Friday, February 27, 2009

Giants odds and ends: Redskins, Jets, Salary Cap

Redskins Sign Albert Haynesworth to $100M deal
OK, I'll admit it - I don't exactly get it. How is it possible that every year the Redskins are reported to be locked into salary cap hell and yet every year they seem to be able to go out and sign some high priced, top shelf FA for megabucks. Please see the link here, which is admittedly somewhat dated, because it was compiled 23rd January of this year and there have been lots of personnel moves since then. Nevertheless, the link estimates that the Redskins are $3M over the cap for 2009. Perhaps they made some moves to free up some space, but doesn't seem possible that they could free up enough for this Haynesworth deal. I believe the Redskins give huge up front signing bonuses and virtually no salary in the first year, so the salary cap hit in that first year is minimal. The contracts are back loaded and Redskins will come up on some years where they are stuck, but they seem to wiggle out of it more often than it seems they should be able to do.

Scott talking to Jets
Scott is a very good LB and could be a good player on the Giants, even though he played ILB on the Ravens 3-4 defense and the Giants need is primarily at OLB this year. Scott would have been a good fit for the Giants, because he is quick enough to play OLB in a 4-3 defense and he could have moved inside the following year when/if Pierce needs replacement. It was only logical that Scott, as the biggest name on the FA market at the LB position would draw lots of attention, especially from his former DC, Ryan who is now coaching the Jets. I would not have minded to see the Giants get him, but I don't think the Giants should engage in a bidding war to get him. This is why I said in previous posts that the Giants should try to get a WR at the pro level and OLB in the draft. There are lots of good OLB's in the draft and the Giants should be able to get a good one there. I haven't given up on Wilkinson yet and certainly Kehl showed some skill last year in his rookie year. Wilkinson just can't seem to stay healthy and on the field. Some players go through that their entire career and just can't be productive, while others have some injuries in their first few years and seem to get past it. We'll see about Wilkinson.

Salary Cap Info
Salary cap information is always very fluid because it changes so frequently and so often. For the public it is a little bit of a guessing game, because every detail of every contract, every bonus payment, is not made known to the public. There is a reasonable estimate of salary cap status in a web site from which has a different placeholder for each team. This estmate came from a group following the Miami Dolphins. You can see it in the side frame on the right of the posts, under the heading ALL SPORTS where I list other related links or by clicking here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giants off season moves

Draft Strategy
When a team has a bad year and they finish with only a few wins, they will have high draft position in the following year and get a chance to rebuild. But if they are really bad and need to remake the entire roster, do they really want one very high draft choice where they can get a single star player? Would they be better off with several players in the middle or bottom of the first round. This is always the dilemma - trade down to get several picks or draft high and start building your team with that one superstar.

There are other factors involved and there is not one simple binary answer to this question. How good is the team's drafting record and how confident are they that the first round pick will indeed be a star. If you try to pick a star at the top of the draft, invest gobs of money and dedicate a sizable part of your salary cap to him and then he turns out to be a bust, it could set back the team and take several years to recover from that move. In 2004 a sure fire stud OT was coming out of the draft named Robert Gallery. Giants had Kerry Collins at qb behind a weak OL and everyone wanted the Giants to take Gallery and go for another run at the Superbowl with him protecting Collins. We all know what happened: Al Davis grabbed Gallery in the 3rd slot, Giants drafted Phillip Rivers at 4 and pulled off the trade for Eli. Gallery turned out to be a bust and the Raiders have not sniffed the playoffs since then. I don't have to tell you what happened to Eli and the Giants. So fortunes of the team for several years is made on these draft decisions.

If a draft is top heavy with talent but not very deep, the team might keep its high draft choice, but if it is deep and talented, it might strongly consider trading down and acquire several lower picks to fill out the roster with a few players. Parcells was trying to trade his #1 pick last year, but he couldn't find any takers. Instead, the Dolphins kept their 1st rounder, drafted Long, their apparent starting LT for the next several years and won 10 more games this year than last year.

The Giants have a different kind of challenge. They are a good team that has the 29th pick in the first round. They don't need to fill out their team with lots of players, they need to find a star or two to push them over the top. Consequently, it might make sense for the Giants to trade up and have fewer picks higher in the draft. I think the Giants might move up, but I don't think they will go overboard doing this. A lot will depend on how they make out in the FA signing period. If they can upgrade their roster at some key spots before the draft, then they may sit where they are and try to get lots of quality players.

While the Giants are in need of finding a few stars and not in need of a broad upgrade of the foundation of the team, they are nevertheless also in need of upgrading the athleticism at the back end of their roster. The Giants KO coverage was weak this year. Recently, I watched the Giants 2007 playoff games and I realized why the Giants KO coverage was so weak this year. The Giants lost 4 or 5 excellent ST players from 2007 and were weaker in ST coverage on the 2008 roster. In 2007, Domenik Hixon, Corey Webster, David Tyree and Kevin Dockery all played ST and were absolutely great cover guys. They all were either injured (in the case of Tyree) or were elevated to starters and played less ST. Other players departed onto other teams or were cut: Reggie Torbor, Tank Daniels and Geoffrey Pope. All were also very good ST players. Giants need to rebuild the athletes on the end of the roster and if they do, I am confident that Coughlin will coach them up and the KO coverage will return to its previous solid performance.

Giants off season moves

Brandon Jacobs Signs
I posted here a few weeks ago that I would be just as happy with Derrick Ward as Brandon Jacobs as the Giants regular RB. I am not moving off of that position now that the Giants have resigned Jacobs. I like Jacobs, he is a unique player and he gives the Giants something important - a player that the other defense has to game plan for. His combination of size, speed and nimble feet truly makes him one of a kind in the NFL. My inclination to sign Ward was that the he would probably cost the Giants less, he is a better pass receiver out of the backfield and though not as powerful as Jacobs, he would still be productive. RB's are not as important to the offense as WRs are nowadays. With the (apparent) departure of Burress and the decline of the offense after he left the team last year, it is obvious that the Giants need to upgrade there. If saving some shekels on Ward would have allowed the Giants to throw some extra money at a WR and get a more talented one, Giants offense might be better off.

But let me be clear - I am not whining about Jacobs. He is an outstanding RB and if the Giants can fulfill their off season roster upgrade with him taking up space on the salary cap, I am fine with that. I would not be surprised to find that there are some incentives in the contract around playing time. I am sure that Giants were somewhat hesitant about Jacobs concerned about his ability to stay healthy in the future.

Salary Cap is $4M higher than earlier calculated
The NFL just announced that the salary cap is going to be $127M this year, not $123 as previously announced. This doesn't particularly help the Giants - all teams get to use this additional cap money. It is not a competitive advantage for them.

Kurt Warner breaks off negotiation with Cardinals
This could be important to the Giants. Warner is a FA and is negotiating a deal to return to Arizona. If he broke off negotiations, I am sure there are several teams that would be salivating at getting him in. The Jets are one, but I think he would be a perfect fit for Minnesota. They have some talent at WR, they have a good OL, a great RB and Warner certainly likes to play in warm weather or in a dome. Lots of NFL experts think the Vikings are a good starting qb away from being a legitimate Superbowl threat. In fact, lots of experts had the Vikings a sfashionable pick to coe out of the NFC last year with Tavaris Jackson at qb. The reason this Kurt Warner negotiation is important to the Giants is that it greatly reduces the attraction of Cardinals to WR Anquan Bouldin and brings into his question his return there. Giants have a major need at WR and I would like to see them fill it with a proven pro rather than a draft prospect. Bouldin has stated that he wants to leave the Cardinals and the absence of Warner could make it an easier decision for him.

Giants Strategy
I would like to see the Giants go for a proven WR, either from the FA ranks or in a trade. Their other need, a stud OLB and a DT to supplement Robbins, who is getting a little long in the tooth, can be filled from the draft. There are lots of real good looking OLB's in the draft this year, at least 5 that are impact players and 1st round talent. The Giants could sit where they other at 29 and get a good player or package one of their 2nd round picks with their own 1st rounder and move up to a higher slot in the 1st round to get a particular player. I do not want to see the Giants trade a bunch of picks to move up to take Michael Crabtree. I know it may be blasphemous to say this, but I am not certain that Crabtrree is a sure fire lock to be a stud WR, as all the draft experts seem to be. I am not saying that he is overrated, and I am certainly not syaing that he will be a bust. I am just saying that you should be cautious with him. He played in a spread offense in college which always inflates a WR's numbers. He does not have blazing speed; his 40 time is about 4.58 and he does not have great size. He is a real good athlete and a natural football player, but there is a long list of NFL WRs with average speed who excelled in college and were only average in the pros. The list of moderate speed WRs who starred in the NFL starts with Jerry Rice and doesn't have too many other names on the list. He will probably be a very good player, I'm just saying that he is a not necessarily a slam dunk to be star.

There are lots of good OT's in the draft and if a stud falls to the Giants, it would not be crazy to take him, slot him in at LT when he is ready and move Diehl back inside.

Toomer was told to search for another team and it seemed cold that the Giants would do this to a 13 year veteran that has never taken a snap for antoher team, has been a model citizen, has restructured his contract several times to help the team's salary cap situation and has tutored the young players when asked. Toomer was not happy abot pushed out either. But when the Colts cut Marvin Harrison, the release of Toomer did not seem quite as unfeeling.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Giants draft pick from Saints in Shockey trade

There is a possibility that the 2nd round pick that Giants acquired from the Saints for Jeremy Shockey could grow into a 1st round pick. Giants received a 2nd round pick in 2009 from the Saints and the Saints had previously traded a 3rd round pick to the Jets when they acquired Jonathan Vilma. But this 3rd round pick that they gave to the Jets was conditional on Vilma's performance. Specifically, if Vilma played 85% of the snaps for the Saints defense and the Saints re-signed him without his becoming a FA, then the Saints compensation to the Jets would grow to be a 2nd round pick instead of 3rd round. If the Saints give this 2nd round pick to the Jets, they would not have a 2nd round pick to give to the Giants. Saints GM, Bernie Madoff, tried to argue that the Jets and Giants could share the 2nd round pick, but the NFL wasn't buying. The NFL ruled that if the Saints pick to the Jets becomes a 2nd rounder, the Giants would get a 1st round pick from the Saints.

Sounds ridiculous, because the Saints have both of these decision criteria under their direct control. They do not have to play Vilma on 85% of the Saints defensive snaps and they do not have to sign him to an extension - they can let him become a FA. Here's the crazy part - Vilma reached the performance clauses of the deal - he did play on 85% of their snaps. That means that the Saints have to let a player, who was the backbone of their defense, as evidenced by the fact that he was on the field every darned play - walk into FA because they don't want to forfeit higher draft choices in their trades.

There is one more possible twist to this trade. Reports are, as I described above, that BOTH of these conditions have to be met: Vilma's playing time AND his re-signing by the Saints. But that might not be the case, since the terms of the contract are in the NFL office, they are not released to the public and the NFL is the final arbiter of this; a decision will be made on 27th February. If.... and this is a big IF... the deal is "OR" and not "AND", then the Giants will get a 1st round pick. By this I mean that Vilma and the Saints have to meet either one of the criteria: of playing time OR contract renewal, but not both, then the Giants could get a 1st round pick. It is a little suspicious that 27 Feb is the determination date, since that is the first day of FA. It seems therefore, that Vilma entering FA is an important criterion on the determination. All I can say is - we'll see.

Giants off season planning

Developing Trend: Franchise Tags

Giants have a few major off-season needs: replace Burress and get a big weapon at WR; acquire some play makers at the OLB position; resolve the RB situation with Jacobs and Ward. Giants have had a very good record in recent years in the draft and it would be tempting for the Giants, especially with the extra picks that they acquired this year in the Shockey-to-the-Saints trade to try and fill their needs from the draft. However, the Giants have also done very well in their pro-personnel evaluation and have been successful in acquiring FAs and pros released by other teams. A short list of the successful pro acquisitions of the last few years: Kareem MacKenzie, Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce, Burress were all FA acquisitions. Come to think of it, Kawika Mitchell was also a FA pickup and even though he only stayed for one year, he played very effectively helping Giants in the Superbowl year. Additionally, the Giants picked up some players cut by other teams that have made good contributions, including Madison Hedgecock and Domenik Hixon. So the question is: should the Giants try to fill their needs from the draft or from FA acquisitions.

My feeling was that the Giants should try to fill one of these needs from the draft and one from free agency. It might have made sense to find a WR in the draft and go after one of the two main OLB's on the FA market: Terrell Suggs of the Ravens or Karlos Dansby of the Arizona Cardinals. Suggs would be a perfect fit for the Giants scheme, he is a tough, aggressive, downhill player who likes to rush the qb. Dansby is a slightly different type of player but also would fit in the Giants scheme. Dansby is a little lighter and a little faster but a very smart player. Both the Ravens and the Cardinals slapped the franchise tag on these players and they are now pretty much locked into those teams. The Ravens other OLB, Scott, is also a FA and is also a very good player. He might be very good value for the Giants, because on the Ravens, Suggs and Ray Lewis get all the media attention and Scott, a very good player, flies under the radar. I can't imagine that the Ravens will resign all 3 players. I would have thought that their strategy would be to sign one, franchise tag one and let the third go. They have now tagged Suggs, will probably try to resign Ray Lewis, which leaves Scott as available. He might be a really good fit and the Giants should consider him. But if you target only one FA and there are no other LBs available, you probably end up overpaying. There are a few very good looking LBs in the draft and it might be smarter to try and grab one. I would be happy with: Aaron Curry of Wake Forest; Brian Cushing or Rey Maualuga both OLBs from USC. Curry might be unavailable because he might go in the top 10 picks, but the other two are good OLBs and USC players are generally NFL ready.

Giants have not had great luck in the last few years at drafting WRs and have them become productive immediately. Steve Smith from USC has been productive but Sinorice Moss gets no playing time and Manningham was invisible this year. It's hard to understand how they did not get opportunities to play, especially after Burress went down. WR has become a very cerebral position in the NFL. It used to be that if you could run, you could contribute immediately. With the complexity of defenses now, with variations in zones and blitzes, there is a lot of defense reading, sight reads and communications with the qb necessary, making it difficult for an inexperienced WR to come in and be productive. Because the Giants are a playoff team, they should be looking to get players that can contribute right away and get deep into the playoffs, rather than building for the long term future. Sounds good on paper, but the pool of WR's available in FA is very shallow. The only one available is Houshmandzadeh from the Bengals. He would actually be a good fit for the Giants because of his size. It might be great to have him on one side and draft a pure speed guy to play opposite him on the other side of the field. Furthermore, Hixon might be very effective playing with Houshmandzadeh, but as the only capable WR on the FA market, he might be overpriced. Again, targeting one player in a shallow WR market might drive his price up too high and make signing him impractical. I think the Giants should consider pursuing a trade for WRs that are rumored to be available: Anquan Bouldin is one, and see my earlier post about manufacturing a market for Calvin Johnson by making the Lions an offer they can't refuse. There have also been rumors going around that the Giants might be interested in Ocho Cinco himself, Chad Johnson of the Bengals. After their experiences with Burress, I am not sure that they are interested in bringing another diva into the Meadowlands, but it does show what their interests and priorities are.

I have never seen so many players get tagged with the franchise tag as have been this year. I'm not sure why this trend is developing - perhaps because the salary cap is going up every year, teams can afford to pay the price and are willing to do so for the flexibility it gives them.

All Plaxico All The Time

Giants will not have Burress on the team next year, notwithstanding the fact that GM Reese left the door for Plaxico's return ever so slightly ajar. Giants are talking nice but have taken every action against the player that they could take that seem almost punitive to him. Really, they are setting up to do something else, in my opinion.

Here's what the Giants did since the infamous gun accident. The Giants suspended Burress without pay for the final four weeks of the season; they fined him one game check on top of the suspension; the Giants withheld a roster bonus payment of $1mil due him on December 10 and on top of all that, they had placed him on non-football injured reserve list. Why take all those actions? Putting him on non-football injured reserve automatically removes him from the team and means he won't get paid - why should they also suspend him for "repeated rules violations and conduct detrimental to the team". The Giants are also going after his future earnings and are seeking to take away future escalator clauses and bonus incentive payments in his contract.

There is a clause in Burress' contract that if he is suspended twice, either by the team or by the league, he loses those future performance bonuses and is, in effect, in violation of his contract. Giants are trying to set that up so that Burress contract is null and void and he is not due the expensive future bonuses. The benefit to the Giants is simple: this way they can trade him instead of just cutting him. If Burress loses his legal battles on the gun possession charges and goes to jail, the matter is out of the Giants control and Burress career with them and probably in the NFL is over. But if he somehow wins the court case or negotiates a less onerous penalty from NYS, then his career could be revived, after the NFL gets through with any punishment it chooses to mete out. But, if his NFL career is revived and the Giants wish to get a divorce with Plaxico, they still want to control what team he goes to. If he is cut by the Giants, he can sign with any team he wants and I can see the Cowboys signing him in a heartbeat. However, if his contract is stripped bare, the Giants will have more flexibility to trade him and won't suffer a salary cap hit themselves by accelerating the unamortized portion of future bonuses into the current salary cap year, because there are not any unamortized bonuses. They could trade him for a 3rd round draft choice and at least keep him out of the NFC East.

Jacobs Franchise Tag

Since my last post, when I proposed that the Giants go in the Derrick Ward direction, the Giants put the franchise tag on Brandon Jacobs, which sure makes it seem like he's their man for next year. The reason the Giants did not sign him to a deal proactively, before he became a FA is because they are concerned about his health, his ability to remain injury free and have a long career. Jacobs wants Marion Barber money and the Giants are not willing to give it. Even though they tagged him, the full story may not have completely played itself out just yet. It looks likely now that Jacobs will be resigned, but I wouldn't be surprised if things fall through and the Giants do something like revoke their tag and do a sign-and-trade with Jacobs like they do in the NBA.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Giants off season preparation

Salary cap updates

The Burress situation
Generally when a player is signed to a long term contract, he is given an up front signing bonus in order to spread the affect of the salary over several years. However, there is an obstacle when the player is cut, traded or otherwise leaves the team, because the remaining non-amortized portion of the signing bonus is accelerated into the current year and creates a one year salary cap hit on the team. There are nuances to the size of the salary cap hit related to precisely when the player separates from the team, but leaving that aside, there is a salary cap hit in that first year. On the surface, this would seem to be a problem with Plaxico Burress. The Giants signed him before the 2008 season to a contract extension that was said to be worth $35 mil over 5 years. Consequently, we might assume that if the Giants were to cut Burress, they would save the salary portion of his contract for 2009, but would be charged the remaining 4 years worth of the up front bonus (80% of it for those of you who are mathematically challenged) and it would cramp greatly their ability to sign FA's this year.

Not to worry - GM Reese and the Giants built some protection into this contract and while it was for $35 mil, very little of the money was up front guaranteed; most of it was in roster bonuses, performance incentives and behavior clauses. For example, if Burress was suspended twice by the team for conduct detrimental to the team, he forfeited some of his future incentive money. This was a great move by Reese - providing money to the player if he performed and giving protection to the team if he didn't. Unfortunately for the team and for the player, the Giants will be able to employ these clauses for their protection and Reese comes off as being positively prescient in putting them in.

For a full analysis of the contract, you can take a look at Peter King's SI article of December 1, 2008, but it is hard to find the part about Burress buried in that article, so I've summarized the highlights below:
The Giants can cut or trade Burress after the season and simply eliminate $23 million of the $27-million-in-new-money deal he signed with the Giants.

As a roster bonus on Dec 1, 2008, Burress was due $1 million from the original and only guaranteed money in the deal, the third installment of a $4.325-million signing bonus when he originally signed. The non-guaranteed money in the Burress deal is as follows:
• Non-guaranteed base salaries: $11.5 million ($1 million in 2009, $3.5 million in 2010, $3.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012).
• Non-guaranteed one-time bonus to be paid early in the '09 off-season: $2 million.
• Non-guaranteed roster bonuses: $3.5 million ($500,000 in '09, $1 million in 2010, $1 million in 2011, $1 million in 2012).
• Non-guaranteed escalators, payable only on high performance: $5 million ($1.25 million in '09, '10, '11, '12.) He has not reached his escalators yet that would kick in for 2009.
• Non-guaranteed workout bonuses: $1.3 million ($325,000 in '09, '10, '11, '12).

The above non-guaranteed money does not get paid if Burress is cut, so I think he is gone.

Other salary cap moves
This week, the Giants announced the completely unsurprising, almost expected cuts of: Sam Madison, Reuben Droughns and Sammy Knight. This saves the Giants an additional $4.25M off their salary cap for 2009. The Giants are probably going to sign a long term deal with Eli before the next season to avoid him becoming FA in 2010, the year they move into their new stadium. There was really no reason for the Giants to cut these players now, since they are not over the salary cap and they could have held onto them until right before training camp to see how the team shapes up and if they might need one of these veterans. Therefore, becasue the Giants cut them now, I think it signals that the Giants might be somewhat aggressive in the FA market signing period that begins February 27th. The wanted to clear the space now so they could be prepared to strike when the time begins. Frankly, I am somewhat surprised that the Giants also did not cut RW McQ. He has a fairly high salary cap number considering that he is no higher than the 5th CB on the depth chart and, depending what the Giants do with James Butler, the 4th S.

Earlier posts based on information gained from various sources, it appeared that the Giants were about $10m under the projected 2009 salary cap. But that was before the Giants adjusted Darcy Johnson's contract which increased the cap by about $7.25M, and was before the cuts the Giants announced this week, listed above, which saved them about 4.25M. This brings the salary cap room to about $21M. Furthermore, if the Giants cut Burress, they will recapture his salary cap number for 2009, which was estimated to be about $3.25M If my calculations are correct, the Giants will have about $21M in salary cap space.

Giants FAs
Amani Toomer, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and James Butler are the main FAs. David Carr was also a FA but, interestingly, he resigned with the Giants.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Giants Personnel Needs - III

This is the third in my opinion posts on the Giants personnel needs for the off-season. The first two posts were about the primary needs for next year: a big time threat at the WR position and a play maker at OLB. In this post I am going to talk about other secondary needs and moves they should make, starting with the RB position.

Giants had a very strong running game this year and it powered their offense. Giants accomplished a rarity this season with their top two RB's, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, both having over 1,000 yards rushing. This has happened 3 times before in NFL history, but it hasn't happened since 1985 and with the greatly increased emphasis on passing in the offenses of the current NFL game, it is quite an accomplishment. The other interesting aspect of this accomplishment of course, is that not only did the Giants have two 1K rushers in 2008, but both are UFAs. Giants have 2 other RBs on the roster that they are fairly high on. Ahmad Bradshaw is a 3rd year player, drafted in the 7th round in 2007 and Danny Ware, who is a reclamation project of sorts, signed off the Jets practice squad. Ware has not seen much game action to speak of, but the coaches are apparently very high on him.

The big question of course is: which of the two RBs, Jacobs or Ward, should the Giants try to re-sign. The assumption is that because of salary cap considerations and Giants personnel needs at other positions, it would be unwise of the Giants to re-sign both players and invest so much coin in one position. This is probably a good assumption and it would be wise for the Giants to spread the salary cap wealth around a bit more. Everyone is leaning towards Brandon Jacobs being the primary RB to sign and letting Ward go via FA to another team. I want to be a little provocative with this statement: I am not so sure this is the best move to make.

Jacobs is a unique RB in the league. There are no other RBs with his combination of size, speed and nimble feet. He is an outstanding blocker and excels at blitz pickup. He has a great motor, never gives up and is a real emotional leader for the team. But he has some weaknesses that you need to consider as well. He is not a good pass receiver out of the backfield and he does not really have breakaway speed. His speed is great for a man his size, but that is a relative assessment. Measuring his speed in the absolute, compared to others who play his position, he is only a little above average. There's nothing more fun than watching Jacobs run over a DB or through the arm tackle of a S or an LB, but when he breaks into the open he is often caught from behind. Jacobs, being so big is an easy target for tacklers who try to get him low, at the knees or ankles. He has learned to get his pad level lower in the last 2 years, and so he can take on tacklers that try to get him low with a lowered shoulder more often than he used to. But, he is 6'4" and no matter how low he gets, a DB at 6'0" is going to be able to get lower. With all the frequent hits he takes on his ankles and knees and with his tendency to seek out contact, he has a history of getting nicked up and injured and this is likely to continue into the future. I don't think he looks for contact, but it somehow finds him. He is simply not as elusive as other smaller RBs, and he gets into more big collisions than others do. This injury factor is a particular concern when you are resigning a player to a contract, presumably for several years.

Derrick Ward clearly is not as big as Jacobs nor is he as powerful a runner. He doesn't have the cachet that Jacobs has - he's not going to run over a DB or break as many tackles as Jacobs. He's not going to fake a Lambeau leap after scoring a TD in the conference championship game, or break a light bulb on the clock by throwing a ball at it after scoring a TD. But, IMHO Ward is a more polished, more complete RB than Jacobs. He is more nimble than Jacobs and is more deft at making the subtle cuts in the hole to find open space. He is faster than Jacobs and more likely to break away for a long run. Ward is a far better pass receiver than Jacobs and the offense, therefore, is much more diversified when he is in the game. The Giants offense suffered when Plaxico Burress went out because the Giants missed his big play capability. I am not suggesting that Ward can replace Burress as a threat - the Giants need a weapon in the passing game, but Ward gives more big play capability than Jacobs, and it might be better to keep him. Jacobs is also going to demand much more money than Ward and the Giants might save salary cap space by keeping Ward, thereby allowing them to be more aggressive in building the team at other positions.

I think the Giants are not far off in this thinking, and it is not a slam dunk that Jacobs will be the RB that is chosen for next year. There are several subtle signs in the way the Giants have acted, that might show that they are somewhat ambivalent about a long term, big money commitment to Jacobs. Giants drafted 3 players in the 2005 draft, the draft that I call the best draft for any team in the history of the NFL. That year, they drafted: Corey Webster, Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs. Justin Tuck had his big breakout year in 2007, when he advanced from being a solid role player in the DL rotation in previous years and having one of his seasons cut short by injury, to becoming one of the elite DL-men in the game. The Giants recognized his emergence in 2007 and locked him up to a long term contract towards the end of the season, a full year before he could become a FA. Corey Webster started to burst on the scene during the 2007 playoffs. He had a very up-and-down first few years, disrupted by injuries, slowed by the bad coaching of DC Tim Lewis and his own poor play. Everyone remembers the INT/TD he made in the playoff clinching game in Buffalo and his outstanding play in the playoffs. He continued his superior play from that 2007 playoff run and had an excellent 2008 regular season. The Giants recognized his ascension into one of the top CBs in the league and locked Webster up to a long term contract as well, removing him from the list of possible FAs. If the Giants are so sure that Jacobs is a stud RB and a core player to form the foundation of their team, why didn't they do the same with Jacobs and extend him before he became a FA like they did with Tuck and Webster. He similarly had a breakout year in 2007, filled the void left by Tiki Barber, gained over 1,000 yards despite missing some games because of injury, averaging more than 5 yards per carry. You would think the Giants would have locked up Jacobs to a long term contract, just as they did his contemporaries from the same draft class, Webster and Tuck. In fact, not only did the Giants neglect to lock up Jacobs to a long term contract after 2007, they re-signed Derrick Ward to a 1 year contract for the 2008 season. No doubt, they signed Ward, who was a FA himself after the 2007 campaign, for several reasons: insurance in case Jacobs wanted too much money when he became a FA after 2008; insurance in case Jacobs would get injured during the 2008 season; and maybe the biggest reason of all - perhaps they thought that Ward might show himself to be a better player than Jacobs.

I am going to suggest something provocative: I think the Giants should re-sign Ward and let Jacobs walk for the following reasons, summarizing what I outlined above:

  • Ward is a more complete player, a more polished runner and has better breakaway speed
  • Ward is a better pass receiver out of the backfield and Giants can have a more diverse offense with him in the game
  • Ward is less likely to get hurt because of his avoiding contact and may have a longer career than Jacobs
  • Ward can probably be signed for less money and the Giants could use the reduced salary cap space on other needs

But the biggest reason for re-signing Ward over Jacobs has less to do with the relative ability of the two RBs. The main reason to sign a less expensive Ward is that RBs are just not as important as they used to be, since the modern NFL game is so geared towards passing. RBs are almost a commodity - there are good ones everywhere. So, even if you think that Jacobs is a little better than Ward, as long as you have a good RB and have depth at the position, the quality and productivity of your offense is going to be determined less by the RB than by other factors. First: you need a good qb; then you need a good OL; then you need weapons at the WR position; last you need a good running game. Ward can be a very productive RB in this league and the Giants have good depth behind him. They should spend their money on a weapon at WR and not at RB.

While we are discussing RBs, I want to put in a word or two about Ahmad Bradshaw. He had such a spectacular close to the 2007 season, with that big 88 yard TD run against the Bills and outstanding contributions in the playoffs. He had a huge game against Tampa Bay, was very productive in the conference championship game and in the Super Bowl as well. I think everyone was expecting him to continue his rise this year and have a huge 2008. In fact, some were surprised that the Giants re-signed Ward for the 2008 season, since it seemed that Bradshaw would fill the role as the change of pace RB behind Jacobs. Bradshaw got much less playing time than we thought he would during 2008 and, although he made some good plays, he looked to me like he may have lost some of his explosiveness and speed. I am thinking back to two plays this season as examples. In the 4th quarter of the regular season game against the Ravens, Bradshaw made a few people miss at the line of scrimmage, made a nice cut in the hole and broke into the open. It looked like a sure TD, but he was caught from behind by Ravens CB Fabian Washington at about the 5 yard line. Washington is fast, but Bradshaw had a big lead in the race and Washington caught him from behind. That's not supposed to happen to speed based RBs. The other play that might show that Bradshaw has lost some of his explosive speed is the playoff game against the Eagles when he broke into the open on the opening KO return and could not run by or through the kicker, who made the stop. I am not giving up on Bradshaw, but it might be useful to have more speed at the RB position along side him.