Larry Donnell has been cleared by the Giants’ medical staff and signed his restricted free agent contract with the team on Tuesday. After suffering a neck injury last season and missing the final eight games, it was unclear whether Donnell would be able to return to the NFL and compete at tight end for the Giants this summer.
“Larry had the neck injury and he’s coming back and hopefully he’ll be able to continue to play,” Giants GM Jerry Reese said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, comments many interpreted to shed doubts about Donnell’s recovery.
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Donnell has the most experience among the tight end candidates for the Giants. In three seasons he has 95 catches for 877 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season he had 29 catches for 223 yards and two TDs before his injury.
The contract means Donnell will be given a chance to compete for a roster spot with a crop of young players, including Will Tye, who emerged in the offense as a rookie in Donnell’s absence last season. Tye, a Stony Brook University product, had 42 catches for 464 yards and three touchdowns.
Tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride was impressed at the development of Tye, who was undrafted, did not make the team out of training camp, and was only added to the active roster in Week 4.
“I thought he did some good things, there is no doubt about it,” Gilbride said earlier this month. “I was proud of the approach that he took.”
Asked about Tye’s ceiling in the NFL, Gilbride said it was hard for him to answer.
“There are certainly jobs he can execute within the league,” he said. “I’ll say this: He started a number of games for us last year and did a good job.”
Also competing will be Jerome Cunningham and Matt LaCosse. The Giants also added free-agent fullback Will Johnson this offseason, and he can play H-back or tight end as well.