Fact or Fiction: Impact of Free Agency – Giants.com (blog)

The Giants.com staff debates the most vital part of the NFL offseason:

Free agency is more important than the draft for the Giants this year.

John Schmeelk: FICTION – I was about to write “Free agency is never more important than the draft” but last season disproved that given the success and impact of signing young veterans Damon Harrison, Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins. All three were big reasons the Giants defense was one of the top units in football this season and will be productive for years to come. While free agency will be important this offseason once again, the odds the Giants are as aggressive as they were in 2016 are remote. They have two of their own players that are free agents in Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins, and retaining them will likely be a higher priority than bringing in new players. Free agency might end up being more important than the draft when it comes to immediate success in 2017, but the draft will have a bigger impact on the franchise long term. Having good players under rookie scale contracts often is the difference between average teams and great teams.

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Dan Salomone: FICTION – Last year was an exception to the rule because the Giants had enough resources to do what they did. But usually the most important thing is the draft. Rarely do you get the opportunity to add as many impact players as the Giants did last year in free agency, but the draft is the lifeblood of a roster.

Lance Medow: FICTION – The easy answer is they’re both important given Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins are free agents but, in my opinion, nothing is more important than the draft every year, especially following an offseason in which the Giants made a big splash in the free agent market.  Rookie contracts are very valuable assets which actually provide salary cap relief.  If you can find playmakers in the draft, you can get solid production at a bargain.  With the exception of Darian Thompson, who was hurt in Week 2, the Giants received contributions from the entire 2016 draft class in year one and they need to continue to build upon that young core.  When you groom young players who consistently produce, it also makes it easier to part ways with free agents.  Easily overlooked in the wake of Super Bowl LI is the Falcons had four rookies start on defense for the majority of the season.

Janoris Jenkins was the Giants’ best signing last offseason. 

John Schmeelk: FICTION – I’m going to go with Damon “Snacks” Harrison. His contract was smaller than both Jenkins and Vernon, and he had just as much of an impact on the defense. His value is off the charts. His addition allowed the Giants to stop the run with just seven players, which (along with good cover corners) gave Landon Collins the freedom to play with his instincts and make all the game-changing plays that he did. The most consistent part of the Giants all season long was their run defense and that starts with Snacks. My runner-up is Olivier Vernon, who plays both the run and pass extremely well, and is a great professional example for his teammates in the locker room.

Dan Salomone: FACT – Dez Bryant in Week 1: one catch for eight yards. Dez Bryant in Week 14: one catch for 14 yards that resulted in a lost fumble. Who forced it? Janoris Jenkins. The former Ram came over and had his best season while turning the Giants’ secondary into one of the best in the league. The Giants allowed a league-low 25 offensive touchdowns this season, nearly half of what they gave up the year before (46).

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Lance Medow: FICTION – First of all, let me preface my comments by saying you can easily make a strong case for a number of free agents, including Jackrabbit.  With that being said, when you look at how many areas Damon “Snacks” Harrison impacted the defense, he was by far the best signing last offseason.  Harrison’s presence is one of the biggest reasons why the Giants’ run defense went from 24th ranked (allowing 121.4 yards per game) in 2015 to third (88.6 yards per contest) in 2016.  A vastly improved run defense helped the Giants consistently make stops on third down because opponents faced numerous third-and-longs compared to 2015.  That’s why the Giants’ third down defense, which ranked dead last in the NFL a year ago, skyrocketed to third in 2016.  Snacks joined the team with the reputation as one of the best run-stuffers in the league and he certainly lived up to those expectations, but his impact went way beyond that one statistic.  Harrison also set a career-high with 2.5 sacks and his pressure up the middle opened up opportunities for both Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul off the edges.

More than two full-time starters are currently not on the roster.

John Schmeelk: FACT – This is one of my favorite questions we’ve had on Fact or Fiction and it was really tough to answer. Given the amount of change and unpredictability in the NFL from year to year, I think “Fact” is the way to go. I don’t expect a lot of changes on either side of the ball, but there will be enough where there will be at least three new starters in 2017. On offense, there’s a chance there will be a new starter at WR, TE or one or two spots on the offensive line. On defense, depending on Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins, there could be a change on the defensive line. There might also be a new starter at linebacker given pending free agents. Then you also have unexpected injuries that could thrust new free agents or draft picks into the starting lineup. I don’t know where the new starters are going to be, but I think there will be at least three.

Dan Salomone: FICTION – Given the roster attrition with personnel moves and injuries, two is probably right on when talking about full-time starters. Look, there are thousands of variables that need to be sorted out first, but there definitely won’t be as many new faces as last year – that’s for sure. The most promising thing about the Giants right now is that most of their playmakers are young veterans just entering their prime.

Lance Medow: FACT – If any players not currently on the roster become full-time starters, I think it will be solely on offense.  Even if the Giants lose a starter or two on defense, I think all replacements are currently on the roster.  When you compare the 2015 list of players to 2016, it’s clear there was a great deal of turnover on the 53, even with the depth chart, so that’s a big reason why there were so many new starters.  I don’t think the roster will be revamped to that degree this offseason, but I can see about two to three new starters on offense (either at wide receiver, tight end or on the offensive line) who aren’t currently on the roster, so that’s why I’ll lean toward fact.

Draft picks are more valuable than salary cap space.

John Schmeelk: FACT – This comes back to value. Multiple draft picks give you even more flexibility than cap space. You can combine picks to move up in the draft to target specific players. You can trade draft picks for players you might like on other rosters (see Brad Wing). If you use your draft picks, you get players with a lot of talent that are on rookie scale contracts you can manage for up to five seasons. Whoever you sign in free agency comes at a high cost. The best teams are built through the draft, so I’ll take the picks over the cash!

Dan Salomone: FACT – How many times have we seen teams win free agency and lose the season? Credit general manager Jerry Reese’s staff and the coaches for not letting that happen last season, but teams always run that risk. On the other hand, a good draft always leads to success.  

Lance Medow: FACT – This relates to my answer to statement number one and how much I value the draft given it can provide starters and depth on reasonable contracts, which in turn equals salary cap relief.  Draft picks are also great assets that you can use in trades, which isn’t the case with salary cap space.  Teams that consistently win and are always in the playoff mix usually have a great track record when it comes to the draft but that’s not the case for teams that rely heavily on free agent spending.  Plus, what good is salary cap space if you can’t lure free agents.  You can certainly use it to re-sign your own players but successful drafts will also provide you with the same financial flexibility to retain key players, when their rookie contracts expire, because you’re not constantly using cap space to fill the voids you failed to address in the draft.

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