The New York Giants possess plenty of cap space this offseason. Will they use it to fill the glaring need at the cornerback position?
Numbers don’t lie, and numbers didn’t do the New York Giants secondary any justice in 2019. Big Blue’s defensive backfield — comprised of an inconsistent Janoris Jenkins, an underperforming Deandre Baker, and an aging Antoine Bethea — finished near the bottom of the league. New York allowed 264.1 passing yards per game, which ranked 28th in the league.
But with the NFL free agency period nearing (March 18, 4:00 p.m. ET), the Giants could look to bolster their issue-filled cornerback spot. Luckily, there’s a plethora of corners in this league who will be seeking new contracts (and potentially new teams). Could one of them join the Giants?
Let’s take look at four of these potential targets.
Chris Harris Jr. – Denver Broncos
At the moment, the Giants are extremely young and inexperienced at cornerback. Baker is just 22 years of age. Corey Ballentine and Sam Beal are both 23 while Grant Haley is 24. Now that Jenkins is out of New York, the Giants are simply without that veteran presence for the young guys.
Luckily, a potential mentor in Chris Harris Jr. will be on the market.
Harris was one of the top corners in the league last decade after initially going undrafted out of the University of Kansas in 2011. He’s proven to have immense talent despite every team passing on him in the 2011 NFL Draft. Harris has received four Pro Bowl nods and three All-Pro selections in his nine-year tenure with the Denver Broncos.
His issue though is that he’s on the elder side of the 30-years-old mark. Harris will be turning 31 this June, which would make him the oldest corner on the roster by a long shot (if they don’t also sign another corner who’s older). Regardless of the age though, he wouldn’t be a terrible acquisition at all.
Big Blue needs experience at this position more than anything. The lack of in-game reps for each player has cost the organization and could continue to cost them if they don’t provide the correct mentorship.
After a down year in 2019 — no Pro Bowl appearance nor All-Pro selection and tied for a career-low in both picks and passes defended — Harris may not be as expensive as he once could’ve been. The Giants hold nearly $74 million in cap space and should be able to afford him.
There are younger corners in this free-agent class that could still provide mentorship though. So despite Harris’ talent, the Giants may be reluctant to make an investment in someone who’ll soon be 31. They did sign Bethea at 34 years old though, so it’s definitely a possibility.
Byron Jones – Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys secondary ranked in the top 10 last year (10th with 223.5 passing yards allowed per game), and Byron Jones was a massive contributor to the success. The fifth-year pro finished with a solid 76.1 Pro Football Focus grade. For context, Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots — who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019 — finished with an 82.8 PFF grade.
The statistics may have been an issue though. Jones posted a career-low in both combined tackles and tackles for loss last year and didn’t pick off a single pass. His six passes defended were also the second-lowest of his career. Nonetheless, that shouldn’t put the Giants in a state of reluctancy when it comes to signing him.
Just like Harris, Jones would be the oldest corner on the roster (if they don’t decide to bring back Antonio Hamilton nor sign another corner who’s older). But unlike Harris, he would still be in his younger years. Jones will be 27 years old by the start of the 2020 campaign and will have five years of experience already under his belt.
Jones isn’t just a physical corner nor someone who’s only successful in zone coverage. He’s additionally proven to be a dominant cover-corner.
In 2018 and 2019, Jones allowed quarterbacks to complete 52.5% and 53.1% of their throws when targeting him, respectively. He allowed just 395 total passing yards in 2019.
To put these numbers into perspective, quarterbacks combined to complete 61.4% of their throws for 850 yards when targeting Baker last year. Ballentine, who also struggled mightily, allowed four touchdowns on a 64.3% completion rate when targeted.
It’s obvious the coverage was a weak spot for the Giants in 2019. Jones can help fix that glaring hole. He’ll likely be more expensive than someone like Harris though, given his age.
James Bradberry – Carolina Panthers
James Bradberry of the Carolina Panthers would make a great deal of sense, being that he’s a former draft pick of Dave Gettleman.
During his tenure as Carolina’s general manager, Gettleman selected Bradberry in the second round of the 2016 draft (No. 62 overall). Bradberry was supposed to fill the void left by All-Pro corner Josh Norman, who exited Carolina that same offseason.
Sporting the same number and playing the same position as Norman, Bradberry has been productive in his time with Carolina. He’s yet to be selected to the Pro Bowl or any sort of All-Pro team, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a reliable corner, especially for a depleted defensive backfield like New York’s.
Bradberry tied for a team-high 12 passes defended and a team-high three picks for Carolina this past year. He also led the cornerback room in combined tackles with 65. He’s not a bad option when it comes to a potential signing and would provide depth to this secondary, which is one of the more important things with any defensive back group.
If the Giants want to sign Bradberry, draft someone like Jeffrey Okudah out of Ohio State, and move Baker to the slot corner position, so be it. That’s a huge adjustment to the secondary, but a significant change may be what’s needed for improvement.
Prince Amukamara – Chicago Bears
Okay, here me out with this one.
Prince Amukamara would provide depth, mentorship, and is familiar with the organization along with its ownership. He portrayed his talents for the Giants from 2011-15 after New York took him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Prince additionally helped the team win Super Bowl 46 in his inaugural pro season.
At 30 years old, Amukamara still has some left in the tank. He recorded 10 passes defended and 53 combined tackles in 15 games last year.
The latter statistic may be an issue though. In his nine years in the league, Amukamara has played just one full season (2013 with the Giants). Therefore, health-related setbacks have been an issue. It may force the Giants to be reluctant to even consider him, but it still wouldn’t be a horrible idea if they brought him back to East Rutherford.
If he does return to New York, the Giants could still look to draft a stud corner in the first or second round. If Okudah is there in the first round, take him. If not, look for someone in one of the succeeding rounds. You also don’t know if Baker will be that bad again in his sophomore campaign, so just signing Prince and not drafting a corner could work.
As was said before: depth, mentorship, and familiarity with the organization. All three are significant qualities and could benefit this defensive backfield in a number of ways.