Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Giants: more off season stuff

There have been some very interesting developments in the off-season NFL FA market this week. Arizona Cardinals confirmed that they will not put the franchise tag on MLB Karlos Dansby. Carolina Panthers announced that they will not put the franchise tag on Julius Peppers. In perhaps the two most interesting moves this week, the San Diego Chargers cut Ladanian Tomlinson and the Philadelphia Eagles cut Brian Westbrook. These last two moves are no doubt an indicator of the importance placed on speed and play making ability at every position on offense including RB. More than that, it is indicative of the declining skills of these two once-dynamic players due to age and injury. I think it also may show that the Giants are slightly out-of-step at the RB position and need to upgrade the position to make sure that they have fast play makers at the position. I would almost never draft a RB in the first round and I think that is true now more than ever. You can pick up these speed type players in later rounds, but they are definitely needed. Jacobs is a nice player to have on the team and it may be good to get him 40-50% of the carries, but you need a breakaway and pass catching threat at RB. Bradshaw has shown flashes but was hurt in both the 2008 and 2009 season after his sparkling rookie-year showing in the playoffs. I am not sure he is the answer at the position. I think the Cowboys have the best model at RB, with a bruiser in Marion Barber, a burner in Felix Jones and a good all purpose RB in Choice. Comparing the two backfields, Jacobs is bigger than Barber, but not quite as elusive, explosive or as good a pass catcher. Bradshaw is not as big a threat as Jones, not as fast or dangerous.

If the labor contract is not renegotiated before March 5th and 2010 is in fact an uncapped year, as it certainly appears that it will be, there will be many fewer free agents than in a normal year. While no salary cap seems like it would be a boon to the players, there are several other rules that restrict players movements. Specifically, players that would be unrestricted FA's after their 4th year will instead be restricted. Only players with 6 years tenure in the league become FAs and this affects approximately 200 players around the league who will not become unrestricted FA's becasue of this change. With so many potential FAs off the market, there are very few attractive FAs, Peppers and Dansby among them. This also happens to be two positions that the Giants could use. I think Dansby is a very good player, but his performance slipped a little bit last year. Giants need speed at that LB position and once a player loses some speed, he doesn't get it back. An intriguing possibility for the Giants would be to sign Peppers and to trade Ueminyora for a LB or S. I am sorry - I know this sounds like one of the callers on sports talk radio proposing some ridiculous trade and it is extremely unlikely that this will happen, IMHO. This scenario is remote for several important reasons: Peppers would cost a lot of money; he has the reputation of being a little bit of a head case who takes some plays off and only really gears things up on passing downs where he can make ESPN highlights with a sack; Ueminyora still has time on his contract at a very reasonable $3M or so per year; it is not a good idea to trade a star player after an off-year when his value is diminished; Giants just don't like to throw money around at overpriced FAs.

While the Giants do not like to sign the big ticket FAs, the labor situation and inability to make other more moderate FA signings might encourage them to change their approach this year. Players are more likely to be traded this year because of the stale FA market and teams may feel that trading is the only way to retool the roster. However - the biggest reason that the Giants are unlikely to sign Peppers or Dansby is that by all accounts this is one of the best drafts in recent memory. Apparently there is a lot of talent at the top end of the draft and worthy first round talent all the way through. What makes this draft particularly interesting and beneficial to the Giants is that much of the talent is in the DL and OL, with some strong players at LB as well. The Giants like to build a team through the draft and will probably decide to accumulate players that way in order to upgrade the team. Aside from DT N Suh from Nebraska, the consensus best player in the draft, there are several other studs at DT and DE. Making the draft even deeper is that fact that a rookie salary cap is almost certain to be part of the next labor agreement, encouraging 3rd year college players with a year of eligibility left to come into this year's draft, before the rookie salary cap is imposed.

If anything, with the draft so deep, perhaps the Giants will trade a player or two for additional draft picks. This is not the year to trade in order to move up in the draft, because there is so much depth and talent available all the way through.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Giants cut Pierce

The Giants announced today that they have cut Antonio Pierce. It's not a big surprise, at least if you've been following this blog. However, the timing of the cut is very instructive, IMHO. Since this is an uncapped year, there was no risk for the Giants to bring Pierce to camp, see what he has left and cut him in August or September if they then saw he had nothing left or that they had a better alternative to take the position over. In the past, the reason to cut a player this early would be to make cap space available so you can sign free agents at the beginning of the FA signing period, which begins on March 5th. Since there will be no salary cap this year, clearing cap space to sign FAs before the draft is completely irrelevant. It is possible that Pierce had a roster bonus due as part of his 2010 compensation package; I am not sure about that. Nevertheless, the fact that the Giants chose to cut ties with Pierce now before they even see whether they have a better player available and without the motivation to clear salary cap space, shows just how much his play has declined in the team's evaluation.

Frankly it's hard to disagree with their evaluation. Pierce was never a great physical talent. He was average size, slightly above average speed and made his living as a capable MLB by being very smart, an excellent preparer and great at film study of the other team's tendencies. He was quick to the ball with his good reading of the opposing offense and slightly-above-average speed. However, when his speed clearly declined in the last season-and-a-half he became a liability on defense. He did pump everyone up, was a good emotional leader and was an on-the-field coach for the defense. But when you can't run anymore and it's your one distinguishing physical characteristic, it's time to pack it in.

I blogged during the playoffs about how much speed I saw at the LB position from the good defenses in the playoffs and how lacking that was on the Giants. This came even more into focus in the Superbowl on one critical play that turned the game in favor of the Saints. Colts had the ball at the end of the 3rd quarter right after the Saints kicked a FG to make the score 17-16. Their drive started at their own 11, they moved the ball out to the Saints 33 and it was now early in the 4th quarter - about 11:00 minutes left in the game. Colts had a 3rd and 11 from that spot. They had 3 WRs on the field and Manning read the Saints defense accurately as a cover-3, with two safeties covering the outside of the field and the MLB running down field and covering the deep middle. Colts called the perfect play - a seam route right up the middle, with young, speedy WR Collie matched up 1-on-1 against the Saints MLB. Manning threw the ball right down the middle, a very good throw giving the WR a chance to make a play on the ball. Running down the middle to cover the WR was MLB Jonathan Vilma and he stayed with Collie step for step for 35 yards and made a great play to break up the pass. The reason it was such a critical play is obvious - it looked like a sure TD for the Colts and instead, they were stuck with 4th and 11 and attempted a 51 yard FG which Stover missed. Instead of being up 8 or 4, they were up only 1 and you know how the rest of the game unfolded. Saints scored a TD to go ahead and then got the INT-TD to ice the game.

Vilma has speed at that position that the Giants simply don't have and that is needed in today's pass-oriented game. No doubt, the Saints defense expected a TE to run up the seam in the middle of the field, which would have given the average MLB a better chance to cover. The fact that Vilma ran up the field with a speedy WR instead of a TE, shows how fast he is and emphasizes how lacking the Giants are in speed at that position. If this had been the Giants defense, Collie would have cleared the LB 15 yards from the line of scrimmage and would have been open by at least 5 yards at the goal line. Instead, Vilma stayed with the WR 35 yards down the field. Giants need speed at the LB position and Pierce does not have it anymore. The problem for the Giants is - they may know what is broken on the defense, but do they know how to fix it. Even if they know how to fix it, will they acquire the right players to do so. They need 2 LBs, 1 S (two if Phillips does not come back healthy, and an upgrade at the DL, at both the DT and the DE position. Some of these players may already be on the team - maybe Canty and Alford come back strong from injury and Cofield returns to form helping the DT situation. Maybe Goff and Kehl are the answers at LB. I don't think all of these things will work out for the Giants and they need to upgrade the defensive personnel this off-season.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Giants: Coaching moves

There is some not-great news to report on the Giants coaching front. Chris Palmer has left the Giants to become the head coach of the New York Sentinel of the United Football League. As an aside, I think they play in Hartford and it's a bit of a stretch to call them "New York" Sentinel. I mean - the Giants play in NJ, but at least it's considered part of the Metropolitan area and is spitting distance from midtown Manhattan. Hartford is probably 120-125 miles away (I am sure someone will google-map it and find that I'm wrong about the mileage, but you get the point... it's not part of the NY metropolitan area.)

There are two pieces of bad news associated with Chris Palmer leaving. First - Palmer did an excellent coaching Eli since he joined in 2007. His credentials as a coach are excellent: he was an assistant to Parcells in New England and Dallas. As well, he coached for Coughlin in Jacksonville before rejoining Coughlin in he current tenure with the Giants. Palmer fixed Eli's mechanics, taught him how to go through his progressions more quickly, how to be a more accurate passer and how to be more secure with the ball without sacrificing the boldness required to try and make plays down the field. Eli has become a different qb under Palmer that he was when Gilbride was qb coach. Palmer had the longing to become an OC again - he was not happy being stuck as a qb coach. He was hanging around with the Giants hoping that Gilbride would leave and become a HC somewhere (Oakland?). The Giants were not going to fire Gilbride because he still has a year left on his contract. When it became apparent that Gilbride was staying, Palmer first retired and then was wooed by the Sentinel job a few days later.

Like I said, there are two pieces of bad news in this move: (1) Palmer is leaving. (2) All indications are that Gilbride is staying. I waver from week to week as to whether Gilbride is an awful coach or just mediocre. But here's the thing: even if you think that he is mediocre - you can certainly ask yourself why the NY Giants, with an investment of $100 million in a qb, with excellent WRs and a potentially big-time, productive offense should mute its development and its productivity by saddling it with a mediocre (at best) OC.