Monday, March 2, 2009

Giants Make a Big Splash in the Free Agency Pool

The last few off-seasons, particularly the last two under Jerry Reese, the Giants have been quiet, picking up under-the-radar talent and role-players on a need-basis. This year it was a different story, as the G-men made a big impact from the get-go.

On Saturday, they signed former Falcons' LB Michael Boley to a 5 year deal worth $25 million and Seahawk veteran DT Rocky Bernard to a 4 year $16 million contract. Sunday they followed up by adding the versatile former Cowboy DE Chris Canty to a six year deal. He is expected to play both end and tackle positions on the D-line.

Boley fills a need at the LB position, and by most accounts, brings a lot of tools and upside to the table. The Giants have struggled for stability at the outside linebacker position over the past few seasons, and with a few exceptions, have been forced to juggle between guys that are too green, too old, too injury-prone, too slow, or simply not that good. Boley is 26 years old, and has played in all 16 games in each of his first four seasons in the league. He brings speed and athelticism to a unit that has lacked it on a regular basis, potentially adding new layers to the pass rush and coverage schemes.

Bernard is a solid addition to a D-line that struggled in the latter stages of the season due to injury. The Giants' pass rush, which carried them to the Super Bowl two years ago, failed to maintian momentum last season in the final few months. Fred Robbins, who was having a Pro-bowl caliber season the first half of the season struggled with two broken hands, knee problems and a shoulder injury that forced him to miss two games due to injury. Kiwi, Tuck, and Cofield also were nicked up, and having lost Osi Umenyiora before the season even started, the D-line could not maintain their trademark pressure. Bernard provides a solid pass-rushing threat up the middle, and with Pro-bowl ends on either side of him, I suspect his numbers will reflect that next season. He did have 8.5 sacks in 2005...

DT Rocky Bernard flatulates on QB Jake Delhomme after a brutal sack.

Finally, Canty, the most high-profile acquisition of the three - and perhaps most surprising - makes an already formidable front pretty terrifying. Coming from playing DE in a 3-4 scheme, he's stout against the run, allowing him the versatility to play both end and tackle in a 4-3. He can plug up the middle as a tackle and bring heat on the QB at the same time. In the Giants scheme, I think he has the potential to be a double-digit sack guy. Management seems to think so too, as they've locked him up for a long time.

I'm excited by all of these moves so far. The front office has been very smart and very dedicated in getting players they want. There's no reason to drop a ton of money on an Albert Haynesworth when you can get three great players for the same price. Boley might be my favorite of the three, just because I think NFL linebackers are beasts. He fills a need, but I think, more significantly, he has the potential to be a stud in the Giants defense, like a Big Blue version of Lance Briggs or Bart Scott...or Kawika Mitchell. (Haha, I really like him as a play-maker and am still sad the G-men let him go for Gimpy McGee (Gerris Wilkinson)).

The additions of Canty and Bernard create a level of depth on the D-line that is unrivaled and also unblockable. I'm envisioning Osi, Tuck will start at end, and Canty and Robbins will start in the middle, with Kiwi, Cofield, and Bernard rotating in often. This not only means a relentless pass rush each game, but a relentless pass rush for the whole season. Seriously, I think we're talking a 60+ sack total for the Giant D in 2009.

Of course, a lot of variables remain. 7 effective starters for 4 spots could mean too many cooks in the kitchen. Perhaps Reese is stockpiling talent for a trade in the event Plaxico Burress has to go to jail or doesn't return to the team. Perhaps the new signings, especially Canty's fat check, will rub existing D-linemen the wrong way and someone could want out the door. Perhaps new Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan will fail to fill Steve Spagnuolo's vacated shoes and the unit will struggle.

The hypotheticals are many, but the outlook as it stands now is very promising. If the Giants head into next season with the line-up they have now, I think we're looking at another solid playoff run, and quite possibly, a 22-week sack-a-thon to the big dance.

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