New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has a reputation as a shrewd handler of the NFL draft. We are about to find out whether he deserves it.
Reese himself would tell you that the Giants look at the draft in a very specific way. They do not view it as an annual opportunity to make big-splash, instant-impact additions to the following season's team. The Giants use the draft as a means of crafting and maintaining a deep roster that can regenerate itself with players who have spent time developing in their system.
The cuts this week of championship mainstays Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Boley and Chris Canty signal a time of such regeneration. The Giants make these moves -- and likely more cuts to come -- with the hope that the replacements for these players are already in their locker room. The extent to which that turns out to be the case will help determine just how good Reese's past few drafts have been.
The likely replacements for Bradshaw are David Wilson (first round, 2012) and Andre Brown (fourth round, 2009). Assuming they re-sign Brown coming off his broken leg, they'll find out whether that tandem can effect a smooth transition from the Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs era at running back. Brown is a guy to whom they kept giving chances until he blossomed as a power runner in 2012. Wilson is the guy they said was at the top of their running back board in last year's draft. Were they telling the truth? Or did Tampa Bay outfox them by trading up to steal Doug Martin one pick earlier? It appears as though Wilson will get a good chance in 2013 to show whether he was indeed the right man for the Giants job.
Canty is a tough loss in the middle of the defensive line. And while Linval Joseph (second round, 2010) has already proved himself a reliable starter at defensive tackle, the Giants will hope this is the year that Marvin Austin (second round, 2011) blossoms into the interior pass-rusher they envisioned when they drafted him off his suspension season at North Carolina. That Austin pick has a chance to look really good if the young man rebounds from the two years in which he didn't see the field, but if he doesn't, the Giants will need to find more depth at that position.
Boley's most likely replacement at outside linebacker is Jacquian Williams (sixth round, 2011), who was a big help during the the most recent Super Bowl run and now likely gets a chance to show what he can do as an NFL starter. The Giants don't place a very high priority on the linebacker position, and if Williams blossoms as a starter out of the sixth round, he'll make that particular part of their strategy look pretty good.
There are other spots at which change is or could be coming. The Giants are almost certain to bid farewell, for instance, to defensive end Osi Umenyiora. And while Jason Pierre-Paul (first round, 2010) might already have taken Umenyiora's starting job, the Giants are eager to learn whether Pierre-Paul can be the relentless quarterback predator he was in 2011 and anchor their pass rush for years to come, or whether his more pedestrian 2012 season is what they should expect.
If they cut cornerback Corey Webster, is Prince Amukamara (first round, 2011) ready to cover the other team's No. 1 wide receiver on a regular basis? And is Jayron Hosley (third round, 2012) good enough to be a starter, or is he just a nickel corner? Can Rueben Randle (second round, 2012) and/or Jerrel Jernigan (third round, 2011) emerge as a playmaker and help make their wide receiver decisions on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz less pressure-packed? Is tackle James Brewer (fourth round, 2011) ready to take his role as part of the offensive line rebuild?
Lots of questions with many potential answers for the Giants as they begin what appears to be an offseason makeover of some significance. This is the way they like to operate -- stocking their roster with talented young players they like, and working to help them be ready when opportunity arrives. It's why they believe in continuity on the coaching staff, and why they believe they can spend to the cap each year without having to pound the free-agent market too hard.
It is possible that the answers to the Giants' roster questions lie in the early and middle rounds of these past few drafts, and if they do, Reese's reputation as a master of the draft will be fortified by on-field results. If they do not, the Giants might find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to alter their strategy and find some quick fixes for their holes next offseason. Reese and the Giants generally received high marks for the drafts they had in recent years. But with all of these veterans headed out of town, now's the time when we find out just how good those drafts really were.