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New York Giants 2016 Free Agency Breakdown: Defense & Special Teams

Defense & Special Teams

After four straight years of missing the playoffs, the Giants’ brass decided to make a big change in hopes of turning things around, firing longtime head coach Tom Coughlin and replacing him with former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Over the coming weeks and months, Big Blue will have an opportunity to make even more changes, this time to the personnel.

On Sunday, free agents can begin discussion and negotiation with all 32 NFL teams, and next Wednesday, free agents can officially sign new contracts.

Several of those players looking for new contracts will be members of the 2015 Giants, as a whopping 28 players are set to become free agents in just a few days. With the Giants expected to have nearly $60 million in cap space, it will be interesting to see if they choose to focus on bringing back their own free agents, build a new team with other free agents, or land somewhere in between.

Several key members of the Giants’ defense and special teams units are set to hit free agency in a few days. Here’s a look at who could be wearing a new uniform next season.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul

JPP is obviously the biggest name among the Giants heading for free agency, and will be one of the most interesting free agents to watch in the NFL.

Pierre-Paul’s football career seemed to be in jeopardy after a fireworks accident cost him a finger and seriously damaged the rest of his hand last July. While the pass rusher did miss the first half of the season, he defied the odds and returned to the Giants’s starting lineup for the season’s final eight games.

While he had to play with an oven mitt-esque club on his damaged hand and only generated one sack upon returning, Pierre-Paul did generate consistent pressure. JPP managed 24 QB hurries, tied for 17th in the NFL despite playing in just eight games. His three QB hurries per game ranked second in the league behind Chiefs Pro Bowl LB Justin Houston.

It’s these impressive metrics that make Pierre-Paul one of the most interesting free agents on the market. Before his injury, he was one of the best pass rushers in the league, and still showed some promise this season. But it was a small sample size, he recorded just one sack, and he’s not playing with all his fingers.

Will a team be willing to give him a big money contract taking all that into consideration? Should the Giants? Well the cupboard is pretty empty in terms of pass rushers on Big Blue’s roster, so bringing back JPP makes a lot of sense, and they have the cap space to do so. But understandably, the usually-frugal Giants are reportedly more interested in re-signing Pierre-Paul to a short-term, team-friendly deal.

My guess is Pierre-Paul lets the market dictate his value. All it takes is one team willing to overpay for him, but if he doesn’t like what he finds, a one-year, “prove it” deal with the Giants is probably his best option.

CB Prince Amukamara

With so much of the Giants’ free agency talk surrounding Pierre-Paul, Amukamara has a little unfairly been swept under the rug.

When on the field, the 2011 first round pick has always been a solid cover corner in the Big Blue defensive backfield. For the past two seasons, he and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have made a solid cornerback duo, which was extremely necessary for the Giants given their lack of talent at safety.

Unfortunately, the biggest complaint surrounding Amukamara has always been his inability to stay healthy. In five NFL seasons, he has played in all 16 games in just one, and has missed three or more games in four, including last season when he was limited to 11 games.

Amukamara has said he would like to stay with the Giants, and the Giants likely want to retain him as they don’t have an in-house replacement ready to start opposite DRC next season. The corner’s strong play when healthy likely means he will find a lot of interest on the open market. Teams that miss out on top free agent corners like Janoris Jenkins and Leon Hall could view Amukamara as a fallback option.

In a year where so many teams have copious cap space, and in a league that habitually overpays free agent cornerbacks, Amkukamara could easily find a multi-year deal with over $10 million annually. The question remains whether or not the Giants will be the team willing to give him that deal.

DE Robert Ayers

Ayers’ situation is very similar to Amukamara’s, in that both players are supremely talented, but struggle to stay healthy. One could even argue that the upside of Ayers is much higher than Amukamara, especially after Ayers proved to be the best pass rusher on the Giants last season.

In just 12 games, Ayers totaled a career-high nine sacks and threw in a pair of forced fumbles for good measure. The downside is he was hobbled by a hamstring injury, and also missed four games in 2014, too.

After a showing like last year, though, the injuries shouldn’t be too huge of a concern, and several teams will likely be calling Ayers in just a few days. Jordan Raanan of the Star-Ledger predicted Ayers will end up with a three-year, $18 million deal, which would be a bargain if the 30-year old stays healthy and continues to put pressure on the quarterback. The Giants could view him as a cheaper fallback if Pierre-Paul’s price is too high.

DT Cullen Jenkins

Jenkins has been a solid veteran defensive lineman for the Giants over the last three seasons, and it will be interesting to see how much they value him at this stage of his career. Jenkins started 14 games and played in all 16 last season, but while he recorded three sacks, he managed just 26 total tackles and has slowed down considerably since his days with the Packers.

With so many Giants defensive linemen ready to hit the open market, New York will likely visit the idea of re-signing Jenkins, especially after he played both defensive end and tackle for the Giants last season. But Jenkins just turned 35 and likely won’t be a priority right out of the gate. He’s a candidate to return on a team-friendly one- or two-year deal.

K Josh Brown

It’s a little surprising the Giants are allowing Brown to hit the open market after he enjoyed a career year, converting a career-high 93.8% of his field goals en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance. Brown has been incredibly reliable in his three years as the Giants’ placekicker, converting 91.7% of his field goals and never missing a game.

With the kicker soon to be 37, it’s possible the Giants just aren’t willing to commit a lot of money to him with so many other areas in need of upgrades. Slapping Brown with the franchise tag seemed like it could have been an option, but perhaps the Giants didn’t feel like he’d be worth the $4.5 million he would have received if he signed the franchise tag tender.

The Packers employed a similar strategy with longtime kicker Mason Crosby. They declined to franchise tag him, and he would have hit the open market had Green Bay not signed him to a four-year extension worth $16.1 million.

The Giants could try to sign Brown to an extension before free agency opens, or they could let him hit the open market and consider moving forward with a new kicker.

DT Markus Kuhn

Kuhn, a former seventh-round pick, surprisingly started seven games this season thanks to an injury to Johnathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins moving outside to fill in for Pierre-Paul. He’s always been best suited as a reserve, as he’s never shown particularly well as a pass rusher or run stuffer. Jenkins will surely be a priority over Kuhn, but Kuhn could return on a cheap deal to back up Hankins and Jenkins/Jay Bromley next season.

ILB Jasper Brinkley

Brinkley is somewhat of an unheralded hero who filled in admirably after Jon Beason’s season-ending injury. The former Minnesota Viking started nine games at middle linebacker, registering one sack, 66 tackles and a team-high four forced fumbles. He should generate some interest from a few teams looking for depth at linebacker, but I can’t see him getting a huge contract. With Uani ‘Unga the only in-house inside linebacker with significant playing time, Brinkley could come back on the cheap, but the Giants should be aiming higher.

DE George Selvie

Selvie came in a one-year deal last offseason, and it’s a little surprising he didn’t get more run despite injuries to Pierre-Paul and Ayers. Even after starting 29-out-of-32 games for the Cowboys in 2013-14, Selvie started just three last season, spending most of the year as a third-down edge rusher. With Kerry Wynn and Owa Odighizuwa in tow, and the Giants likely to add a pass rusher or two in free agency, don’t hold your breath on a Selvie return.

CB Jayron Hosley

Hosley never emerged into the strong coverage corner the Giants hoped he would become after drafting him out of Virginia Tech in Round 3 of the 2012 NFL Draft. His failure to shine is due in large part to his inability to stay on the field – Hosley has appeared in just 43 out of 64 possible games. He was largely ineffective through his first three years in the league, though he showed slight improvements as a slot corner last season, recording a career-high six passes defended. Still, he struggled when tasked with starting six games while Amukamara was injured.

With Rodgers-Cromartie representing the only reliable cornerback option on the roster right now, anything is possible, but the Giants likely don’t view Hosley as a priority after being a bit of a headache on the field and off it (he was suspended for four games in 2014 after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy).

S Brandon Meriweather

Meriweather was once a highly sought after defensive back after appearing in two Pro Bowls during his career with the Patriots. But his play has slipped off in recent years, and he’s known to be a bit of a reckless individual, and has been suspended multiple times for illegal hits.

The hard hitting safety was brought in late in training camp to help battle the Giants’ depth deficiencies at the position, and actually started 12 games last season. But the Giants clearly didn’t think too highly of his performance, as the veteran was actually released late in the season before being re-signed a week later.

The Giants have work to do at the safety position, but with Nat Berhe and Mykkele Thompson returning after missing the 2015 season with injuries, Meriweather could very well be waiting a while to sign with a team once again in 2016.

CB Trumaine McBride

McBride became a bit of a fan favorite after the career journeyman showed well in 10 starts during the 2013 season, but since then he has failed to recapture that same magic, and has been relegated to backup duties. Again, with the lack of depth on the roster at cornerback, the Giants could very well turn to McBride for a return, but they won’t be in a rush to re-sign him.

DT Barry Cofield

Cofield was a big part of the 2007 Giants that won Super Bowl 42, and spent five years with the Giants where he proved to be a strong interior lineman and reliable, missing just one game. He left the Giants for Washington after the 2010 season, where he stayed for four seasons before reuniting with the Giants in the middle of last season for depth purposes. He appeared in three games, but didn’t record a stat in any of them. He could very well call it a career.

S Craig Dahl

Dahl is another member of the Super Bowl 42 team who reunited with the Giants last season, but Dahl had a much larger role in 2015 than Cofield. With the lack of depth at safety, the Giants played Dahl in 15 games, and he started four. He wasn’t terribly impressive, and is more of a replacement level talent at this point in his career. Again, the returning Berhe and Thompson should complement the returning Landon Collins and Cooper Taylor, so the Giants won’t be in a rush to re-sign Dahl.

P Brad Wing (ERFA)

Wing took over punting duties from Steve Weatherford this season after coming to Big Blue in a trade with the Steelers. Wing was very impressive in his first year with the Giants, and there’s no doubt he’ll be back. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, so as long as the Giants tender him a one-year contract, Wing will take flight once again in 2016.

DT Montori Hughes

Hughes spent some time on the practice squad, but was called up to the active roster for a total of seven games, recording six tackles. He won’t be a priority.

CB Bennett Jackson (ERFA)

Jackson is in the same boat as Wing, an exclusive rights free agent who should should return on a small one-year deal. Jackson was an intriguing name in training camp, as he looked to make the team thanks to his ability to play both corner and safety. That versatility should be enough to warrant a tender, which would allow him to compete for a roster spot this summer.

LS Danny Aiken

Aiken, the former Patriot, was signed to fill in for Zak DeOssie after he was placed on injured reserve. With DeOssie now healthy and re-signed, Aiken is no longer needed.

Stay tuned for more updates as the Giants get ready for free agency.

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