"We have a strong core of players coming back, but there will definitely be some changes."
Jerry Reese has uttered a variation of that quote each year he has been the Giants' general manager. On a conference call today, Reese established the same outline as the Super Bowl champion Giants prepare to plot their offseason course. It's not new, it's not radical and it's not, to use Reese's term from last summer, "sexy." But the Giants aren't going to deviate from a philosophy that has delivered two championships in five seasons.
Reese offered very few specifics. That was due in part because the Giants' decision-makers have just begun to devise their plan and because Reese always keeps his thoughts and opinions close to the vest. The Giants are in the process of evaluating their personnel, receiving medical updates, studying free agents, evaluating draft-eligible players and prioritizing their needs.
"It's a significant amount of work, but that's what the offseason is," Reese said. "We're used to doing a significant amount of work in the offseason. There's a lot that goes into it. There's a lot of planning, a lot of preparation and a lot of discussion on guys and on salaries and where we can go and where we can't go. It's a lot of discussion to be had, but we'll be ready."
In 2011, the NFL salary cap was $120 million, which Reese said he expects to remain "flat." The Giants have 24 unrestricted free agents, including Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross and Kareem McKenzie. How – or whether - each fits into the teams plans is part of the evaluation process.
Reese has happily been in this position before, operating in a condensed time frame after winning a Super Bowl. Four years ago, the Giants defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14. On Sunday, they again beat New England, this time by a 21-17 score in Super Bowl XLVI. So this is not uncharted territory for Reese and his staff.
"We've obviously been working as we went along through the playoffs, but it's a lot different when you're still playing than when you have nothing else to do except concentrate on what you're trying to do in the offseason," Reese said. "We're a little bit behind. Again, like you aid, it's a good problem to have. But we can catch up quickly. We've done it before. We have a tremendous staff with Dave Gettleman in the Pro (Personnel) Department, Marc Ross in the College (Scouting) Department. Those guys are real pros and we can catch up pretty quickly."
One common byproduct of championship teams is players looking to be contractually rewarded for their contributions. Reese was asked if he expects to see a parade of players asking for a raise to reflect their contributions to a championship team.
"That's a good problem to have," Reese said. "You win the Super Bowl and if everybody thinks they're the reason we won – that's a good problem to have. That means you won it. It's just part of the offseason. There are always contract issues in the offseason. That's what the offseason is. You have to deal with contracts and things with your roster – who's going to stay, who's going to go.
"Again, we're in the very early stages of the evaluation process. The coaches are evaluating the players from their perspective. Our personnel staff, we're evaluating our players from our perspective. Obviously we're looking at the UFAs (unrestricted free agents) and RFAs (restricted free agents) from the other teams, along with starting our draft meetings, our pre-draft meetings before we go to the combine in a couple of weeks."
Reese, nor any general manager, would ever reveal which free agents he might target or how exactly he plans to improve this team, which finished the season with six consecutive victories, bur was 9-7 in the regular season. But the Giants have three in-house roads to improvement. The first is players who were on injured reserve, such as cornerback Terrell Thomas, linebacker Jonathan Goff and tackle Will Beatty. Thomas and Goff are free agents, which could make evaluating their market value a tricky proposition.
"It's difficult," Reese conceded. "All the guys are different. A lot of it depends on how much did they play – was there enough to evaluate and how extensive the injuries are. All of that comes in to play. It's no one way or another to evaluate that. There's a lot that goes into it – how much did he play, how extensive is it, how much damage does he have with the injury? So there's a lot going into that."
The Giants also had relatively small contributions from their first four selections in the 2001 NFL Draft.
Cornerback Prince Amukamara, their first-round selection, missed the first nine games after undergoing foot surgery. Defensive tackle Marvin Austin spent the entire season on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. Wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan returned eight kickoffs in eight regular season games and five more in playoffs. He did not have a reception. Tackle James Brewer, the fourth-round choice, did not play a down.
"I think if you go into the season, you're counting on all of your rookies," Reese said. "You love for those guys and you really want at least your first three picks to contribute, but a lot of times they don't. I use this as an example, Randy Moss (who caught 17 touchdown passes as a rookie for Minnesota in 1998). It's hard for guys to come in and do a Randy Moss as a rookie because the league is so different from the college level. Most guys you draft are developmental players, even the guys you draft in the first round because the game is so different. But you do want your first three picks to come in and contribute. And they did to a degree.
"Marvin Austin didn't because he got hurt and was out for the season, but Jernigan did a couple of things for us. He came on a little bit late and helped us in the return game some. We do think he's going to be a good receiver for us as well. And Prince, he's a first round pick. We expect him to play and play a lot and play well. Obviously, he was set back with the foot injury. And Brewer, he's a big athlete. It takes offensive linemen, sometimes, a little longer than others, but we have high-hopes for him that he can come in next year after he's been through a whole season. Our guys are really like a bonus to us because we feel like we're going to get a first and second round pick that really didn't play and contribute a lot. So that's going to be like a bonus for us because we're picking low (32nd and last in the first round). We have a couple of high draft picks that really didn't play for us. So that's a bonus to us in respect to personnel and draft, to get our first and second round pick back and playing a lot of football for us."
Reese suggested the roster is further strengthened by players who were added this week. On Tuesday, the Giants signed eight players who spent all or most of the season on the practice squad. Reese made it clear that was not simply a reward for a job well done.
"When you look at personnel and look into the future you always want to look on your roster first, in our opinion," Reese said. "Look at your roster first – is the guy that you need already on your roster – before you go out and look for someone somewhere else. More times than not the guy is already on your squad. So there are some young practice squad guys that we like. We had a terrific practice squad. They did a lot in helping us in preparation – mimicking the other teams' offenses and defenses for us. There are some kids on the practice squad that we really like. Hopefully, some of those guys will step out of the shadows and heal some voids for us as we move along. They're on the practice squad for a reason. We don't have guys on our practice squad just to be dummy defense. We have guys out there who we think can have some redeeming qualities that might develop into some players. We try to develop them, as we go through the year, on the practice squad."
The players the Giants signed were are defensive back Brandon Bing, running back Andre Brown, offensive lineman Selvish Capers, wide receivers Isaiah Stanback and Dan DePalma, defensive tackle Dwayne Hendricks (who played in one game this season), quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, defensive end Adrian Tracy and tight end Christian Hopkins.
Of that group, Hopkins is the early favorite to get an extended opportunity to show what he can do, because tight ends Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum each suffered a torn ACL in the Super Bowl. And Reese conceded they probably won't be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
"Obviously, we think both of those guys flashed and were showing talent to fill the void at tight end, but we'll just see how they are health-wise after the surgeries and see how quickly they can get back," Reese said. "I'm not a doctor, but from perspective, right now they're both probably guys that will end up on PUP at the beginning of the season and see how healthy they are and how quickly they can recover from these injuries that they have.
"Bear Pascoe is kind of like a joker on offense for us, too. We talk about Kiwi (Mathias Kiwanuka) being a joker on defense, Bear plays tight end, he plays H-back, he can play fullback. He can do a little bit of everything. So he'll be back along with one of the practice squad guys that I said I wasn't going to name. But Christian Hopkins is a big kid that we like – practices hard every day – that our coaches like and think he has some potential to come in and compete for a job as well. He's a big kid. He's at least 6-5, about 275 pounds and he works hard every day at practice. He's endeared himself to our coaches with how hard he works and he has soft hands, catches the ball nice. He'll be a guy. And obviously we'll look in free agency and we'll look in the draft for positions that we think we may have some holes right now."
Reese discussed several other subjects on his conference call with reports. A sampling:
*On whether a player can step from anonymity to stardom as Victor Cruz did this year:
"Every year, there's a guy that comes out of the shadows on different teams," Reese said. "That's the beauty of the personnel in scouting. You go out and some guys like that fall through the cracks. You only have seven rounds. Those kinds of guys would probably get drafted (in) the old days. I think (Hall of Fame tackle) Rosie Brown got picked in the 27th round. If you had 27 rounds those kinds of guys would definitely get drafted, but you only have seven rounds now. So some players like Victor, with a couple redeeming qualities that some of our scouts like would probably get drafted at some point in a draft in you had that many rounds. But it's only seven rounds. So it's not an exact science. Every year there's a guy like that and there are plenty of guys who are in the Hall of Fame, but they didn't get drafted."
*On whether he can have a "peaceful solution" with Osi Umenyiora, who in the past expressed unhappiness with his contract.
"Again, we're in the early stages of the evaluation," Reese said. "Osi is under contract, but we'll discuss everything as a staff and we'll discuss all issues that could possibly come up for us. We'll come up with a game plan and we'll move on day-to-day and see how things work out for us."
*On his thoughts about the offensive line:
"I thought our offensive line did a good job as a whole," Reese said. "The one game everybody, all of a sudden, made it sound like they were terrible (was) against one of the best fronts in the National Football League, in the (NFC) Championship Game against San Francisco – those guys are pretty good up front. But the week before Eli (Manning) had tons and tons of time to throw the ball. I think they played well in the Super Bowl. Who's going to be in – that's part of the evaluation process. We don't know who's going to be the five who will walk on the field as the starters for us next year, but we do have some good players, we think, in our offensive line. We have some young players that we like as well. We'll see how that goes, but I do think we'll have a good core of those players coming back to put in there."