2017 NFL Free Agency: 5 Underrated Targets for New York Giants

With the 2017 NFL free agency signing period on the horizon, here are five underrated free agent targets for the New York Giants to consider.

The New York Giants have around $35 million to play with under the salary cap, which places them 19th overall. In all likelihood, New York will fall short in their negotiations with big name free agents. Of course, cap space could go up should they choose to cut ties with more players whose play hasn’t matched their contracts.

As mentioned in other articles, the Giants won’t be in a position to spend like they did in the 2016 offseason. The team has a few star players with expiring contracts in the near future: Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Landon Collins, and Odell Beckham. While the first two might have manageable demands, the latter two will surely command whatever the market will bear.

The prevailing thought has been the additional $10 million in cap space freed up from the release of Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings will go towards re-signing Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins. Should the Giants avoid entering the fray of free agency altogether and stick to keeping their homegrown talent in-house? For chemistry’s sake, it makes the most sense. However, it never hurts to look.

Here are a handful of lesser-known, less “name-brand” free agents who could help the Giants out.

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Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle (84) carries the ball up the sideline against the Houston Texans during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

5. Jack Doyle, TE – Indianapolis Colts

According to the Pro Football Focus 2017 free agent tracker, Jack Doyle had the fourth highest grade among tight ends in 2016. He was just slightly behind Anthony Fasano and a little bit ahead of Vernon Davis. However, Doyle’s the youngest of the group by at least three years.

The Colts have the eighth highest amount of cap space in the NFL with a little more than $60 million. Tight end isn’t a need position for Indianapolis, but if Andrew Luck’s health means anything then the offensive line is. Not to mention Luck’s Herculean efforts often result in losses due to a porous defense. In an attempt to remedy those shortcomings, the Colts might have to sacrifice letting Doyle sign elsewhere.

Of course, the big name tight end and highest graded free agent at the position is Martellus Bennett. That potential acquisition elicits mixed emotions. Bennett will want at least $6 million per year at age 30. Doyle’s market value is also in that range at $6.2 million annually, according to Spotrac, but he’ll only turn 27 in May.

The undrafted free agent out of Western Kentucky should expect a four-year deal worth $24.8 million that is reminiscent of the contracts signed by Ladarius Green, Vance McDonald, Dwayne Allen, and Lance Kendricks.

The choice between Bennett and Doyle will be a tough one. Are you getting Bennett at the twilight of his career? Are you getting Doyle right as he’s breaking out into a bona-fide star? Bennett had seven touchdown grabs last season while averaging more than 12 yards per catch. Doyle had five scores while averaging just shy of 10 yards a grab. Both far exceeded Will Tye’s numbers.

Other underrated tight ends to consider: Trey Burton – TE, Philadelphia Eagles (RFA)

Jabaal Sheard New England Patriots

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4. Jabaal Sheard, DE – New England Patriots

Pro Football Focus ranks Sheard as the 27th best free agent of 2017, calling him “a capable player against the run and pass, and can play across different schemes and roles.” Given defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s tendency to mix things up and the possibility of Jason Pierre-Paul leaving, Sheard would be an excellent fit.

Spotrac estimates Sheard’s market value to be $8.8 million annually and expects him to land a five-year deal worth $44 million. That agreement would be similar to those of Vinny Curry, Cliff Avril, and Michael Johnson. Under his previous contract with New England, Sheard earned a 60.26 “true value” rating, which placed him 28th out of 72 qualifying defensive ends.

Sheard has seen his starts diminish over the course of his six-year career. Over the past four seasons, the former second round draft pick out of Pittsburgh only played in 51 to 58 percent of snaps. Yet, he’s still the 10th highest graded free agent edge rusher according to PFF and only turns 28 in May.

There have been reports the Giants will make a hard push to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul to a long-term contract before he hits the open market. If that somehow falls through, fans shouldn’t expect a big name like Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones. One recognizable name to consider for the pass rush would be outside linebacker Nick Perry.

December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley (91) celebrates with defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

December 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley (91) celebrates with defensive tackle Aaron Donald (99) after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dominique Easley, DT – Los Angeles Rams (RFA)

When the Patriots cut Easley in Spring 2016, the Giants were considered the top landing spot for him. Instead, the Los Angeles Rams signed Easley to a one-year deal worth $600,000 and the former Florida Gator responded with two forced fumbles and 3.5 sacks while only playing 43 percent of snaps. The Patriots first round pick of the 2014 draft is beginning to finally play up to expectations in 2016 after his release from New England.

WalterFootball.com lists Easley as the 38th best free agent of 2017 overall and the 7th best free agent defensive tackle, noting that he has “immense upside” and would be rated higher “if it weren’t for character concerns”.

Pro Football Focus assigned him the seventh highest grade among free agent defensive tackles, but he’s also the youngest of the group. NFL.com’s Matt Harmon placed Easley fourth on his list of top 10 interior pass rushers from 2016, adding “Easley’s 4.10 pressure score was in the 97th percentile among interior pass rushers this year.”

Easley is a restricted free agent, so the Giants might have to give up a draft pick if they end up signing him. All depends on L.A.’s qualifying offer. The Rams have until 4 p.m. ET on March 9 to submit a qualifying offer to Easley. The official deadline for Easley to sign an offer sheet is April 21.

The Rams have a little more money under the cap than the Giants do and are a little thin at defensive tackle. Michael Brockers will make $11 million in 2017 and the fifth year option on Aaron Donald hasn’t been picked up yet. As with Easley, the Rams have until 4 p.m. on March 9 to exercise the option with Donald.

Other defensive tackles to consider: Dontari Poe – Kansas City Chiefs, Karl Klug – Tennessee Titans, Chris Baker – Washington Redskins, Calais Campbell – Arizona Cardinals, Kawann Short – Carolina Panthers

Sep 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner (71) defends against Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (97) at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner (71) defends against Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (97) at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2. Ricky Wagner, RT – Baltimore Ravens

The Giants offensive tackles were an issue in 2016. Marshall Newhouse only started six of 10 games for the Giants in 2016. He earned a grade of 67.2 point from Pro Football Focus and WalterFootball ranked him as the 18th best free agent offensive tackle. The six-year vet is an unrestricted free agent and will probably end up somewhere else. However, the seventh round draft pick allowed 46 QB pressures and was often beaten badly.

WalterFootball.com ranked Wagner as the 35th best free agent of 2017 and the second best free agent offensive tackle behind Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth. The site noted that Wagner looked lost replacing Michael Oher in 2013, but has developed nicely since then. Since becoming the full-time starter in 2014, Wagner’s only missed three starts. Likewise, Pro Football Focus gave Wagner the second highest grade among free offensive tackles, ranking him as the 36th best free agent.

Baltimore Beatdown reported that Wagner “rebuffed” the Ravens’ initial offer, but he still remains a top priority. The former fifth-round draft pick out of Wisconsin made more than $1.7 million in the last season of his rookie contract, but has an estimated market value of $6.9 million per year.

Spotrac determined Wagner should receive a four-year deal worth $27.7 million. That kind of contract would be comparable to those of Ryan Schraeder, Lane Johnson, Bryan Bulaga, and Mitchell Schwartz.

Other tackles to consider:  Riley Reiff – Detroit Lions, Christopher Hubbard – Pittsburgh Steelers (RFA), Cameron Fleming – New England Patriots (RFA), Menelik Watson – Oakland Raiders

Kevin Zeitler Cincinnati Bengals

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1. Kevin Zeitler, RG – Cincinnati Bengals

John Jerry ranks as the 11th best free agent guard of 2017 by WalterFootball.com and he earned a 78.2 grade from Pro Football Focus this past season. He played more than 99 percent of the offense’s snaps for the Giants in 2016 and was the NFL’s 24th most valuable guard out of 64. In comparison, Justin Pugh was 13th.

If you’re a Bengals fan or someone who follows the AFC North or even an offensive lineman aficionado, you know all about Kevin Zeitler. But, to most football fans, the name probably doesn’t ring a bell. Hence, his placement on this underrated list and not the big names countdown.

Zeitler is the ninth best free agent of 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. He has the highest PFF grade of any free agent guard. WalterFootball.com ranked Zeitler as the third best free agent of 2017, calling him “one of the jewels of the 2017 NFL free agency class.”

Spotrac estimates that Zeitler will have a market value of $11.62 million per year with a five-year deal worth $58 million. That level contract is comparable to those of Brandon Brooks, Kelechi Osemele, and Kyle Long. Odds are Zeitler’s too rich for Big Blue’s blood, plus the Bengals have more space under the cap to make offers. T.J. Lang and Larry Warford are much more affordable.

Other guards to consider: Larry Warford – Detroit Lions, T.J. Lang – Green Bay Packers

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