The biggest problem with attempting to repeat as Super Bowl champion is keeping the team together. Success is hard to maintain in the NFL, particularly in the era of the salary cap and free agency, and the New York Giants are not immune to these effects.
As they entered the 2012 offseason with the league year and free agency officially beginning on Tuesday, the Giants will be focused on playing defense – trying to keep as much of the core group together to make a run at a repeat.
They Giants have already released running back Brandon Jacobs this past week which, combined with the restructuring of Eli Manning’s contract, has freed up about $12 million in cap space, but they were recently over the cap by about $9 million, so that gives them minimal room to work with. They have a number of free agents they want to hold on to, and some that they will have to let go due to cap limitations. Here are some of the key questions facing the defending champs as they work on the roster this offseason.
Likely Losses: They appear likely to lose some key free agents, including wide receiver Mario Manningham and defensive end Dave Tollefson. Tollefson provided key depth at the defensive line position, but that is an area of strength for the Giants with Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. Manningham’s loss will likely have a bigger impact.
While Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks made most of the headlines, relegating Manningham to the number 3 wide receiver, he was instrumental in some of their key wins. He had 5 receptions for 73 yards in the Super Bowl, and he caught a TD pass in each of their 3 playoff victories to help get them there. The Giants used a lot of 3 wide receiver sets, and Manningham was a key part of the passing game, but he can likely move up to at least a number 2 receiver for another team, and be paid appropriately.
The loss of Brandon Jacobs is another tough hit. Although the Giants rushing game was dead last in the league last year, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and 89 yards per game, they did come on late in the season. The Giants may look to the youth on their roster to fill the gap, with talented rookie Da’Rel Scott and D.J. Ware behind Bradshaw.
Eleven year veteran right tackle Kareem McKenzie was a fixture on the line for both of the Giants Super Bowl victories, but he has been told to shop the free agent market. The Giants certainly want to get younger on the line, but the offensive line is one of the most important areas of the field for continuity,
Re-signings: The Giants are looking to re-sign cornerback Terrell Thomas, and they had a rash of injuries in the secondary last season, so they don’t want to be any thinner at cornerback than they have to be.
The Giants have re-signed wide receiver Domenik Hixon, who will likely be asked to pick up the slack after Manningham’s departure.
Overall, the Giants look like they will still have a very talented roster going into next season, although they will lose some veteran leadership and some depth at key positions. Staying healthy is going to be even more important, as well as finding some key role players in the draft to restore depth when the injuries inevitably pile up.