Free Agency Will Determine if the New York Giants Believe in Their Young Receivers 2
Aug 12, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) and wide receiver Roger Lewis (82) dance before the preseason game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ trust in their young receiving unit will likely be put to the test when free agency begins later this week.

NFL free agency is just a few days away and it’s unclear just how active the New York Giants will be. A big part of that is due to franchise tagging defensive end Jason Pierre Paul. Tagging JPP limits the Giants to approximately $14 million in cap space. The question is how will the Giants use that money? The obvious choice is to use it to help improve the offensive line, but the Giants just may pursue a wide receiver. A big part of that is due to veteran receiver Victor Cruz being released.

The Giants’ decision making in whether to pursue help on the line or add a receiver will ultimately determine whether they truly believe in their young receivers.

While the Giants and the NFL world sees greatness in Odell Beckham Jr., many aren’t too sold on the remaining receivers on their roster. One guy who the Giants are and have been expecting big things from is Sterling Shepard.

Nov 6, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard (87) lines up against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Eagles 28-23. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Giants drafted Shepard in the second round of the NFL draft out of Oklahoma. Shepard stepped in and played well during his rookie campaign.

In his first three games, Shepard had a combined 233 receiving yards. Though as the year progressed, his production became inconsistent, and mediocre at best. After week three, Shepard’s best game was in the Giants week 16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. In that game he finished with just 61 yards. That amount was the most he posted for the remaining 13 games of the regular season. Will Shepard be able to bounce back and produce at a more consistent level in 2017?

If he can take a step forward in 2017 and become a thousand yard, go-to option, for Eli Manning and the Giants’ West Coast offense, then the Giant offense may be able to build on a lackluster 2016. However, Shepard alone won’t make the Giants offense elite. Enter Tavarres King.

Giants receiver Tavarres King didn’t really get the chance to make an impact until the waning moments of the regular season. In their week 17 affair versus the Washington Redskins, King reeled in a 44 yard catch down the sideline to help put the Giants in field goal range; his catch helped the Giants go on to defeat their division rivals. King also made an impact in the Giants Wild Card game in Green Bay.

Despite the Giants failing to stay in the game, King played well. He was the lone Giant to reach the end-zone. He finished the day with three receptions, 73 yards and a touchdown. While he didn’t get a chance to showcase himself until the final few games of the year, the Giants have the opportunity to see whether King can blossom into something in 2017. They have that same luxury with Roger Lewis.

Much like King, Lewis didn’t get too many reps, but he did play over a longer period of time. In thirteen games played, Lewis racked in seven receptions on 19 targets. Those seven receptions resulted in a combined 97 yards, as well as two touchdowns. Could Lewis blossom into something greater than a depth option next year?

Much like King, Lewis didn’t get a lot of playing time in 2016, but with Victor Cruz now gone, the opportunity for both receivers to grow is there. The question is though, will the Giants be patient enough to take that chance?

That brings us the free agency conundrum. While Big Blue has just $14 million to spend in free agency, they should be able to land an impact player or two. One may or may not come from the wide receiver market, as the options are plentiful.

The hot name on the market is the recently released Brandon Marshall. Despite a rough 2016, the former Jet receiver is just one year removed from a career high 1,502 yard season. Marshall could be the big target the Giants have been deprived of since Plaxico Burress. Another veteran and intriguing option for the Giants is the Lions’ Anquan Boldin.

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin (80) runs after a catch during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The veteran Boldin, while mildly regressing, is still a solid option. He’s a strong, reliable receiver who is also good at protecting the ball; Boldin has committed just two fumbles since 2010. He also posted the most touchdowns of his career (8) since 2008. Considering his age, Boldin will also likely not cost too much.

The rival Redskins also have a pair of free agent receivers — Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Both veteran receivers recorded 1,000+ yard seasons.

Rams breakout receiver Kenny Britt will hit the free agent market, too. Britt came into his own in 2016, finishing the year with 1,002 yards.

In addition to Britt, the Bears’ Alshon Jeffrey will get the chance to test free agency. However, Jeffrey has dealt with injuries in the past, and a PED suspension. Missing 11 games over the previous two years, Jeffrey has been unable to consistently remain on the field, which could scare away the Giants.

The crafty and versatile Terrelle Pryor will also be free.

The Giants receiving core is a youthful and one that has potential, but will the Giants be willing to gamble on it producing in 2017? With Eli Manning’s window for success closing, the Giants may opt to pursue a receiver in the free agent market to help add depth and experience. Their decision making in whether to dish out money to a free agent receiver will show just how much they truly believe in their young wideouts.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos