The New York Giants enter the 2015 season with a win now mentality. They closed out the 2014 season with a losing record, but a lot of young stars have Giants fans and management hopeful for a turnaround next season. As New York prepares for the upcoming year, they will need to make several large decisions on which of their impending free agents are worth retaining to help make themselves a competitive football team.
5. CB Zackary Bowman
The Giants are entering a transitional period for their defense, after firing defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and replacing him with Steve Spagnuolo and new defensive backs coach Tim Walton. Bringing Spagnoulo back to coach the defense was a wise move by Giants management and coach Tom Coughlin.
Meanwhile, Walton’s experience as a defensive coordinator in the NFL is another valuable addition to the coaching staff. Yet with these new changes to the defensive unit it is important to bring back some continuity and veteran leadership from last season to make the transition a smooth one.
Enter 7th year man Zachary Bowman, who spent his first six years in the league with the Chicago Bears, learning from superstar corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. In his first season with the Giants last year, Bowman brought that fire and flare he picked up from Tillman and Jennings to the Giants secondary unit. Emerging Giants star Prince Amukamara attested to Bowman’s leadership and praised him for mentoring him throughout the season, as Amukamara matched his career interception total within his first few games.
In 2014, Bowman originally figured to be the 4th or 5th corner on the Giants depth chart. Instead, season-ending injuries to corners Trumaine McBride, Walter Thurmond III, and Prince Amukamara forced Bowman into serious playing time down the stretch. At 30 years old he is not the same player who recorded six interceptions in 2009 but he did perform admirably in his five games started for the Giants.
He finished the season with 24 total tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 6 passes defended, and 2 interceptions. Not bad production for an insurance player who figured to be solely a special teams contributor. Bowman’s leadership to the defensive unit during this coaching change makes him an important piece to retain. His positive locker room presence, low cost to bring back, and special teams ability should add up to seeing him in a Giants uniform come next season.
4. FB Henry Hynoski
The true fullback is a dying breed in today’s NFL, but the powerful Henry Hynoski remains one of the few effective ones left in the league. Going into last season, it was uncertain if new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo would even use a fullback in his new West Coast scheme. Yet, Hynoski not only landed a roster sport, but also beat talented fellow fullback John Connor for the position.
The Giants have to keep Hynoski around for his versatility as a powerful run blocker and an excellent pass protector. These were attributes that tight ends Larry Donnell and Adrien Robinson failed to replicate when McAdoo had them line up at the H-back position. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked Hynoski, as the seventh best fullback in the league and it’s easy to see why.
He is aggressive but not out of control at the point of attack on his blocks and a reliable pass catching safety valve for Eli Manning. Simply put: When Henry Hynoski is on the field, the Giants offense is better. A tough and physical guy ever since he entered the league, “The Polish Hammer” can line up at fullback and even tight end if need be.
Fullbacks are not expensive players to keep around in the NFL and the Giants find themselves with one of the best in the game today. New York would be hard pressed to find reasons not to re-sign him.
3. CB Walter Thurmond III
When the Giants signed former Seattle Seahawk, Walter Thurmond III, it was to a one year “prove it” deal designed to see if the Super Bowl XLVIII champion would live up to his self proclaimed title of “the best slot corner in the NFL.” Unfortunately, Thurmond never got a chance to prove much of anything in 2014, playing in only two games before being lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
With Thurmond gone, the Giants were forced to turn to Truman McBride (who landed on IR shortly afterwards) and former Detroit Lions practice squad member Mike Harris (who filled in admirably at the end of the season). Neither option is nearly as good as Thurmond whom, when healthy, may very well be the league’s best slot corner. Fellow corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie praised Thurmond for his leadership and hard play on the field while also being a true student of the game. While
Thurmond’s 4 tackles from last season cannot mirror that high praise from a superstar corner, his production during his final campaign with the Seahawks shows he is primed for a breakout season. In the 2013 regular season Thurmond registered 33 tackles, 6 passes defended, one sack, a forced fumble, and a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown.
If the Giants can get him to expand upon that production in 2015, with a healthy Prince Amukamara returning, the Giants could roll out one of the most feared secondaries in the league.
2. Antrel Rolle
The defensive co-captain saw his production dip from his impressive 2013 campaign where he recorded 98 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and whopping 6 interceptions. In 2014, Rolle registered 87 tackles, one forced fumble, no sacks, and 3 interceptions. Declining production in almost every statistical category is not something you want to see out of a player who will turn 33 next season.
The Giants long time safety had some uncharacteristic lapses in coverage, which resulted in big plays by opposing receivers. However, the bright side for Rolle is that the Giants have few other options at safety as of now. Young safeties Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe showed promise, but Taylor seems to be a great special teamer but little else and while Berhe seems to have the potential to be a full time starter, that might not even be for another year or two. Meanwhile, the Giants other two options at safety from last season, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps are impending free agents.
Brown may never return to his previous form after tearing his ACL during last preseason. Demps put forth a relatively solid but somewhat inconsistent season at safety, he was never able to catch on as the dangerous kick returner New York signed him to be.
With limited options and new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coaches, Rolle’s leadership and playmaking ability should mean he gets brought back to the team if his asking price is not too high. His age should stop teams hungry for veteran leadership from offering him an above market price that could lure him away from New York.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul
Once considered to be the most dominate defensive player in the league, Jason Pierre-Paul’s 2012 and 2013 campaigns were marred by a persistent back injury. In 2011, JPP dominated opposing offensive lineman using his strength and athleticism to be one of the most feared edge rushers, recording 16.5 sacks during the regular season of the Giants Super Bowl run. In the next two seasons combined he would only register 8.5 sacks.
A rebound in 2014 was absolutely needed for Pierre-Paul if he hoped to get the mega deal the once budding star appeared to be worth three years prior and that’s exactly what the South Florida product was able to put together. Entering Week 11 the defensive end had only 3.5 sacks and it looked like it would be another lackluster season before Pierre-Paul flipped the script.
Doing his best Justin Tuck impression from 2013, when the long time Giant cranked out an impressive sack total in the final games of his contract year, JPP registered 9 sacks in New York’s five remaining contests of the season. That impressive stretch concluded a 77 tackle, 12.5 sack, 6 passes defended, and 3 forced fumble season for the 5-year veteran.
His increased production late in the season will likely drive up the price that other teams are willingly to pay him around the league. While the Giants should try to avoid a franchise tag for Pierre-Paul and re-sign him before he hits the open market that may not be a possibility. Athletic edge rushers are a rare and valuable commodity in the NFL today and Pierre-Paul’s 42 sacks over his first 5 seasons prove he is just that. At 26, Pierre-Paul should be just on the cusp of entering the prime of his career and with a rehabilitated back, he could be a force to be reckoned with in 2015.
Both the Giants and Pierre-Paul agents realize this so don’t expect a deal to be struck in the near-term between the two sides. There will likely be a huge gap between Pierre-Paul’s asking price and what the Giants will be willing to pay him. However, Pierre-Paul is still without question one of the top three players on the Giants roster and the team needs him to return to the team and be the player he once was.
Aside from him, the premature Damontre Moore and less than stellar Robert Ayers Jr. at defensive end are not the pass-rushing options the Giants want to be left with if Pierre-Paul walks out the door. Pierre-Paul is a talented player who’s upside makes any defense immediately more formidable. The Giants would be wise to retain their superstar, even if it means overpaying him to stay with the team.