The answers for the Giants’ defense may very well be in the Cards.
A number of players who excelled under current Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher during his time in Arizona are expected to be primary targets for Big Blue when free agency opens at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. One of them, safety Antoine Bethea, already has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Giants, a source confirmed. NFL Network was the first to report the agreement.
Bethea played under Bettcher with the Cardinals in 2017 and had five interceptions. He played all 16 games for the Cardinals last season and had three sacks and four passes defensed.
Bethea comes to a Giants team that does not have much in the way of safeties. The Giants did not use a franchise tag to keep Landon Collins on the roster for 2019, and the three-time Pro Bowler is expected to sign a monster deal with the Redskins on Wednesday. Bethea, 34, is almost a decade older than Collins. But he has experience playing both strong and free safety and has shown few signs of age slowing down his play or production. He’s played in at least 14 games in all but one of his 13 NFL seasons, beginning with the Colts as a sixth-rounder in 2006.
The Giants still will need more help at safety. The only other established players on the roster at that position are Michael Thomas and Sean Chandler. But they also need help at most places on their defense and Bettcher’s history could help in those free-agency searches as well.
Edge-rusher Markus Golden had his best seasons under Bettcher and his 3-4 scheme, then was miscast as the team switched to a 4-3 style last season. Golden had 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2016. He tore his ACL in 2017 and returned to play in 2018 when he had only 2.5 sacks.
One Cardinal did fly away from the Giants. They were keen on signing inside linebacker Deone Bucannon, who was the original “moneybacker” for Bettcher in Arizona, a role the Giants struggled to fill last season. He reportedly agreed to sign with the Bucs, which reunites him with former Arizona coaches Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles there.
The Giants have two other players already on their defense who played under Bettcher in Arizona: linebacker Kareem Martin and defensive lineman Josh Mauro.
Penny signs. Fullback Eli Penny, an exclusive rights free agent, signed his tender with the Giants on Tuesday. He’ll return as a lead blocker for Saquon Barkley and a potential asset in the short-yardage and passing game as well. Penny finished last season with seven rushing attempts for 25 yards and eight receptions for 50 yards. He had a season-high five carries in the victory against the Redskins on Dec. 9, when he also had a season-long 16-yard catch.