EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Geoff Schwartz got married last Saturday in Santa Monica, Calif., so he celebrated by traveling this week to … the Quest Diagnostics Training Center?
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2014 Free Agency Central Fortunately, his wife Meredith was fully supportive. And with good reason. Schwartz, who had been a free agent, today signed with the Giants to become an anchor on their offensive line.
For Schwartz, it's a case of better late than never.
"When I was a rookie, I almost didn't get drafted and I was so excited to maybe become a Giant," said Schwartz, who played last season for the Kansas City Chiefs. "Now, it finally happened. It's one of those franchises where, when they come calling, you can't really say no. I'm overjoyed. I think when I look back after I kind of get over the initial signing of the contract it'll be such a pleasure."
Schwartz joins running back Rashad Jennings as players the Giants will count on to help revive an offense that ranked 28th in the NFL in 2013. Jennings comes to the Giants from the Oakland Raiders.
"I'm so excited to be here for so many reasons," Jennings said. "One, the Giants organization and the history of it. The magnitude of it, the culture, to be a part of that red, white and blue again. It's funny because I went to Liberty University, those are the same colors I wore. I'm back on the east coast and now I can talk on the phone with people and not feel awkward because of the three-hour time difference, it will kick you in the butt sometimes. I'm closer to home, closer to family, I'm with the team that wanted me."
The Giants also announced they have signed former Denver Broncos center J.D. Walton and retained three of their own free agents - running back Peyton Hillis, cornerback Trumaine McBride and backup quarterback Curtis Painter.
Schwartz, 6-6 and 340 pounds, is entering his sixth NFL season. In addition to the Chiefs, he previously played for Carolina and Minnesota. Schwartz has played in 61 regular-season games with 26 starts and in two postseason games with one start.
Last year, he played in all 16 games for the Chiefs with seven starts – six at right guard and one at left guard. He also started Kansas City's AFC Wild Card loss in Indianapolis at right guard.
"I'm best at guard," Schwartz said. "I've played right guard lots in my career and I know that (Chris) Snee is still here, so I will be starting at left guard. I just feel more comfortable there. But I've played tackle, I started 11 games at tackle and played lots of other games at tackle, so I can do a lot of it. It's just nice to be able to come into a place where they want you in a position and you can kind of go from there."
Schwartz entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft choice by the Panthers in 2008, the 241st overall selection from the University of Oregon. That year, he was released in training camp and spent the entire season on their practice squad.
In 2009, he played in every game with three starts and the following season he started all 16 games, the first five at right tackle and the last 11 at right guard. Schwartz spent the 2011 season on injured reserve with a hip injury he suffered in training camp.
He joined the Vikings in 2012 and played in 13 games. Schwartz signed with the Chiefs on March 15, 2013.
Schwartz has had to learn new offensive systems and get acclimated to new teammates each of the last two years, but is eager to learn all about the Giants. He particularly looks forward to become a part of the culture of the offensive line, whose meeting room is not for the thin-skinned.
"I think part of the fun of coming into work every day is that kind of interaction between offensive linemen," said Schwartz, whose brother, Mitchell, started at tackle in every game the previous two seasons for the Cleveland Browns. "Wherever you go you want to have that bond and building that bond is through kind of joking and mocking, but also hard work and some of the other thing that O-linemen are known for. I'm excited to meet everybody and kind of get going when April comes around.
"I think I do a good job of integrating well in the locker room. I do a good job of trying to learn the system. It's tough every year to do that. Now hopefully I've found a home and I'll be here for many years and kind of integrate into the system."
Schwartz was a three-year starter at right tackle at Oregon, where he was second-team All-Pac 10 as a senior in 2007. He played football, basketball and baseball at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles.
Jennings, 6-1 and 231 yards, is preparing for his sixth NFL season. He played four years for the Jacksonville Jaguars before joining the Oakland Raiders in 2013.
"I have the same attitude every year since college," Jennings said. "Go in, earn the respect of my teammates and my coaches, lock down the playbook and go show my worth and earn a starting position. That's my mentality every year and I look forward to being used however they see my talents fitting here.
"I did an interview a couple weeks ago and they said, 'What's your idea of going through free agency?' I said, 'It's my job to show one team that they're right.' I'm glad to show the Giants that they're right."
Last year, Jennings played in 15 games with eight starts. He led the Raiders in rushing attempts (163), yards (733) and touchdowns (6), including an 80-yarder against Houston on Nov. 17, when he took a direct snap in a wildcat formation and streaked up the left side for the score.
"I remember calling for that play from the sideline and saying, 'I'm telling you coach this play is going to be open,'" he said. "We called it, the defense did exactly what we thought and it kind of left me one-on-one with the safety. That's all you can ask for. For a running back, if you're left one-on-one with a safety you've got to win those battles."
Jennings ran for a career-high 150 yards in that game. He rushed for 102 yards vs. Philadelphia on Nov. 3. The following week, he started against the Giants in MetLife Stadium and ran for 88 yards on 20 carries.
Jennings was one of Jacksonville's two seventh-round draft choices in 2009, the 250th overall selection. In his first two years, he played in 28 games with three starts (all in 2010) and rushed for 661 yards and five touchdowns on 123 carries, and caught 42 passes for 324 yards. Jennings spent the 2011 season on injured reserve after injuring his knee in the third preseason game.
In 2012, his final year with the Jaguars, Jennings played in 10 games with six starts and had 1-1 carries for 283 yards and two touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 130 yards. He signed with the Raiders as a free agent on April 11, 2013.
Like Schwartz, Jennings is undaunted by the prospect of learning another new system. The Giants have new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo, who had been the Green Bay Packers' quarterbacks coach.
"I always tell people there are not too many ways you can run power, there are no too many ways you can run inside/outside zone," Jennings said. "It's just the terminology you've got to pick up, understand the flow, the chemistry of the system. That does take some time and that's why we have OTAs. I am looking forward to it. But as far as going from playbook to playbook, it doesn't phase you. You become a student of the game."
Jennings, a Virginia native, began his college career at Pittsburgh before transferring to Liberty for his final three seasons. He finished with a combined 4,044 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. He graduated from Lynchburg (Va.) Christian Academy, where he ran for 1,978 yards and 28 touchdowns in two years.
Walton started all 36 games in which he played for the Broncos – 16 apiece in 2010 and 2011 and the first four in 2012 – before suffering an ankle injury that forced him to go on injured reserve. In 2013, he was on the active rosters of Denver for a month and the Washington Redskins for the season's final two weeks, but did not play in a game.
A 6-3, 305-pounder, Walton was a third-round draft choice, the 80th overall selection, by the Broncos in 2010 from Baylor, where he also started all 36 games in which he played in three seasons and was a first-team All-America.
In 2010, Walton was the first rookie center in Broncos history – and fifth offensive lineman - to start every game.
Hillis is entering his seventh NFL season and second with the Giants. He joined the team last Oct. 16, after injuries to David Wilson, Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs depleted the Giants' backfield.
In seven games, including a start in his debut vs. Minnesota on Oct. 21, Hillis finished second on the team with 73 rushing attempts for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He added 13 catches for 96 yards.
Hillis' career has included stops in Denver, Cleveland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. He has played in 72 games with 34 starts and his totals include 670 rushing attempts for 2,717 yards (4.1-yard avg.) with a long run of 48 yards and 23 touchdowns and 124 receptions for 963 yards (7.8-yard avg.) with a long of 52 and three touchdowns.
In 2010, Hillis enjoyed a career year with Cleveland. He played in all 16 games with 14 starts and rushed for a team and career-high 1,177 yards on 270 carries (4.4-yard avg.) with 11 touchdowns. Hillis also caught 61 passes for 477 yards (7.8-yard avg.) and two scores. He became the only player in Browns history with 1,000 rushing yards, 50 and 10 touchdowns in a single season.
Painter joined the Giants on Jan. 3, 2013 and was Eli Manning's backup last season. That, of course, meant he started no games and saw limited playing time.
He relieved Manning in three games: in the fourth quarter at Carolina on Sept. 22, when he completed two of four for 16 yards and an interception, against Seattle on Dec. 15, when he hit all four of his passes for 30 yards vs. Seattle (12/15), and he played the entire second half vs. Washington on Dec. 29 after Manning injured his ankle. Painter completed two of eight passes for 11 yards and an interception.
Painter's 16 passes last season were the second-most by a Giants quarterback other than Manning since the former No. 1 draft choice became the starter in 2004; David Carr threw 33 passes in 2009.
Painter's eight passes vs. Washington was the third-highest number of passes thrown by a Giants quarterback other than Manning since 2004. Carr threw 14 passes in a rout of Oakland on Oct. 11, 2009 (a game in which Manning sat out the second half after hurting his foot the previous week in Kansas City) and 11 passes in the 2008 season finale at Minnesota (when Manning also missed the second half because the Giants had clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs).
McBride also signed with the Giants on Jan. 3, 2013. He played in 15 games with 10 starts at left cornerback last season, when he started nine of the last 10 games. McBride finished with 32 tackles (25 solo), three interceptions and a team-high 16 passes defensed. He picked off two passes in the season-ending victory over Washington on Dec. 29.
McBride is entering his seventh NFL season. He was a seventh-round draft choice from Mississippi by the Chicago Bears in 2007. McBride played two season and one game with the Bears, one year for the Arizona Cardinals and had a one-game stint with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. He sat out the 2012 season after the Jaguars released him at the end of training camp.