Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the New York Giants, who are looking to rebound from a disastrous 2017 season:

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Eli Manning, QB: $22,200,000
  2. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE: $17,500,000
  3. Olivier Vernon, DE: $17,000,000
  4. Janoris Jenkins, CB: $13,000,000
  5. Damon Harrison, DT: $9,600,000
  6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB: $8,500,000
  7. Odell Beckham Jr., WR: $8,459,000
  8. Brandon Marshall, WR: $6,156,250
  9. Ereck Flowers, T: $4,579,219
  10. Eli Apple, CB: $4,132,436

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $22,955,068
  • Second pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for T Ereck Flowers

Three Needs:

1. Identify the quarterback of the future. Not long ago, it seemed like a sure thing that Eli Manning was a goner in New York. But, things move quickly in the greater NYC area. Owner John Mara wants Manning back in the fold. Manning wants to stay too, despite his temporary demotion late in the season. New GM Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur have also said that they intend to have Eli under center in 2018. All signs are pointing to the two-time Super Bowl champ being back in blue, but the Giants surely know that this is the beginning of the end for Manning. 

This year’s free agent quarterback market is stronger than any in recent memory, but the Giants will not be among the teams to make a play for Kirk Cousins, nor will they try and coax Drew Brees to leave New Orleans (it’s not likely that Brees will hit the open market anyway). Manning will eat up $22MM of the salary cap and there’s no realistic scenario in which the Giants can keep him on board as an extraordinarily expensive backup. Even if they could swing it somehow, Manning would object and the Giants faithful would burn the Meadowlands to the ground.

The Giants are expected to use the No. 2 overall pick on one of this year’s top quarterbacks. Unless the Browns go all-in and sign Kirk Cousins in free agency, they’ll probably see one of those QBs come off the board before they are called to the podium.

Although new Browns GM John Dorsey says that he’ll be considering a pool of four or five players at No. 1, most believe that Cleveland will select either USC star Sam Darnold or UCLA standout Josh Rosen. As most mock drafts will tell you, the common belief is that the Browns will take Darnold, who is believed to be the safer choice despite throwing 13 interceptions in 2017.

Does that mean the Giants will take Rosen? Probably, but that’s far from definite. Rosen’s outspoken personality would work better in New York than in most markets, but he too had some ill-timed interceptions and the shoulder injury that shut him down in 2016 is still a concern. How about Wyoming’s Josh Allen? Allen’s decision making and accuracy has been questioned, but he’s an impressive athlete for a 6’5″ QB and his arm strength is top notch. You may also hear some Baker Mayfield talk between now and April, but we’d be surprised if the Giants reached for him this early.

2. Remake the offensive line. The Giants offense struggled in large part because of the rash of injuries to its wide receiver core and, perhaps, some iffy performances from Manning, but the offensive line was downright porous. In fact, it was a desire to fix the Giants’ Swiss cheese O-Line that broke the ice between Shurmur and Gettleman. 

As soon as he said, ‘Everything starts with the offensive line,’“said Shurmur when asked when the conversation between him and the GM really clicked (via NJ.com). “There’s a great example of that: What we went through in Minnesota. We didn’t change the oil; we changed the transmission. We got two free agent offensive linemen, we drafted a center that played like a veteran, and we transformed the offensive line that helped us do the things (to) win 14 games.”

That offensive line transformation in Minnesota helped turn Case Keenum from a career journeyman to a top 10 quarterback in an instant. It started in free agency when the Vikings signed Riley Reiff (five-year, $58.75MM deal with $26.3MM guaranteed) and Mike Remmers (five-year, $30MM deal with $10.5MM guaranteed). Then, in the draft, they traded up in the third round to land eventual starting center Pat Elflein. The revamp didn’t come easy or cheap, but it made a world of difference for the Vikings.

Last year, the Giants’ were 21st in the NFL in sacks allowed (34) and 26th in rushing yards per game (86.6). They must improve in both areas, and that can only be achieved with a serious shakeup.

Gettleman already got the party started in December when he cut starting right tackle Bobby Hart. You can expect much more turnover, particularly with a pair of injury-prone linemen – center Weston Richburg and swing tackle Justin Pugh – headed towards free agency. Former first-round pick Ereck Flowers figures to remain, but the Giants probably won’t bank on him being their starting left tackle after another iffy season.

This year’s free agent tackle class is headlined by a trio of tackles from the AFC East: Ju’Wuan James (Dolphins), Nate Solder (Patriots), and Cameron Fleming (Patriots). After that, there’s a noticeable dip in quality. Steelers lineman Chris Hubbard may be the only other starting quality available tackle.

If the Giants want to hit a home run on the interior line, they could make a run at Panthers free agent Andrew Norwell. The guard, 27 in October, is coming off of a career year in which he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 ranked guard, putting him ahead of big names such as Josh Sitton, Joel Bitonio, Rodger Saffold, Ron Leary, Kevin Zeitler, and Richie Incognito. Only Zack Martin and David DeCastro placed ahead of Norwell, and that may give you an idea of the kind of money the Giants would have to shell out for him on the open market. Gettleman, who originally signed Norwell as an undrafted free agent when he was the Panthers’ GM, could break the bank to make it happen. When it comes to the top linemen, they’ll be competing with other clubs in win-now mode looking for offensive line help, including the Cardinals and Bengals.

There’s virtually no chance of the Giants using their No. 2 overall pick on a lineman (see: offseason need #1), but gems could be found in the later rounds. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson and Texas tackle Connor Williams will long gone by the time the Giants’ next turn comes up at No. 34 overall, but tackles Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame), Orlando Brown (Oklahoma), Chukwuma Okorafor (Western Michigan), and Kolton Miller (UCLA) could be in play.

3. Add a running back. Orleans Darkwa was the Giants’ lead rusher this year and you may be surprised to learn that he had career highs in yards per carry (4.4), catches (19), and receiving yards (116). But, the soon-to-be 26-year-old is scheduled for free agency and there’s no guarantee that the new regime will look to keep him. Ditto for third down back Shane Vereen. Darkwa seems more likely to stay on board than Vereen, but either way there’s little chance of both returning. That opens up the door for a new tailback and there are a few interesting ones who could be available.

Patriots tailback Dion Lewis stayed healthy in 2017 and averaged 5.0 yards per carry with 32 catches for 214 yards.

Isaiah Crowell and Carlos Hyde both played well last year despite being a part of atrocious offenses. Father time is undefeated, but the Giants could sign Frank Core to a front-loaded deal to see if he can continue his remarkable run past his 35th birthday. Jerick McKinnon could add some serious athleticism and pass-catching acumen to the backfield, but the Giants will have to find someone else to tote the rock ~13 times per game.

If the Giants go QB at No. 2 like we expect, Penn State star Saquon Barkley won’t be an option for them. Derrius Guice (LSU), Ronald Jones II (USC), and Damien Harris (Alabama) all seem slated for the first round, but Kerryon Johnson (Auburn) could slip to them at No. 34, depending on how the combines shake out. A few weeks ago, we would have mentioned Georgia running back Sony Michel as a diamond in the rough, but he has gone from an under-the-radar find to a first round prospect, as Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports recently detailed.

This article first appeared on Pro Football Rumors and was syndicated with permission.

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