BOCA RATON, Fla. — Before John Mara signed off on the Giants’ three free-agency splurges last week, he asked each player one simple question: Are you worth it?
“They all told me they were,” the team’s co-owner said with a grin Sunday, the day before the NFL’s annual meetings begin.
He smiled because saying it and proving it are two different things. And after one of the busiest and most expensive free-agency periods in franchise history — the Giants spent more in guaranteed money on the opening day of the market than in the previous five years combined — Mara knows there still is work to do.
“There are still some players we’re looking at, obviously at a lower level in terms of compensation,” Mara said. “But I still think we have some holes to fill. I think we’d like to have another offensive lineman somewhere down the line, another corner, another receiver. There are still players we’re looking at. We may have to wait until the draft if [the right players] aren’t there in free agency.”
Mara said the Giants went into free agency with three big targets and hoped to land two of them. They wound up with all three: defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. They also re-signed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, bringing the tab on that 24-hour period to more than $200 million.
“We felt like we had to do it,” Mara said. “We had the cap room to do it, we had some big holes to fill, and fortunately we had the three top guys, at least according to how we had them rated, at their positions. It’s not something you want to do every year, but you have to pick your spots, and this was our spot.”
Asked if this is the last big push of the championship window with Eli Manning as quarterback, Mara did not answer directly. “I certainly don’t see being this aggressive next year,” he said.
He might not have seen it this year, either, until it happened.
“The three guys were a little more expensive than I thought they would be originally, but they’re all young and they’re all healthy, and they fulfill needs,” he said. “To me, it was not a tough decision . . . My instructions to [the front office] were that I don’t care how much it costs, just make it the right guys. Guys who are healthy and are burning to win a Super Bowl and are not just going to be happy to collect a check and sit back. I think we accomplished that, but we’ll see.”
Not all of the answers are coming from the outside. Mara and the Giants are counting on a number of players to rebound from injuries or take significant steps in their development. Young safeties Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson and Mykelle Thomson vied for a starting job last summer before suffering season-ending injuries. Mara said he’d like to see one of them emerge as a starter. He said he wants Bobby Hart to become “a good offensive lineman” and help stabilize the right side.
He also said the team’s medical staff is optimistic about the status of Pierre-Paul and wide receiver Victor Cruz.
“We’re not there yet,” Mara said. “Once you start to think that you are, you run into trouble. And after the last three years that we had, you can’t assume that.”
Rule changes coming. Mara, a member of the Competition Committee, said he believes all the rules proposals it submitted will pass this week. One would mandate ejection if a player commits two unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in a game. The owners also are expected to pass a measure that would keep the line of scrimmage for extra-point kicks at the 15-yard line instead of the 2. Last year, owners approved on a one-year basis a rule spotting them at the 15.