What the Giants need to do to regain form
The Giants will keep two of their most important decision-makers in place this offseason, bringing coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese back for 2015. But that doesn't mean everything will stay the same. Nor does it mean it should.
There will be plenty of changes that take place before the Giants open training camp sometime in late July. Here are five burning issues that the Giants need to resolve in the next 61/2 months to get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence:
WILL JASON PIERRE-PAUL BE BACK?
The Giants have to decide if his nine sacks in the final five games of the season were inflated numbers in a contract push or a sign that the "real JPP" they have been waiting for since he had back surgery in the spring of 2013 has returned on a full-time basis.
One way to find out would be to use the franchise tag, which John Mara hinted might be one of the tools in the Giants' arsenal. That would be a one-year deal for about $14 million (the final numbers will be decided shortly after the season), although it could just be a placeholder while a multiyear deal is hammered out.
Pierre-Paul has said he wants to remain with the Giants, but he has not indicated he will do so for a discounted price. The Giants have three choices: Give him one more prove-it year under the tag and potentially overpay (the deadline for that is March 2); sign him to a multiyear deal and hope he can continue to produce as he did in the last month, or let him walk.
All three have their potential merits, although the last one is least likely after Mara said he'd be surprised if Pierre-Paul is not a Giant next year.
WHAT ABOUT ANTREL ROLLE?
He's a free agent, too, but he's in a very different situation. While JPP just turned 26 and could have another six to eight productive years ahead of him, Rolle just turned 32 and his production dropped a bit in 2014.
The Giants have shown that they will not pad contracts to pay for leadership qualities -- look what happened with Justin Tuck last season -- so although Rolle has been a captain the last two seasons and one of the main reasons why the locker room never splintered during losing streaks of six and seven games, any offer the team makes will be based solely on his play.
Rolle has expressed a desire to stay with the Giants and see things through with the young talent on the roster. He still can play at a decent level, even if his Pro Bowl days might be behind him. Most likely it will be up to him whether he takes the offer the Giants make (which, like Tuck's, could be insulting) or decides to go elsewhere for a few more bucks.
HANDLE ELI MANNING'S CONTRACT?
They'll have to work out an extension for the franchise quarterback, who is entering the last year of his deal and is due to earn $17 million in base salary with a potential salary- cap hit of $19.5 million for 2015.
But how do you judge a two-time Super Bowl MVP who at 34 has never missed a game in his career but has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons? How do you pay a quarterback who put up career bests in most passing categories one year after putting up a lot of career worsts? And eventually age and injury have to start creeping into the equation, no?
"I don't think he's an old man, but he's not a baby anymore," Reese said this past week. "I do think he can still play at a high level. For how long? Who knows how long?"
People say they want Manning to retire as a Giant; this might be the contract that determines when that is.
VICTOR CRUZ BE READY
The good news is that the Giants don't need him to come back from his torn patellar tendon and be a number one receiver. They have another guy to do that now by the name of Odell Beckham Jr. But the daydreams of the two of them crisscrossing through secondaries, which allowed this past 6-10 season to sting a little less, still could be fantasies when the 2015 season begins. While Cruz has said he has no doubt he will return -- and be back at the same level -- he did suffer a very serious knee injury and the Giants have to be prepared for the possibility he won't.
"We are hopeful that he will come back and be the Victor Cruz that we like, but you never know," said Reese, who last year made provisions for life without David Wilson. "You've got to prepare as if, 'What if Victor Cruz doesn't come back?' If you are a personnel guy or a general manager, that is always in the back of your head. What if this guy doesn't come back and be the player that we think he is?"
GIANTS SELECT ANOTHER
LINEMAN HIGH IN THE DRAFT?
If they are following the plan used by the Cowboys to rebuild their protective wall, then yes.
The Giants have invested a lot on the offensive line in the past two offseasons, spending a first-round pick on Justin Pugh and a second-round pick on Weston Richburg and signing Geoff Schwartz as a free agent.
None of that paid off tremendously in 2014; Pugh was inconsistent, Schwartz was injured and played in only two games, and Richburg was a rookie. But if those three return and improve, Will Beatty does not regress as he did in 2013, and the Giants can add another talented young player out of college to the mix, they might be able to start seeing dividends.
What they lack is a road-grading run blocker, so look for them to take either a strong guard or a big right tackle (which could move Pugh to guard) in the first two rounds in April.
"We need to give [Manning] a little bit of help, particularly on the offensive line, I believe," Mara said.
The Giants have the ninth pick in the draft, the highest they have selected since 2004, when they acquired their quarterback. This year's draft could wind up being all about Manning, too -- protecting him, not trading for him.