The talent pool in this year’s free agency market was strong and and relatively deep, with top tier talent available at premiere positions such as Tackle, Defensive End, Safety, and Tight End. Certainly their was no shortage of big-time contracts doled out over the first few weeks with mega-deals going to the likes of S Dashon Goldsen (5 years $41 million – Tampa Bay), G Andy Levitre (6 years, $47 million – Tennessee), WR Mike Wallace (5 years, $60 million – Mia), and LB Dannell Ellerbe (5 year, $34 million – Mia).
However, while a lot of good players at the top have gotten very good money, the results of the 2011 labor agreement, with its hard caps, salary floors, and reduced rookie salaries are impacting the market in new and interesting ways. Teams like Miami, Tampa Bay and Tennessee are spending like they’ve never spent before. Over the last two years, Tampa Bay has spent a potential $197 million on 5 players (CB Eric Wright, G Carl Nicks, WR Vincent Jackson, S Dashon Goldsen, and G Jeremy Zuttah). Miami, this year, went on a spending spree to the tune of a potential $137.53 million on 6 players.
What is also interesting is that teams that are used to spending money, such as the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, have largely been sitting on the sidelines this off-season, with neither team making a single major acquisition via free agency.
While Giants fans are likely griping about the cuts of stalwarts DT Chris Canty, LB Michael Boley, and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, not to mention the departures Martellus Bennett and Kenny Phillips via free agency, there are reasons for Giants fans to be optimistic. First of all, of the 5 players I just mentioned, only Martellus Bennett and Ahmad Bradshaw contributed significantly to a 2012 giants team that went 9-7. Michael Boley, Chris Canty, and Kenny Phillips were either injured or ineffective much of the year. The Giants have also made several under-the-radar free agency signings, bringing in pass-rushing interior lineman Cullen Jenkins, sure-handed pass catcher Brandon Myers, and underrated MLB Dan Connor – all three should be upgrades at their positions, in at least some respects. In a lot of cases, the Giants have added by subtracting; Michael Boley was clearly on his last legs last year and Jacquian Williams, when he played, was much more effective in covering the tight end and closing on speed backs than Boley was or could hope to be in the future. Martellus Bennett brought a great deal of talent to the position, but his blocking, while adequate, was not nearly as dominant as many had been led to believe prior to his signings, and his occasional drops killed more than a half-dozen drives last season. David Wilson, replacing Bradshaw, should bring a great deal of explosiveness to the offense, something we saw glimpses of last year, his ascent to the starting position could give the giants a dynamic therat they’ve lacked at the running back position since Tiki Barber retired in 2006.
There are several other reasons Giants fans should be optimistic about returning to the top of the NFC East in 2013. First, they should be getting back a healthy Hakeem Nicks and a motivated Jason-Pierre Paul, 2 of the four most important players in their 2011 Super Bowl run (The other two being Victor Cruz and Eli Manning). Several young Giants are also entering the primes of their careers and should start producing at a higher level than we’ve seen in recent years. Those players include the recently re-signed LT Will Beatty (28 years old), starting Cornerback Prince Amukamara (24 years old), the aforementioned WLB Jacquian Williams (25 years old), and starting Defensive Tackle Linval Joseph (24 years old). While we lack the across-the-board star power that the Niners and Seahawks have, we are solid across most positions, and will benefit from a higher-than-usual draft spot which we can use to supplement our roster moving forward.
Besides are roster, the Giants will also benefit from a much easier schedule than we’ve seen in some time. While the last two years has seen us play the likes of the 49ers, Seahawks, Ravens, Patriots, Packers, Falcons, and Saints in abundance, we are luckier this year with softball non-division games against the Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers, Lions and Panthers. Not to mention that the NFC East is probably weaker than it has been in some time with the Eagles rebuilding, the Redskins and Cowboys cap-strapped and unable to make significant additions to their roster, and with Robert Griffin III unlikely to cause the same headaches in year 2 as he did in year 1.
While the Giants do have holes, there is reason to be hopeful that the G-Men can reclaim their rightful place at the top of the NFC East once again.