Of these 21 players, several are key contributors. TE Kevin Boss is among the players in limbo. Boss is ultimately expected to stay in New York. HB Ahmad Bradshaw, who racked up over a 1,000 yards in 2010 has been told that he is a top priority when negotiations can finally start and thus is expected to remain a Giant as well.
There are three Giants, however, whose futures are less certain. Two of these players could directly affect the other’s future, while the third will need to battle back from a devastating injury.
The first two players in question, are WRs Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon. Despite missing 7 games in 2010 (nearly half the season), Smith hauled in 48 catches for 529 yards and 3 TDs. This followed a 2009 season where he notched 107 receptions for 1,220 yards and 7 TDs.
Unfortunately, Smith’s injury problems do not end with a snake-bitten 2010 campaign. He is not expected to fully recover from his devastating knee injury until dangerously close to the start of training camp (if not later). If Smith is not immediately available (in top form) by the beginning of camp, the Giants will need to field a slightly modified set of top three receivers.
To compound the issue, Smith has reached the critical juncture in which most top players record their first big pay-day;the end of his rookie contract. Had the looming CBA issues not been a factor, it is likely that the Giants would have wrapped up their star receiver prior to his late season knee injury. Unfortunately for him, Smith will now have to approach the negotiating table with a damaged knee. Time will tell if this complication keeps him and the team from being able to do business.
Behind Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham could potentially sit Hixon, who will be returning from a 14 month old ACL injury. Assuming the KR/WR has been nursed back to full health, Hixon would be a welcome addition to the feeble special teams unit for sure. Regardless, if Smith returns in a timely fashion, it will be nearly impossible for a talented Hixon to climb above the 4th rung of the depth chart.
Hixon might be wise to explore free agency (once a CBA is agreed upon of course). He deserves more than being relegated to the return game alone and plenty of teams will be in search of quality WR help. The Bears have been one of the earliest teams to voice their intention to pursue an upgrade at receiver and an underused talent such as Hixon would likely come at a fair price.
Should Smith not be available for longer than originally hoped or is unable to work out the long term deal he is looking for, perhaps Hixon would be wise to stick around Albany this summer and compete for a more prominent role in the New York receiving rotation. The Giants will be very anxious to retain him in order to once again utilize his return talents and the opportunity to contribute as a receiver would be the final piece to the puzzle for the young player.
The third player to keep an eye on is DE Mathias Kiwanuka. His neck injury could place the Giants in a tough spot. Uninjured, Kiwanuka would become a hot commodity on the open market. A talented and versatile player, he could easily be a starting defensive end on teams that do not enjoy such a rich depth of pass rushing talent.
If he stays in New York, he would be outside looking in on the battle for 3rd DE. Ahead of him, Jason Pierre-Paul will be attempting to move past a dinged up Osi Umenyiora and into the starting lineup.
The Giants depend on a 4 stud DE rotation in order to maintain a consistently intimidating pass rush (the key to the defense) throughout the season. The formula still works with 3 DE’s but with Umenyiora undergoing surgery to prolong his career and mollify nagging injuries, having a healthy Kiwanuka on the roster would give the Giants much needed insurance. The odds are currently stacked against a Kiwanuka return as there seems to be no beneficial option for the Giants. If he is not healthy enough to continue to play (or perform at a high level) then he will obviously be let go. If he is healthy enough to play, Kiwanuka could be a very attractive option to other teams looking to upgrade their defensive line or even LB corps.
Of course, no hard free agency news will be available until the players and owners can come to terms on a new CBA. Until then, we can only speculate on the future of the 21 Giants in limbo. If nothing else, it should provide for an interesting and unique offseason of commentary and reporting.