The New York Giants made a concerted effort to upgrade the defense last offseason, and it worked. It helped them to a playoff berth and a surprisingly good 11-5 record in the challenging NFC East. Now, their attention has to turn to the offense … for the most part.
The offensive line can use some work, as can the skill positions with Victor Cruz gone and a lack of playmaking ability at tight end. Fortunately, there are options to be had on the open market and the Giants have enough money to make a splash — even after franchise-tagging Jason Pierre-Paul.
Here are five players they should target when free agency begins, including a veteran solution for this tackle-needy team.
USA TODAY SporTimothy T. Ludwig
LB Dont'a Hightower (Patriots)
The Patriots are opting not to franchise-tag Hightower, banking on the notion that they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term deal. That won’t be as easy when free agency begins and 20-plus teams come calling to offer him more money than the penny-pinching Patriots. Hightower would step in and immediately assume the role as New York’s middle linebacker, completely upgrading the second level of the defense. Hightower can do it all, from dropping back in coverage to rushing the passer as a blitzer up the middle. He’s worth the money, if the Giants can make it work while still upgrading at left tackle.
Hankins has had some poor luck the past two years, battling a handful of injuries. He didn’t miss any games in 2016, but he played through a number of ailments that hindered his play, limiting him to just three sacks. In 2014, when he was fully healthy, he had seven sacks and was a pass-rushing force. The Giants should take a guarded chance on Hankins and bet that he’ll bounce back next season with Damon Harrison playing next to him. If they can get him to sign a short-term, incentive-driven deal, it would be a smart move for New York. He can be a good three-technique on a defensive line that’s already loaded with talent.
WR Kamar Aiken (Ravens)
The Giants haven’t had a big receiver since the days of Hakeem Nicks. Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard are great starters, but the Giants lack a tall receiver — specifically one who can play on the outside. Aiken was abysmal in 2016 after putting up huge numbers two years ago, and found himself buried on the Ravens’ depth chart. At 6-foot-2, he’s a taller receiver who still possesses the speed New York covets at wideout. As long as he’s available for the right price, Aiken could fit the bill in New York.
TE Jack Doyle (Colts)
The Giants need to add a pass-catching tight end to complement their speedy receivers on the outside. Doyle had himself a breakout year in 2016, racking up 584 yards and five touchdowns with the Colts. He’s said to be hitting free agency after Indy tried to work out an extension, which is good news for the Giants. He should be a top target for New York, especially if it wants to focus on the offensive line in the draft.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY SportsJim Brown
LT Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)
This might be the most obvious fit in all of free agency. The Giants are in win-now mode with enough cap space to sign the best left tackle on the market, and they have a clear need at the position. Whitworth would be a massive upgrade over Ereck Flowers, who allowed more pressures last season than Whitworth has in his past 48 games. The Giants have to allocate the majority of their money to finding a left tackle, even if he’s 35 years old and on the tail end of his career. Whitworth will be priority No. 1 for New York and a lot of other tackle-needy teams.