EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The state of the New York Giants' defense -- and the safety position in particular -- is such that they decided Sunday to sign a veteran who brings with him enough baggage to fill a Tumi warehouse.
Brandon Meriweather has been fined four times and suspended twice in the past five years for illegal hits in NFL games. He was suspended in college for stomping on an opposing player during a game. He was cut by both the Patriots and the Bears in 2011 in spite of having reached the Pro Bowl in each of the prior two seasons. In July 2012, he pleaded no contest to a DWI charge in Virginia after refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Last year, in response to criticism from then-Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall about his refusal to tackle opposing players within the rules, Meriweather lashed out like a child and said in reference to Marshall, "I feel like people who beat their girlfriends should be kicked out of the league too."
Oh yeah, this guy's a real peach.
"Listen, man. That's in the past," Meriweather said Monday of the Marshall back-and-forth. "I'm not one of those guys to hold grudges. I let things go. He might be holding a grudge, I don't know. I haven't spoken to him, but I'm not. I forgot about that a long time ago."
It's conceivable he'll be reminded of it Aug. 29, when the Giants face Marshall and the Jets in a preseason game. Regardless, Meriweather hasn't forgotten the fines and suspensions he's received for illegal on-field hits. But he did make a joke when asked about them Monday and said he hoped this would be the last time he had to address them this season.
"I think every player you ever ask will say, 'You play your game the way you play your game'," Meriweather said. "Do you play within the rules? Yes. When they make new rules, do you have to adjust a little bit? Yes. So I'm going to play my game the way I play my game, but at the same time I'm also going to respect the rules."
That would be something completely new for Meriweather, who has never shown an ability to respect the rules when it comes to hitting other players in the head or engaging in safe tackling techniques. He's 31 years old and was suspended for the first two games of last season. His next suspension is all but inevitable and would be much longer.
"That will be a focus," Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said of working with Meriweather on proper hitting technique. "And I'm sure, when you're away from football for a little bit and you realize that may have been one of the reasons, I'm sure he'll find a way to get it corrected."
I don't doubt Spagnuolo's good intentions, but there's no way to be "sure" of such a thing. Meriweather is who he is, and the Giants signed him with full knowledge of that.
"Well, the toughness part, you want," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The penalties and the issues, you don't want. I think he'll take coaching. He's competitive. He's very competitive. And to a certain extent, obviously, we want that. But we don't want what goes with it, obviously."
Look, this is a low-risk signing in a lot of ways. If Meriweather proves to be the irretrievable knucklehead he's been at every other one of his stops, the Giants can cut him and move on. He's not that great a player, really. He can't cover the deep middle at all. His game is predicated on his ability to deliver crushing hits close to the line of scrimmage and separate people from the ball. But he hasn't demonstrated an ability to do that legally, and as a result the league has put a well-justified target on his back. He was sitting on the free-agent wire on Aug. 16 for a number of good reasons.
But this is where the Giants are -- so bereft of difference-making talent on defense, so bereft of anyone with an idea of how to play the safety position in the NFL that they turn to someone they'd surely love to have been able to leave alone. This feels like a signing you make when you realize you're at the end of something and you're trying to do whatever you can to hold it off. The 31-year-old Meriweather is the picture of desperation.
The Giants are more likely than not to be terrible on defense this season. Signing Meriweather doesn't change that. It only gives them a better chance to be dirty as well.