But with a return to football comes an abrupt and intensely condensed free agency period. For the Giants, many current players (on the roster in 2010) are not far from certain to return. TE Kevin Boss and HB Ahmad Bradshaw should be relatively easy to woo back into a blue jersey whenever signings are sanctioned. Equally likely is the departure of veteran DT Barry Cofield. Cofield’s talent is certainly welcome, but his price tag may just be deemed expendable due to the arrival of rookie Marvin Austin.
A handful of expected, and likely unexpected, free agent targets from other organizations are sure to hear from Jerry Reese shortly. One or more of these targets could very likely be a wide receiver.
On paper, it would appear that of all the roster positions, the least lacking in depth is the receiving corps. Barring injury, the squad already contains four locks to make the roster…and no that does not include Steve Smith.
It has been well documented that Smith’s late season injury last December can take up to and possibly over a year to fully mend. So while Domenik Hixon is currently 13 months removed from his ACL tear, Smith is only 8 months into the healing process.
Simply put, Eli Mannning’s favorite target and argubably the team’s best possession receiver will at the very least be significantly limited in 2011. While he isn’t the home run hitting, big play option (That honor is currently shared by Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham), Smith takes on a vital role in the passing game. When he isn’t drawing coverage, he’s open for a solid gain or first down. When he has the opportunity to make a break downfield, he has sure hands.
While I don’t think Smith will leave or be released, the Giants will need to plan for his absence. What direction should the team go in? There will likely be several capable receivers hitting the open market once a CBA deal is reached. Many feel that the cross-town rival Jets will have to let either Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards go elsewhere. The Giants aren’t likely to bat an eyelash at Holmes due to his past off-field issues, but Edwards could be worth a look. He would at height to a relatively diminutive group of Giant receivers. He has big play ability, and has seemed to put his distractions aside in order to play at a high level for Gang Green.
But the Giants will have several other, more urgent needs when free agency is finally allowed to commence. As was mentioned before, the roster is thoroughly stocked with receivers that have at least a legitimate shot at claiming a spot on the final 53. After Nicks, Manningham, and Hixon, sits Derek Hagan, Michael Clayton, Ramses Barden, Dustin Keller, Jerrel Jernigan, Victor Cruz, Duke Calhoun and Samuel Giguere.
So if the next top possession receiver for the Giants were to be an “in house promotion,” there are certainly several names to choose from. Hixon figures to see a substantial bump in playing time from his last season (2009) with or without Smith. When all is said and done, the agile former Akron Zip may just be the best option as a reliable chain mover. However, Hixon’s career thus far as a top 3 receiver has has mixed results. He is most likely to contribute as a dangerous kick/punt returner and a dangerous slot threat as opposed to a five yard slant insurance policy.
Another candidate is the fan favorite Victor Cruz. Fans might be disappointed to hear this, but Cruz is not a lock to make the 2011 squad. Yes, he had one fantastic game against the Jets….in the second half of a preseason game. Yes, he had an impressive showing in training camp….Sinorice Moss and Ramses Barden have made multiple trips to the training camp Pro Bowl. That said, he displayed impressive shiftiness and sticky hands in limited action last year. He has a keen awareness for where the ball is and how to get himself in position to make a play on it.
If he can stay healthy, he has a legitimate shot to carve out a more permanent niche’ on this Giants roster.
Out of the remaining receivers, perhaps the most reliable candidate is Derek Hagan.
After failing to latch on in Miami, Hagan came to the Giants at the end of 2008 to fill a vacated roster spot before the playoffs. Seeing action in 2009, Hagan impressed as a special teams blocker. He managed to haul in a TD in a late season mauling of the Redskins. In 2010, he was cut in favor of Duke Calhoun (who made zero impact) only to return when the injury bug bit the receiving corps. In 7 games (with four starts) Hagan hauled in 24 receptions for 223 yards and 1 TD. It was the second highest receiving total of his career. His longest reception was 17 yards, thus his strength is short underneath routes.
Regardless of who steps up as the main possession receiver, the Giants need a backup plan in place. It is not out of the question that Smith could return for the season near or at his usual high level of play but it is far from a certainty.