New York Giants

The New York Giants have landed four bona-fide stars this offseason, but at a colossal price.

By Justin Weiss

While Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul were all highly-touted free agents, GM Jerry Reese paid a lofty amount to haul them into New York.

While it’s quite blatant that Reese is fully aware of his personal situation (he’s been on the hot seat for a couple of years now), how about Big Blue’s situation?

Will these acquisitions be enough to patch up the worst defensive unit in franchise history?

While it’s fair to say that advanced stats sites such as Pro Football Focus don’t paint the full picture, it’s also fair to say that these tools — for the most part — accurately depict how effective a player is in a given season.

So what does the Chris Collinsworth-owned website have to say about the four players the Gmen just signed/re-signed?

Olivier Vernon, DE

New York is set to make Vernon the highest-paid defensive end in NFL history.

Before we get to the PFF analysis, let me just preface it by saying this: Vernon is, no doubt, a tremendous pass rusher and run stopper. But at what point do teams draw a line and say, “hey, you’re awesome and all, but unless you just built a hospital or something, there’s no reason you should be making this much money.”

Well, anyways, now that my rant is complete, let’s get on the Focus analysis. Vernon, 25, was PFF’s third-ranked free agent this offseason. The breakdown:

If you want an example of a player turning it on right before free agency, look no further than Olivier Vernon. Halfway through the season, Vernon looked like just one of many under-performers in Miami this season; that changed drastically in the second half. PFF’s second-highest graded overall edge defender in the regular season, Vernon earned positive game grades in each of the last eight weeks. Leading all 4-3 ends in QB hits, with 30, he would accumulate 24 of those in those final eight games, in addition to eight of his 10 sacks and 25 of his 41 hurries.

It’s worth noting that an AFC scout told me today that Vernon is very much like former Giants end Damontre Moore: “He’s a much more polished talent than Moore, but as far as cringe-worthy penalties go, the parallels couldn’t be more evident.”

Vernon had his transition tag waived by the Dolphins today, which saved them money, but also allowed Vernon to enter free agency.

In an article by Sam Monson of PFF earlier today, the writer pointed out that “Vernon would instantly give the Giants one of the league’s best pass-rushing duos, even with Pierre-Paul a potentially diminished force with his hand injury.”

The Giants certainly hope so.

Damon Harrison, DT

“Big Snacks,” who won the inaugural Ted Washington Award for best run defender last year, was PFF’s fourth-ranked FA heading into the offseason:

The highly-paid nose tackle may be a dying breed, but Damon Harrison has a great chance to buck the trend. Harrison is the classic two-down, run-plugging tackle in a league that has geared itself more and more toward defending the pass, but Harrison’s work against the run has been dominant enough to warrant special attention. As a three-year starter for the Jets, Harrison has led all defensive tackles in run stop percentage each of those three seasons.

With a 91.3 PFF rating, it’s not too difficult to see why New York spent nearly a fifth of their entire available cap space on him.

The 350-pound nose tackle had the highest PFF grade of all interior linemen against the run last season, and finished off his 2015 campaign with nine consecutive weeks of a grade exceeding 1.00.

Janoris Jenkins, CB

This is where it gets intersting.

Reese must have been really impressed by something, because it’s hard to see why he would’ve thrown more than ten million dollars on a guy who is coming off a dreadful season in coverage.

As a Rams fan put it on Twitter, “Jenkins WAS NOT worth the money.”

Pro Football Focus gave the signing a big-fat D, but their analysis was a bit friendlier:

This is a boom-or-bust move for the Giants. From a financial perspective, this is a big gamble on a cornerback who has not proven himself to be among the top tier of corners. Jenkins has consistently been a corner equally adept at creating impact plays for both his team and the opposition.

Since Jenkins entered the league in 2012, only Buster Skrine (25) and Patrick Peterson (23) have surrendered more than Jenkins’ 22 touchdowns, while only four corners (Antonio Cromartie, Brandon Carr, Cary Williams and Tramon Williams) have allowed more plays of 20-plus yards than Jenkins (39). On the positive side, Jenkins will make big plays for his own team as well; his 10 career interceptions are tied for the 12th-most since he entered the league, and his 34 passes defensed are tied for the seventh-most.

Paired with incumbent No. 1 corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jenkins gives the Giants two aggressive corners who love to make plays on the ball. Rodgers-Cromartie himself has 12 interceptions and 38 passes defensed since 2012, and if the Giants can land a pass-rusher to play opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, they are setting themselves up to have an extremely aggressive pass defense that could lead for some explosive games in 2016 — for both them and their opponents.

Jason Pierre-Paul, DE

New York has committed up to $10.5M on Pierre-Paul — but a large fraction of it comes in as incentives.

PFF has always been big fans of Pierre-Paul. They reaffirmed that with this article:

Despite playing only 317 snaps, JPP has the 11th best pass rushing grade amongst 4-3 defensive ends. He looks determined to prove that his unfortunate accident is far from major hinderance. Since he returned in Week 9, JPP has a +12.4 pass rushing grade due to five hits and 24 hurries. He also has a pair of batted passes. Since he returned, that +12.4 pass rush grade is third in the NFL at his position behind only Jerry Hughes and Olivier Vernon. Pierre’Paul’s 29 combined pressures in the past five games also place him third behind that duo, and he’s amassed those numbers from just 197 snaps. If anything, JPP has elevated his game as a pass rusher compared with a year ago, even if the big plays aren’t there. He had only 37 combined pressures in 2014 from 324 snaps, and a worse pass rush productivity as a result. Partnering JPP with Robert Ayers gives the Giants a pair of bookend pass rushers.

The story with JPP is not entirely positive, however. His run defense has suffered, likely as a result of the injury. Pierre-Paul has a negative grade against the run (-0.8) after finishing third in that category in 2014 (+14.3). Tackling has, unsurprisingly, proven difficult, as everyone witnessed on MNF when he was unable to bring Lamar Miller down, resulting in a long touchdown run. So far, JPP has already missed three tackles, and that’s from just 14 attempts. He’s also making fewer tackles around the line of scrimmage, illustrated by the fact that his stop rate has fallen from 8.4 percent to 7 percent. Early signs suggest Pierre-Paul might not be the complete player he once was, but can still disrupt quarterbacks in the pocket.

Obviously, Pro Football Focus offers unique insight into player evaluation with their use of advanced statistics. What is certain–statistics aside–is that the New York Giants are a better team today than they were last week.

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.