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Giants Win Day 1 of Free Agency, Revamp Defense

In a whirlwind day of free agent signings ended with the Giants staking a serious claim as the biggest movers and shaker’s of the offseason’s first real day, bringing in cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

In a matter of hours, the Giants spent $204.5 million on four star defensive players in hopes that their defense will go from a league-worst liability in 2015, to a huge strength in 2016.

Big Blue actually got the party started the day before free agency opened, re-signing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to a one-year, $10.5 million deal. In doing so, they locked up one of their defensive mainstays to a relatively modest deal as he continues to rehab his value after a Fourth of July fireworks incident last year.

But the Pierre-Paul signing was just the beginning. On Wednesday morning, the Giants made their next big move, agreeing to a five-year deal with former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, worth $62.5 million total with $29 million of it guaranteed.

Jenkins has always been a decent corner for the Rams, but he had a habit of getting burned on big plays for a few years. Fortunately for Jenkins, he really cashed in on his contract year in 2015, recording three interceptions and a career-high 15 passes defended on his way to evolving into one of the league’s most impressive corner corners.

In New York, Jenkins will make an average of $12.5 million per year, making him the seventh highest-paid cornerback in the NFL. He’ll join incumbent starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to potentially form one of the league’s top cornerback duos. His signing likely means Prince Amukamara, who was drafted by the team in 2011, will be playing somewhere else next fall.

The Giants’ second addition of the day is big in more than one way, as defensive tackle Damon Harrison will be moving his locker to the other side of MetLife Stadium, leaving the Jets to join Big Blue.

Harrison, perhaps better known by his nickname of “Snacks”, agreed to a five-year, $46.25 million deal on Wednesday afternoon. $24 million of it is guaranteed.

The Giants defense, which was helpless against the run last year, should greatly benefit from Snacks, who started 16 games for Gang Green last year. At 6’3″ and 339 pounds, Harrison is one of the most menacing interior lineman in football, and is an elite run-thumper.

While he projects best as a two-down stuffer, he should fit perfectly with fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was one of the league’s better DTs before an injury cut his 2015 season short. Harrison might not be a three-down lineman, if he plays as well against the run as he did during his Jets days, he should prove to be worth every penny.

Harrison’s signing means it’s less likely we’ll see Cullen Jenkins and Markus Kuhn, who both played significant snaps on the interior last season, return for the 2016 season.

Jerry Reese and the Giants saved their biggest move of the day for last, reeling in coveted defensive end Olivier Vernon, formerly of the Dolphins.

Vernon has never made a Pro Bowl and “only” recorded 7.5 sacks last season, but a closer look as his statistics shows why he is held in such high regard. Vernon simply feasts upon opposing quarterbacks, totaling 81 QB sacks, hits, and hurries last season. As a result, he was named Pro Football Focus’s No. 1 4-3 defensive end.

It’s incredibly surprising the Dolphins didn’t try harder to keep him. Instead of slapping him with the franchise tag like many expected, he received the transition tag, allowing him to negotiate and agree to a contract with another team, but giving Miami the right to match any offer. If they declined, they would not receive any compensation.

After signing Mario Williams, however, the Dolphins opted to rescind the transition tag, making the 25-year-old Vernon an unrestricted free agent.

While it was reported the Jaguars came very close to bringing Vernon to Jacksonville, he ultimately agreed with the Giants, signing a five-year, $85 million deal with a whopping $52.5 million guaranteed, making him among the league’s highest-paid defensive players in the league.

With Vernon and JPP locked in to the starting defensive end spots next year, Robert Ayers will likely be wearing a different uniform next season.

While these four signings are certainly huge, the Giants still have work to do, with holes at linebacker, safety, wide receiver, and along the offensive line. We may not see a splurge as big as this one again this offseason, but one thing is for certain – the Giants are here to play.

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