The New York Giants enter the 2016 offseason with needs on both sides of the ball. After nearly setting a record for allowing the most passing yardage in NFL history, fixing the pass defense is the top priority. There are more building blocks to work off of on the offensive side of the ball, but finding another weapon outside of Odell Beckham Jr. for Eli Manning is necessary. Without a head coach in place, the types of players the Giants will need could change. However, regardless of what scheme is in place, there are several positions in need of an immediate upgrade. Let’s take a look.
There was not a single more glaring weakness on the Giants’ 2015 defense than at the safety position. Rookie Landon Collins and journeyman Brandon Meriweather started for most of the season before an injury to Meriweather gave way to mid-season free agent acquisition Craig Dahl. Collins struggled mightily until the Giants started using him to attack down and around the line of scrimmage, but throughout this process, the defense never found a solution to defend the deep half of the field. A safety who can cover the deep half is difficult to find in free agency or the draft — last offseason the Giants tried to woo New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty with a big contract offer. They will be wise to offer even more money if Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry hits the open market. The Giants need to target a deep safety, and preferably a veteran, given the level of inexperience currently present at the position.
2. Defensive End
With their top two defensive ends — Jason Pierre Paul and Robert Ayers — set to hit free agency, the Giants need to find several players who can consistently generate pressure off the edge. The Giants are hoping they can count on second year defensive end Owa Odighizuwa to make a major impact after injuries derailed his 2015 season, but outside of Odighuizuwa, the defensive end position is barren with pure pass rushers. Even if the Giants decide to re-sign Pierre-Paul and/or Ayers, you can never have too many pass rushers — or at least that’s the motto that helped breed the Giants’ two championship teams during the Eli Manning era.
3. Defensive Tackle
Interior pressure was another major issue for the Giants in 2015. Second year defensive tackle Jay Bromley never took the step forward that the coaches expected, and veteran Cullen Jenkins is coming to the end of the line as an interior presence. The Giants actually generated the most consistent pressure through the interior when they used fullback Nikita Whitlock at defensive tackle — he’s not a longterm solution. If the Giants stick with a 4-3 base scheme, they need to find a 3-technique defensive tackle built in the Geno Atkins mold — quick and explosive through the interior of an opposing offensive line.
With Victor Cruz’s salary cap number set to reach $8.5 million in 2016, he will most likely have to take a pay cut to remain with the Giants.
4. Wide Receiver
Entering the 2015 season, wide receiver was supposed to be one of the strongest positions on the Giants’ roster. Now, wide receiver can arguably be considered the biggest need on offense. Rueben Randle failed to build on his strong run to finish 2014, and if the Giants choose to re-sign him this offseason, it should be as nothing more than a reserve. Victor Cruz hasn’t played football in almost two years, and the Giants can save over $6 million in salary cap space by releasing him. It doesn’t seem like Cruz will be back at his current price. The Giants need to find a weapon to compliment Beckham — a big play receiver with the ability to win downfield and pull safety coverage makes the most sense. Keep an eye on free agent wide receivers Brian Quick and Marvin Jones.
5. Middle Linebacker
One of the biggest mistakes in the construction of the current Giants roster was the decision to re-sign middle linebacker Jon Beason to a three-year, $17 million contract during the 2014 offseason. That offseason, the Giants allowed now borderline all-pro defensive tackle Linval Joseph to bolt in free agency for similar guaranteed and annual money. Beason’s checkered injury history before signing the contract has not gone away since. He has missed 23-of-32 games since signing, and heading into his age-31 season, Beason can’t be counted to stay healthy in a large role. The Giants will save over $5 million in salary cap space by releasing Beason, but they can’t rely on Jasper Brinkley or Uani ‘Unga to play a major role in the middle again in 2016.
*All salary cap information comes from OverTheCap.com
Dan Schneier writes about the NFL for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL.