Stop me if you've heard this one before: The free agent with whom the New York Giants agreed to terms Wednesday is 28 years old, was a high draft pick not too long ago, and has shown some quality flashes while not living all the way up to expectations so far in the NFL. The Giants were able to get him at a relatively low price, which is important given the remarkably high number of free agents they've had to sign this offseason to replenish their roster. He adds depth at a position of need, and if the light goes on and he plays to his pre-draft potential, they could really have something here.
When you put it that way, defensive end Robert Ayers sounds like almost every other free agent the Giants have signed in the past three weeks.
Ayers is the 23rd free agent the Giants have signed so far, the 12th from another team and the fourth who was once a first-round draft pick. He was the No. 18 overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Denver Broncos, a highly regarded pass-rusher out of Tennessee. He's never really developed as an NFL pass-rusher, recording just 12 sacks in five professional seasons. But his 5.5 sacks in 2013 were a career high, and he's well regarded as a run defender.
Ayers is not a Justin Tuck replacement, per se. Tuck had 11 sacks just last season; you don't replace him with a guy who has only had 12 in five years. But as an edge rusher who can play the run, he could be a valuable part of the rotation at defensive end. Heck, it's not ridiculous to think that, with a good training camp, he could beat out veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and 2013 third-round pick Damontre Moore for the starting defensive end spot opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. He isn't Tuck, but he's younger and cheaper, and the extent of the Giants' free-agent roster overhaul this offseason has been predicated on those two traits.
It's also worth pointing out a bit of a trend in these bargain-bin guys the Giants have picked up. Ayers is like center J.D. Walton and tackle Charles Brown in that he was regarded well enough out of college to be a relatively high pick but hasn't produced the way his original team had hoped. Adding guys like that -- who have talent but haven't put it all together -- can be a smart way of playing the bargain end of free agency, especially when the players are still young, as these three are. (You could add Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to this list, since he's played well as a pro but is thought to have elite talent, but he was a big-money signing and thus more of a gamble.)
There are worse bets to make than one on a former first-round pass-rusher (or former third-round center, or former second-round tackle) who has experience as a starter in the league. And if you make three or four such bets, and you believe in the abilities of the people on your coaching staff, your odds of hitting on one or two of them are pretty good. We'll see which of the Giants' signings work out and which don't. But at worst, the Ayers signing continues at least the following theme: The Giants had a hole and filled it with what they believed was the best option available at this point in free agency. It will be months before we can accurately judge which of their many holes they've filled well and which will need filling again next March and April.