How can the New York Giants upgrade their secondary?

New York Jets, Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans

The New York Giants pass defense was well documented as being one of the worst in the league last season.  The Giants secondary gave up more than 4,200 passing yards on the season (28th overall) and 7.1 yards per pass attempt (29th overall).  New York must upgrade their pass defense, but according to ESPN’s Jordan Raanan, those upgrades will not come from spending big in the cornerback market in free agency.

How will the New York Giants improve their pass defense?

Much of the headaches in the pass defense could be attributed to the lack of experience in the secondary.  Only three of the cornerbacks that saw impactful snap counts for the Giants defense last season had any playing time before last season.  Only one, Janoris Jenkins, started more than ten games heading into 2019. 

Many believe that the New York Giants may look at the top of the 2020 NFL Draft to help upgrade the cornerback position, but is adding more inexperience a good move?  Maybe. Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah seems to have the talent. However, adding a veteran presence to replace Janoris Jenkins looks to be the better move for New York.

If the rumors are true and the Giants won’t spend big on the cornerback market in free agency, who does that leave?  It most certainly rules out Byron Jones, assuming he doesn’t get an extension from Dallas. Jones will be one of the most highly sought free agents on the market and will likely get paid as such.  

Chris Harris, Jr., Logan Ryan, Bradley Roby, and Jimmy Smith are all free agents that made at or above $10 million per year on average.  However, is $10 million the bar for the Giants? Also, was their performance or age going to impact their number? I wouldn’t rule these names out like I would with Jones, but they may be just outside where New York is willing to go for the position.

So, who could the Giants target in free agency?

Former first-round selection for the Minnesota Vikings, Trae Waynes found himself not having an excellent coverage year in 2019.  His speed is his top trait, and he consistently has been good as a run defender. Unfortunately, his coverage ability has not been as consistent.  He shows flashes, but in the last four seasons has given up 16 touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard is another intriguing name for New York to keep an eye on.  He’s a solid cornerback, particularly in the slot, but has not been the most durable. With only one full season in the last six, health should undoubtedly be a concern for the Giants.  

I am sure the Giants would love to take Byron Jones away from a divisional rival and excel.  However, if the cost is an issue, there may be another option. Enter former Eagle Ronald Darby. Darby had an extremely forgetful 2019 season, posting an abysmal 45.9 grade with PFF.  He has battled injuries throughout his career and was put on injured reserve in December for a hip injury. Before 2019, Darby had been a very reliable starter, when healthy. Could he return to that form?

What is the Giants answer at improving the pass defense?

All of these options are risky.  Spend less money on inconsistent talent or durability concerns.  This has been the gamble that has hurt the New York Giants in other recent free agency moves.  The best way to help an inexperienced pass defense is to upgrade the pass rush. It’s been the story for the Giants all along, and that will not change.  

Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett, and Kyle Van Noy could all be and should be considerations for the Giants.  The Chase Young dream is unlikely. Isaiah Simmons is versatile and talented, but will that translate to a consistent threat in disrupting the quarterback?  Trading back and somehow taking a K’Lavon Chaisson, AJ Epenesa, or any of the other next tier rookie edge defenders is an option. Whatever the case, if the Giants want to improve the pass defense without spending big in free agency, the best way to do that is to spend big in getting to the quarterback.

New York Giants: Top Three Edge Rushers To Target In Free Agency

New York Giants, Yannick Ngakoue

Free agency is just around the corner. In March, each of the thirty-two NFL teams will be competing with each other to sign free agents on the open market. The New York Giants are estimated by Spotrac to have over $69 million in cap space before they start trimming the fat and cutting veteran contracts. They can be big-spenders in free agency if they want to be.

The Giants have a need at one of the sport’s most premium positions. Pass-rushers always get paid the big bucks in free agency because they have such a great impact on the game. Luckily for the Giants, the 2020 free agents class is loaded with big-name pass rushers. If the Giants break the bank, they could turn this position of weakness into a position of strength.

Jadeveon Clowney

The top free-agent edge rusher in 2020 is Jadeveon Clowney. The former number-one-overall pick was traded to the Seattle Seahawks this year. It is very possible that Clowney’s stint in the Emerald City will only last one year.

Jadeveon Clowney has never had a season with double-digit sacks. However, he is still regarded as one of the NFL’s most disruptive pass-rushers. Clowney is constantly in the face of the quarterback. He had 48 pressures in 2018 and 30 pressures in 2019.

Jadeveon is also a dependable player. He will show up and perform week-in and week-out. He has played over 800 snaps in each of the last three years (PFF). Clowney is also one of the best run-defending edge rushers in the league. If the Giants want to improve both their run defense and their pass-rush, Clowney is their best option. However, he will not come cheap.

According to Spotrac, Jadeveon Clowney has an estimated market value of $20 million on average annually. This would make him one of the highest-paid players at his position. It might be hard for the Giants to commit that amount of money to a player that has a career-high of 9 sacks.

Shaquil Barrett

Shaquil Barrett is another player that switched team in 2019. Barrett is a stud young pass-rusher that started his career in Denver and spent five years there before signing a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019.

Barrett signed a one-year “prove-it” deal last offseason worth $5 million. He definitely proved himself worthy of a higher salary this season and is bound to get paid big-time in 2020. Shaquil led the NFL this season with 19.5 sacks. He was constantly getting to the quarterback with 51 pressures.

The 27-year-old edge rusher is going to get a massive deal this offseason, though not as expensive as Clowney’s. Shaquil Barrett has an estimated market value of $15.7 million on average annually (Spotrac). This is a more competitively-priced contract. If Barrett can uphold his 2019 production standards then this salary will be well worth it. Unfortunately, it seems like Barrett plans on staying with the Buccaneers (Sports Illustrated).

Yannick Ngakoue

The Jacksonville Jaguars have made it clear that resigning stud edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue is their “number one priority.” However, the two sides have not come close to making a deal. Last offseason, Ngakoue held out of training camp in hopes of a contract extension. The two sides have not been able to agree on a deal, which will lead to Yannick testing the market in 2020.

Through 4 seasons, Ngakoue has totaled 37.5 sacks. He has not had a single season in his career with less than 8 sacks, hitting that number in all 4 seasons including a career-high 12 sacks in 2017. Additionally, Ngakoue has totaled 122 combined tackles over 4 years.

At only 24 years-old, Yannick Ngakoue would be a vital building block for the future of the Giants’ future. However, Yannick’s talents would not come cheap. The pass-rusher has an estimated market value of $17.1 million on average annually, according to Spotrac.

New York Giants: Potential Pass Rushing Targets In The 2019 Free Agent Class

New York Giants, Ezekiel Ansah

The New York Giants have been a consistently poor pass rushing team in recent years. In 2017, the Giants had only 27 sacks. In 2018, they improved slightly to 30 sacks. This ranked 31st in the NFL in 2018. The Giants have are 8-24 in the last two seasons, and the lack of pass rush is a big reason why. In order to win more games in the future, the Giants will need to get better at rushing the passer.

Free Agents:

Luckily for the Giants, the 2019 free agent class is full of quality pass rushers. There are plenty of good edge rushers set to hit the open market this offseason, as well as interior pass rushers. Three edge defenders the Giants should pay attention to in free agency are Shaquil Barrett, Ezekiel Ansah, and Za’Darius Smith.

Shaquil Barrett was listed on Pro Football Focus as one of the top ten under the radar free agents in 2019. Barrett has had a rocky career in Denver. He became a starter in 2017 and proved to be an above-average pass rusher with a 79.4 pass-rushing grade, but the Broncos then drafted his replacement in 2018 with Bradley Chubb. Barrett recorded 43 pressures in 2017.

In 2018, Barrett only played 276 snaps and mustered out three sacks in his limited playing time. Shaquil has never gotten a fair chance to be a starter in the NFL, but he has a lot of potential. Barrett said recently that he wants to be a starter, hinting he will leave in free agency this offseason. This talented pass rusher is only 26 years old, meaning he has a lot of time to progress as a player. His lack of experience could make him a cheap option in free agency, with an estimated market value of $7.4 million annually. The Giants should consider taking a chance on Shaquil Barrett.

Ezekiel Ansah is high end free agent who will cost a lot more than Barrett if the Giants want to sign him. Ansah has an estimated market value of $13.2 million annually. Ezekiel was drafted by the Lions in 2013 and has since established himself as a top pass rusher in the NFL, when healthy.

Unfortunately, the 30 year old has been dealing with an injury for a while now, ending up on injured reserve in 2018. Ansah is aging and the Lions are looking to get younger. In 2017, Ansah was healthy and recorded a high total of 12 sacks. Whatever team signs him this offseason will be hoping to get 2017 production out of Ansah in the future.

Finally, the Ravens’ young edge defender Za’Darius Smith will be looking for a pay day in 2019. Since it is such a deep free agents class of edge defenders, Za’Darius will probably be an affordable player on the market. He too was listed as one of Pro Football Focus’ top ten under the radar free agents, coming in at number one. Smith only started 8 games this season, but he racked up 8.5 sacks. On top of that, Smith totaled 60 pressures. If the Giants can get a good deal on the 26 year old Za’Darius Smith, he could be a solid defensive building block for years to come.

Other big name players have expiring contracts this offseason but are not expected to depart from their current teams. Players such as Demarcus Lawrence, Dee Ford, and Jadeveon Clowney are likely to receive the franchise tag. However, if they do not receive the franchise tag, they will be superstar players with big markets in free agency, and the Giants should be a part of their markets.