Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giants: Boldin rumors; other plans

Boldin Rumors and acquiring a WR
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the Giants biggest need on the offensive side of the ball is a big play WR to replace Plaxico Burress. Jerry Reese and the Giants are still taking the position that Plaxico would theoretically be welcomed back into Giants land. This of course presumes that he resolves his legal problems and steps forward to become a cohesive member of the team, following all the team rules, etc. Reading between the lines, it's plain to see that Colonel Coughlin would not be quite the welcoming sort that Reese appears to be. When asked, Reese sounds conciliatory and says things like "Welcome him back... legal issues... yada, yada, yada". Coughlin at first said that he is not so sure that he would be welcomed back, but more recently has toed the company line and said simply: "He has to work out his legal issues first." He does not even add: "... and then we'll see". Coughlin does not want him back and/or does not expect him back. Reese probably does not expect him back, but if by some remarkable, fortuitous chain of events, he gets out of his legal obstacle without any felony conviction or jail time, perhaps he can be rehabilitated and convinced to follow Coughlin's rules and be a functioning, valuable member of the team again. I think it is extremely unlikely. If he gets jail time, he will be suspended on top of that by the NFL, and he will probably miss more than 1 year of his career. If he negotiates some kind of plea arrangement, avoids a trial and jail time, he is still not free and clear in terms of his NFL career. Of course all of you armchair lawyers, experienced in the rules of law by watching episodes of Law and Order (gung-gung) for the last 17 years know that when an alleged perpetrator (I love saying stuff like that) arranges a plea deal, he must admit guilt, he must allocute to the court as to the exact nature of the crime and the method in which he committed it, and he is GUILTY! If he is guilty, even of a lesser charge, the NFL will no longer be bound by presumed innocence and due process; they will suspend him and he will be probably gone for a year in that circumstance also. Consequently, the Giants need a big play WR.
Anquan Boldin has said he is unhappy with his contract and he wants out of Arizona. Following the Super Bowl, he calmed down a little bit and backed off his demand, but now the rumors are heating up again that he wants out of Arizona and the Giants are one of the teams purportedly interested. Take a look at these articles around the web that seem to hint at these rumors. ProFootballTalk.com hints at the rumor, as does Newsday-online .
I think it is unlikely that the Giants will make a deal with the Cardinals for Boldin for the following reasons:
Giants have signed a lot of players in the FA signing period and have eaten up a lot of their open cap space. Even if trading for Boldin were theoretically possible, the Giants would then have to pay him. If he wants Larry-Fitzgerald-type-money in Arizona, approximately $10M per year, where Fitzgerald is the lead dog; how much money would he want in NY where he would be the lead dog? Answer - a lot.
Add to this, the fact that the Giants probably want to redo Eli's deal and tie him up for a long time, which will result in more constraint on the salary cap. Giants won't want to give up a boat load of draft choices for Boldin and have him unhappy here that he has not signed a long term deal. All things considered, Boldin to NYG is a long shot.

I think the Giants are hopeful about their WRs. They are high on Manningham; Hixon has shown talent and I don't think they have given up on Moss. Steve Smith is a proven commodity, the leading pass catcher for the Giants last year, but he is more of a possession receiver. I just get the feeling that the Giants are going to stick with the WRs they have, supplement them with someone in the draft and wait to see how the Plaxico thing resolves itself. They may decide to add a proven, pro WR in a trade later in the off season, after the draft, but I don't think it's going to be a high end, big time player like Boldin.

Maybe the Giants are going to stick with what they have and become even more heavily reliant on the running game. Maybe that's why they signed lots of DL-men. They anticipate being involved in lots of ugly, low scoring games, with an even more conservative offense.

Signing DTs
The Giants signing of Canty and Bernard as DTs are significant for several reasons, besides the obvious. Primarily, of course, the Giants wanted to sign some very strong players in the middle of the defense and go back to having a strong DL rotation both at DE and DT. Robbins is getting on in age and even though he is still a very good player, he started to compile some injuries last year, especially towards the end of the year. Reese has shown that his philosophy is to get rid of aging players when they start to show that they are getting injured more frequently. I don't think Robbins will get cut this year, but surely, depth where a key player might get injured is important.

There is a second important message in these signings which will affect defensive assignments next year. In 2007, when the starting DEs were Strahan and Osi, Tuck was the 3rd DE in the rotation. But as Tuck improved and showed his tremendous talent, the Giants wanted to get him on the field more often and would often slot him as DT, especially in passing downs, to get their best pass rushers and best players on the field for more snaps. In 2008, Strahan and Osi were both gone, because of retirement and injury, and Tuck was the starting LDE, taking Strahan's spot with Kiwanuka playing RDE. The Giants continued with their plan of keeping their best pass rushers on the field and would often slide Tuck inside to DT on passing downs and use Tollefson/Wynn/McDougle as DE. They were not as talented and physical as Tuck and would not be effective inside at DT, so they often played DE and Tuck moved over. This happened more when Robbins was injured and the Giants felt it important to have an inside presence. I think this plan had some negative consequences. First of all, you want your best pass rushers to be able to operate in space. The middle of the OL/DL is very cramped, it is easier for the OL to double team one player or at least give a little help and therefore mitigate the advantage that Tuck may have had. The year before, when Strahan and Osi were on the ends, they were the ones that demanded the help and the double teams from the OL, therefore Tuck had a little more freedom inside. This year, when Tuck was the main weapon, he was easier to help out on when he was at DT.
Furthermore, because the interior of the OL/DL is more congested, bodies are falling on top of each other and the chance of injuries, specifically leg injuries is far more likely. Injuries can happen anywhere of course, but the falling-on-your-leg type injury is more likely when there are lots of big bodies in tight quarters. Perhaps some of Tuck's late season leg injuries were a result of his taking too many snaps and taking lots of them at the DT position. I also think the remarkable talent of Tuck, who is big and strong as well as being athletic and fast is mitigated when he plays the inside. His speed becomes a less important attribute.
I think the Giants realized this and are dedicated to keeping Tuck playing almost exclusively on the outside this year. For this reason, they signed Canty and Bernard, players that are going to take snaps at DT and remove Tuck from the DT rotation. But it's more than just signing some random players at DT - Rocky Bernard in particular is one of the best pass-rushing DTs in football. It's not just that the Giants got some warm bodies to play DT, they specifically got a player that can keep Tuck from having to move inside and allow the Giants to keep him pass rushing from the DE position. Now with Osi, Kiwanuka and Tuck, the Giants have a formidable DE rotation. At DT they have an impressive group with Canty, Bernard, Cofield, Robbins and Alford. There is also a fair amount of flexibility, because Alford and Canty can both play some DE if necessary, situationally or because of injury.

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