Our Insider group is doing offseason priority checklists for all 32 NFL teams as their seasons end, and this is the one Matt Williamson did a couple of weeks back on the New York Giants. It hits the high points -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Eli Manning, the offensive line -- but it ends with a point by Matt on the secondary, and it's a good one:
Injuries have been a problem here as well, but any way you cut it, potentially losing five defensive backs in free agency is pretty daunting.
The Giants actually have six unrestricted free-agent defensive backs. Matt listed safeties Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Walter Thurmond and Chykie Brown, but he forgot about cornerback Zack Bowman. Add in the fact cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Trumaine McBride are coming off season-ending injuries, and the Giants have a great deal of work to do in an area that was one of their main priorities in free agency just a year ago.
Let's start at safety, because that's where the biggest questions lie. Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe are the only Giants safeties under contract for 2015. Neither projects as a starter, and safety is not a position (such as linebacker) where the Giants tend to look for cheap solutions. I believe they will work to land at least one starting safety via free agency and possibly even address the position early in the draft. We discussed in Saturday's mailbag the possibility of them using the No. 9 pick on Alabama's Landon Collins, and I don't think it's farfetched.
The first issue is what to do with Rolle, a 32-year-old veteran captain who just played every game and earned every dollar of a five-year free-agent contract. They would bring him back, but it will have to be at the right price. And as they did with Justin Tuck a year ago, the Giants could lowball Rolle and send him into the arms of some team with a whole bunch of cap room and a willingness to spend for a big name. If that happens (and maybe even if it doesn't), the Giants may end up playing in the deep end of the free-agent safety pool, making an offer for someone such as New England's Devin McCourty or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy in an effort to replace Rolle.
I imagine they'll be able to bring back Stevie Brown on a sensible, low-cost deal. He played a bit better in the second half of this season after his benching, and they stuck with him last year through his ACL rehab. Demps didn't play great, nor did he make a major impact as a kick returner, which was the primary reason they signed him, so I think they'll likely let him go. It's also worth mentioning that some of these decisions could be impacted by the choice of the new defensive coordinator the Giants need to hire.
As for cornerback, they still have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara and McBride under contract for 2015, though they have to figure out whether to bring Amukamara back on his one-year, $7 million option or work out a longer-term, lower-cost solution. Jayron Hosley is a good bet to be cut, and my guess is they let restricted free agent Mike Harris walk. The question marks here are Thurmond and Bowman, two guys they signed last year hoping they'd have a bigger impact. Thurmond got injured early and missed nearly the whole season. They like him a lot, but if he shows he's healthy they could have competition for his services.
My guess is they bring back Thurmond to play that nickel corner spot for which they had him earmarked then hope they can stay healthy at corner this year with all of the quality depth pieces they have and focus on safety. But if they start to feel Amukamara and McBride are question marks, or if Thurmond goes somewhere else, the Giants showed last year they won't hesitate to use their offseason resources to make themselves as deep as possible at cornerback. As 2014 showed, you can never have too many of them.