OutHC Tom Coughlin: While ragging on Coughlin has been an overused go-to option for writers and pundits league wide lately, the blade is swinging ever closer to his neck after yesterday’s loss. There is an argument for keeping him of course. His tenure thus far in New York has been an upgrade from a bleak stretch of time in the team’s history that spanned from 1992 through 2003. After a rebuilding period in 2004, Coughlin fielded an overall competitive squad from 2005 through 2008 and obviously brought New York an impressive Super Bowl win. But things have not been quite the same for the Giants since jumping out to an 11-1 start in 2008. Following up a Super Bowl run with 3 months of utterly dominant football, the Giants stumbled at home against Philadelphia that season and ultimately lost to the Eagles again in their first appearance of the playoffs. 2009 saw a 5-0 start turn into a 3-5 finish and 2010 saw a historical single game collapse, an unspeakable rash of turnovers, and an overall failure to execute on special teams. Coughlin, who is historically quite reliable when it comes to challenges, blew the Giants final challenge of yesterday’s game on an obvious unfavorable ruling and thus was unable to protest against at a late Eli interception on a key drive that was clearly caught out of bounds.
With the Giants now needing help from Chicago to stumble into the playoffs (a tournament that they really don’t deserve a spot in), Coughlin’s time here may be up. The X-factor is the single year remaining (after this season) on his contract. The Giants would prefer not to allow a head coach to continue his duty with no job security ahead of him (lame duck situation) and with Coughlin’s age and recent performance mixing into the equation, it does not appear that the front office will be willing to recommit to him long term. This is especially true with NFL icon and multiple Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher expressing a serious interest in returning to work. Cowher, also a tough-minded coach and proponent of ground game football, would be the perfect fit for a team stocked with talent and ready to be serious contenders immediately. The Giants fit that description. When Coughlin took them over, they declared roster bankruptcy and rebuilt. There will be no need for major overhauls this time and Cowher has expressed interest in being the Giants next leader.
ST Tom Quinn/OC Kevin Gilbride: With Coughlin likely on his way out, these coordinators won’t be far behind. You can make an argument to save Gilbride’s job but the play calling hasn’t been stellar or even consistently effective for that matter. Quinn on the other hand is done regardless. Forget Matt Dodge’s struggles, those are out of the coordinator’s hands. Blocking on specials has been atrocious in 2010. Don’t blame the lack of production on losing Domenik Hixon or the ineffectiveness of Darius Reynaud. Even explosive returners like DJ Ware, Will Blackmon, and Aaron Ross were unable to find any room to make a play this year. Both of these guys will be replaced by whoever the new coach (Cowher) brings in.
C Shaun O’hara: Once a poster boy for a franchise that prides itself on swampland Jersey roots and conservative/hardnosed play, Hillsborough product Shaun O’hara was the key cog on a stellar offensive line. Times have changed. The aging center who arrived in 2004 as part of the revamped Giants roster, sat out 6 games this season due to injury. His absence, despite occurring during a plague of O-line injuries, was actually not a blow to the team’s offensive performance. With Adam Koets and then eventually Rich Seubert proving to be suitable alternates, Shan Andrews and Kevin Boothe helped shore up the left side. It was during this time that both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs starting enjoying consistent rushing success. O’hara will be entering his 12th NFL season and while he will only be 34 years old, it may be time for him to move on to another squad at least. Barely making it through training camp in 2010, O’hara appears to have “lost a step” on the field and is unable to generate enough momentum to sustain key blocks on the interior. While Adam Koet’s trip to IR denied the Giants an extended look at his abilities and thus a replacement isn’t necessarily on the roster yet, it is very likely that the Rutger’s alum will not be in a Giant uniform in 2011.
KR Darius Reynaud: Acquired in a trade with the Vikings that was the result of a sudden need for Sage Rosenfels following Jim Sorgi’s trip to IR, Reynaud was expected to be an apt fill-in for Domenik Hixon. Instead, Reynaud (who was tossed into the deal with New York as an afterthought) could barely handle signaling for a fair catch let alone muster a sizeable return. Unlike Hixon, he is not an effective option as a receiver either. The writing was on the wall today when Coughlin opted to sit Reynaud despite the unavailability of a true PR option today because of Will Blackmon’s injury. Don’t count on Reynaud making an appearance in camp next spring.
WR Michael Clayton: If he hasn’t been used as a receiver yet, it is unlikely he ever will. So far, Clayton’s contributions have been limited to blocking on run plays and special teams duties. It is hard to imagine him being a part of a crowded receiver competition next spring.
WR Duke Calhoun: Calhoun didn’t make the roster as a receiver. He squeaked into the 53rd spot because the Giants felt he could be a solid contributor on special teams because of his athletic build and quickness. They were wrong. If he couldn’t stand out this year, a season where no one had stepped up until Michael Coe and Devin Thomas came to town in late November, he is expendable for next year.
QB Jim Sorgi: Sorgi was brought in to be the immediate backup behind Eli Manning. Though he wasn’t given much time to show his stuff, his body of work in the preseason was not impressive before his injury. Ideally, a veteran backup QB has playing experience and Sorgi doesn’t since he spent the bulk of his career behind the other Manning in Indianapolis. A damaged arm and no real experience won’t be enough to bring him back.
FB Madison Hedgecock: See Bear Pascoe.
DE/OLB Mathias Kiwanuka: The neck injury that Kiwanuka suffered is very similar to what ended the career of a relatively young Antonio Pierce during the 2009 season. Therefore, not only is Kiwi out, he quite possibly will never play professional football again. This is a blow for the Giants because you would have to think that they were hoping to not have to worry too much about the DE position after spending several high draft picks on it recently. However, the key to the Giants defensive success (when they don’t collapse) is rotating pass rushers so that they stay fresh throughout the season and ideally playoffs. With Osi Umenyiora admitting that his chronic hip problems will eventually force him to take time away from the game, the Giants may very well be down to Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck as the main event with just Dave Tollefson in 3rd. Either a draft a pick or a free agent pickup will be needed to round out this position group should Kiwanuka be unable to return.
BubbleWR/KR Domenik Hixon: I know it seems crazy to think the Giants wouldn’t want him back after a disastrous season in the return game….and I agree it is. Of course the Giants will want to find a way to resign the soon to be FA Hixon. The catch is, Hixon may not want to return. Hixon started training camp in 2009 as a starting receiver opposite Steve Smith. He had shown flashes of potential at the position in ’08 but also had a key drop in a fateful game against Philadelphia as December began. Mario Manningham’s quick transformation from bumbling rookie to nifty threat with Amani Toomer-like footwork eventually sent Hixon back to the reserve ranks behind Hakeem Nicks. He headed into 2010’s camp as a star return man but governed by a 4th at best opportunity on the depth chart. Assuming that he makes a full recovery from his ACL injury (if it ever will fully heal it will be before camp because the injury will be over 13 months old by then), Hixon could find himself receiving attention from other teams that have openings at the second and third receiver positions. Teams like the Rams, Browns and Bears among several others could all use some help at receiver. Many of the options will be legitimate contenders but even if they aren’t, the young Hixon already has a Super Bowl ring to fall back on and a chance to do more than return might lure him away from Jerry Reese’s best maneuvers. He’s on the bubble because the Giants will do everything they can to keep him but his status is far from certain. The next bubble selection will have a lot to do with Hixon’s future.
WR Steve Smith: Steve Smith followed up a career year in ’09 with a slower but steady start in 2010. Teaming with Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, Smith rounded out the top three receiving rotation referred to as “Jet Blue.” Before injuring his pectoral muscle in November, Smith had transitioned to a more possession type role and served as Eli’s main target when short gains were needed to move the chains. He wasn’t considerably tall or the fastest receiver on the field but his reliable hands (especially in traffic) helped draw defenders’ attention away from the explosive Nicks and Manningham. His latest injury, an MCL tear, could possibly keep him out until next preseason or later. Even then, his conditioning/speed/cutting ability may be still hampered. Add in the fact that he was playing in the final year of his rookie contract this season and his status is now a big question mark. What do the Giants do if Smith is unready to compete in training camp? What if he will be available but not quite 100% ready talent wise until 2012? Even if his job is claimed to be open for him when he can return, a strong showing by another receiver in training camp (a receiver that is healthy and ready to contribute immediately) won’t be ignored or unrewarded.
If Smith won’t be 100% ready for a return by July, the most likely scenario will be that he signs a 1 year deal with the Giants (they won’t want to give him away for free and other teams will not be as willing to shell out a big contract yet) and begins the season on the PUP with hopes of returning by November and earning a long term deal with New York or another club in 2012. His absence would create a hole in the top 3 rotation, a role that Hixon may stick around to fight for. Even then however, he will be battling a healthy Ramses Barden who will be given a shot to earn a more prominent role. Barden may ultimately be the better option over Smith anyway because of his size. If he can stay injury and mistake free (if his pre-injury performance against Dallas was an accurate preview), a big target for Manning to throw to could persuade the Giants to downgrade Smith’s offensive role. As the past two seasons have shown, Manning plays better down the stretch when he has a tall receiver that he can just throw the ball somewhat towards to bail him out of a jam.
WR Derek Hagan: Despite being cut after camp this season, Hagan was rushed back to duty after Steve Smith and Ramses Barden were injured. While Hagan lacks the speed and big play ability of the current “Jet Blue” trio, he has reliable hands and is quite sizable for a receiver. He is on the bubble because as a receiver, he’s the equivalent of a QB saddled with the label of “game manager.” He won’t lose the game for you, but he won’t necessarily win it either. Should Barden prove that he’s finally learned how to catch the ball consistently and that he can stay out of the trainer’s office, the quota for large Big Blue receivers might be filled without Hagan.
LB Keith Bulluck: The accomplished OLB from Syracuse made a name for himself in Tennessee after a decade of terrorizing offenses. A year ago he suffered an ACL injury and likely signed on with the Giants this summer before it had fully healed. Allowed to play his natural outside position after Jonathan Goff proved himself in August, Bulluck is currently near the end of a 1 year deal with his hometown team. The Giants had hoped that Clint Sintim would progress this year to the point that he could be utilized as a starting weak side backer but instead the UVA alum took a step back and was contributed mainly on special teams until his own ACL injury ended his season two weeks ago. Moral of story, Bulluck may get invited to stick around while the Giants give Sintim one more year to groom. If Sintim is healthy enough to return on time for camp, the Giants won’t likely feel comfortable handing him the keys before a couple months of marked improvement. If Bulluck wants to keep playing, the Giants should be happy to have him
DC Perry Fewell: He’s on the bubble because his performance throughout the majority of the season was quite impressive and a better position may open up elsewhere. However, his December collapse will likely keep him from obtaining a head coaching position for a bit longer.
InQB Eli Manning: I know I’m stating the obvious here so hold on and let me explain. Manning’s overall successes between late 2007 and present day; including a Super Bowl win/MVP, a 11-1 start in 2008, an over 4,000 yard season in 2009, and 30 TD tosses in 2010; have helped cushion the blow of his over 20 interceptions this year. A franchise QB with a historically lucrative contract, Manning isn’t going anywhere in 2011. He is on this list because of his overall future.
Three years ago, the great debate regarding Eli and Peyton had serious fuel to burn with. Both Mannings had won their first and only Super Bowls thus far in consecutive years. Eli had engineered a once in a lifetime miracle drive that helped beat the highly favored team that had also tried to stand in the way of Peyton’s Super Bowl hopes only a year before. The younger brother had also managed to glide through three playoff games without so much an intercepted pass (no really, take my word for it). His lone Super Bowl interception was the result of a ball thrown directly into the chest of a rookie Steve Smith who simply bobbled the ball into a defender’s grasp. As I’ve already gone over, 2008 was an overall success despite a late season loss of momentum and 2009 saw Eli have the best statistical season of his career despite a dismal record 8-8 record. But now, not only are the Giants caving inward, their QB’s 30 touchdown passes are nearly rivaled by his 26 turnovers. Peyton on the other hand has overcome mid season struggles to right the ship of a shambled offense and place the Colts within one win of the playoffs. A poor statistical showing for Eli in 2011 (especially one plagued with poor decisions and turnovers) could be a large straw on a tiring camel’s back. Perhaps placing Eli on the bubble this time next year won’t seem like a crazy notion if his falters carry into a consecutive season. True, a lot of improvement is needed from his targets and route runners, but improvement must occur for Manning to see the end of his blockbuster contract.
TE Kevin Boss: Why is Boss in question? Inconsistency. Boss has the size and wingspan needed to be a Pro Bowl caliber TE. Unfortunately, mental mistakes severely hampered him this season. After a minor bump in the road on the injury front early in the season, Boss has proven to be more durable than ever in 2010. Unfortunately he has also proven to be a slow starter. While he may make a clutch catch or a big play somewhat regularly, that big play usually follows a bad first half of dropped balls and other slip ups. Against Jacksonville, for example, Boss dropped two passes and committed a critical holding penalty that erased a Manningham TD early on. He would later rebound to make the game winning score after a brilliant stiff arm move. He’s big and tall and that’s just how Manning likes him. He’s unquestionably tough and a great ambassador for the team on and off the field but he needs polish. Boss would be well served to spend several weekends this offseason tossing the ball around with Eli so that he can master his craft and have a breakout 2011. The Giants need upgraded play at the TE position.
G/C Rich Seubert: Many wrote Seubert off going into this season. The longest tenured Giant and a fan favorite, Seubert fought back from a severely fractured leg in 2003 to return to the starting lineup four years later at left guard. As part of one of the most dominant offensive lines of all time, Seubert took home a Super Bowl title in 2007 and helped both Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs reach the 1000 yard rushing milestone in 2008. After playing through pain in 2009 and suffering a broken hand in training camp this August amidst talk of sending him to the bench in favor of Will Beatty, the veteran lineman rivals Kenny Phillips for comeback of the year. Not only did he hold down his starting guard spot, he also proved to be a more than serviceable center when both Shaun O’hara and Adam Koets were lost. While his partner, O’hara is likely headed towards the door, Seubert may just have made a big enough impression to ensure a shot at next year’s starting O-line as well. That said, his presence on next year’s roster may once again be as a backup as the Giants will be eager to give Shawn Andrews an opportunity to entrench himself as a long-term option inside of David Diehl.
RB Brandon Jacobs: It looked like the 265 lb monster was headed towards the door earlier this season when a dismal 2009 and a demotion in 2010 left the big back looking more and more like Ron Dayne every snap. A mid to late season surge in the running game thanks to the contributions of both he and Ahmad Bradshaw will likely help keep Jacobs in a Giants uniform. However, New York would be wise to pick up some insurance for their feature backs. That insurance may already be on the roster in DJ Ware but don’t be surprised to see New York look to bolster this position group in the draft. Also, Bradshaw will obviously be offered a contract extension shortly (scheduled to be a FA) and there is no reason yet to believe that he won’t opt to stay with the Giants should they meet his salary requirements.
WR Devin Thomas: In 2008, Thomas was a rising star out of Michigan State who was looking to make a name for himself on the Redskins roster. Small but versatile, the athletic Thomas has lots of potential and was reportedly high on the Giants draft board but was made unavailable before they were able to select him. After barely more than two lackluster seasons, the Redskins released Thomas a couple months ago. After a couple week stint in Carolina, Thomas was released again and eventually added to the Giants roster to help shore up a battered receiving corps. He made an impact in his first game in a blue jersey, ironically against Washington. He blocked a punt deep in the opponent’s territory and provided a special teams spark that the team has been lacking overall throughout the season. Thomas will be likely be offered a short contract extension to see what he can do both on offense as well as on special teams with a full training camp of playbook memorization behind him. Thomas should have a legitimate shot at becoming a major weapon in the passing game next season. While the Giants may not be a long-term fit for him, he will need a place like New York to establish himself as a good investment for other offenses.
WR Victor Cruz: It is unfortunate that a rash of injuries at other positions forced the Giants to place Cruz on IR instead of letting him wait out a hamstring injury. Being activated only for games that already featured a healthy top 4 receivers, Cruz was not given much opportunity to show if he could run with first string defenses. The answer would have likely been no. While the young player displayed great ball skills and impressive speed against 3rd string opposition this past August, he has yet to be tested against skilled defensive backs. Still, he is explosive and likely full of potential talent waiting to be tapped. The Giants like him and the fans will riot if he gets cut without another season to prove himself. Who knows…with Smith hampered he could very well be a future Giants starter. Regardless of his depth chart positioning though he will be returning in ’11.
FB Bear Pascoe: He’s earned it folks. Despite getting cut after camp in favor of a 1 ½ TE roster (Travis Beckum), Pascoe found himself quickly called back into duty from the lowly practice squad when Kevin Boss suffered a concussion. What could have been a brief tour of duty on the main roster became a long-term stay when Madison Hedgecock went down with a hamstring injury. Pascoe filled in beautifully at fullback and provided more than just reliable run blocking. Pascoe’s skills as a tight end gave him the ability to provide the out of the backfield threat that the Giants had always tried to get from Hedgecock. Eventually banished to IR, it is unlikely Hedgecock returns to the Giants in 2011. Pascoe won’t be going anywhere and the Giants never spend a roster spot on a true backup FB.
P Matt Dodge: Dodge has talent. What he doesn’t have is consistency. For those of you (like me) who are worried that if he isn’t comfortable by now he may never be, I have a small piece of consolation. Think about how many young, inexperienced punters you’ve seen in the league (compared to all other positions) over the past couple of decades. There haven’t been many. Most of us are accustomed to experienced veterans handling their jobs well. Only time will tell if that will eventually be Dodge. He’ll get one more year to settle down and my guess is that he’ll have a successful campaign next in 2011.