The New York Giants took major strides in 2016. After a 2-3 start, they won nine of their final games.
They qualified for the postseason for the first time since winning Super Bowl XLVI. The Giants defense evolved into one of the best in the NFL. Unfortunately, the offense didn’t match the defense’s intensity. The biggest problem was along the offensive line, which seems to be an annual question mark.
The Giants are in an excellent position to improve for the 2017 season. They desperately need help along the offensive line as well as at the linebacker position. A playmaker at wide receiver alongside Odell Beckham Jr. is necessary as well.
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The team has $30 million to spend in free agency. It’s not the $50 million they had at their disposal in 2016 but it’s definitely enough to fill some holes. The Giants can add to their war chest by restructuring deals or simply cutting players.
The offseason officially begins the day after the Super Bowl. Monday was the first day NFL teams are allowed to trim the fat by terminating the contracts of veteran players. The Giants have decisions to make in the days and weeks ahead. Players will be evaluated from a football and financial standpoint.
The following are players who the Giants may want to restructure or release.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz
Cruz is one of the Giants’ most popular players. The undrafted free agent out of the University of Massachusetts overcame the odds to become one of the team’s most productive players. His hard work and determination to make it back to the field after missing most of 2014 and all of 2015 is inspirational.
Cruz has the fifth-largest cap hit on the Giants for 2014 at $9.4 million. His base salary for 2017 is $7.5 million, which the Giants would save if they cut him. Cruz said he wants to remain with the team.
Cruz is one of the leaders in the locker room. He is a positive influence on his good friend Beckham, the team’s best player. Unfortunately, his production in 2016 doesn’t justify paying him $7.5 million. The Giants have Sterling Shepard to play the slot. Cruz spent most of 2016 on the outside. He is now 30 and not the most physical receiver in the world. The Giants offense could benefit from acquiring a taller receiver.
Running back Rashad Jennings
The Giants running game was anemic at best in 2016, averaging less than 100 yards a game. Some of the futility running the ball can be attributed to the patchwork offensive line. At the same time, the lack of talent out of the backfield is frightening.
Jennings has impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic. He didn’t fumble the ball once in 2016, a definite plus in his favor. He also earns high marks for his blocking ability.
Jennings’ main problem is that he hasn’t been healthy. He signed with the Giants in 2014 but only played an entire season once in 2015, missing five games in 2014 and three games in 2016.
Jennings wasn’t very productive when he was on the field last season. He only averaged 3.3 yards a carry because of an inability to make defenders miss. A lack of explosiveness is needed when playing behind a mediocre offensive line and Jennings just doesn’t have that. He also turns 32 on March 26.
The Giants want to give more of the rushing responsibility to Paul Perkins. Perkins averages a yard more per game and is only 22 years old. Jennings has value as an early down back and a special teams player but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants cut ties with him.
Running back Shane Vereen
Vereen brings a skill set the Giants desperately needed in 2016. He is excellent catching passes out the backfield and is valued as a blocker. Vereen’s real strength is his elusiveness when carrying the ball.
Unfortunately, he had an injury prone 2016 season. He tore his triceps muscle in Week 3, missing 10 games. Vereen suffered a concussion when he returned. Once he was cleared from the concussion, he tore the muscle again. If the Giants part ways with Vereen, it’s because of the injuries.
Vereen’s 2017 salary counts $4.9 million against the cap. The Giants would save $3.7 million by cutting him. He is more expensive than Jennings, whose $2.4 million salary would count $3 million against the cap.
It seems unlikely the Giants would cut their top two running backs. Vereen is a more versatile back but the injuries are cause for concern. The Giants cannot put money into a player who may or may not be on the field.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
DRC had a very productive 2016 season. The 30-year old had six interceptions and provided a veteran presence among the corners. Rodgers-Cromartie was missed in the Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers. He was injured on the second play of the game and the Giants struggled mightily in his absence.
Rodgers-Cromartie’s biggest drawback is how he fits into defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system. The Giants want their corners to be physical and play a great deal of bump-and-run coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie got most of his interceptions on the outside when he made a play on the ball. He only missed one game in 2016 but only played in 66 percent of the defensive snaps because of fit and little nagging injuries.
Rodgers-Cromartie is a consummate professional who is a fixture at the team facility working out on the team’s off day. His presence is a great insurance policy for the Giants, who want to start Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple outside. The team will have to decide what to do with DRC, who has a $7 million salary and a $9 million cap hit. Is it better to have DRC’s services or the $5 million the team can save by releasing him?
Linebacker J.T. Thomas
Thomas is one of the most respected players in the Giants locker room. He excels on special teams when healthy. The problem is he hasn’t been able to do so.
Thomas tore his ACL in the season opener and missed the rest of the season. He signed a three-year deal in 2015 but the Giants were ready to cut him last summer. Thomas only remained with the team after agreeing to restructure his contract. The Giants hoped that Thomas would upgrade their linebacking corps but this hasn’t taken place.
Thomas has the best chance to be released out of the five players presented here. His salary will count $4 million against the cap and the team can save $3 million by releasing him. Thomas would have to take a significant pay cut to remain with the team but that doesn’t seem like a likely scenario.
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