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.