Embarrassed that I have not posted since the Super Bowl win on topics other than the game itself and there's so much to talk about now with free agency and draft coming up soon. It's always difficult to evaluate personnel after a championship win. The team you were so invested in all year, the players you analyzed to the nth degree, came through. You cheered for them, hoped they would cover up their weaknesses, improve on their play and and be in position to take advantage of their strengths. And they did !! After all the gut wrenching losses, the comeback wins, the tense close of the season and the superb playoff run, you want to just give the whole team a group hug and bring them all back for one more run. Fortunately, (or maybe unfortunately) business decisions have to be made and you have to be somewhat detached and completely objective, if not entirely cold and calculating about personnel decisions.
The job of figuring out the standing of the Giants with respect to the salary cap is a somewhat difficult and mysterious task. The rumor has it that the Giants were around $8M over the cap a week or so ago. Since then, the Giants restructured the contract of Eli Manning and cut Brandon Jacobs which saved around 11 or 12M off the cap. The really interesting cap news, however came this afternoon when it was announced that the Cowboys and Redskins are being punished by the league for egregiously manipulating the salary cap rules in 2010, and dumping salary artificially into that year which was an uncapped year under the old agreement. Cowboys will have $10M less to work with and the Redskins will have a whopping $36M knocked off their cap.
The question remains - where do the Giants spend their cap space and what free agent moves do they make, if any. Giants made the right move by cutting Jacobs. He has been on the team since 2005 and it is somewhat sad to see him go. Eli Manning is clearly the leader of this team and especially of the offense. It is well documented here and in the mainstream media that Eli is a perfect leader for this Giants team, in this crazy overactive New York media market. He never lets the craziness and the exposure get to him; his calm and composure imbue the team with that same attitude when the situation is most tense. However, there are times when a gung-ho emotional leader to give a fiery speech or to hoist the coach on his shoulders after an emotional win helps the team also. Jacobs was just such an emotional leader and this locker room component that he contributed will be missed. Notwithstanding, this was the right move from a football perspective. Jacobs is no longer the lead dog in the offensive backfield and you can't pay a backup starter's money in the salary capped NFL. Jacobs was not only getting paid starter money, he was getting top starter's money. He was due to make around $5M and he gained only 521 yards rushing last year. It's clear from the performance of the entire running game that the problem was more with the OL and the run blocking of the TE/FB position, so I am not saying that Jacobs career is over. I am just saying that he can easily be replaced with a player at a much more affordable salary. I am not even sure that the players to replace him are not already on the roster - Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott have showed some athletic ability, though of course they have little game experience. Giants may want to get a RB with some bulk and some experience, but this is achievable at a manageable salary.
At WR, it's sad to see Manningham go, but I am sure that it is the right move and that he is a goner. Manningham had a good postseason run and some meaningful catches, not the least of which was the 38 yard catch that set up the winning TD drive in the Super Bowl. He also made an unbelievable catch, or perhaps better said he was on the receiving end of an unbelievable throw resulting in a TD that iced the Falcons game. But let's not forget that Manningham lost his starting position and was supplanted by Cruz and Nicks as the leading receiver on the Giants. Manningham got enough publicity and has enough talent that he will probably get a big offer from some team in free agency and the Giants will not be able to - and should not - match it. Remember also that Manning developed a wonderful rapport with all his WRs. They seem to know exactly where to be and they read the defenses exactly as Eli does. However, there is still the occasional pass thrown to an open area because the QB and WR are "not on the same page". It seems to me that whenever that happens on the Giants, more often than not it is Manningham who is the one that zigged when he should have zagged. It is Mannignham that runs the go route too close to the sideline and doesn't give Eli enough room to fit the ball in a narrow spot. He is replaceable. But don't sell Mannignham short - he is a talented WR and he does complement Nicks and Cruz very well. When Nicks and Cruz get doubled, which they did in the Super Bowl game and occasionally in the conference championship game, the other WR who is singled needs to burn the defense. You can't do that with a run-of-the-mill, reliable possession type receiver. You need speed at that spot. I have heard talk that the Giants may try to resign Steve Smith and I think that is absolutely the wrong move. Jernigan is on the team, perhaps he should get a chance. Barden is on the team and Hixon has been resigned. These WRs may have enough speed to fill in Manningham's spot, but if they are not good enough, Giants should look for speed, not possession.
The biggest need on the Giants offense is to upgrade the OL. MacKenzie is done; he nearly got Eli killed this year. He was awful in the Super Bowl and not good against the 49ers in the NFC championship game either. It was clearly the right move to let him go. However, Diehl also had a really poor year at LG and was a major reason the running game did not get going. To really upgrade the OL, Giants need to do something at that position as well. The fact that Diehl saved the Giants season by moving back out to LT and playing decent football replacing Beatty is a nice statement about Diehl's versatility but does not say anything about his quality. He was only mediocre there, not great. Various football statistics sites rate the Giants OL as among the worst pass protectors in the NFL and an upgrade is clearly required. Giants could take the safe conservative route by moving Diehl out to RT and filling the hole at LT with Petrus, Boothe or another nondescript choice.
However, I think the Giants should/could try something a little more daring that could set them up for the next several years. I would cut Diehl, thereby saving his approximately $6M cap charge and use the money to sign all-world LG Carl Nicks of the Saints. He might be available for a decent price, even though he expects to be the highest paid G in the NFL. The Saints are in a world of hurt, with fallout from their bounty program, with salary cap troubles and with tons of their own high impact FAs to try to resign. They had to use their franchise tag on Brees, so they will not be able to use it on Nicks. There were rumors that the Cowboys were interested in signing Nicks, but now that they have been whacked on the knuckles to the tune of $10M reduction in their salary cap, they may not be able to do so. I don't know what the market is for an interior OL-man, even a great one like Nicks, but it may not be that great and of the Giants can fit him in under their cap, they should go for it. They would have a young, excellent left side of the OL. They would have pro bowl RG Snee and would have to find a RT to replace MacKenzie on that side of the line for a manageable price. It would make their OL young, athletic and talented, set to be a contender for the next several years. The Eagles also have a talented G Mathis that is a FA, but he said that he wants to return to Philly and I prefer Nicks who is a much better player.
Another important need is at TE, with Ballard and Beckum both injured in the Super Bowl and not expected to be ready for the start of the season. It is interesting that the Raiders cut Kevin Boss and I would not be surprised to see the Giants offer him a cap friendly deal, since interest in him is likely to be moderate at best and (of course) he might be a good fit for this offense.
More on other personnel issues in a post tomorrow.