INDIANAPOLIS - There is an elite pass rusher sitting at the top of the draft, and he will probably end up just out of reach for the Giants. And unfortunately, when it comes to finding help for their sagging pass rush, that could be an offseason theme.
That's the problem Giants GM Dave Gettleman is facing as he looks to plug one of the biggest holes in his roster. Chase Young, the Ohio State edge rusher who could help transform the Giants defense, will most likely get taken second by the Redskins or third by the Lions, and there might not be another pass rusher in the draft worthy of picking at No. 4.
And while there are plenty of big names staring at unrestricted free agency - like Tampa Bay's Shaq Barrett, Jacksonville's Yannick Ngakoue, and Baltimore's Matthew Judon - Gettleman is sure most of them won't be there when the market opens on March 18.
"What I think is going to happen is all those guys are getting tagged," Gettleman said on Tuesday. "I really believe that."
They won't all get the franchise or transition tags, of course, but the best ones very likely will be off the market. Barrett, Ngakoue and Judon are all expected to be tagged by their respective teams, according to reports. And San Francisco's Arik Armstead and Pittsburgh's Bud Dupree could get tagged too between now and the deadline, March 12.
That will still leave some interesting players, like Seattle's Jadeveon Clowney, the Rams' Dante Fowler, and New England's Kyle Van Noy - all of whom could interest the Giants. But stud pass rushers are rare and a lot of teams need them, which means the competition - and the prices -- could get absolutely crazy, especially since teams know that after Young, there aren't a lot of can't-miss pass rushers waiting in the draft.
So if the Giants come up empty - which seems more likely than not - what are they going to do?
"Listen, who doesn't want a great pass rusher?" Gettleman said. "The bottom line is it's who's available and how you can make the best situation work."
It's not easy to make a pass rushing situation work without that one, great, dominant player - something the Giants haven't had since the days of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, and Justin Tuck. Even last year, when they got a 10-sack season from Markus Golden, their pass rush was a disaster, ranking 22nd in the league with just 36 sacks overall.
One team source said the Giants are definitely looking for that "Michael Strahan-type player" who can change the approach of an opposing offense all by himself. But unless Young falls to them at 4, they're skeptical that such a player exists in this year's draft. They'd have to take a shot at a second-tier player on the second day, like Wisconsin's Zack Baun, Notre Dame's Julian Okwara, or Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos.
And they'll be in the same bind when it comes to free agency. They'll likely take their shot at Clowney, but they are privately worried that any of the non-tagged pass rushers will end up priced way above what the Giants are willing to pay.
In that case, they may have to push that need aside and shore up other areas of their leaky defense instead.
"This is a throwing league -- everybody tells me that," Gettleman said. "Well at the end of the day, you need to have a strong back end. And oh by the way, if you have a strong back end, it helps your front end. The front end helps your back end. It's complimentary football is what it is."
That approach has worked before, like with Rex Ryan's Jets defenses from 2009-14 that were dominant and were built back to front. Of course, Ryan had future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis in his secondary. The Giants would have to upgrade what is a very young unit, perhaps by making a run at a free agent like Denver's Chris Harris or Dallas' Byron Jones.
They could also strengthen the back end of their defense through the draft, either with Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, or Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons. Taking Simmons figures to be on the table regardless, since while he's not the pure pass rusher they covet, he's a dangerous player and blitzer, and with Alec Ogletree cut on Wednesday he would definitely fill a need.
But their first priority will be to find that one stud and hope they get lucky in free agency with a player like Van Noy (who has obvious ties to Giants coach Joe Judge, the former Patriots assistant) or find an undiscovered gem in the bargain bin. Because no matter how much Gettleman talks about "complimentary football" he knows there's nothing quite like having that one guy on defense who could change everything by himself.
"Listen, you guys know I've been involved with teams that have had great pass rushers," Gettleman said. "My first great pass rusher was Bruce Smith. I think he did pretty good. I know what it looks like.
"But sometimes, you do what you can. You do what you think is right."