Dave Klein was the Giants' beat
writer for The Star-Ledger from 1961 to 1995.
He is the author of 26 books
and he is one of only three sportswriters to have covered all the Super Bowls.
Dave has allowed TEAM GIANTS to reprint some of his articles.
Giants were unusually active during this off-season, not to mention the trading
of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, and what you'll read now is Scott Landstrom's
evaluation of those who left and those who joined the tea.
He appears to be
in favor of the transactions - but as he says, only time will tell.)
By Scott Landstrom
Giants Nation, the inactivity has stopped, the 2018 Free Agent market is officially
"open for business," and the Giants have made a number of moves worthy of discussion
and analysis. So what I decided to do was to exclude players that are still in
"limbo" like Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa, who may or may not return, and only
focus on our five biggest known FA losses, and our five most notable FA additions,
to this point in the new Giants management's tenure:
Bobby Hart, T: Waived in the off-season as Dave Gettleman's first personnel move.
Hart was known as a poor teammate in the locker room, often refusing to fraternize
with his offensive line team mates, usually one of the closest units on any team.
Hart decided not to play in the final game of the season against Washington, and
Gettleman decided he was a "cancer" that needed to be waived immediately.
The fact that Hart said last off-season that he was "the best right tackle in
the NFL" just shows you how mentally off-kilter this kid is - good riddance! Anyone
who basically quits on his teammates for the last game of the season needs to
be shown the door with the utmost haste, and so he was.
Justin Pugh, G/T: OK, this one hurts, Giants Nation. Pugh was a solid player,
with outstanding versatility that allowed him to play both right tackle and left
guard. Once he moved inside to his natural guard position, he blossomed, and was
in the top 10 rated guards in the NFL when he suffered his season-ending back
injury last year. Signed by the Cardinals for $45.0 million over five years -
a $9.0 M average salary that the Giants just could not afford after signing Nate
Solder to the richest offensive lineman contract in league history. Pugh was a
great kid on both the field, and in the locker room, and he will be considerably
Weston Richburg, C: Weston is
a great kid with a strong work ethic, and a solid team mate. Drafted in the second
round in 2014 out of Colorado State, Richburg was offered the second richest contract
for a center in the NFL by the 49ers, and the Giants once again simply didn't
have the cap space to compete. Richburg signed for $ 47.5M over five years, and
average of $9.5M per season.
behind the monetary story is that the Giants were pleased with Richburg's run
blocking, but his pass blocking left something to be desired. In fact, the Giants
judged his replacement, Brett Jones, to be a better pass blocker when he went
in to replace Richburg, once he got the severe concussion. Jones played the last
6 games of the season and earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 83.2 in pass blocking,
second best center score in this metric in the entire NFL - so he was judged as
cheaper (by far), and also better in protecting Eli Manning as well.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB/S: "DRC," as he is known, is a talented, versatile,
tall defensive back who is capable of playing outside corner, slot corner, and
free safety - something that can not be said about any of the Giants' current
defensive backfield players. However, Cromartie will be 32 in a few weeks, and
New York saw his overall PFF grade drop from a superlative 89.9 in the 2016 season,
to a more pedestrian 77.2 last season, moving him from being the third-highest
rated CB down to something in the mid-50's in terms of his positional rank.
So they sat down with him to try to negotiate a reduction in salary, and Rodgers-Cromartie
balked at the idea. So 10 days after Pat Shurmur made a big splash with the news
that the Giants were moving DRC to free safety, they gave him his release - an
unusual sequence to say the least. The thought here is that DRC has lost some
speed over his 12 seasons in the NFL, and by moving him to safety, they hoped
to benefit from his playmaking skills without putting him in isolation on younger,
faster receivers 1-on-1.
LB: Kennard was a solid, if unspectacular player at the SAM linebacker position.
But with the Giants moving to James Bettcher's preferred 3-4 alignment instead
of their traditional 4-3, it wasn't clear if there was a clean fit relative to
where to play Kennard. Once the Giants took the leap and signed Alex Ogletree
to a free agent contract, it seemed the writing was on the wall that Kennard would
not be retained, certainly at the price tag (three years, $18.75M) that the Lions
chose to offer him.
Kennard's 58.9 Pro
Football Focus score as a pass rusher placed him near the bottom of the edge defenders
in the NFL, and in Bettcher's blitz-happy scheme, that was probably a deal-breaker.
Now, switching perspective, we proceed to the five biggest FA signees to their
roster that the Giants have inked:
Nate Solder, OT: Once
New York made the decision that Eli Manning was going to start at QB this coming
season, it was gallingly obvious that something drastic had to be done to improve
the pass blocking of the woeful offensive line, since Eli is only getting less
mobile at his advanced age (for a QB) and he wasn't all that elusive to start
with out of college, truth be told. Solder merely received the second best offensive
tackle Pro Football Focus score over the second half of the season (last eight
games) in the entire league.
him in at left tackle, and putting Hart on the waiver wire, and moving Ereck Flowers
to right tackle immediately makes the Giants much better at both positions. An
absolute "must have" to bring in a high quality left tackle, and New York got
the best one on the free agent market.
Alec Ogletree, LB: I must admit to not quite understanding why the Giants took
on a $10.0 M annual salary for a linebacker that - among LBs who played at least
300 snaps - finished fourth from last in the NFL in run defense. I mean - we know
historically Ogletree was a "tackling machine," having the sixth most tackles
of any linebacker in the NFL since 2013, behind such stalwarts as Luke Kuechly,
Bobby Wagner, Sean Lee, Paul Polusny, and Lawrence Timmons.
We know he has great pedigree, a first-round draft choice out of Georgia by the
Rams, and was Georgia state AAAA long jump champion with a jump over 23 feet -
impressive at his size (6-2, 237). But what happened last year, to go from second
team All-Pro in 2016 to end up with a miserable 35.9 PFF overall performance score
last season with the Rams? I mean, Bettcher knows him well, and must feel he is
a good fit with his 3-4 defensive scheme. If we get the Ogletree who played in
2015 and 2016, this will be a great move for New York. If we get the guy who suited
up last year for $10 M in salary ... not so much.
Kareem Martin, LB: Martin is undoubtedly the largest human being playing LB on
planet earth, at 6-6, 272, bigger than most defensive ends in the NFL. Well, in
this topsy-turvy world of the 3-4 defense, somehow the plan is to play the 237-pound
Ogletree at inside linebacker, and to play Martin on the edge. I mean, in a 4-3,
this guy is a "MIKE" LB all day long at this size, but apparently Bettcher has
other plans and other criteria. Unlike Ogletree, Martin saw his 2017 Pro Football
Focus score JUMP up to 75.7, a respectable score to be sure. Both Ogletree and
Martin are 26 years old, so they should be approaching their best 2-3 year stretch
combining youthful vigor and NFL experience.
Martin has solid speed for a man his size, running a 4.72 forty at his NFL Combine,
and he led all defensive linemen in the broad jump at (10-9) so like Ogletree,
this man is a leaper. Another parallel between them is that both Martin and Ogletree
were elected team captains by their respective teams the past two seasons, so
Shurmur is adding quality leaders to what was a dysfunctional Giants' locker room
in 2017. The signing of Martin combined with the hefty contract Jason Pierre-Paul
had is probably the reason JPP was traded to Tampa Bay Thursday.
Patrick Omameh, G: Well, in the connected-dominoes game that is NFL free agency,
when top-rated free agent guard Andrew Norwell left Carolina and spurned the Giants
by signing with Tom Coughlin down in Jacksonville, that put Omameh out of a job.
Thus he was available for the Giants to sign. Look, he is not a star, with a 2017
PFF score down in the mid-50's, but his two previous seasons were in the mid-70's,
and he played over 1,000 snaps for a very solid Jacksonville line last year.
the market for D.J. Fluker heating up (he signed with Seattle), and with Pugh
gone, the Giants knew they would be missing both starting guards (and center Richburg,
for that matter) from last season, so bringing in an experienced interior offensive
lineman was a necessity. Look for the Giants to select a guard in rounds 2-4 next
month in the NFL Draft to compete on the opposite side of the line that Omameh
will be playing.
Cody Latimer, WR: Latimer
was a physical specimen coming out of Indiana at 6-2, 215) leading all receivers
at the 2014 NFL Combine in the bench press with 23 reps, and running a 4.42 forty-yard
dash. He was taken in the second round by the Denver Broncos. Alas, Latimer never
developed into the kind of threat they envisioned for him, having his best season
last year with 17 catches for 287 yards despite missing five games with an injury.
The signing of a "big body" receiver like Latimer does not bode well if you are
Brandon Marshall, as it would appear Latimer is slotted for Marshall's former
role as a "change up" large target to the two "slashing" smaller receivers we
have in Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard. Latimer is allegedly a beast on
special teams coverage units, one of the better "gunners" in the league, so look
for him to contribute on Special Teams right from Game One.
So there you have it - our five most notable personnel losses (although I hardly
think losing Hart qualifies as anything more than tabloid news), with the others
being Pugh, Richburg, Rodgers-Cromartie, and Kennard (and now we can add Pierre-Paul
to that list), and our five most impactful additions, specifically Solder, Ogletree,
Martin, Omameh and Latimer. Only time will tell if this exchange of personnel
turns out to be a positive, or a negative, for the 2018-2019 New York Giants.
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