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Giants All-In for Eli? Examining New York’s free agent strategy

Eli Manning and the Giants must’ve taken a lot away from big brother Peyton’s Super Bowl sunset. Denver won their third Lombardi Trophy


Eli Manning and the Giants must’ve taken a lot away from big brother Peyton’s Super Bowl sunset. Denver won their third Lombardi Trophy thanks to one of the best defensive units in league history, despite lack-lustre quarterback play for much of the season. With strong defenses like Seattle and Carolina also having recent successes, defense still wins championships. And the Giants want to cash in. Usually conservative during free agency, Big Blue have gone big on defense this offseason. According to ESPN, the Giants have handed out $105.5 million in guaranteed money in new contracts with just three free agents; Olivier Vernon (DE): $52.5 million guaranteed (five years, $85 million) Janoris Jenkins (CB): $29 million guaranteed (five years, $62.5 million) Damon Harrison (DT): $24 million guaranteed (five years, $46.25 million) That’s more guaranteed money spent on three players than the Giants have handed out to all of their free agency signings over the past five years combined! ($85.1 million) The Giants are clearly in win-now mode. GM Jerry Reese is on the hot seat after three consecutive losing seasons. The Giants haven’t made the playoffs since winning their fourth Super Bowl title in 2011 (which they won largely due to their defense). Reese knows that New York’s Super Bowl window is closing. Eli Manning is 35 and may have less than five years left, despite never having missed a start since his debut in November 2004. Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is entering the third year of his rookie contract and his price will skyrocket once that deal expires. If the Giants want to win one more title before Eli retires, it must be in the next two to three years, assuming they franchise-tag Beckham if they cannot agree on a new deal. John Elway built Denver’s Super Bowl defense largely through free agency. Many of the Broncos’ key starters were initially brought in as free agents. DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Chris Harris Jr. and Brandon Marshall all came to Denver as free agents between 2011 and 2015. It looks as though Reese, under pressure to win, has adopted a similarly risky strategy. A better defense would cancel out Eli’s notorious inconsistency, much like it did last year with Denver as Peyton Manning struggled under centre. The Giants gave Vernon the largest contract ever for a defensive end, meaning he will earn more than J.J. Watt. Jenkins will be the second-highest earning cornerback in the league, below Darelle Revis but earning more than Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson. Along with their big free agent acquisitions, the Giants also re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to a one year, $10.5 million contract, giving them a promising combination between him and Vernon. But to truly follow and even improve upon Denver’s strategy, the Giants are still missing two key pieces; a strong running game and a better offensive line. Three of the best teams over the past two years; Denver, Seattle, and Carolina, have all enjoyed success with a strong running game complementing a top defense. Offensively, the Giants are entering their second year in offensive coordinator-turned-head coach Ben McAdoo’s West Coast system. Eli improved thanks to McAdoo last season, tying Carson Palmer and Cam Newton for most passing touchdowns in the NFC with 35. A stronger run game should only improve McAdoo’s system even more, but they won’t get that with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. Luckily for the Giants, Seattle succeeded last season with a stronger passing game from Russell Wilson complementing their top level defense, rather than a rushing attack spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch like they relied on in previous years. It’s possible that the Giants would succeed with, and are pursuing, a similar approach. Reese also still holds the 10th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, and with so much money spent on defense in free agency, expect the Giants to address their ground game and offensive line or add another dominant target for Eli. Drafting another receiver in the first round would help take double teams away from Beckham. Despite Victor Cruz taking a pay cut to return to the Giants, he has been side-lined for much of the past two seasons due to injury. But in a defense-heavy draft class and with questions still at linebacker and safety, don’t rule out the Giants taking the best player available. Many of Elway’s starters may have been free agents, but his draft picks also had a huge impact. Von Miller, Malik Jackson, and Derek Wolfe were all drafted in Elway’s tenure, and they were key pieces in Denver’s title run. If the Giants see a player like Joey Bosa or Myles Jack still available at #10, they should take the opportunity regardless of need. After Tom Coughlin’s dismissal, the Giants have immediately eschewed his cautious style for an aggressive win-now approach. With jobs on the line and the NFC East likely up for grabs once again, will Big Blue’s big spending deliver a Super Bowl sunset for Eli?

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Giants All-In for Eli? Examining New York’s free agent strategy

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