Free Agency Rewind | The Giants' 2020 Free-agent Haul
The New York Giants entered free agency with upwards of $75 million in cap space and several holes on their roster.
They added five new players on offense (tight ends Levine Toilolo and Eric Tomlinson, offensive tackle Cam Fleming, quarterback Colt McCoy and running back Dion Lewis); six on defense (linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell, defensive backs James Bradberry, Dravon Askew-Henry, and Nate Ebner and defensive tackle Austin Johnson); and long snapper Casey Kreiter to their special teams unit.
While the team was unable to address every need and will still likely add at the positions they filled in free agency in the upcoming draft, here's a breakdown of some of the moves and our grade for each.
Cornerback James Bradberry
3 years $45 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $16 million
The Giants had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL last season, primarily due to the abundance of youth that they were trying to break in. Signing cornerback James Bradberry fills a significant need in their defensive backfield in that it gives them a young, yet established veteran.
Bradberry was Dave Gettleman's second-round pick back in 2016 when he was with the Panthers. The cornerback has proven to be a stable defensive back over his first four seasons, picking off eight passes and batting down 47.
Bradberry’s deal was structured to count $10 million against the cap in year one, $17 million in year two, and $16.5 million in 2022. He has been a No. 1 corner who has spent his career shadowing some of the league’s top receivers twice a year in the NFC South, including the Saints Michael Thomas and Bucs Mike Evans.
Although we've yet to hear from defensive coordinator Patrick Graham regarding his plans for the defense, it wouldn't be a stretch to guess that the 26-year-old Bradberry could be asked to follow the opponent’s number one receiver as he did in Carolina.
He also can defend the slot if needed and should help with the development of last year’s first-round pick DeAndre Baker, who will be lining up on the opposite side.
Inside Linebacker Blake Martinez
3 years $30 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $10 million
Former Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez was the Giants' next biggest signing after Bradberry.
Martinez was a tackle machine in Green Bay, racking up 512 tackles, 29 for a loss, and ten sacks since coming into the league in 2016.
Martinez replaces veteran Alec Ogletree, whom the Giants cut in February.
Martinez played under new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, the Packer’s linebackers’ coach in 2018, and with the Giants will presumably serve as the defense's huddle commander.
Under Graham, Martinez produced his best year as a pass rusher recording five sacks on 61 blitzes, as opposed to last season, when he was only sent 24 times and recorded three sacks.
There were multiple free-agent linebacker options the Giants could have pursued instead for their inside linebacker spot, including Cory Littleton, Joe Schobert, or Kyle Van Noy.
In the end, it seems like the familiarity between Martinez and Graham made for the ideal fit. And given the success Martinez had under Graham in 2018, the possibilities are endless as he's set to potentially team with Ryan Connelly, who is recovering from a torn ACL this season.
Outside Linebacker Kyler Fackrell
1 year $4.6 million. 2020 Cap Hit $4.6 million
The Giants picked up another former Packers linebacker who played under Graham, Kyler Fackrell.
Fackrell was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft by the Packers, one round ahead of Martinez, his roommate in training camp.
Fackrell appeared in 61 games over the past four seasons, starting nine and recording 111 tackles, 16.5 sacks, and 32 hits.
Fackrell’s best year came in 2018 when his position coach was Graham. That season, Fackrell recorded 10.5 sacks on 41 blitzes. The following year, Fackrell saw a reduction in his snaps, as he only blitzed 17 times, producing one sack in 2019.
Part of the reason for his lack of playing time was the signings of pass-rushing duo Preston Smith and Z’Darius Smith last season. But with the Giants, Fackrell will likely see an increase in opportunities to get back to his 2018 numbers.
Edge rushers Markus Golden and Jordan Jenkins could’ve been signed instead of Fackrell.
While Golden’s ten sacks and 27 hits last season will be hard to make up for, Fackrell has the potential to replicate his 2018 performance if he receives regular playing time, all while on a low-risk, high-reward contract.
Defensive Lineman Austin Johnson
1 year $1.5 million. 2020 Cap hit: $1.5 million
The Giants added to their defensive front by signing interior defensive lineman Austin Johnson, formerly with the Titans.
Johnson was a second-round pick in 2016 out of Penn State, where he was coached by current Giants defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
With the Titans, Johnson appeared in 58 games, starting 13 in four seasons. He contributed 83 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5 quarterback hits over that time.
As a backup, he could be a solid depth piece on a crowded defensive line featuring Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill.
Johnson is essentially replacing Olsen Pierre in the rotation, a role he held until he was cut when the Giants signed inside linebacker Deone Bucannon to the roster.
The signing of Johnson as a depth piece is a solid move on paper to add to the defense and special teams unit.
Safety/Special Teams Player Nate Ebner
1 year $2 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $2 million
Although Nate Ebner is listed as a safety, he was brought in to primarily be a special teams contributor for Thomas McGaughey’s unit after excelling in that role for Joe Judge in New England.
Ebner teamed with Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater for Judge from 2015-2019, earning the honor of second-team All-Pro in 2016, Judge’s second year as his coordinator.
The Giants could have re-signed special teamer and former captain Michael Thomas, who also can play both safety positions, but instead, Judge chose a familiar face in Ebner.
This signing is another move that doesn’t jump off the page, but Ebner has the chance to give a boost to an already solid unit, which now has the potential to be one of the league’s best.
Offensive Tackle Cameron Fleming
1 year $3.5 million. 2020 Cap hit: $3.475 million
Cameron Fleming is a versatile swing tackle who entered the league in 2014. He played with the Patriots while Judge was an assistant coach and, more recently, with the Cowboys, where his head coach was current Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and offensive line coach Marc Columbo.
Fleming fills a significant need in that he can play either tackle post, giving the Giants a seasoned veteran that can step in as needed, a luxury that they haven't had for several years.
While it is unknown if the coaches are considering Fleming for a starting role--that would depend on whether they plan to draft an offensive tackle in the first round--he could serve as a stop-gap if the Giants decide to go defense.
If the Giants draft one of the top tackle prospects in the first round of the draft, Fleming will likely backup Solder or the rookie.
While the team could’ve have opted for Pro Bowl right tackle Jack Conklin, whose new Browns contract averages $14 million per season, they chose to invest that money in Fleming, who hasn't played more than 42% of snaps on offense in a single season in his career.
Tight End Levine Toilolo
Contract: 2 years $6.2 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $3.25 million
Veteran tight end Levine Toilolo is a big body on the end of the line at 6-foot-8, 270 pounds. He has played seven seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, and San Francisco 49ers.
Toilolo is known for his blocking ability, but he’s also a very productive receiver who has 97 catches for 996 yards in his career.
The expectation is Toilolo will fill the now-retired veteran Rhett Ellison’s role as the in-line blocker, where he'll reunite with one-time 49ers teammate Kaden Smith and Evan Engram.
Toilolo is another low-risk/high-reward contract for the Giants who could give the running game a much-needed boost in blocking.
Tight End Eric Tomlinson
Contract: 1 year $1.02 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $805,000
The Giants brought back tight end Eric Tomlinson, who spent a few weeks with them last season before signing with the Patriots and, after that, the Raiders.
In 44 career games, he has started 32 games and has caught 17 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown.
As much as Garrett's offense deployed a double tight-end set in Dallas--per Sharp Football Stats the Cowboys used 12 personnel on 22% of their offensive plays last year--it’s not a surprise that the Giants stocked up on tight ends.
While it remains to be seen where Tomlinson fits into the final picture, his signing gives the Giants some additional competition among a group that includes Garrett Dickerson and C.J. Conrad.
Running Back Dion Lewis
1 year $1.5 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $1.5 million
Despite spending the last two seasons with the Titans, Lewis is another player with a connection to Judge from his Patriots days, having spent three seasons there (2015-17).
Lewis is a shifty and versatile receiving back who has caught 172 passes for 1,281 yards and seven touchdowns in seven seasons.
His best year running the ball came in his last season with the Patriots rushing for 896 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Despite having taken something of a back seat to Derrick Henry in Tennessee, Lewis is still a productive player and will be a solid veteran complement to Saquon Barkley, as he will compete with Wayne Gallman to be the No. 2 back behind Barkley.
The signing of Lewis was an underrated addition to the Giants offense and allows Garrett to be more creative with personnel groupings.
Quarterback Colt McCoy
Contract: 1 year $2.25 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $2.25 million
With the retirement of future Hall of Famer and 2019 backup quarterback Eli Manning, the Giants went out and brought in an experienced veteran to play behind Daniel Jones.
Colt McCoy is 7-21 as a starter in 10 seasons with a 60% completion rate, 6,080 passing yards, and a 29-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
McCoy will likely serve as the primary backup to Jones as he is an upgrade over journeyman Alex Tanney. He also can fill in as a starter if Jones misses anytime with an injury.
McCoy is a seasoned backup, but if he has to start more than one game for the Giants, they’re in trouble. McCoy is expected to beat out Tanney in training camp, and although this wasn’t an exciting signing, this deal gets a C grade for depth.
Long Snapper Casey Kreiter
1 year $1.047 million. 2020 Cap Hit $887K
The Giants signed long snapper Casey Kreiter, most recently with Denver, as a potential upgrade at the position over Colin Holba, who finished last year as the long snapper after Zak DeOssie went on injured reserve.
Kreiter's arrival likely closes the door on a potential return by DeOssie, who could be contemplating retiring after 13 seasons as the Giants long snapper.
Kreiter served as the starting long snapper for the Denver Broncos since 2016 and made the Pro-Bowl in 2018. By joining the Giants, Kreiter will reunite with his former punter, Riley Dixon.
Defensive Back Dravon Askew-Henry
2-year deal, salary unknown.
With the XFL season cut short, their players were made available to the NFL, and the Giants wasted little time in snapping up versatile defensive back Dravon Askew-Henry, who played for former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride on the New York Guardians.
Askew-Henry was in training camp with the Steelers last season and, despite being cut, made some nice plays to break up passes in pre-season action.
He also spent time in Patriots camp as a rookie in 2018, so he also crossed paths with Judge.
Askew-Henry can play safety and slot cornerback, which likely appealed to the Giants. The cousin of future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis, Askew-Henry has good acceleration and closing speed to break up passes.
Askew-Henry will likely compete for a reserve role at safety and slot cornerback this summer. He is young and could prove to be a valuable signing given his versatility and athleticism, which by the way, can also be used on special teams.
The Giants also made some moves regarding some of their personnel from last season. Here is a look at some of the more significant moves from that group.
Defensive Lineman Leonard Williams
Franchise Tag: 1 year $16 million. 2020 Cap Hit $16 million
Instead of letting Leonard Williams test the free-agent market, the Giants placed the franchise tag on him to buy themselves some time to get a long-term deal done.
And because they didn't get a deal done by the start of the new league year, the Giants, who already owe the Jets a third-round pick in this year's draft, won't have to upgrade the compensation from a fifth to a four in next year's draft.
Williams had a career-low 0.5 sacks in 2019, but he still consistently got after the quarterback, recording 16 hits and 23 pressures.
Williams was a top 10 draft pick by the Jets in 2015 but hasn't quite lived up to expectations given where he was selected.
However, he is still a very versatile and productive player with his ability to rush the passer.
Teams often double team him, and he has consistently proven he can beat these blocks while also doing a lot of dirty work taking on multiple linemen to help his teammates create pressure in the pocket.
Williams still makes an impact even if he doesn’t always fill the stat sheet. He also did help boost the Giants' run defense down the stretch last season, but he will need to put up better numbers if he wants to win over the fan base in 2020.
Inside Linebacker David Mayo
3 years $8.4 million. 2020 Cap Hit: $3.55 million
While Mayo is a solid run-stopper, he struggles in the passing game surrendering a 65% completion rate when targeted.
Mayo filled in for the injured Ryan Connelly last season, starting 13 games and recording 82 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 tackles for a loss.
As a special teamer and a backup linebacker, Mayo is a solid piece of the Giants roster.
Where Do The Giants Go from Here?
While the Giants' front office addressed various needs in free agency, they still have several holes to fill in the draft.
The most glaring is the offensive line, where they must start thinking about adding at least one more tackle and a center. If the team adds a top tackle in the draft, this would likely give them more flexibility to move Nick Gates over to center if they do not select a starter at the position.
As for the defensive side of the ball, the team could use more pass rushers, a deep-half safety, and an outside linebacker who can cover.
If they select Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, this could help fill all three needs, given his unique versatility and freakish athleticism.
If they choose to invest in the offensive line over Simmons early on, it would be wise to go after a linebacker/edge rusher such as Zack Baun, or a talented free safety in Xavier McKinney or Antoine Winfield with their second pick.
While skill positions on offense are not a huge priority, the Giants are still in need of a big-bodied receiver on their offense that they could find in the mid-to-late rounds as they did with Darius Slayton last year.
Although it’s unrealistic to expect the team to fill every last remaining need in this upcoming draft despite having 10 picks, they could come away with some impact contributors who could help create a much-improved football team.
(Advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.)