Should this man be worried?
Wheelin' on defense may fuel dealin' for offense. I say Antonio's odd man out.
It's been quite an active couple of weeks on the defensive side of the ball for General Manager Jerry Reese; at least newly hired defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will have his fair share of lineman and linebackers to rotate in and out of the lineup. But even with the number of Giants defenders jumping into the free agency pool, you can't help but wonder if signing these three relatively young players - all which appear to have tremendous upside - isn't greasing the skids for a big trade for one of the few big-name recievers still out there as rumored to be on the block.
At the end of February, a number of players declared free agency; among them were two defensive ends, Renaldo Wynn and Jerome McDougal. McDougal was a stop-gap measure following the season-ending injury to Osi Umenyiora last year against the Jets (yet another devistating loss in another meaningless pre-season game against the Jets. The Giants should seriously look into changing this annual pre-season matchup because it's beyond creepy the sheer coincidence that someone always seems to go down for the count in this game). He was inactive for 12 games, and did very little in the four games he suited up for (1 tackle, 1 assist). Wynn had been signed in the off-season as a backup to Justin Tuck, who was annointed the starting job upon the retirement of Micael Strahan.
Assuming that Umenyiora and Tuck are back at full strength for the upcoming season, it would be understandable to move on and replace Wynn and McDougal with younger, healthier talent . The other key defensive names on the free agent - R.W. McQuarters and James Butler - are not going to make or break the team this season. Even though James Butler had some solid outings in 2008, there's no way he's going to beat out Kenny Phillips or Michael Johnson for a starting job at safety, especially since Johnson was able to shift to the SS position with great success when Butler missed a couple of games. Reese also recognized the sounds of Father Time's chimes and cut elder statesmen Sam Madison and Sammy Knight. Zzzzz.... no loss that can't be recovered.
Chris Canty Michael Boley Rocky Bernard
Boley had a great campaign in 2007 that should have resulted in a Pro Bowl appearance, but hit the skids a bit last season under the Atlanta Falcon's new coaching staff. Chris Canty is another player that has had a productive career that struggled a bit last season due to some nagging injuries and a few undoubtedly annoying distractions in Dallas. Both are entering their 5th season, while Bernard is heading into his 8th. But Bernard (defensive tackle), Boley (an outside linebacker) and Canty (a defensive end) appear to create a strange situation... Chase Blackburn, Gerris Wilkinson and rookie Bryan Kehl all covered the weakside LB position last year, and the duo of Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield are already entrenched between the aformentioned Tuck and Umenyiora up on the line.
Jerry Reese has to be thinking about the way the pass rush and tackling performance declined week after week as the season progressed. Great ideas and innovative blitzing packages that can't be executed due to exhaustion and injuries remain... well, they just remain great ideas. There's no question that the gauntlet of teams the Giants faced mid-season (Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles, Ravens, Redskins, Panthers) took it's toll on them physically and mentally - more so than the Plaxico Burress circus did. Fred Robbins is 32 and entering his 10th season; without a doubt he lost steam by the time the Giants hit the playoffs. The same goes for Justin Tuck, who played through alot of pain during the last few weeks.
It's quite possible that Bernard could compete for - and win - the starting job from Robbins. Worst case scenario, whoever lands on the losing end of that spot becomes an experienced, motivated situational player that can provide a lot of rest and recuperation time to the starters. Throw in Canty as a compliment to Justin and Osi, and this makes an already formidable unit more talented, more flexible and - most importantly - deeper and healthier.
The buzz around town has been a trade to the Browns involving Mathias Kiwanuka. According to New York Daily news writer Ralph Vacchiano, "That is definitely not happening, according to several sources. I think that rumor just grew out of fans (and media) trying to figure out what the Giants are going to do with their surplus on the D-line". Besides, Kiwanuka was doing a solid job at the outside linebacker position until asked to move (once again) to DE following (once again) the Umenyiora injury. The Giants Organization has had a crush on Kiwanuka since the day they drafted him, and I don't suspect they'd be looking to end the relationship - even for a stud reciever who can "give them what they need".
As a Giants fan, I have to believe that Jerry Reese is actively pursuing a deal with one of these two teams, for one of these two receivers. And the only way he can swing a deal without completely dismantling his drafts over the next two years is two include a viable defensive player or two. But it's not going to be Kiwanuka, Tuck or Umenyiora. Fred Robbins is getting up there in age and has weight issues, on top of the injuries he's suffered the past two seasons. The secondary is strong, but not very deep right now... eeny... meeny... miney...
And now, my thoughts on Antonio Pierce.
Call me crazy. I've always been someone who thinks ahead to stay ahead. Sometimes that leaves quite an omelett on my face, and in the interest of saving time I always wind up missing some sort of "landmine" right in front me. There's also the possibility - and this is pure speculation on my part - that Antonio Pierce could be a moving part in all this.
Look at the situation for what it is. First of all, Pierce will be 31 years old in October. To date, the Giants haven't opened themselves up to discuss a contract extension with Pierce, who's $26-million deal expires at the end of the 2010 season. Pierce has been vocal about how ticked-off he is regarding the situation. Back in August, Pierce spoke outside of the Giants locker room, "I've been here four years and I sense that sometimes here. And it has nothing to do with financial stuff. I'm just talking about strictly as a football player, as a teammate, as an employee of the Giants. I don't know. I just get that sense. It's just the way people approach me. Obviously there are some comments, like 'Are you one of the guys? Or are you just a guy?'.
Pierce continued, "It's not about wanting to redo your contract, it's about wanting to end your career somewhere... I don't plan on playing just three more years. That doesn't mean you want to make $7 million or $8 million or some crazy pay raise. You want the security that you're going to be here. I don't want to play for no other team. And it ain't about 50 cents or a million dollars. It's about appreciation. It's not always about 'X' amount of dollars. It's about letting you know that I'm your guy."
To this day, The Giants have not told Pierce whether or not he's their "Guy". And to me, that means something. Keep in mind, Pierce said this in August - before the season began. Before he was getting beaten regularly on coverage, before he looked slow defending the pass over the middle. He was burned by Brian Westbrook, and he was burned by DeAngelo Williams. He was always banged up in some way shape or form, and yet still found the time to be out at 2 O'Clock in the morning partying with Plaxico Burress and Ahmad Bradshaw the night before the team was heading to Washington to face the Redskins.
Not enough trouble to grab headlines or get suspended, but enough disappointment to change an Organization's view of you as a leader.
Yes, Pierce seems to be the emotional leader of the defense, but 2008 may have pushed Giants brass over to a more concrete position known as "let's wait and see" when it comes to Antonio's future with the Giants. In my book, the "let's wait and see" approach usually means you should get your resume together. And anyone who watched the Giants consistently last year can attest to the fact that Chase Blackburn wasn't much of a dropoff at middle linebacker. At least if they were being honest they could.
Can Blackburn, Boley and Kiwanuka hold the fort? Maybe they can. Maybe the Giants are hoping that Arizona or Cleveland will look at Pierce as an emotional leader that has two years left on a contract that is relatively inexpensive to what a free agent would cost. Perhaps you keep Fred Robbins... and throw in a young, promising tackle like Jay Alford as part of a deal as well? Add a first round draft pick and perhaps a 4th round pick, and you just might have something a general manager for Cleveland or Arizona would lose sleep over.
Today I cleaned out my refrigerator and found an unopened tub of cream cheese way in the back, on the bottom shelf. I'm estimating that I bought it sometime in early January, and it just so happened that today was the expiration date. For some reason, I popped the top, peeled back the protective plastic cover and took a whiff. It smelled perfectly fine... so I threw it right in the trash can. Not because it went bad, but because I realized I must not have wanted it all that much - even though I'd spent the money for it. I had pretty much decided to throw it out the moment I saw the expiration date, but I still wanted to check to see if it was still viable. I have no idea why.
Coaches and general managers make statements every day, and most of them have extremely short shelf life. Jerry Reese has said that the Giants would be just fine if they started the season with Steve Smith, Domenick Hixon and Mario Manningham; Amani Toomer is on the market and the senior circuit of the secondary is out looking for work. After signing Rocky Bernard and beefing up both the defensive end and linebacker positions, there's only one starting spot left on Big Blue's depth chart with an expiration date that the front office needs to be concerned about. It may be expendable, and yet at the same time viable.
References: NY Daily News - Ralph Vacchiano article from Saturday, August 30th 2008 / "The Blue Screen: Live Chat from March 5th 2009.