COMMENTARY | From Sam Huff to Lawrence Taylor, some of the greatest linebackers in the history of the National Football League have buckled up a chin strap for the New York Giants. Chase Blackburn wasn't among them, but few worked harder than he did.
Blackburn started his career as an unsigned free agent and worked his way up to starting linebacker and the team's leading tackler in 2012. He won a pair of championships with the Giants, even making a key interception of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI. Blackburn's full sprint downfield to take a ball away from a bigger and more talented Rob Gronkowski essentially is his career compressed into one moment. So even Giants fans have to be happy for the former Akron star, who signed a two-year contract with the Carolina Panthers on Wednesday (March 27).
It was no big surprise, since the Giants are up against the salary cap and have more important moves to make. Still, it's sad to see the blue-collar Blackburn go. He had a nose for the ball and a perpetual motor, the kind of team-first attitude all fans want to see. However, in the all-business world of the NFL, the Giants had to let him walk away. Blackburn joins a list of popular players, including Ahmad Bradshaw and Osi Umenyiora, who have said goodbye to Big Blue this offseason, mainly for financial reasons.
The Giants, who are looking to improve at linebacker, already employ Dan Connor, Jacquian Williams, Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Spencer Paysinger and Mathias Kiwanuka at the position. There was no room or overwhelming need for Blackburn, at least not for anything more than a minimum-salary deal. Thus, his departure won't hurt the team, as long as the above mentioned players step up.
What the Giants will miss most about Blackburn is his heart and hustle. This past season, they seemed to lack both at times. The G-Men went 3-5 in the second half and missed the playoffs. However, the Giants were trampled in their final six games, allowing at least 110 yards rushing in each one. They must get faster at the linebacker position and starting Blackburn in the middle is not the way to do it.
It sounds cold, but the Giants won't miss Blackburn on the field next season. They have enough depth and talent to spell him, especially if the team adds another linebacker in the upcoming NFL draft. But they will miss his character, heart and determination. Those qualities are not easy to replace.
Adam Martini is a freelance sports writer with more than 15 years of experience covering amateur and professional sports for several print and online media outlets. He tracked the New York Giants for Yahoo! Contributor Network during the team's Super Bowl run in 2011-12. Adam can be found on Twitter @Pegcitysports.
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