Wednesday was some day for the New York Giants. A day after re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul, they forked over mega-contracts to free agents Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon. The team that ranked last in the NFL in defense in 2015 hit free agency determined to get the players it thought could help fix that, no matter what they cost.
If you're a Giants fan, you feel great today because what you want from your team is a clear acknowledgement that it understands its problems and is determined to fix them. The Giants could not have delivered that message more clearly.
But if you're a smart Giants fan, you also know there's a lot more work to do. The Giants still need a free safety, a couple of linebackers, a nickel corner and some help on offense. Heck, they still need a kicker. Obviously, having played in the deepest ends of the cornerback and defensive line pools, the Giants aren't going to be able to swing for the fences at those other positions. But they do need and likely will find players to play them.
A free-agency spree like this has to come with all kinds of warnings. Teams that "win" free agency in March almost never win on the field the following autumn. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only four of the 532 players who changed teams in free agency last year were selected to the Pro Bowl at season's end. That's a sobering stat that reminds you this process is much more Band-Aid than building. As much fun as it is right now that the Giants got all these new players, that doesn't mean they're suddenly a Super Bowl contender. This isn't the Broncos' free-agent spree of two years ago. That team was a defending conference champion. This Giants team is not, to say the least.
However, it's important to note that all four of the players the Giants signed in the past 48 hours are under 28 years old. And while the contracts are ridiculously big, if Vernon, Jenkins and Harrison continue to improve the way they have so far in their careers, the numbers could end up making sense in retrospect. They're big gambles, but these guys have big talent. And if you're going to gamble, young and talented are two of the better spots to put your chips.
The other thing is that a heavy investment in the defensive line articulates a vision Giants fans can support. Yes, they spent big at cornerback, as they always do, but the main focus was the line, where Pierre-Paul and Vernon now project as the starting ends with Harrison and Johnathan Hankins blotting out the sun in the middle. On paper, that's a fearsome-looking young defensive line, and if it plays to its potential, it's a foundation on which something special can be built.
A lot still has to go right. A lot comes down to these players staying healthy and playing to their new, glittering salaries. And some of it comes down to a defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo who has been one of the least successful coaches in the NFL for the past seven years.
But things need to be rebuilt in East Rutherford, where years of unproductive drafts have left the roster bereft of top-level talent. It's fine to pay top-level prices to try to fix that if you focus on youth and upside. You'd rather be the Giants today than, say, the Dolphins, who have incomprehensibly spent the past week getting older on the line, acquiring the Eagles' failed 2015 pickups and moving down in the first round of the draft.
No one can predict the future or how any of the guys who signed Wednesday will play. But the Giants awoke Thursday feeling good about the foundation on which they plan to build their new defense. And in mid-March, for a team that has missed the playoffs four years in a row, that's about as good a feeling as you can expect to have.