After embarrassingly flexing one of the NFL’s five worst defenses in 2014 and following that up by surrendering an NFL-high 6,725 total yards in 2015, the New York Giants, an organization with four Super Bowl championships that traditionally prides itself on elite defense, finally retired long-time coach Tom Coughlin.
Coughlin wasn't the total blame for the 6-10 debacle last season, but he was the leader and his defense failed him more times than Giants fans can remember. The way his entire team responded to his coaching was the last hint that a change needed to be made at the helm and a talent upgrade was imperative.
In fact, the last time an NFL defense had surrendered that much real estate was in 2012, when the Bountygate-depleted New Orleans Saints were giving away yards like free cheese on the church line and surpassed the 7,000-yard mark.
GM Jerry Reese, the architect of Giants Super Bowl c'hips in 2008 and 2011, was spared the gauntlet -- for now. He gets one more shot to get this thing back on track. With a ton of cap space entering this free agency, Reese asserted that despite the Giants anemic showing in 2015, he could turn the squad around and get them back into championship contention with some free agent additions and a productive draft.
“You can get well pretty quickly in the National Football League,” Reese said back in late February, before he went on his spending spree. “You can get players in free agency. You can get players in the draft. You can get players in trades.”
The Giants had the fifth-most cap space in the league entering this free agency. That’s due in large part to the frugalness they have exhibited in paying stars and the franchise's failing philosophy of trying to turn fifth-round pedestrian performers into second-round caliber steals.
No more nonsense.
This season, Big Blue bit the bullet, dropped some coin and got bonafide proven talent. With a whopping $57.5 million in cap space, Reese has gone H.A.M. this free agency, stocking up on high-priced, proven defensive players.
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Janoris Jenkins, CB: On March 9, 2016, the former St. Louis Rams starting corner signed a five-year $62.5 million contract with Big Blue. Jenkins is entering his fifth NFL season and is in the prime of his career. Last season, Jenkins started 15 games and recorded a career-high 15 passes defensed to go along with 64 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
After being drafted in the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft, he started in 58 of 60 games with the St. Louis Rams. With 10 career picks and six defensive TD’s to his credit. Jenkins is sure to bolster a Giants secondary that stunk more than a skunk rolling in rat excrement.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE: The Giants resigned JPP, who will report to camp on time this season and is looking forward to the Giants’ offseason conditioning program on April 11. Last season, a July 4th fireworks accident caused him to miss the first eight games of the regular season while he rehabilitated his mangled right hand.
Although he didn't have the same dominance dominant player he was in the past, and understandably so, he showed enough fight last year to expect a much better performance this year as he says he is still rehabbing his hand and plans to play without the inhibitive club this season.
Olivier Vernon, DE: Originally a third-round selection by the Miami Dolphins in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Miami, Florida lifer is an impact defensive end who has started 46 games over his four seasons in the NFL.
Vernon can get to the QB, something the Giants desperately need. He has career totals of 196 tackles,, 74 quarterback hits, 29 sacks and three forced fumbles. His durability also played a part in the Giants opening up the bank account for him. He has never missed a game in his four years, starting 14 games in 2013 and all 16 in 2014 and 2015. Pro Football Focus rated him as the No. 3 edge rusher in 2015, behind Oakland’s Khalil Mack, who was the first player to be named first-team All-Pro at two positions in the same year, and Denver’s reigning Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller.
The 6-foot-2, 275-pounder signed on March 9, 2016 for a whopping $85 million over 5 years with $52.5 million in guaranteed money. Vernon’s arrival comes with huge expectations as does his average salary of $17 million per year, which makes Vernon the highest paid defensive end in the NFL. Welcome to the bright lights and big city pressure Mr. Vernon, who says he wanted a change from the city where he grew up and played high school, college and pro ball. He found one in New York.
Damon Harrison, DT: The Giants defense was easy pickings in the air and on the ground this past season. In former Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison, they are getting a 6-foot-4, 350-pound run-stopper who won the Pro Football Focus Best Run Defender Award in 2015.
With the Jets, Harrison was part of a Top 10 defense and has started 48 games over four seasons, racking up 193 tackles (12 for loss), 1.5 sacks, seven passes defensed and a forced fumble. Harrison started every game for Gang Green from 2013-15. The Jets defense allowed the second fewest rushing yards (4,236) during that time frame. Only the Seahawks top-rushing D was putting up those kind of numbers (4,234). With a nickname like “Snacks” you know the big homie likes to eat. The Giants hope ball carriers and QBs are his favorite dish.
That's a $114 million guaranteed dollars for those four players.
Keenan Robinson, ILB: The Giants also had an opening at linebacker because Jon Beason recently retired, and Jasper Brinkley, who started nine games last season was unimpressive and is a free agent. Big Blue closed out their defensive shopping spree by signing Robinson, who previously played for division-rival Washington, to a one-year contract. He’s had some injuries since becoming a fourth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2012, but he’s also shown flashes of being a formidable force in the middle. In any event, it’s an upgrade for the Giants.
The Giants still have some upgrading to do on offense. Odell Beckham is their only star offensive weapon. Victor Cruz is going to give it one more shot, but if he isn’t fully recovered from his injuries then his career might be a wrap. In the opinion of many Giants fans, the running back core could use a boost and hopefully that will be addressed in the draft.
For now, though, on paper and with the expenditure of hella coin, the Giants have decided to go for the gusto and have plans to totally erase the miserable memory of last year; A season void of defense, a sense of urgency or chemistry. For a team with the Giant's proud history, last season was like Donald Trump taking the podium without his toupee -- inconceivable. Contrary to what Mr. Trump would believe, money doesn't buy happiness, however in the NFL it can buy you a first class ticket from worst to first and that’s what the Giants and Reese are banking on.