New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said last week at the NFL scouting combine that he expects defensive end Justin Tuck to test the free-agent market. Should Tuck find what he's looking for there, he could leave the Giants after spending the first nine years of his career in New York.
Tuck turns 31 in March, and his 11-sack 2013 season came on the heels of two injury-plagued and disappointing years from an individual standpoint. So while he's an all-time great Giant coming off a big year, it's not as though the team can't make the case to let him go if he's offered more from someone else than they think he's worth. However, if he leaves, he will need to be replaced in a pass-rush rotation that's grown a bit thin in recent years.
The starter at the other defensive-end position is Jason Pierre-Paul, a superstar talent who's struggled terribly with injuries the past two seasons and is therefore a question mark going forward. The in-house candidates to replace Tuck at this point would be Mathias Kiwanuka, who's better as a rotational substitute than as a starter and is a candidate to be cut for cap reasons anyway, and Damontre Moore, the 2013 third-round pick who played sparingly as a rookie. It's safe to say that, if Tuck leaves, the Giants will need to find at least one pass-rusher in free agency or the draft to replace him.
There are some intriguing free agents:
Greg Hardy, Carolina. He had 15 sacks in 2013 and doesn't turn 26 until late July. He's the top pass-rusher on the market unless Dallas is really crazy enough to cut DeMarcus Ware. I doubt Carolina lets Hardy hit the market, even if that means franchising him.
Michael Johnson, Cincinnati. The Bengals franchised Johnson last year and likely can't afford to do so again. He only had 3.5 sacks in 2013, but 11.5 the year before, and just turned 27 this month.
Michael Bennett, Seattle. After signing for one year and $5 million and winning the Super Bowl with the Seahawks, the 28-year-old Bennett wants to get paid. The Giants employed his brother, tight end Martellus Bennett, two years ago. There is chatter in league circles that Bennett wants to sign with Chicago to play with his brother.
Anthony Spencer, Dallas. We never got to find out what Spencer looked like as a 4-3 defensive end because the former 3-4 outside linebacker got hurt early in the first year of Dallas' transition to the 4-3. He's 30 years old and was great two years ago in the 3-4. Likely too big a question mark for the Giants.
Jared Allen, Minnesota. Big name, yeah, but he'll be 32 in April and is slowing down. If they'd be willing to sign Allen, why wouldn't they just re-sign Tuck instead?
Lamarr Houston, Oakland. He turns 27 in June and is well-regarded as a do-it-all defensive end who can play the run as well as rush the passer. Oakland is trying to keep him off the market.
DeMarcus Ware, Dallas. Have to throw him in here, right? I still think Jerry Jones is just blowing smoke and there's no chance he'll cut Ware for cap reasons. But if he does, this is a Hall of Fame talent who recorded at least 11 sacks in each of the seven seasons prior to 2013. The Giants (and many other teams) would be nuts not to at least kick the tires.