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Twitter mailbag: Giants sputter early in free agency

Your New York Giants questions, tagged with #nygmail on Twitter, on a Saturday morning in March. Enjoy.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I certainly agree with Bill's premise, which is being misunderstood by those who would rush blindly to the defense of Jerry Reese and the Giants. Bill is not saying that J.T. Thomas, Jonathan Casillas or Dwayne Harris are bad players or that they won't play well for the Giants. To know those things, one would have to be able to see into the future, and Bill is among those of us wise enough to realize we cannot do that.

Rather, Bill's point is about assessing the value of players in the marketplace, and these signings are the latest evidence that Reese struggles with that. There was no reason to give Harris $3.1 million a year for five years and $7.1 million guaranteed. There's no chance anyone was offering anything close to that. The Cowboys were offering $1.3 million a year, and they really liked the guy. The point is that the Giants could have acquired players quite similar to Thomas, Casillas and Harris for much less money, and that's what makes them bad signings.

The issue is that Reese is a scout and likes to champion the value of scouts and scouting. He and/or people on his staff clearly identified these three as players who would do well in the roles the Giants have laid out for them, and for that reason they decided to pay them enough to basically keep them off the market. All three are overpays, and overpaying is an excellent strategy if your only goal is to make sure you get the guys you want before anyone else has time to get interested in them.

But scouts can't see the future, either. And the way to mitigate that if you're a roster-builder in the salary-cap era is to manage your resources wisely. While he might have been an excellent scout, Reese behaves erratically on the resource-management front. He did this same thing last year, signing Rashad Jennings to an over-market deal on the first day of free agency instead of waiting out the running back market and taking the best option from a group of Jennings-like players once the prices settled. He did it because the Giants had identified Jennings as their guy, and that mattered more than market value did.

What's really weird about this year, though, is that Reese only seems to be doing this at the low end of the market -- for backups and special-teamers. If anything, your overpays should be for high-end talent at the top of the market. Outbid the Patriots for Devin McCourty or the Bears for Pernell McPhee, then get some of that money back by finding a minimum-salary return man or special-teams gunner who'll play hard and hungry for you because he wants more down the road. The Dolphins overpaid for Ndamukong Suh, but at least Suh is a game-wrecking juggernaut who delivers at a level no one else can. Dwayne Harris? J.T. Thomas? Jonathan Casillas? "Just a guy," as my colleague Bill Polian would say. None of them is a guy the Giants absolutely had to have, but each is being paid as though he were. That's Barnwell's point, and that's what makes them bad signings on instant analysis.


@DanGrazianoESPN: The Giants' ideal plan calls for Jon Beason as the middle linebacker and on-field leader and captain of the defense. If he's fully healthy, that's his spot. If not, they believe Jameel McClain can be a quality backup and that Devon Kennard can play there in a pinch. Assuming Beason is playing, then it's either McClain or Kennard on the strong side, and that could vary depending on situations. The Giants like Kennard as a guy who can play any of the three linebacker positions, but as of last December they didn't think he had the speed necessary to play on the weak side in coverage. They believe they can deploy him effectively in pass-rush situations, and if he shows improvement in his speed and coverage ability in the offseason, it's not out of the question to think he could play on the weak side. They will be looking for help there, though free-agent signee J.T. Thomas (who played all three spots in Jacksonville's defense) is probably the leading candidate to start on the weak side at this point.

@DanGrazianoESPN: Aggressive, passive, Steve Spagnuolo, Perry Fewell, whatever. The Giants need more good players on defense, and it would not be a terrible idea for them to focus the early rounds of this year's draft on that side of the ball, I agree. They feel pretty good about cornerback, both in terms of front-line quality and overall depth, but elsewhere they can use a lot of help. Linebacker, as outlined above, is a bit patched-together. They need at least one starting safety and probably should get two. And the defensive line after Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins is loaded with question marks. The two most recent drafts have helped start the re-stocking process for a unit that needed a pretty major overhaul, but they need to keep finding quality pieces to build the foundation of this defense for the future.

@DanGrazianoESPN: I think you hit on an interesting point, as quarterback Eli Manning 's cap number of $19.75 million and Jason Pierre-Paul 's cap number of $14.813 million right now are the sixth and 20th-largest cap hits in the league for 2015, respectively. That has affected their ability to maneuver, but to my knowledge it hasn't kept them from doing anything they've wanted to do so far. They didn't lose out on Devin McCourty, for example, for cap reasons. They made a competitive offer, but once the Patriots came up into the same neighborhood, he decided to stay put. So while the cap is an issue for them, it's far from a crippling one. As to the specifics of your question, no, I don't think the continued presence of those players will continue to cause cap problems beyond this year. It's possible they end up having to franchise Manning this time next year, but it's more likely that he gets a new deal in which his 2016 cap number would be considerably lower than this year's, and same with Pierre-Paul. Their cap numbers might well be higher this year than they'll ever be again. Thanks for the questions, and enjoy the remainder of your Saturday.