By Jack McKessy
The New York Giants have some big decisions to make as free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft approach. After entering the offseason with little to no breathing room under a lowered salary cap, New York has already made a couple of big cuts to free up space. Cutting Golden Tate at the beginning of March freed up just over $6 million, and the release of Kevin Zeitler on Wednesday added another $10 million of wiggle room.
But after the Giants were unable to reach a long-term agreement with defensive lineman Leonard Williams, they were forced to franchise-tag their star defender. As a result, New York will be on the hook for $19.35 million should Williams accept, leaving them with just over $3 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap.
Nevertheless, the Giants must look to fill out some of their weaknesses on both sides of the ball—whether it’s in the draft or in free agency—if they want to contend in 2021. Here are their biggest needs by position as of right now:
5) OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Though they drafted two offensive tackles in last year’s draft—Andrew Thomas at fourth overall, then Matt Peart in the third round—the rookies didn’t shine the way the Giants might have hoped. Thomas especially was inconsistent in his first year, though he definitely has the potential to develop into the player New York had hoped for when they nabbed him in the top five.
With Zeitler’s release and fellow offensive lineman Nate Solder likely to follow (or playing on a restructured deal), the Giants will need to fill their spots on the roster by bringing in other linemen, especially if Peart and Thomas need more time to continue developing.
In free agency, I could maybe see the Giants go for Trent Williams here, but he’ll be looking for a significant paycheck after an All-Pro season. New York may also be wary of offering big money to a lineman after overpaying for Solder a couple of years ago.
In the draft, I don’t expect Big Blue to take a lineman in the first round again this year unless Oregon’s Penei Sewell or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater fall to 11. Since that’s unlikely, the Giants could be set to grab Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg or Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood later on.
4) TIGHT END
Technically, New York does have a starting tight end on its roster: Evan Engram. But this year
especially showed how Engram—who was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2020—was a bit of a liability at the position, particularly as a pass-catcher.
According to Pro Football Reference’s advanced receiving stats, Engram dropped 11 passes this year. Ask any Giants fan and they’ll point out that those drops often happened at extremely inopportune moments. To make matters worse, three of those dropped passes became interceptions for the other team. Out of Daniel Jones’ 10 interceptions on the season, six of them came when targeting Engram.
Those numbers aren’t great, to say the least. Given that the Giants were literally one win—or even one dropped Engram pass—from making the playoffs, the numbers are especially not great. Finding a more consistent tight end could help New York fill the role of dynamic offense playmaker they desperately need.
As far as who might fill that need, Hunter Henry is a potential free agency fit there. Otherwise, it’s very possible the Giants will be able to snag the top tight end in the draft in Florida’s Kyle Pitts at No. 11.
3) EDGE RUSHER
While the Giants’ defense did improve through the second half of the year, it was clear they were still missing a good pass rush. The defensive line, led by Williams, had some success in breaking through opponents’ offensive lines and finishing with sacks.
Relying primarily on the defensive line to pressure the quarterback usually means giving the quarterback more time to throw. A good edge rusher can create more pressure with speed on the outside, and if nothing else can contain a quarterback that otherwise might be good with his legs. New York had trouble with containment this year, which was especially evident against guys like Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray.
In 2020, the Giants’ six edge rushers combined for 10.5 sacks. It’s clear that they need to find more players who can create pressure off the edge, generate sacks, and contain mobile quarterbacks.
In free agency, I like Haason Reddick here. His very sudden breakout in Arizona might give him a higher price tag, but it could also make teams hesitate, unsure of whether he’ll continue to perform at that level. I’m not sure the Giants will go for a defender in the first round, but they could grab someone like Miami’s Gregory Rousseau or Michigan’s Kwity Paye if they did. Otherwise, I see them taking someone like UNC’s Chazz Surratt in a later round.
With how much time the Giants’ front seven gave to opposing quarterbacks, those same quarterbacks were able to expose another weakness in the Big Blue defense: their secondary, specifically their cornerbacks.
This is not a knock on James Bradberry, who is one of Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman’s best free agency pickups to date, but Bradberry can’t cover every receiver at once. When Sam Beal opted out of the 2020 season and New York cut Corey Ballentine and 2020 draft pick DeAndre Baker, they were left scrambling to find a solid No. 2 corner for the rest of the season. Finding that No. 2 guy would be huge in upgrading a Giants pass defense that was 26th in the league in pass completions and 16th in passing yards.
As far as free agency, Cincinnati’s William Jackson III would be a good upgrade if New York can afford to pull him away from competitors in a free agency year without many standout cornerbacks. For the draft, though I still don’t see the Giants going for defense, Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley or even Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II would be hard to pass up if either or both fell to No. 11. Later on, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo or Kentucky’s Kelvin Joseph could slot into that No. 2 corner spot as well.
1) WIDE RECEIVER
There is no single position the Giants need to upgrade more than wide receiver. That fact has been obvious from the moment their 2020 season ended and is even more obvious now that Tate has been cut.
As it stands now, New York has a couple of great No. 2 receiver options in Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Both players stood out in their rookie seasons, then slowed down in production in subsequent years. The Giants are desperate for a dynamic playmaker that can perform at a high level immediately and sustain that level of play for several years.
Without a true No. 1 receiver, Jones and the entire New York offense struggled to put together drives all year in 2020. Filling that role in free agency or the draft could boost Jones’ performance and confidence, in turn benefitting the entire Giants offense.
Kenny Golladay is a great fit here in free agency, and after trade deadline rumors linking him with the Giants, it’s likely New York is continuing to look at Golladay as one of their options.
This is almost definitely the position the Giants are going to try to bolster in the first (couple of) rounds in this year’s draft. Even at No. 11, New York has a good chance at grabbing a top-tier wide receiver, since the 2021 draft class is stacked with them. I say the Giants will take their pick of whichever receiver is available to them between LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, or Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.
- Jun 28, 2022
- Jun 24, 2022