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New York Giants Roster Rebuild Plan: Outside Linebackers

Despite adding talent to their edge rusher group, the unit appears to be at a crossroads.

It's been a long time since the Giants had a homegrown pass rusher worth his weight in gold.

How long, you ask? Try 2010, the year the team drafted a 4-3 defensive end by the name of Jason Pierre-Paul in the first round.

Since then, a lot has changed. The Giants moved from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4. In doing so, it was decided that Pierre-Paul was not only a fit for their defense moving forward, but his four-year, $62 million contract was not worth carrying.

In hindsight, that decision didn't work out for the Giants, and not just because Pierre-Paul, who has 33 sacks and 55 quarterback hits in four seasons with the Bucs, still proved he had a lot left in his tank. 

The Giants haven't found their "Batman" to lead the pass rushers--Azeez Ojulari looks like he can be that guy but he'll need to stack solid seasons on top of another before we will know for sure if he is.

Speaking of Ojulari, he was the highest drafted edge rusher since Pierre-Paul. Before then, what the Giants tried to do regarding their pass rush was to try to find guys outside of the organization (Olivier Vernon) to become their Batman. 

They also rolled the dice (successfully) on Markus Golden, who was coming off a season-ending injury and who ended up as the team leader in sacks in 2019 (10.0)

What they have also done is whiff on numerous third-round picks such as Damontre Moore (2013), Owa Odighizuwa (2015), Lorenzo Carter (2018), and Oshane Ximines (2019). This likely ties to the old regime's belief that a good defensive coordinator might be able to scheme a pass rush regardless of who he has.

Ah, but it doesn't work that way, as the Giants have found out the hard way. Again, Ojulari has shown a bit of promise and potential to be the new Batman of the group. But don't be surprised if new general manager Joe Schoen places a higher premium on finding edge rushers to make the next defensive coordinator's job a lot easier.   

Cap Chronicles

Not surprisingly, the Giants don't have a lot of financial resources tied up in their outside linebacker corps--only $7.275 million. (Note: Spotrac has Leonard Williams listed among the group, but Williams is a defensive lineman, so we have deducted his cap hit from the total listed.)  

That's obviously because those players under contract are all on rookie deals. While there is nothing wrong with that, considering that the edge-rushing group is usually a premium position, it's surprising.

If the Giants are to ever get back into the thick of things, they need to find themselves a solid three-man punch, much like they had in 2007 and 2011. The jury is still out as to whether they have the makings of that solid three-man rotation. 

Still, it wouldn't be surprising if new general manager Joe Schoen decides to dip into the pass rush class in this year's draft to supplement this position moving forward.

Should the prioritize re-signing Lorenzo Carter? 

Just when it looked as though Lorenzo Carter made his bed regarding his Giants future, he went ahead and wrinkled it up.

More specifically, Carter, who started the 2021 season slowly after coming back from a season-ending torn Achilles, suffered five games into 2021, finished his 2021 season strong. 

To recap, Carter, who had a mid-year sprained ankle that cost him three games, finished the last four games of the season with 5.0 sacks (out of eight quarterback hits) and 50 total tackles, both new career highs.

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That, of course, raised the question as to whether Carter, who before his Achilles injury showed signs of having developed into a solid pass rusher, is worth retaining now that he's about to venture into free agency, and especially since the Giants won't have a lot of cap space to spend.

Career-wise, Carter has appeared in 49 gapes and 2,030 snaps. He has 15 sacks, 154 tackles, and three forced fumbles--all numbers that don't exactly scream "big money." but what Carter has going for him is he's still young (26), and if he can stay healthy, he's shown that he can be very productive as a cover guy whose length is perfect for the position. But he lacks a power game both in run contain and rushing the passer and doesn't bend the corner well.

That all said, if Carter is open to a one-year "prove it" deal loaded with incentives, a return would make sense. But if he's looking for that multi-year blockbuster contract that some teams happily give to players with potential, we can't see the Giants trying to match that.  

Do they have a keeper in Quincy Roche? 

There's a lot to like about Quincy Roche, the Steelers sixth-round draft pick whom they lost when they unsuccessfully tried to move him to the practice squad.

Roche brought a legitimate physical presence to the edge unit, making it little wonder why he earned rotational snaps ahead of Oshane Ximines. While Roche isn't lightning quick, he produced 2.5 sacks and two six-tackle games in 14 games played. 

Roche played with discipline, especially against the read options, and didn't look like an out-of-control freight train out there. While coverage isn't his strong suit right now, he did start to look better at it as the season wore down.

Is Roche an every-down starter type? Probably not right now, but his physicality and disciplined play very much make him a keeper.  

What about Oshane Ximines?

Ximines had an impressive rookie season, playing in all 16 games and recording all 4.5 of his career sacks to date. In 2020, he missed most of the season due to a shoulder injury. In 2021 after starting on the PUP list with a hamstring strain, he seemed an afterthought by the coaching staff, who had him active for just ten games. (He was a healthy scratch Weeks 12-17 but returned in Week 18 after Elerson Smith landed on IR.)

Ximines wouldn't be the first player to benefit from a coaching change, and he still is on his rookie deal. That said, there might not be enough film on him to justify the team's continuing to devote a roster spot in him. 

Where does Elerson Smith fit in?

Hard to say. Smith declared early for the draft last year after having his final year of college football canceled due to the pandemic. 

Add in the fact that he missed all of training camp with an injury which landed him on IR to start the year, and then, after just eight games played, he finished the season on IR, and Smith remains one of those unknown prospects. 

He logged eight tackles, zero sacks, and two quarterback hits in 107 defensive snaps in his eight games played. But is he a Batman in the making? Probably not, at least not based on his small sample size.  

Keep, Tweak or Dump?

Tweak--and heavily at that. As previously noted, the Giants don't have a Batman in their pass-rushing group, and while it's tempting to go out to free agency to get one, they're not in a position to spend like an out-of-control shopper during the day-after-Thanksgiving sale.

Ideally, the Giants need to start developing homegrown talent at this position. For years they enjoyed that with guys such as Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Pierre-Paul--all draft picks. And hey, they even won a pair of Super Bowls with those guys.

Free-agent acquisitions almost always cost more than they're worth and never come close to delivering the desired return on investment. With this year's draft class said to be loaded with pass-rushing prospects and with the Giants having five of their nine picks in the top 100, if they can't finally get a solid developmental pass rusher this year, then something is rotten in East Rutherford.

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