In this week's edition of Cover 3, the Giants.com crew picks the best and most underrated free agent signings in the history of the team.
John Schmeelk: Best free agent signing: The NFL is all about the quarterback position, and the opportunity to sign Kerry Collins after more than a half-decade of a revolving door at the quarterback position changed the course of the franchise. He was never able to get the Giants a Super Bowl trophy, but he did get to a Super Bowl and secure one of the best home-playoff game wins in club history against the Vikings in the 2000 NFC Championship game.
Underrated signing: Kareem McKenzie. It is rare that a player plays out the entirety of a lucrative, seven-year contract, but that's exactly what McKenzie did as the team's starting right tackle for all but seven games from 2005-2011. He helped the team win two Super Bowls and was extremely consistent at right tackle. And his contract never had to get reworked, so it panned out well for both sides.
Dan Salomone: Here's a player who could fit both bills as the best and most underrated free agent – safety Antrel Rolle. Signing with the team in 2010, the former Arizona Cardinal picked up his second (2010) and third (2013) Pro Bowl trips after joining the Giants. He started all 84 games of his five-year run with the Giants, including four in the postseason en route to winning Super Bowl XLVI.
More importantly, his leadership matched his production as he galvanized the 2011 Giants into action. Heading into a regular season meeting with New England, he said, "I don't worry about our schedule. I feel like our schedule needs to worry about us." The Giants went out and beat the Patriots in Foxboro.
More famously, he sent a broad but clear message to his teammates following a 23-10 home loss to Washington, which dropped the Giants to 7-7 and set up must-win games against the Jets and Cowboys. "If you're going to go out here and play the game on Sunday, you need to be out there with your men throughout the week," Rolle said. "I've been nicked up all year long."
The Giants won their next six games, including four playoff outings, by a combined score of 162-84. You can't ask for more from a free agent than what Rolle brought to the team. Eli Manning and Justin Tuck are usually the first two names that come up when people talk about 2011 – rightfully so – but Rolle should never be overlooked when discussing the most recent championship in New York sports.
Lance Medow: In 2005, the Giants provided Eli Manning with a No. 1 wide receiver and Plaxico Burress didn't disappoint. He collected 76 receptions for 1,214 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season as a member of Big Blue and followed that up with 63 catches for 988 yards and 10 scores in 2006. Manning and Burress seemed to click instantly and the latter proved to be a headache for every Giants' divisional rival, specifically the Eagles. Burress led New York in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in each of his first three seasons with the team and in 2007, it's fair to question whether the Giants win the Super Bowl without him. He led the way with 11 receptions for 151 yards in the NFC Championship game against the Packers and then caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII against the Patriots. It's hard to put another free agent ahead of Burress, given his production and the hardware he helped bring the team.
If the most important position in the NFL is quarterback, then Kerry Collins has to be the most underrated signing. After a shaky ending to his tenure in Carolina in 1998 and a stint in New Orleans, Giants GM Ernie Accorsi took a chance on Collins, bringing in the veteran signal caller as Kent Graham's backup. Collins wound up claiming the starting job in Week 11 of the 1999 season and never relinquished that role until after the 2003 campaign. For four-plus seasons, Collins provided stability at a position that had been troubling the Giants since the Phil Simms era came to an end in May 1994.
In his first full season as the starter in 2000, Collins helped lead the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens. While the outcome of the title game wasn't pretty, that accomplishment can't be overlooked, in addition to helping the team make the playoffs following the 2002 season. That year, Collins set a single-season franchise record by throwing for 4,073 yards, a mark that stood until 2011, when Eli Manning totaled 4,933. The best numbers in Collins' 17-year career were posted while he was wearing a Giants uniform and his success is a big reason why the team reached the postseason twice in his four years as the starter.
There are other worthy underrated candidates, such as Antonio Pierce and Antrel Rolle, but given the importance of the quarterback position and the issues the Giants had prior to Collins' arrival, I think he tops the list. Collins built the bridge between the Simms and Manning eras. He just doesn't get enough credit because a Lombardi Trophy isn't attached to his name.
View the players set to become free agents when the new league year begins March 17.