight are expected to be on the 2015 roster.
That's a wasteland, folks -- the kind of draft record that would get a GM fired if he didn't: (A) work for John Mara; and (B) win a Super Bowl at some point during that stretch. But while Jerry Reese's job is not in jeopardy, the mess he's now continually cleaning up is of his own making. The inability to find and develop quality NFL contributors from the second, third and fourth rounds of those drafts is the reason the Giants end up having to sign free agents -- like Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Dwayne Harris and Marshall Newhouse -- to fill reserve and special-teams roles, as they did Tuesday. Your reserves and special-teamers are supposed to be the talented-but-underdeveloped guys at the back end of your roster, hungry for and building toward larger opportunity in the future. The Giants' roster doesn't have that class because the bulk of the players they drafted for that five-year stretch have not turned out to be NFL-caliber players.
The 2015 Giants are almost certain to feature two starting offensive linemen, two running backs, two starting defensive linemen, two linebackers, one cornerback and at least one safety who signed as free agents. Their starting fullback, starting tight end and one of their starting wide receivers were undrafted free agents, and Reese & Co. deserve credit for those finds, but you can't count on undrafted gems for your foundation. The bulk of the roster has to come from the draft, and the Giants' drafts under Reese have not delivered.
So the plan at safety right now with Rolle gone? Well, they'll try to sign a free-agent starter, possibly bring back Stevie Brown and hope that one of their two most recent fifth-round picks -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- is ready for a starting job.
Nowhere in the 2008 to 2012 draft classes did they find even one player capable of developing into a starting NFL safety. Had they done so, you'd probably be feeling a lot better today about Rolle's departure. The big problem, of course, is that safety isn't the only position at which they are confronting this exact problem. Far from it.
The Giants agreed to terms with six players Tuesday, and it's entirely possible none of the six will start for them in Week 1. Yes, J.T. Thomas or Jonathan Casillas could conceivably win a starting linebacker spot, but they weren't necessarily added with that in mind. And yes, a camp injury could surface that requires Marshall Newhouse to start a game or two at tackle, but he was signed as a backup. Shane Vereen is a third-down running back, Dwayne Harris is a kick returner and bench receiver, and Chris Ogbonnaya is a back-of-the-roster running back who's no lock to make the team.
Which is all fine. The rosters have to have 53 guys on them, and not everyone who signs is going to be a starter. But nothing that happened Tuesday changes the Giants' need for at least one starting safety, a couple of defensive linemen and another starter on the offensive line.
Fear not. The Giants remain in contact with the agents for free-agent safeties Rahim Moore and Ron Parker, each of whom has several teams interested and is taking his time. The Giants continue to poke around for defensive line help, though with options drying up there they may need to get creative. Defensive tackle Dan Williams had been a target of theirs, but he's visiting Oakland. Derrick Morgan is one of the top remaining available pass-rushers and is visiting Atlanta. Visits don't equal signings, but more often than not they lead that way, and it's likely those guys will get crossed off the list fairly soon.
As for offensive linemen, it's quiet on that front. I still can't rule out St. Louis tackle Joe Barksdale, but the Giants are looking at various options at tackle and guard in an effort to improve their run blocking. They're also still chatting with a couple of their own free agents, including safety Stevie Brown.
So there's more to come on the Giants' front, I promise. Will keep you posted best I can.
But given what the Giants are paying these guys, you can expect to see them on more than just special teams. Harris didn't get to play much as a receiver in Dallas' offense, but he could get a chance to contribute on offense for the Giants, especially if Victor Cruz struggles to recover from the significant knee injury that sidelined him in Week 6 of the 2014 season. The Giants had been hoping to beef up their wide receiver group to guard against the chance that Cruz doesn't make it back. Harris helps do that, but he also offers significant value in the return game even if he doesn't have to play on offense.
Casillas is a weakside linebacker and could be the replacement for Jacquian Williams, who is off somewhere else in free agency. The Giants also have Jon Beason, Jameel McClain and Devon Kennard at linebacker, but none of them really fits in that weakside coverage linebacker spot, so there's a chance for Casillas to contribute on defense.
The Giants could move on from McClain and save $3.1 million against the cap by doing so, but I'm told they have no such plans at the moment (even with a $400,000 roster bonus due Thursday for McClain), mainly because concerns about Beason's injury history make McClain valuable as a capable Beason replacement. Having the four of them gives the Giants some depth at a position where they haven't had much depth in recent years, and allows them to deploy Kennard strategically in pass-rushing situations.
More to come, obviously.
The New York Giants are in agreement on a contract with free-agent running back Shane Vereen, formerly of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. I don't have contract details yet, but my guess is the Giants had to overpay to lure Vereen away from the champs and that his deal will make him the highest-paid running back on the roster. Rashad Jennings, signed last year at this time, makes $2.5 million per year.
Jennings isn't going anywhere, and neither is second-year back Andre Williams. But the Giants went into this offseason looking for a change-of-pace back to fill the role they had carved out last year for David Wilson before his forced early retirement, and Vereen fits the bill. He has caught a total of 99 passes over the past two regular seasons and caught 11 for 64 yards last month in the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over Seattle.
Vereen is known as a sharp route-runner and sure-handed receiver, but also as a strong pass-protector, so he'll slide in nicely as a third-down back with Jennings and/or Williams handling the early-down work. Jennings is also a good receiver who can and will play on some third downs, but Vereen also can line up as a slot receiver or in several different places along the formation.
Basically, Vereen gives quarterback Eli Manning and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo another weapon. All season, Manning and McAdoo talked about "hunting for completions" as a part of the foundation of the Giants' offense. They want to get the ball out quickly, make sure it's complete and get it into the hands of their playmakers to allow them to make plays. Vereen, Jennings, Williams, tight end Larry Donnell and receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle form a diverse and potentially dynamic collection of players at Manning and McAdoo's disposal on any given play.
There are potential drawbacks here, of course. Vereen has played a full 16-game season only once, and it was this past year. And part of me finds it tough to trust a player who only had big games when Bill Belichick liked the matchup. Vereen has played in 42 career games and has recorded more than 40 total yards in only 23 of them -- more than 100 in only five. But Belichick's game plans are so matchup-based that you can't fault Vereen for the week-to-week inconsistency in his numbers. The Giants are paying for the guy who helped make a difference when he was featured in Belichick's game plans, and hoping they can extrapolate that over a full season. Vereen just turned 26 last week, so he has some prime years still to come.