Fact or Fiction: Best Free Agent pickup

Posted Feb 12, 2016's writers debate and give their opinion on several topics including who the Giants best free agent pickup was in 2015

1. Free agency will have a bigger impact than the draft this year for the Giants.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - If the question was simply a short uptick in wins for one season, the answer might be free agency. But that isn’t the Giants’ goal. They are trying to build a team that will be good for a long time, and that happens through the draft. The Giants have always built through the draft and that isn’t going to change now. If you examine the teams in the Super Bowl, look at how many of their best players are on their rookie contracts: Malik Jackson, Von Miller, Danny Trevathan, Sylvester Williams, Brandon Marshall, CJ Anderson, Derek Wolfe, Josh Norman, Kawann Short, Koney Ealy, Star Lotulelei, Devin Funchess, Shaq Thompson and Corey Brown. When you can get your best players on rookie contracts, those are the years you can make real runs at the Super Bowl. Look at the 2011 Giants as an example when the team had Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Jason Pierre Paul all on their rookie deals. Getting great young players will always be a game changer, which is why the answer to this question is almost always the draft.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Free agency will be big this year given the recent retirement of linebacker Jon Beason and the release of veteran offensive linemen Will Beatty and Geoff Schwartz. But the best way to build teams is always through the draft. How many times have we seen teams “win” free agency, but the splashes don’t translate to wins? 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The answer really depends on how you interpret the statement.  Bigger impact on short-term future or long-term future? If we’re talking about the long-term future, then I would say fiction because in the salary cap era, the draft is clearly the most important resource when putting a team together.  If you can stockpile game-changing players through the draft, then you’ll have the bulk of your roster on rookie contracts, taking a great deal of stress off the salary cap.  For example, if you look at the Seahawks, they made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances recently thanks to a young nucleus of players but like any other team in the NFL, it’s always challenging to retain all of those weapons through free agency as Seattle had to pay Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas over a short period of time.  Even if you look at this year’s two Super Bowl participants, Carolina and Denver, they both have a number of impactful players on rookie contracts, as did the Giants when they won the Super Bowl following the 2011 season.   With all that being said, my answer is based on the short-term future and if we’re just focusing on 2016, I think free agency has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the draft.  The Giants are scheduled to have over 30 free agents on the current roster, so based on the math, regardless of how free agency plays out, the bulk of next season’s roster will be determined through free agent deals compared to a six or seven player draft class.   

2. Dwayne Harris was the Giants’ best free-agent pickup last year.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The only other possible answer to this question is Shane Vereen, who also had a very big impact on the team. But I’m going to go with Harris since he not only helped the team’s offense as their third receiver, but also was the best special teamer on the roster. He had a kick and punt return for a touchdown, and did a good job on coverage teams as well. Vereen was great as a receiver out of the backfield, but Harris’ impact was felt on more parts of the team. He also had more game shifting/altering plays.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Here’s what the former Cowboy accomplished with the Giants in 2015: first player in Giants history to have a kickoff return TD, punt return TD and receiving TD in the same season; first player in NFL history to score a game-winning kickoff return TD against a team he played for in the previous season; tied Pro Football Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell (Nov.  4, 1951) and Clarence Childs (Dec. 6, 1964) for the longest kickoff return (100 yards) in franchise history; and first Giant to have a punt return touchdown and kickoff return touchdown in the same season since Jimmy Patton in 1955. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - Salomone just put together a feature this week on ranking the top five plays from the 2015 free agent class (you’re welcome for the extra publicity; anything I can do to help) and only one player made multiple appearances on the list: Dwayne Harris.  That means Salomone better go fact here.  If not, we’ll have some more material for next week’s installment of Fact/Fiction.  Harris had a career year across the board and he not only provided a spark on special teams but also took advantage of an expanded role on offense.  While other free agents made names for themselves, including Shane Vereen and Jasper Brinkley, no one matched Harris’ impact on multiple facets of the team.  As the third receiver for much of the season, Harris set career highs in receptions (36), targets (57), receiving yards (396) and receiving touchdowns (4).   The one game that stands out to me is Week 8 at New Orleans when he overcame an early injury to catch two of Eli Manning’s six touchdown passes against the Saints.  He also had his first career kickoff return for a touchdown against his former team, the Cowboys, in Week 7 and then returned a punt for a score against the Jets in Week 13.  To put that in perspective, Harris became the first Giants player to return a kickoff and punt for touchdowns in the same season since Jimmy Patton in 1955.   I’m sure our colleague, Paul Dottino, can tell you stories about those days.

3. Having a new head coach drastically changes what types of players the team drafts.

If the new head coach came with a new offensive system, base defense and philosophical change, the answer would be fact, but with Ben McAdoo replacing Tom Coughlin, I do not foresee a huge philosophical change with the team. The types of players Ben McAdoo wants won’t be much different than the ones Tom Coughlin wanted the last couple of years because the offensive and defensive philosophies aren’t much different. The personnel departments aren’t much different either, so the player preference from that group doesn’t figure to change much either. The team will still want good football players that are good athletes and mature, dedicated, good people off the field. 

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction -  Somewhat? Yes. Drastically? I don’t think so. Everyone is looking for the biggest, fastest, strongest, toughest and smartest players. That never changes. Football is football, and you need as many playmakers as possible on both sides of the ball. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - As the Giants’ front office has stated, selecting players through the draft is a detailed process that involves many different individuals.  The head coach is just one of those many voices, so even if you change that position, I don’t think the structure of the process and philosophy will be altered drastically.  Ben McAdoo served two years under Tom Coughlin, so he’s been very much involved in the draft process, and John Mara even noted during McAdoo’s introductory presser that he liked how McAdoo gave his opinions and offered insights even when he was an assistant.   In other circumstances, when perhaps the offensive or defensive philosophy/scheme is changing, I could see that impacting the types of players a team selects, but in the Giants’ case, with an internal transition from Coughlin to McAdoo, I don’t think that will shake things up too much.

4. Owa Odighizuwa will make the biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - The easy answer is Fact here since Owa didn’t give the team anything in his rookie year since he was injured. Since he is starting from zero, odds are he will make the biggest jump no matter what he does in his second season. Instead, I’m going to go with Ereck Flowers. As impressive as he was in his rookie year, Flowers battled through an ankle injury most of the season that negatively affected his play. It hurt his mobility to pass protect, but did prove his toughness in staying on the field through the injury. Having gotten his feet wet at left tackle, and being healthy in his second year, I could see Flowers becoming one of the top tackles in the league. He has all the physical ability to do it, and with some work on his technique, I think it is very much within reach. 

Foot and hamstring issues limited the 6-foot-3, 270-pound defensive end to four games in which he recorded just three tackles. So those numbers will only shoot up if he can stay healthy. The comparisons to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were made for a reason on the night the Giants drafted him in the third round, and he can still get there. Tuck and Umenyiora didn’t get to double-digit sacks until their third seasons. It’s a process. 

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - 
Considering Owa Odighizuwa played in just four games last season, he’s an attractive choice but I’m going to go with Landon Collins.  In his rookie campaign, he played in all 16 games and led the team in tackles, which is impressive, but keep in mind, he played opposite a number of different safeties due to injuries, so each week he had to make various adjustments, most notably in terms of communicating with his teammates.  The fact that he gained a lot of experience in his first year will only help him make big strides in year two, especially now that the game has slowed down for him and he understands his role in the defense.  With Odighizuwa missing so much time in 2015 due to injuries, 2016 is essentially going to be his rookie campaign when he’ll still be getting a feel for the game.  On the other hand, Collins has already passed that stage, putting him in a strong position to make a significant jump in his sophomore year.