2017 NFL Free Agency: 5 Big-Name Targets for New York Giants

Nov 23, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) fires the crowd up against the St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2017 NFL free agency frenzy builds, here are the top five big-name free agent targets the New York Giants should consider signing.

Unlike the 2016 offseason, when the New York Giants handed out $200 million in contracts to free agents, there will be much less room under the salary cap for the Giants to sign big names in 2017.

That being said, the team freed up some space on Monday when they released Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings. Those cuts added around $10 million to their collective wallet, but it posed questions about the starting running back and third wide receiver positions.

Are those vacated slots still “glaring” needs or have they already been filled internally? Most Giants fans would agree Paul Perkins is capable of carrying the load in the backfield, but is Tavarres King (or Roger Lewis) the man to fill Victor Cruz’s cleats? A top-tier tight end could alleviate those concerns.

Even with the overhaul on defense in 2016, there’s still room for improvement and spots to fill. A career year from captain Jonathan Casillas didn’t exactly quell the mounting fears about the linebacking corps. Can the team retain Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins?

While the probability of a big name signing with Big Blue seems slim, here are five free agents would could fit the bill.

Oct 9, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy runs for a first down against New York Giants defender Andrew Adams in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports

Oct 9, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy runs for a first down against New York Giants defender Andrew Adams in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers/The Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports

5. Eddie Lacy, RB – Green Bay Packers

For some reason, experts feel the Giants have a glaring need at the running back position this offseason. That prognosis came even before the team released Rashad Jennings on February 13th. Didn’t 2016 rookie Paul Perkins show enough to convince them he earned the starting job when he averaged 4.1 yards per carry? Or maybe they forgot about Shane Vereen?

Vereen is now the top moneymaker in the Giants backfield, but is he a back who can handle a 20-carry per game workload? If not, did the Giants overpay for a pass-catching back? The team could release Vereen to add some more room under the salary cap, so they can land a top running back in free agency. However, are they willing to part with a runner who averaged almost five yards a rush?

Le’Veon Bell, the top free agent running back in 2017, will most likely receive the franchise tag from Pittsburgh. Given Bell’s history of suspensions and health issues, plus the fact Bell and the Steelers want to work out a deal, that means the next best thing is Eddie Lacy. Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy stated he’d love to have Lacy back, but reports indicated the heavy-set runner will hit the open market due to Ty Montgomery’s shift to the backfield.

So, why include Lacy on this list if the G-Men have Perkins and Vereen? Because Lacy will be a bargain. Spotrac listed his market value as $2.8 million per year and expects him to get a deal somewhat similar to those signed by Jennings, Mark Ingram, Bilal Powell, and Ryan Mathews. Lacy is only 26, so how could a two-year deal worth $6 million hurt? Consider him an insurance policy who can keep Perkins fresh. Think Earth, Wind, and Fire, 2.0.

Other big names to consider: Terrance West (RFA), Latavius Murray, Isaiah Crowell

Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) runs the ball against the New York Giants during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Giants won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 27, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (11) runs the ball against the New York Giants during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Giants won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

4. Terrelle Pryor, WR – Cleveland Browns

What a show Giants practices would be if the team were to sign Terrelle Pryor. Fans might recall how Giants starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins ripped Pryor following their Week 12 matchup. Pryor also got trashed by Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones when the artist formerly known as Pacman compared the Browns converted quarterback to a garbage can.

The issue—more so than the obvious clubhouse hostility—is that Pryor wants to stay in Cleveland and the Browns have a ton of money to keep him with an estimated $108 million under the salary cap in 2017. Spotrac lists Pryor’s market value at $8.9 million per year and expects the former Ohio State Buckeye to secure a contract like those of Travis Benjamin, Marvin Jones, Doug Baldwin, and Michael Crabtree.

All that aside, Pryor is the big body red zone wideout the Giants have been looking for ever since Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg. Pro Football Focus ranked Pryor at No. 20 free agent in this, noting he has “shown the ability to be a difference maker“.

Personally, Kenny Britt is the better fit, but is he considered a “big name?” Why Britt? Well, he’s from Bayonne, NJ (15 miles from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford) and went to Rutgers. A homecoming that could lead to a championship parade? Sounds good to me.

Other wide receivers to consider: Kenny Britt, Alshon Jeffery, Dontrelle Inman (RFA), Brandon LaFell, Michael Floyd

Dont'a Hightower New England Patriots

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) reacts after a tackle in the third quarter during Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dont’a Hightower, ILB – New England Patriots

The Giants haven’t started an above average player at middle linebacker consistently since Antonio Pierce. Fans thought the team got a steal with the 2013 trade for Jon Beason, but the former Carolina Panther couldn’t stay on the field. The front office brought in Keenan Robinson from Washington and Kelvin Sheppard from Miami, but neither graded favorably (44.5 and 38.7 respectively from Pro Football Focus).

Enter Dont’a Hightower. Pro Football Focus ranked the former first-round pick from Alabama as the seventh best defensive free agent of 2017, adding:

“No ILB rushes the passer more than Hightower… [his] run-stopping ability is great and he has excellent instincts on the field. Hightower isn’t a liability in coverage by any means…”

The soon-to-be sixth year pro does have trouble staying healthy as he’s missed three to four games per season the past few years. That will be the major sticking point for linebacker-poor teams like the Giants.

Is a terrific linebacker who only suits up for 75 percent of games worth an estimated $10.4 million per year? That’s the market value Spotrac has placed on Hightower. He’s expected to get a deal in the neighborhood of those made with Lavonte David, Luke Kuechly, Jamie Collins, and K.J. Wright. Not a bad class of tacklers.

Other inside linebackers to consider: Kiko Alonso – Miami Dolphins, Zach Brown – Buffalo Bills, Perry Riley – Oakland Raiders, Gerald Hodges – San Francisco 49ers, Korey Toomer – San Diego Chargers, Kevin Minter – Arizona Cardinals

Oct 9, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) celebrates his second quarter touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 9, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) celebrates his second quarter touchdown against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

2. Martellus Bennett, TE – New England Patriots

Reunited and it feels so good? Meh. Maybe. Excuse me for not jumping out of my jammies for the self-proclaimed “Black Unicorn,” but this isn’t Rob Gronkowski. The former New York Giant has been on just about everybody’s list of Big Blue’s best free agency fits. But, somehow it just doesn’t feel right.

In his lone season with the Giants in 2012, Bennett started all 16 games and finished with 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns. Since then, the only other Giants tight end to put up those kinds of numbers was Larry Donnell in 2014 when Victor Cruz went down for the season, Odell Beckham missed four games then got double-teamed, and Daniel Fells contracted MRSA in his injured foot.

Back in 2012, Bennett signed with the Giants for a one-year contract worth less than $2 million. Donnell made $1.67 million in 2016 and ended up with 15 receptions for 92 yards. So, who knows. Go figure. Donnell’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and it would be nuts if the Giants re-signed him.

The key differential between the two big tight ends is that Bennett can block. Pro Football Focus ranked Bennett as the 28th best free agent calling him “one of the league’s most talented TEs, capable of excellent work as a receiver and blocker.”

Bennett said he wants to stay with New England, but do the Patriots want to pay the price? Spotrac estimates Bennet’s market value to be in line with the deals given to Dennis Pitta, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, and Gary Barnidge. For sure, a mixed bag. Everyone says the tight end is the missing piece of the puzzle and it will probably cost the Giants around $18 million over three years. Did you just cringe? Because I just cringed.

Other tight ends to consider: Jared Cook – Green Bay Packers, Jack Doyle – Indianapolis Colts, Trey Burton – Philadelphia Eagles (RFA)

Nov 23, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) fires the crowd up against the St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 23, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) fires the crowd up against the St. Louis Rams during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

1. Melvin Ingram, OLB – Los Angeles Chargers

What, no Chandler Jones? Both Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians and President Michael Bidwill said they expect to franchise tag Jones if they can’t get a long-term deal done before March. If the Giants can’t come to terms with Jason Pierre-Paul, the next best “big name” among edge pass rushers would be Melvin Ingram.

Pro Football Focus ranked Ingram as the second best defensive free agent of 2017 and the fourth best free agent overall, adding:.

“Ingram finished the year ranked as the sixth-best edge defender in terms of PFF overall grade (88.1)… recording 72 total QB pressures over the season.”

However, for the Giants to pull this off, they would have to first cut ties with either (or both) J.T. Thomas and/or second leading tackler Jonathan Casillas. Then, the G-Men would have to give Ingram a contract similar to that of Olivier Vernon’s. Spotrac estimates a five-year deal worth around $86 million. The $17 million per year price tag would eat up about half of Big Blue’s salary cap for 2017 and could cause major headaches for other negotiations over the term of that contract.

On the other hand, pun intended, Jason Pierre-Paul could command approximately $14.6 million annually over the same timeframe. Both players will be 28 years old when the 2017 season starts. Ingram hasn’t missed a game the past two seasons on his way to collecting 18.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Pierre-Paul has been absent from the lineup for more than a quarter of contests the past four years and has averaged 5.6 sacks per season during that time.

As NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling points out, the Giants are expected to make a push for a long-term contract with JPP before he hits the market. Pro Football Focus has Pierre-Paul ranked as the seventh best available free agent. The Giants showed they can win big games without him, but needed him to win others.

Other outside linebackers to consider: Nick Perry, Jarvis Jones, Datone Jones, John Simon

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