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New Names, Same Game

Free agent spree aside, Jerry Reese is still building from within

For the first time in the Jerry Reese era, there’s a free agent frenzy in New York. The cash-strapped Giants cleared enough cap space to improve the offensive line, pluck one of the top free agents on the market from Denver, and totally revamp their secondary and return game. For Giants fans, this isn’t the norm.

Since Reese took over as General Manager in 2007, it’s mostly been all quiet on the Big Blue front during free agency. But over the last seven years, it always seemed like the team had major needs to fill and they never addressed them in the free agent period. It’s because they’ve always been up against the cap…right? Presumably so. But with little salary cap space this year, the G-men are finding ways to spend away. It probably has most Giants fans wondering, “What took so long?”

Many are saying Reese is so aggressive this offseason because he’s feeling pressure to win now. After missing the playoffs three of the last four seasons, it’s certainly possible Reese is pushing the panic button here. I’m reluctant to say that tells the whole story though. In fact, I might say just the opposite.

Reese has rarely overpaid for players because he builds his teams through the draft and snatches low-profile free agents to serve as complementary pieces. This strategy has led to two Super Bowls. I think Reese is taking the same approach this offseason, though he’s using bigger name free agents to help his younger talent bloom. I don’t think Reese is relying on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III, and Jameel McClain to necessarily win him games. He’s actually taking the same offseason approach that he always does, just with more high-profile free agent additions. Reese is using this free agent period to get players who will help his homegrown talent flourish because he knows relying on building from within, not through the free agency pool, will win him a championship.

Take a look at Super Bowl winning squads. They all have mistake-free quarterback play and defenses and offenses that dominate the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks showed that, the Ravens showed that, and even the Giants put that on display in their two Super Bowl victories. The Giants improved the backend of their defense, but a great secondary can only get you so far (see 2009-11 Bengals and Jets) and generally won’t win you a championship. And a good secondary will not win you a lot of games if you don’t create pressure (see 2013 Buccaneers). Without Justin Tuck, the Giants need Jason Pierre-Paul and promising 2013 third rounder Damontre Moore to create consistent pressure so their restocked secondary can create turnovers. Reese added Rodgers-Cromartie and Thurmond III not just to hold down the back end, but to give his now young defensive line time to create constant pressure and disrupt the opposing quarterback because their consistent play will lead to more victories.

The same can be said for the offensive line. Geoff Schwartz was the Giants’ big addition at guard, but Reese knew they needed to improve the interior offensive line so that young tackles Justin Pugh and Will Beatty can protect Eli on the outside. Schwartz will be relied on to protect Eli, but the offense’s success is contingent upon the young tackles’ ability to hold off premier defensive ends and to give Manning time to throw.

It’s not even April and 2014 has already been quite the offseason for Big Blue. Although Jerry Reese found a knack for luring big names to New York, he’s not making the mistake that so many teams make in handing out big contracts to build his team through free agency. There will be a lot of new names wearing blue jerseys in August, and rightly so after a rough 2013. But the Giants will still be homegrown, and they’ll rely on these free agents to make that talent blossom.