Justin Tuck has been a mainstay at defensive end for the New York Giants for almost a decade, but this off season, Tuck and the Giants enter uncharted territory as the veteran lineman prepares to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Tuck just played out the final year of a six-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2008.
Last week, Tuck told Bart Hubbach of the New York Post that he was ready to test free agency, but later softened those comments. Even so, from a business standpoint, it may benefit Tuck to see what appears on the open market before committing to a return to Big Blue.
From the Giants’ standpoint, the team has many holes to fill in the wake of a 7-9 season which began with an inauspicious 0-6 start. The offense is in desperate need of re-enforcements on the offensive line and depth at running back. A new tight end will likely need to be signed.
On the defensive side, the G-men need a starting cornerback, whether that comes in the form of Trumaine McBride or not, as well as linebacker help, regardless of whether that comes in the form of Jon Beason or someone else. The team also needs to decide what to do with Stevie Brown, who sat out all of last year with a knee injury and was under a one-year tender contract.
Currently the G-men have Jason Pierre-Paul at one defensive end position and Mathias Kiwanuka at the other. Rookie Damontre Moore is likely to see more repetitions in 2014, and it would be expected that the Giants employ more “on the job” training than they have in the past.
Also, during the season defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins was moved outside to the defensive end spot on occasion.
Outside of the roster dynamics, another variable to factor is the market. The phrase, “hometown discount” is thrown around, but that term can be a misnomer. In many cases, players believe that they are more valuable than their production would indicate. Many times, teams overpay to keep their stars in the fold, and other times, another suitor will overpay for a player in order to fulfill a need on the roster.
There was a lot of acrimony from the camp of Osi Umenyiora in 2012 as he played out the string with the New York Giants. Over the years, it seems that Umenyiora was never satisfied with his contract, and undoubtedly thought he would hit pay dirt as an unrestricted free agent.
The veteran defensive end from Troy University garnered a two-year, $8.5 million contract from the Atlanta Falcons after spending several weeks on the free agent market. He was not snapped up in the first week of free agency, let alone the first day when the sought after players usually sign. The likelihood is that he settled for this contract with Atlanta, and could have had a similar deal, perhaps even a better one from New York, since his signing bonus was reportedly only $2.5 million.
But Umenyiora decided to burn his bridge with Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese, at one point calling Reese a “liar”.
Umenyiora also bristled at being part of a Giants’ pass rushing rotation, a role he ironically embraced with the Atlanta Falcons at the end of this past season, by becoming Atlanta’s pass rushing specialist.
Sounds like a journey through unrestricted free agency altered his perspective.
From a financial standpoint, free agency benefits the players, but the financial windfall comes at a price. Players like Matt Flynn, Aaron Ross, Jason Babin and Albert Haynesworth quickly wore out their welcome on their new teams. But each left town wealthier than when they arrived, but career-wise, each took several steps backwards.
Another problem is that players also want to be further compensated for goodwill they have accumulated over the years in a sport that is clearly defined by production. Unfortunately, after missing the playoffs for the past two seasons, whatever “goodwill’ Giant players accumulated in winning Super Bowl XLVI has evaporated.
The fact of the matter is that Justin Tuck will be 31 years old before next season begins, and his 11 sacks in 2013 were his highest total since 2010. Using the Umenyiora contract as a guide, it would seem that a two-year deal in the $9 to $9.5 million range would be appropriate. But if Tuck wants a longer deal, then he almost certainly could find suitors willing to go an additional (third) season.
But given the fact that Tuck has been part of two Super Bowl championship teams, and in fact could have been MVP of Super Bowl XLII, works in his favor as far as other organizations are concerned.
Given all of these details, it certainly remains plausible that all of these factors come into play with the conclusion that a deal does not get done with the Giants. In which case, it will not be the team’s fault; nor will it be the player’s fault. It will have been the system’s fault.