So Antrel Rolle is off to the Chicago Bears, which shouldn't surprise anyone who follows the New York Giants. They did this same thing a year ago with Justin Tuck -- let a veteran defensive leader walk out the door without a fight because they're not interested in handing out long-term deals to players in their 30s.
It's their business strategy, and it's basically a good one. There are very few players who have left the Giants as free agents who make you say, "Yeah, they really should have kept that guy."
But with all due respect to Rolle, whose departure has saddened many of his teammates, losing him isn't the major problem here. The Giants' bigger problem is that, as is the case at many other positions, they haven't groomed a replacement. Yes, they'll add a safety or two in free agency, and the holes will get plugged as they always do. But over the past few years there have been too many holes that needed free-agent plugs, and that's a continued sign of a systemic, long-term problem that's not going to be fixed quickly.
The issue here continues to be a five-year stretch from 2008 to 2012 during which the Giants got almost nothing out of the draft. They made 38 picks during that time, and we can generously estimate that nine of those picks became NFL starters. I'm counting guys like Jacquian Williams and Rueben Randle there, along with Kenny Phillips, Terrell Thomas, Hakeem Nicks, Will Beatty, Jason Pierre-Paul, Linval Joseph and Prince Amukamara, so you can't say I'm cheating them here.
Of the 38 picks the Giants made during that five-year stretch -- which began seven years ago -- only eight are expected to be on the 2015 roster.
That's a wasteland, folks -- the kind of draft record that would get a GM fired if he didn't: (A) work for John Mara; and (B) win a Super Bowl at some point during that stretch. But while Jerry Reese's job is not in jeopardy, the mess he's now continually cleaning up is of his own making. The inability to find and develop quality NFL contributors from the second, third and fourth rounds of those drafts is the reason the Giants end up having to sign free agents -- like Jonathan Casillas, J.T. Thomas, Dwayne Harris and Marshall Newhouse -- to fill reserve and special-teams roles, as they did Tuesday. Your reserves and special-teamers are supposed to be the talented-but-underdeveloped guys at the back end of your roster, hungry for and building toward larger opportunity in the future. The Giants' roster doesn't have that class because the bulk of the players they drafted for that five-year stretch have not turned out to be NFL-caliber players.
The 2015 Giants are almost certain to feature two starting offensive linemen, two running backs, two starting defensive linemen, two linebackers, one cornerback and at least one safety who signed as free agents. Their starting fullback, starting tight end and one of their starting wide receivers were undrafted free agents, and Reese & Co. deserve credit for those finds, but you can't count on undrafted gems for your foundation. The bulk of the roster has to come from the draft, and the Giants' drafts under Reese have not delivered.
So the plan at safety right now with Rolle gone? Well, they'll try to sign a free-agent starter, possibly bring back Stevie Brown and hope that one of their two most recent fifth-round picks -- Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe -- is ready for a starting job.
Nowhere in the 2008 to 2012 draft classes did they find even one player capable of developing into a starting NFL safety. Had they done so, you'd probably be feeling a lot better today about Rolle's departure. The big problem, of course, is that safety isn't the only position at which they are confronting this exact problem. Far from it.