EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** The Giants today fortified themselves on offense, defense and special teams with the addition of five veteran free agents.
They signed running back Shane Vereen, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, wide receiver/return specialist Dwayne Harris and linebackers Jonathan Casillas and J.T. Thomas III.
Vereen and Casillas come from the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots; Harris played for division rival Dallas, the defending NFC East champion; Newhouse was with Cincinnati; and Thomas was in Jacksonville.
"(I made this) decision with my family," Vereen said. "At the end of the day, I wanted to make a decision that was right for us, right for them, and this is a great organization. I was fortunate enough to play in New England with another great organization. This is not a step down; if anything, it is a step up. I am looking forward to the opportunity, and I am enjoying being in New York."
"My agents and I went back and forth, and it just felt like I needed to be (here)," Thomas said. "I just want to thank the Mara and Tisch families for having me. I am excited. (I received) a call from Coach (Tom) Coughlin and it was cool. I am excited to be here, really excited to be here."
Vereen, 5-10 and 205 pounds, played his first four NFL seasons for New England. In his final game with the Patriots, he caught a game-high 11 passes and rushed for 13 yards in their 28-24 victory over Seattle last month in Super Bowl XLIX. On the Patriots' game-winning, fourth-quarter drive, Vereen had three receptions and a seven-yard run.
"The Super Bowl was an awesome time," Vereen said. "Just the atmosphere, the whole week leading up – it was a great experience. The fact that we could go out as a team and put on a good performance and come out with a victory is huge."
Vereen has been one of the NFL's most productive third down backs. In 2014, he played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time (with six starts) and in New England's three postseason games (two starts). He was the team's second-leading rusher in the regular season, with 321 yards and two touchdowns on 96 carries. Vereen ran for a season-high 90 yards on nine carries vs. Cincinnati on Oct. 5.
He was also fourth on the team with 52 receptions, for 447 yards and three scores. Vereen caught at least one pass in every game but one and had a season-high eight catches vs. Detroit on Nov. 23.
In the postseason, Vereen was second on the team in receptions with 18, for 144 yards, and with 21 rushing yards.
"I think it (third down back) is just a role I have always felt comfortable in," he said. "It has always been a role I have been tagged with. I had to learn how to do that to get on the field. That is how it started in college. I had to pass protect to get on the field. I had to catch the ball to get on the field. When you are backed up against the wall and your only option is to get better, then that is what you work at.
"I am looking for an opportunity to get the ball in my hands any way possible, whether it is running the ball or catching the ball. Any way. I am sure we are going to find ways to be effective with it."
Vereen has played in 42 career regular-season games with eight starts and in seven postseason games with three starts. His regular-season totals include 217 rushing attempts for 907 yards and seven touchdowns, plus 107 receptions for 1.023 yards and seven scores, including an 83-yarder. In the postseason, Vereen has 26 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown and 32 catches for 324 yards and two scores.
"Vereen gives us lots of versatility as a receiver and runner," said general manager Jerry Reese. "He is one of the best as a receiver out of the backfield or detached, He is very hard to handle for most linebackers. And he has big game experience."
The Patriots selected Vereen on the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the 56th overall choice, from California. As a rookie, he played in only five games and rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown. Vereen was inactive for nine regular-season games and all three postseason games – including the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI – because of a hamstring injury.
"That was by far the toughest year I have been through in sports, period," Vereen said. "Lots of frustration, but you have to learn how to become a professional. You have to learn how to take care of your body and how to be a professional football player, and that is what that year was."
In 2012, he played in 13 games with one start. He rushed for 251 yards and three touchdowns on 62 carries and caught eight passes for 149 yards and a score. On Thanksgiving night, he caught a short pass from Tom Brady, raced up the left sideline and turned it into an 83-yard touchdown.
In New England's AFC Divisional Playoff victory over Houston, Vereen tied a franchise postseason record with three touchdowns on a one-yard run and receptions of eight and 33 yards. Vereen was only the second player in Patriots postseason history to score both a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in the same postseason game (Deion Branch is the other). Vereen was also just the third player in NFL history to score two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in a postseason game, joining Roger Craig and Ricky Watters. In that game, Vereen rushed for 41 yards on seven carries and caught five passes for 83 yards.
Vereen spent most of the first half of the 2013 season on injured reserve/designated for return with a wrist injury suffered in the opener at Buffalo. He returned to rush for 208 yards and catch 47 passes in eight games (one start). On Dec, 8, 2013, Vereen set team records for catches (12) and receiving yards (153) by a running back in a victory over Cleveland.
That season, Vereen also had seven receptions and 51 rushing yards in two playoff games. In his first career postseason start, Vereen had 93 total yards – 59 on five catches, plus 34 rushing yards – in the Patriots' AFC Championship Game loss in Denver.
He joins a backfield that includes Andre Williams, who led the team in rushing as a rookie in 2014, Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Chris Ogbonnaya and Michael Cox.
Harris, 5-10 and 202 pounds, played four seasons for the Cowboys. In 56 games, he averaged 26.5 yards on 77 kickoff returns and 11.1 yards on 87 punt returns (scoring two touchdowns). Harris also caught 33 passes for 418 yards (12.7-yard avg.) and three touchdowns. He has been a gunner on the punt team and has 33 special teams tackles (24 solo).
"I am a physical player," Harris said. "I think all of the Giants fans are going to find that out soon. I am a physical player and I like the physical nature of the game. I like being the guy who hits players. I take a lot of hits during the game. It is always fun to return the favor."
In 2014, Harris played in all 16 games and averaged 24.7 yards on 30 kickoff returns (12th in the NFL) and 9.2 yards on 30 punt returns (tied for ninth). He also led the Cowboys with 12 special teams tackles (10 solo).
"Harris is a well-kept secret to a lot of people, except the teams in NFC East," said Reese. "He is one of the top all-around special teams players in league and a solid third or fourth receiving option."
Harris was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the 2013 season opener vs. the Giants, when he returned two punts for 19 yards and led the team with three solo special teams tackles.
Asked how he developed his versatility, Harris said, "Just being able to do everything. Growing up, I was a quarterback. Then when I got to college, I changed to receiver and when I got to the league, special teams became a big part of me being able to get on the field and be able to play. I was always a good blocker, so I know just having all those skill sets helped me out to be a better football player. It is great. I am glad I have these skill sets to help the team win."
A former All-Conference USA wide receiver and punt returner, Harris was the Cowboys' sixth-round draft choice in 2011, the 176th overall selection.
"This was just a perfect fit for me with what they do," Harris said of joining the Giants. "They are going to give me a chance to play my old team, the Dallas Cowboys, twice a year."
The Giants have signed LB Jonathan Casillas
Casillas was born in nearby Jersey City and went to New Brunswick (N.J.) High School, less than an hour from the Giants' Quest Diagnostics Training Center headquarters. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion, with New Orleans in his rookie year in 2009 and with the Patriots last season.
"It's hard to put into words," Casillas said of his feelings about returning to New Jersey. "After so much time away and playing ball in New Orleans and Tampa and New England, being able to come back home and be able to play in front of your home crowd and my family is really a blessing."
In five seasons, Casillas has played in 63 games with 18 starts as a linebacker and core special teams player. He began the 2014 season with Tampa Bay, where he played in five games with three starts. On Oct. 28, he was traded from the Bucs, who finished with two victories, to New England, which won the Super Bowl. Casillas helped the cause by playing in eight regular-season games with three starts and finishing with 21 tackles (18 solo), a forced fumble and five special teams tackles.
He played in all three of the Patriots' postseason games, including the Super Bowl, and had one tackle on defense and two on special teams.
"Last year at the beginning was a little bleak," Casillas said. "When you work at something and you care about something so much, you put your all into it and don't get anything back, it's tough. It takes a lot to wake up the next day and go to work and put a smile on your face when that's happening.
"Doing that for half a season and then all of a sudden changing to one of the most dominant teams of the last 10 years, it's unbelievable. It was good to be in a winning place again. Winning and losing means a lot in this league and life in general. It changed my life, and I'm blessed for that."
Casillas, who played in 48 games at the University of Wisconsin, entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with New Orleans in 2009. As a rookie, he played in 11 regular-season games and three postseason games for the Super Bowl champion Saints.
After missing the entire 2010 season with a foot injury suffered in the preseason, he returned to play 27 games over the next two seasons. Casillas joined the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent in 2013. He played in 12 games with four starts and was credited with 24 tackles (13 solo) and nine special teams tackles in his first season with Tampa Bay.
"The Giants are getting a real football player," Casillas said. "Since I've been in the league, I've been under the radar, and I've accepted that. I've found a way to make plays and contribute, and also to make a healthy contribution to the city I'm in by doing things in the community. I try to do things the right way."
Thomas, 6-1 and 236 pounds, has played in 47 games with 12 starts. His career totals include 97 tackles (59 solo), two interceptions, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery on defense, and 16 special teams tackles.
"I am an aggressive player," Thomas said. "Bang, bang plays, turnovers – that is my thing. I am good at getting the ball back (by) creating turnovers. I think that is what will help us win ballgames, and that is my goal."
In 2014, Thomas played in all 16 of Jacksonville's games, with 10 starts – each of the last nine games at middle linebacker and one on the outside. He finished fourth on the team with 81 tackles (47 solo), two interceptions, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. On Nov. 30 against the Giants, Thomas had a season-high 12 tackles (six solo) and scored the Jaguars' first touchdown when he recovered an Eli Manning fumble in the end zone in the third quarter.
"Probably one of my better games," Thomas said. "I scored a touchdown; that doesn't happen often for a defensive player, to get on that scoreboard. It was a really cool feeling and what a coincidence that I end up right back here in New York. It is really cool.
"I think (starting 10 consecutive games) is what did it for me. Having the opportunity to play quality defensive reps helped me gain the experience to get better week in and week out. I got a chance to watch myself on film from the first game I started to the very last game, and it was really cool to watch myself grow as a player over the matter of weeks. So with a good, solid spring here and to be able to go into the summer and into camp, I think we will be right on course, (which) will put myself and the team in a position to add as much value to the ball club as possible."
"J.T. and Anthony bring starter experience," said Reese. "They give us more speed from scrimmage and on special teams. They bring quality depth and competition to the position, as well."
Thomas, a product of West Virginia University, was a sixth-round draft choice (195th pick overall) by the Chicago Bears in 2011. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve after injuring his hip in the preseason. In 2012, Thomas played all 16 games, primarily on special teams. The following year, he was waived by the Bears at the end of preseason and claimed the following day by the Jaguars. In his first season in Jacksonville, Thomas played in 15 games with two starts and had 17 tackles on defense and six on special teams.
"I have had a really interesting journey," Thomas said. "To end up here, I am blessed for it. I really gained a lot of knowledge. I had the opportunity to study behind Brian Urlacher. I had a chance to watch a guy like (Jaguars linebacker) Paul Posluszny, the ultimate professional. (Posluszny) handles business day in and day out. I take all of those things. I don't bother them with a lot of questions. I watch, though. I watch intensely. Now to be here with Jon Beason and Jameel (McClain), there are things we are going to be able to take from each other's games and help make each other better. That is always the goal for the guys in the room, to be able to have some type of camaraderie and make each other better day in and day out."
Newhouse, 6-4 and 328 pounds, played four seasons for the Green Bay Packers before moving to Cincinnati last year. He has played in 62 regular-season games with 36 starts – 26 at left tackle, eight at right tackle and two as an extra tight end. Newhouse has also played in five postseason games with two starts at right tackle.
"I can do both (play either tackle)," Newhouse said. "I have played plenty of left. I have started over 20 games at left and I have played plenty at right. I can do whatever they need me to do."
When Newhouse was in Green Bay, current Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was a Packers assistant coach.
"It was a big part (in his decision to join the Giants)," Newhouse said. "It is good to always have familiarity, and he knows what I can do. I am just looking forward to proving him right and then some."
Last season with the Bengals, Newhouse played in 15 games with five starts – three at right tackle and two as an extra tight end. The previous year, his last in Green Bay, Newhouse was the primary backup at each tackle, though he did start two games, including one against the Giants. In 2012, he started all 18 of the Packers' regular-season and postseason games at right tackle.
"Newhouse is another guy who brings starter experience and depth," said Reese. "He can play tackle on either the left or the right side."
The Giants will be Newhouse's third team in as many seasons.
"There is a grace period you get, but not a long one," he said of getting acclimated to a new system. "You re-dedicate yourself and put your head back into the book and do it all over again. Football is natural to me. I have been playing since I was five, so it is something I relish and look forward to."
Newhouse was a fifth-round draft choice by Green Bay in 2010, the 169th overall selection. He did not appear in any games as a rookie, but the following season played in all 16 with 13 starts – 10 at left tackle, three on the right side.
The Dallas native played four seasons at Texas Christian University.
The Giants today re-signed linebacker Mark Herzlich, fullback Henry Hynoski and running back Chris Ogbonnaya.
Fifth-year pros Herzlich and Hynoski joined the team as undrafted rookies in 2011, while Ogbonnaya was signed late last season.
Herzlich has played in 58 regular-season games with 14 starts. He has 104 tackles (75 solo), one sack, three passes defensed and 38 special teams tackles.
In 2014, Herzlich played in 15 games with a career-high eight starts (three at middle linebacker, five at weakside backer). He was inactive due to a concussion at Tennessee on Dec. 7.
Herzlich had a career-high 47 tackles (31 solo) on defense and five tackles (four solo) on special teams. He picked up his first career sack, a two-yard takedown of Mark Sanchez that was one of his seven tackles (five solo) in the season finale vs. Philadelphia on Dec. 28. Herzlich started on the weak side and had a season-high nine tackles (six solo) vs. San Francisco on Nov. 16.
Hynoski has played in 46 regular-season games with 21 starts and in four postseason games with three starts. His career totals include 24 receptions for 138 yards (5.8-yard avg.), with a long reception of 14 yards and one touchdown, and 12 rushing attempts for 33 yards, with a long run of five yards. In the 2011 postseason, he had five receptions for 39 yards (7.8-yard avg.) with a long catch of 13 yards.
In 2014, Hynoski played in all 16 games for the second time in his career, with four starts at fullback. An outstanding blocker, he finished with a career-high seven rushing attempts for 13 yards, but did not catch a pass for the first time in his career.
Ogbonnaya joined the Giants on Dec. 2. He was inactive for two games before playing on special teams on Dec. 21 in St. Louis and in the season finale vs. Philadelphia a week later.
Ogbonnaya, 6-0 and 225 pounds, had previously played in 51 regular-season games for St. Louis, Houston, Cleveland and Carolina with 12 starts. His career totals include 158 carries for 710 yards (4.5-yard average) and two touchdowns, plus 96 receptions for 714 yards and two scores. Ogbonnaya played in five games – running for 50 yards and a touchdown - for the Panthers early in the 2014 season before he was released on Nov. 3.
A native of Houston, Ogbonnaya rushed for 597 yards, caught 75 passes and scored 11 touchdowns at the University of Texas.
*The Giants and coach Tom Coughlin have finalized an agreement to extend Coughlin's contract through the 2016 season.
The two-time Super Bowl-winning coach is entering his 12th season with the Giants, the second-longest head-coaching tenure in the 90-year history of the franchise. Hall of Famer Steve Owen coached the team from 1930-53.
Photos of Tom Coughlin's career as head coach of the Giants
Since becoming the Giants' coach in 2004, Coughlin is 96-80 (.545) in the regular season and 8-3 (.727) in the postseason. He led the team to championships with victories over the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI.
Coughlin's 96 regular-season victories are second in franchise history to Owen's 153, and his eight postseason triumphs tie another Hall of Famer, Bill Parcells, for the highest total by a Giants coach.
The 2015 season will be Coughlin's 20th as an NFL head coach. Including his eight seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is 164-140 (.539) in the regular season and 12-7 (.632) in the postseason. The 164 regular-season victories place him 13th in NFL history. Coughlin's 176 total victories are the league's 12th-highest total.
Coughlin has the third-longest tenure with one team among active current NFL head coaches. Bill Belichick is entering his 16th season with New England and Marvin Lewis his 13th with the Cincinnati Bengals.
*The Giants waived tackle Rogers Gaines and cornerback Travis Howard, both of whom spent last season on injured reserve.
Infographics of the Giants' free agent signings