With the end of the 2016 season comes the start of 2017. The Giants will get to work quickly on improving things they did well, fixing the things they did not do well and figuring out what the team will look like eight months from now when it takes the field for the season opener. Here are five pressing matters they will need to address as they head into the offseason:
WILL JPP BE BACK? The defensive end was on the verge of turning a corner in his first full season back after last year’s fireworks accident, registering 5 1⁄2 sacks in his final two full games before suffering a groin injury and requiring surgery to fix a core muscle after the Week 13 game against the Steelers. He was back on a one-year prove-it deal, so the question is: Did he? Are the Giants going to make him a multiyear offer to keep him in blue or will they allow him to hit the market as a top-tier pass rusher? (Some other team probably would top their offer.) They could always put the franchise tag on him again if they want. He’s still only 28 years old, so it could be worth it. The Giants also have a number of other pending free agents to consider, but the only other starter-level player is Johnathan Hankins. Will they pay him or let him walk away and potentially become the next Linval Joseph? If they do keep him, how much do they pay their second-best defensive tackle?
HAS VICTOR CRUZ PLAYED HIS LAST GAME FOR THE GIANTS? The wide receiver said after Sunday’s loss to the Packers that he hopes not, but for that to happen, his contract will have to be adjusted to better reflect his role in the offense. Cruz’s base salaries for 2017 and 2018 are $6.4 million and $7.4 million, respectively. For a third receiver who catches one or two passes a game, that’s a lot. Cutting Cruz would save the Giants $7.5 million in cap space. The Giants also have to decide what they will do with some other players who, while under contract, might not be back. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is due $6.48 million in 2017 and they can save $4.5 million against the cap by cutting him. Cutting running back Shane Vereen would save them $3.75 million. And while the savings from cutting running back Rashad Jennings might not be significant ($2.5 million), if the Giants think Paul Perkins will be their starter moving forward, they might want to part ways with the 31-year-old.
WHO WILL BE THE LEFT TACKLE? Ereck Flowers struggled in his second year as the starter there, and many point to his lack of development as one of the key reasons the Giants’ offense was unable to click. Flowers has always seemed better- suited to the right side, which might be the move the Giants make (they were reluctant to do so this past offseason when wooing potential veteran free agents for the offensive line). So who is available? Will the Giants try to find a cornerstone of their offensive line in the draft or in free agency? They also have to start thinking about how to keep guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg, clearly their best two interior players. Both are due to become free agents after the 2017 season.
WHAT HAPPENS POST-ELI? Four years ago, the Giants drafted Ryan Nassib with the goal of his never having to see significant playing time. Mission accomplished! Eli Manning has started 199 straight regular-season games (211 straight games, if you count postseason), and this year, no one other than Manning threw a pass for the Giants. Now Nassib is a free agent, and after a lackluster preseason experience with the starters and coming off elbow surgery, there seems to be little doubt that he won’t be back with the Giants next season. With Manning now 36 years old, it probably is time for the Giants to at least start thinking seriously about a line of succession. That could mean drafting a project — the next Nassib — in the spring, or bringing in one of the young but experienced free-agent quarterbacks who will be available in March. Either way, getting ready for Life Without Eli needs to start becoming a priority.
HOW CAN THE GIANTS HELP ODELL BECKHAM JR.? Did the trip to Miami affect Beckham’s play against the Packers? No. Was his attack on the kicking net in Week 3 really a distraction? No. Was his (reportedly) punching the wall at Lambeau, banging his head in Philadelphia, losing his pinkie ring in a strip club or crawling around the locker room in a wrestling mask the reason the Giants’ season is over? No. But they all add up to bad visuals, and if the Giants want Beckham to be the face of the franchise — for better or worse, he probably already is — they need to figure out a way to get through to him the social expectations that come with that role. Beckham’s emotions are what make him such a dynamic player on the field. The Giants need to do a better job of harnessing that raw passion in the right direction and focusing it on being a player who produces more big plays than back pages.