The window is closing on the Eli Manning era for the New York Giants. Manning is now 35 years old, which means he and superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. have only a few years to work with in an effort to capture one more Lombardi Trophy.
That’s why the Giants had to break from character this offseason by splurging on expensive free agents in order to revamp a defense that was a huge liability in 2015. You build a winner primarily through the draft, which is fine because that’s where they got Manning, Beckham and 60 percent of their starting offensive line.
In this case, the Giants — who had the league’s lowest-rated defense last season — had to add players who could contribute immediately, and in a major way.
They’ve done exactly that, spending a large chunk of their roughly $56 million in cap space on starting defensive linemen Jason Pierre-Paul (one-year, $10 million deal), Olivier Vernon (five-year, $85 million deal after a bidding war) and Damon Harrison (five-year, $46 million deal) as well as ballhawk cornerback Janoris Jenkins (five-year, $63 million deal).
That’s nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in contracts for four guys who could change the look of the defense.
Sure, Pierre-Paul was on the roster the last eight games of the 2015 season, recording just one sack for a team that ranked in the bottom five in terms of both sacks and sack rate. But his pressure numbers were actually quite strong and the 27-year-old should be even better as his severely injured hand improves with offseason conditioning and procedures.
A full season of Pierre-Paul opposite the highly-touted Vernon — who has 25.5 sacks the last three years — could be huge for that pass rush, especially with the monstrous Harrison teaming up with big Johnathan Hankins inside. And Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gives them a formidable starting cornerback duo.
They still have to address the linebacker and safety positions with less flashy signings and/or in the draft, but this is already a defense that looks like it should suddenly become an asset for a strong all-around Giants team in 2016.
Free agency may be overrated, but don’t be surprised if this spending spree helps Big Blue become a contender again in the fall.