Free agency might leave Giants with big holes to fill

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin answers

New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin answers a question during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. (Feb. 22, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Tom Coughlin's disdain for turnovers is well-documented. Fumbles, interceptions, muffs -- he has little tolerance for any of them. It turns out he is no fan of roster turnover, either. Which makes this offseason particularly difficult for him.

The Giants ended their 2012 regular season 10 weeks ago with 27 of their players entering some form of free agency. That's more than half of a 53-man roster. They've already worked out deals with a few, reworked some deals with others who were not set to hit the open market and, as of Sunday, have 21 free agents remaining, including 17 who are unrestricted.

All of which may lead to the biggest roster upheaval in Coughlin's tenure with Giants.

"I'd love to wrap my arms around everybody and keep them here and we would go ahead and continue as hard as we can go," he said last week while promoting his new book. "But it just doesn't work that way. It's unfortunate, but there is a change and it is inevitable and it is part of our business today."

It was only 14 months ago that Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants into the Super Bowl, Chase Blackburn intercepted a long pass, Victor Cruz salsaed on the biggest stage of his career and Kenny Phillips batted away a last-second pass to seal the championship. Now it's possible that none of them will be with the team much longer.

Some of the even more iconic players of the Super Bowl XLVI team -- Mario Manningham, Ahmad Bradshaw -- already have moved on. But as 2013's free-agency period comes to a boil in the coming days and weeks, the Giants likely will say goodbye to some of the most significant players in their most recent successes. They'll be losing a lot of rings from their roster.

The one they have the most control of is Cruz, and he might be the most important. After only three years in the league, Cruz is a restricted free agent. The Giants have been working on-and-off toward a long-term deal with him for several months but might have to resort to placing a tender offer on him. It almost certainly would be a first-round tender that comes with a base salary of $2.878 million, but that would allow other teams to negotiate a contract with Cruz. The Giants would have an opportunity to match any offer or receive a first-round pick in compensation for losing him.

The Giants reportedly are one of five teams that has inquired about free agent wide receiver/kick returner Joshua Cribbs of the Browns, perhaps as a way to bolster their receiving depth if Cruz bolts.

Unrestricted free agents such as Martellus Bennett, Domenik Hixon, Phillips and Blackburn seem likely to sign elsewhere despite offers from the Giants. Others, such as guard Kevin Boothe, seem close to finalizing a deal to return. Although the Giants are very limited in dealing with other teams' free agents during this new "no-go-tiation" period before the official start of free agency Tuesday, they are free to continue working on deals with their own players.

The ones who leave will be replaced, either through the same free-agency apparatus in which they left or the draft. The Giants don't have a lot of money available under the salary cap -- best estimates hover around $10 million -- and the headlines they generate during free agency are expected to be more about the goings than the comings. But they should be able to find some decent players in a very large pool of talent.

"I'm confident what changes have occurred and will occur will be supplemented by players, either through free agency or the draft, who will come into our program, will be good citizens, will have character and will want to win and will want to pay the price to win," Coughlin said. "It may take us a little time to get it all on the same page and there's not much time anymore, but I have to believe we'll be fine."

He has no choice.

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