The Giants were willing to gamble that Jason Pierre-Paul had shown enough last year in his first full season since suffering a traumatic fireworks injury to his right hand, and they showed him the money with a four-year, $62-million contract extension in March.
Worth it? Not exactly.
Pierre-Paul is still not up to the standards he established early in his career, when he was a major part of the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl run with 16 ½ sacks and looked like he could develop into one of the league’s elite pass rushers. He has 6 ½ sacks — three in one game — and just 42 tackles. Not awful numbers, but certainly not the kind of production befitting a player with a contract that includes $40 million in guaranteed money.
And now there are complications with his hand. After playing most of the year with a specially fit glove on his right hand, which sustained severe damage in the fireworks accident on July 4, 2015, he must now wear a club and thus can’t grab defenders at all with that hand. He missed practice Thursday, although interim head coach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he hopes Pierre-Paul can play Sunday at Arizona.
“Hopefully we get him out here [Friday], get him moving around and feel good about playing him on Sunday,” Spagnuolo said.
But Spagnuolo allows that there is concern, especially now that Pierre-Paul must use the club, something he had to play with before this year and proved to be a limiting factor in his performance.
“I would think it would be tougher to play with a club because you can’t grab,” Spagnuolo said. “So you lose one too in the pass rush, or even in the run game.”
For all practical purposes, Pierre-Paul is a one-handed pass rusher.
“We’ve tried to put him on certain sides to help that,” Spagnuolo said. “Now I will say this — he can stick that club in there and do some things with it and play football. So that’s what we’re hoping.”
Pierre-Paul wasn’t available for comment Thursday, but has previously downplayed the need to play with the club.
Is the hand something the Giants need to worry about long-term?
“I don’t know that I can answer that,” said Spagnuolo, who said he hasn’t discussed any long-term implications of Pierre-Paul’s hand. “He’s adjusted to it. Usually, you want to play your hands inside [the chest area of the opposing defender]. The inside guy wins. We always talk about that. There’s probably something to be said for that.”
Despite his limitations, Pierre-Paul is still an above-average player who can be a positive presence for a defense that needs all the help it can get. But with the reemergence of the club, it’s anyone’s guess whether Pierre-Paul will ever be close to the same player he once was, and whether the Giants can count on him to be the kind of playmaker they need when they return next season for what they hope will be a bounce-back year after a dismal run in 2017.
And even if he’s not close to 100 percent, Pierre-Paul is still setting an example for his teammates.
“He’s been banged-up and he’s still out here playing,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. “It’s a credit to him. Obviously, he’s been to the [Super Bowl] mountain top, and he knows what it’s like to be down low [this season]. I tip my hat to him, because he’s still out there week-in and week-out trying hard, even though you can see that he’s hurting.”
Harrison said Pierre-Paul never uses the club as an excuse.
“He’s a trooper with that,” Harrison said. “He doesn’t blame anything on the hand. He’s still throwing people around with that club. It’s amazing. He doesn’t let it handicap him.”
But it’s clearly not helping, either. And Pierre-Paul is clearly not the player he once was. In fact, he may never be again.