The Giants.com staff debates the best free agent signings in franchise history:
With free agency set to open at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, our Giants.com staff debates the best signings in franchise history.
I have it down to two players, and I'm having a lot of trouble deciding between the two. Shaun O'Hara and Kareem McKenzie are the two best free agent signings in Giants history, but which was better? O'Hara made three Pro Bowls for the Giants and played seven seasons, re-signing once in 2007. McKenzie signed a seven-year contract in 2005 and actually played out the entire length of the contract, something that is extremely rare for a deal of that length. It shows how good he was even as he aged. McKenzie missed just seven games in those seven seasons, while O'Hara missed just five games before his final year when he missed 10 before retiring. Both players were key cogs in an offensive line that was a big part of the Giants' Super Bowl XLII title and their best regular season of the era in 2008 (when they led the league in rushing).
I will give McKenzie the edge for two reasons. He was also the starting right tackle for another Giants' Super Bowl championship team in 2011. Right tackle, though not necessarily requiring the same leadership responsibilities as the center position, is more difficult to fill and more valuable on the open market. McKenzie, along with Richie Seubert, are often the most overlooked pieces of that great offensive line group because of their lower profiles in the media, so I'll give McKenzie the nod here.
Unrestricted free agency, as we know it, didn't come to the NFL until the end of his Giants' tenure, but center Bart Oates needs to be in this conversation. After winning two championships in three seasons in the USFL, Oates helped the Giants claim their first Super Bowl title in franchise history in 1986 and then again in 1990. As a Giant, Oates played in 151 games, including 11 postseason contests. He earned three of his five career Pro Bowl nods with Big Blue.
His era was defined by Bill Parcells' defense – rightfully so – but the next Giants offensive lineman to make it to three Pro Bowls didn't come along until Shaun O'Hara and Chris Snee. The Giants do not win Super Bowl XXV if they don't keep Jim Kelly and the Bills off the field by controlling the time of possession for 40 minutes.
If the most important position in the NFL is quarterback, then how do you choose anyone other than Kerry Collins. After a shaky ending to his tenure in Carolina in 1998, Giants GM Ernie Accorsi took a chance on Collins, bringing in the veteran signal caller as Kent Graham's backup. He wound up claiming the starting job in Week 11 that season and never relinquished that role until following the 2003 season. For four-plus campaigns, Collins provided stability under center at a position that had been troubling the Giants since the Phil Simms era came to an end in 1994.
In his first full season as the starter in 2000, he only 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 once again 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 collected 4,933 passing yards. The best numbers in Collins' 17-year career were posted when 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 full-time starter. There's certainly other worthy candidates, like Plaxico Burress, 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 there's no hardware attached to his name.