The New York Giants cap situation remains deleterious to Big Blue’s goal of reshaping the roster in the 2022 free agent cycle. In Part 2 of our free-agent breakdown, we explore inexpensive defensive options that could help reshape the Giants’ roster. In Part 1, we looked at low-cost offensive options.
Patrick Graham joined Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas to battle Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, and, now, Russell Wilson six times a year. New York signed Don “Wink” Martindale from the Ravens in his place as defensive coordinator. The defense could be without several key players from the 2021 season. The following players are all free agents:
DT Austin Johnson
DT Danny Shelton
EDGE Lorenzo Carter
LB Reggie Ragland
LB Benardrick Mckinney
LB Jaylon Smith
CB Jarren Williams
CB Keion Crossen
S Jabrill Peppers
Peppers and Carter are the two prominent names, but losses like Johnson would be felt if the Giants can’t find a suitable replacement in free agency or possibly the draft. Here’s a list of several cheap defensive free agents that could interest New York.
[NOTE: Calais Campbell makes a lot of sense; Pro Football Focus projects him at one year, $8-million, so he isn’t not exactly cheap. I’ve expressed my interest in Campbell at a lower price in other articles.]
Sheldon Richardson, DL
Richardson’s talent was undeniable as a younger player, but his checkered past didn’t help him reach the potential he showed when the Jets drafted him in the first round in 2013. Despite issues off the field, Richardson has still been very productive. He’s coming off a 37-pressure, four-sack season with the Vikings and had a 51 pressure, six-sack season in 2020 with the Browns.
Richardson has a close relationship with Giants’ defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Richardson spent 2018 with Patterson in Minnesota and then returned in 2021. This is what Patterson said about Richardson’s abilities in an article written by Lindsey Young on Vikings.com:
“Even though he’s a big man, he’s athletic enough to go out on the edge and not feel out of place. I thought he did a tremendous job last Sunday,” Patterson said. “That tackle was having a hard time with him working speed-to-power. He’s a 300-pound guy that was running and coming back downhill on him, so for some big guys, it’s hard to be out there in space like that, but Sheldon was comfortable doing that.
“The difference for him is the brute power and force that he can come with – using him out on the edge and gaining momentum as he makes contact with the guy to his advantage,” Patterson later added. “Whereas, when we’re inside, it happens a lot faster, so he was able to use his size, strength, and speed to his advantage on his pass rush last week.”
Pro Football Focus has Richardson projected to make $3 million on a one-year deal. If it’s that cheap, and his past is behind him, the Giants should think about bringing him into the rotation if he’s interested in joining a team like New York.
Brandon Williams, DL
Williams is a 33-year-old veteran who spent four seasons in Martindale’s system. He’s a nose tackle who plays with great leverage. He’s coming off a sub-optimal season with Baltimore. He played 447 snaps for the Ravens with had 10 pressures, 16 STOPS, and 20 tackles.
Williams was always one of the better run defenders in the league. Off a down year, he could be cheap, not highly pursued, and may want to reconnect with Martindale. In a situational role – replacing Danny Shelton – Williams could be an affordable upgrade.
Dorance Armstrong, EDGE
The former Cowboys’ pass-rusher was very raw coming out of Kansas. He was a fourth-round pick with explosive traits and excellent length: 83-inch wingspan (89th percentile) and 34¾-inch arms (88th percentile). He played with Dallas under Rod Marinelli, Mike Nolan, and Dan Quinn.
Armstrong performed well in Quinn’s system. He played 535 snaps last season, recording 36 pressures and six sacks. Quinn and Martindale’s systems aren’t similar, but Armstrong’s athletic traits suggest that he could be a pass-rushing OLB with some coverage upside. If he’s available at the right price, he could be an interesting 6-foot-4, 255-pound option.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE
The former Oklahoma Sooner is only 26 years old. He’s 6-foot-1⅝ (4th percentile), 253 pounds; he’s not very tall, but he does have an 80¼-inch wingspan (52nd percentile) and 33¾-inch arms (57th percentile). He plays with exceptional bend, good burst, and satisfactory moves at the top of the pass-rushing arc. He played 314 snaps last season for the Super Bowl-winning Los Angeles Rams. He’s had two consecutive seasons of 21 pressures in a situational pass-rushing role; he also has four sacks through the last two seasons.
Okoronkwo is projected to earn a one-year, $2.25-million contract. He’s quick slanting inside and would act as a good looper who could also drop into coverage when necessary. He would be a depth signing with a pass-rushing upside at a low cost.
Josh Bynes, LB
Pro Football Focus projects Bynes to sign a one-year, $1.13-million contract in free agency. He played 537 snaps in Martindale’s defense in 2021 and 428 in 2019 – he spent 2020 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bynes had 58 tackles, 35 STOPS, six pressures, two sacks, and three passes defended. He allowed 24 catches on 32 targets for 226 yards. Bynes is an adequate all-around defender who could start. He’s a 6-foot-1, 235-pound 32-year-old who’s a cheap familiar option for the coaching staff.
Chris Board, LB
Board is another former Baltimore Ravens linebacker who has only had one coordinator since entering the pros in 2018 – Wink Martindale. The 26-year-old played 337 snaps in 2021. He’s still raw with his run fits but is a solid athlete with coverage upside, albeit his instincts in coverage need work. Board is a sure tackler with good pursuit; he could be an option for the WILL linebacker spot
LJ Fort, LB
The 32-year-old spent the last two years with the Ravens. He played 421 snaps last season with 24 STOPS, 43 tackles, nine pressures, and 211 coverage reps. Strong isn’t tall at 6’0, but he’s thick at 232-pounds. He’s a good run defender who was in a deep rotation that consisted of Board, Bynes, and 2020 first-round pick Patrick Queen.
Fort shouldn’t command much money, and he’s used to playing in ODD front defenses; before signing with Baltimore, Fort was a rotational player for the Pittsburgh Steelers. All three of the Ravens listed would be considered as rotational linebackers, for Martindale rotates his personnel frequently – including the inexperienced Queen.
Anthony Walker, LB
It’s common for coaching staff to add players with whom they’re familiar. However, I had to put a linebacker on this list that wasn’t a prior Raven. Walker spent 2021 with Cleveland on a one-year deal. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Colts in 2017.
Walker was a good, undersized (6-foot-1) athlete coming out of Northwestern. He had 74 tackles, 37 STOPS, five pressures, a sack, and excellent coverage numbers. He’s 242 pounds with 3,166 snaps to his name. If the price is low, his coverage skills and athletic ability are interesting for a man-heavy system (which he did not play much of in Indianapolis).
Bryce Callahan, BC
After signing Adoree’ Jackson last year, I don’t expect the Giants to invest much money into the cornerback position. However, if they did, Callahan isn’t a terrible option. He’s going to be cheap off a year down at the age of 30; he’s undersized, feisty, and was very good from 2017-2020, specifically in 2020 with Denver.
It’s still undetermined what the Giants will do with James Bradberry. If he’s released in the coming days, there could be more emphasis on adding depth through free agency. If not, Bradberry, Jackson, and Aaron Robinson make a good trio of CBs, with Darnay Holmes as a solid four. If Bradberry is traded, New York could add a slot-type defender like Callahan and then bump Robinson outside, if money permits. The Giants could also select Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner with either of their top two picks or Florida’s Kaiir Elam in the second round.
Anthony Averett, BC
The undersized Anthony Averett could be added on a very low deal. Averett spent his entire career in Martindale’s system; he played a solid role in 2020 and started in 2021 because of injuries to Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, and, at times, Marlon Humphrey. He may have to fight for a roster spot but could realistically make the team.
Averett allowed 52 catches on 93 targets (55.9 percent completion rate) for 739 yards and three touchdowns allowed. He also had three interceptions, and eight assists defended. He can play outside and in the slot.
Jayron Kearse, S
Kearse has ideal size – he’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds – with solid overall athletic ability. He thrived in Dan Quinn’s system last year, doubling his career-high in snaps with 1,073. He was effective as well – that could price Kearse out of the Giants range. PFF projects his salary at $5-million a year; that’s tough in the Giants’ situation.
However, adding Kearse to the secondary would help alleviate the loss of Peppers. He could be the Giants’ big-nickel third safety to play alongside Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney. Julian Love would be used in several other packages, but Kearse could focus on playing man coverage against top-notch tight ends – something he does well.
Martindale rotates his players into situations that they can specifically thrive within; he’s not going to fit square pegs into round holes. Kearse and Love would coexist on the roster and have solid roles within Martindale’s defense. Adding Kearse would have to be at the right price, but it’s not a terrible idea.
DeShon Elliott, S
Elliott is 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and was a late-round selection by the Ravens in 2018. He didn’t see the field much until 2020, when he played over 1,000 snaps. He was used all over the field; in pressure packages, single-high, two-high shells, man coverage over tight ends, etc. Elliott would be reuniting with Martindale, who used his versatility well.
Elliott tore his biceps and pec against the Vikings in Week 9 of last season. The injury will bring his value down and possibly force him to sign a one-year “prove it” deal, making him the type of player the Giants might be looking for. The Giants could take a realistic shot on Elliott, and he could earn his place as the fourth safety on a team that likes to rotate.
As previously stated, the Giants aren’t in a great position to invest a lot of money into free agency. That doesn’t mean they can’t find value – familiar or unfamiliar – on the market; value that can help cultivate the image and enthusiasm that Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll are attempting to achieve in the early stages of a tall task – fixing this New York Giants roster.