Yesterday, the Giants made their first, and perhaps most significant move of the 2010 off-season, releasing middle linebacker Antonio Pierce. Pierce was former GM Ernie Accorsi’s best free agent move during his tenure, Accorsi locked up the former undrafted Pierce with a free agent deal in 2005 (6 years, $26 million).
Why Pierce Will Be Missed:
Pierce anchored the Giants defense for the past four seasons and was responsible for making all of the defensive calls; Pierce was the unquestioned emotional leader of the Giants defense (not a slight to Michael Strahan here, but just calling it like I see it). Is Pierce a hall of fame candidate? Umm, no. But he was worth his free agent contract (which is rare under any circumstances, my apologies to Chris Canty, Michael Boley and let’s not forget Rocky Bernard) and was a leader on the historic 2007 Super Bowl team, so let’s give him his due. Thanks Antonio for the years of service, but for the Plaxico incident, (to be fair, Pierce didn’t actually shoot Plaxico himself), Pierce would be even more highly thought of by Giants faithful.
Why Pierce Ended Up On The Chopping Block:
In the final year of his contract, Pierce was set to make $4,500,000 (this is not merely a cost-saving move because we are headed to 2010 likely without a salary cap, with that being said, not chump change either). Couple that with Pierce coming back from a bulging disc in his neck (never a good thing for a guy who makes his living thumping other guys), eroding coverage skills, and his desire for a new money deal, and it was pretty clear that Pierce was done wearing blue for good after the 2009 season. Two plays stick it out: (1) Giant-Eagles playoff game 2009; Westbrook out of the back field, catching a short pass over the middle, and taking it to the house with Pierce giving chase, about ten yards away (count me among those who don’t buy the “there was a lot going on in that play and Pierce was not solely to blame”) and (2) Giants-Eagles November 1, 2009, Leonard Weaver, yes, not so small Leonard Weaver, taking it to the house after receiving the handoff in the backfield, Pierce being blown off the ball and never in position to make a play. Not good.
One of the Giants goals/needs should be to get faster, quicker, and more athletic ate linebacker and safety (another reason for Giants fans to believe Michael Boley will get another year to live up to his fat (5 years and about $25 million or so) contract. For these reasons, Antonio Pierce after a mostly successful five year run anchoring the Giants defense, is a free agent looking for work.
Giant Void in the Middle
Where do the Giants go from here? Chase Blackburn is a special team star and provides great depth, but he is best suited for those roles. Jonothan Goff showed flashes, but also missed routine plays, he has speed and upside, but the Jerry Reese is in win now mode. Most of the unrestricted free agents at middle linebacker (Barrett Ruud/DeMecoRyans/) will become restricted free agents which could decrease the chances that a deal takes place. The Giants could throw out big money for Dansby of the Cardinals, but even with versatility and good coverage range, he will be also 30 years old in November entering a long term deal. The Giants could look to the draft and hope to grab Rolando McClain or Sean Weatherspoon. Either way, the pressure is on Jerry Reese to find answers in a huge off-season for not only himself, but also for Tom Coughlin.