As the New York Giants are in the midst of rediscovering following a four-year break between Super Bowl championships, even the best teams in the league face serious roster decisions in the offseason.
Following their improbable run from a 9-7 regular season team that allowed more points than its scored to Super Bowl XLVI champions, the Giants joined the NFL's 31 other teams in assessing their rosters. The glorious parade through the Canyon of Heroes dragged out the afterglow of the Super Bowl win just a little longer, but now there is no mistaking that the Giants have 24 players that will soon be free agents.
Furthermore, the NFL's salary cap is expected to shrink for the 2012 season, and the Giants are expected to be nearly $1.7 million over that figure, according to Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That, of course, also comes before April's draft, for which New York currently holds all seven of its draft picks.
Below is a list of the 10 offensive players that are free agents, a recap at how each fared this season and their prospects for returning to New York for a shot at repeating as Super Bowl champions in New Orleans next February.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents (2):
Since these players have only two years of NFL experience, the Giants can offer each the three-year minimum salary for a veteran. The players must accept the deal if they wish to continue playing in the league.
TE Jake Ballard: 38 receptions, 604 yards (15.9 avg.), 4 TDs
In the second season of his career -- the first with significant playing time -- after going undrafted out of Ohio State, Ballard appeared in 14 games for the Giants (starting 13) and emerged as a steady replacement for Kevin Boss. Ballard was occasionally prone to dropping passes (he had one in every game of the playoffs except for the Super Bowl, according to ProFootballFocus.com), though his catch on the final drive of the Week 9 game against the New England Patriots played an integral role in handing the Giants one of their biggest wins of the regular season.
PFF gave Ballard a +2.0 grade this season, No. 17 among tight ends. Given he has essentially one option for staying in the league, he figures to be back in New York next season.
TE Bear Pascoe: 12 receptions, 136 yards (11.3 avg.), 0 TDs
Pascoe's numbers hardly standout, though that's largely due to his yeoman's work throughout the Giants' offense has both a tight end and a fullback. Due to a glut of injuries at the position, Pascoe eventually spent most of the season at tight end and finished as PFF's No. 27 player at the position (-1.7). Like Ballard, it's safe to predict Pascoe will remain a Giant next season.
Unrestricted Free Agents (8):
These players are normal free agents, as they are free to sign anywhere for as much as a team can offer.
QB David Carr: DNP
Perhaps one of the greatest indicators of a quarterback's toughness is how many snaps his backup gets over the course of a season. Eli Manning took every snap for the Giants in 2011, meaning David Carr never saw the field.
Prior to the season, he was re-signed as a free agent after spending 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2008 and 2009, Carr was the Giants' backup quarterback and completed 30-of-45 passes (66.7 percent) for 340 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The Giants figure to be interested in bringing back Carr, though if another team were to make a push to acquire the 10-year veteran as their own backup, they would likely let him go.
WR Michael Clayton: No catches
Clayton appeared in five games this season, but did not record any catches before tearing his meniscus in practice in late November. In 2010, he appeared in six games but recorded only two catches for 19 yards. He seems unlikely to have a future in the NFL beyond special teams play.
WR Domenik Hixon: 4 receptions, 50 yards (12.5 avg.), 1 TD
In one of the oddest injuries you'll ever see, Hixon tore his ACL while hauling in a touchdown pass after the ball bounced off his shoulder pad and then his hand in Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams. While trying to tip the ball to himself, Hixon landed awkwardly on his right knee.
The torn right ACL was his second in 15 months, clearly casting the future of his career in doubt. Over his four years as a Giant, Hixon has doubled as a viable secondary receiving option and a talented kick returner. If he can at least resume his special teams duties -- barring any setbacks, of course -- he could potentially find himself back in New York.
WR Mario Manningham: 39 receptions, 523 yards (13.4 avg.), 4 TDs
Here lies the Giants' biggest question in free agency. Manningham, a four-year veteran, concluded an up-and-down season by becoming a Giants hero with his miraculous over-the-shoulder catch down the sideline late in Super Bowl XLVI. That game (five receptions for 73 yards), in fact, was Manningham's best of the season since Week 10 at San Francisco (six catches for 77 yards and one touchdown).
Manningham missed four games due to injury in 2011, playing a part in leaving his numbers way short of a 2010 season in which he appeared in all 16 games and caught 60 passes for 944 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2009, he caught 57 passes for 822 yards and five touchdowns.
Much of Manningham's statistical decline can also be attributed to the emergence of Victor Cruz (82 receptions, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns). Should the desire for big money or an enticing offer from another team raise the cost of bringing Manningham back in the fold, the Giants will likely let him walk. Given their lack of cap room even before they have to sign their rookie draft picks, the Giants just do not have much to offer a receiver like Manningham who is just below the upper tier of NFL receivers.
WR Devin Thomas: 3 receptions, 37 yards (12.3 avg.), 0 TDs
Thomas returned to the Giants after appearing in only four games in 2010, and though he suited up for all 16 games, he caught only three passes.
He did make stake a place on special teams, however. Thomas' most notable contributions of the season came in the NFC Championship Game against San Francisco, when he recovered two fumbles off the fingertips of 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams.
Thomas' future with the Giants likely hinges on what the team does in free agency and the draft, though his return is hardly a pressing matter for the team.
OT Stacy Andrews: 9 games, 3 starts
In early December, Andrews was hospitalized with blood clots in his lung. Two days later, head coach Tom Coughlin announced Andrews was being placed on injured reserve due to a pulmonary embolism, ending his season after nine games.
Prior to the end of his season, Andrews was one of the Giants' primary reserve linemen. He'll turn 31 in June, so he likely still has snaps left in him as a backup. Should he remain affordable, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Giants bring Andrews back.
OT Kareem McKenzie: 16 games, 16 starts
For all their sustained success over the latter portion of the past decade, the Giants owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to McKenzie. Signed prior to the 2005 season after four years with the New York Jets, McKenzie started 16 games in four of his seven seasons as a Giant and never started less than 12.
At right tackle, McKenzie partnered with Rich Seubert, David Diehl, Shaun O'Hara and Chris Snee for much of his time as a Giant to give the team a largely unprecedented era of continuity along the offensive line.
But like Seubert and O'Hara, McKenzie's time in New York seems to have drawn to a close. According to PFF, McKenzie finished the 2011 season with a minus-22.8 rating, No. 65 among tackles. He was especially a liability in pass protection -- according to PFF, McKenzie allowed nine sacks this season, including one in three of the team's four playoff games.
Furthermore, earlier this month the New York Daily News reported McKenzie is "unlikely to be re-signed." Given the presence of last year's fourth-round pick, tackle James Brewer, McKenzie seems all but gone.
OT Tony Ugoh: 3 games, 1 start
After spending the first three seasons of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, Ugoh went to Detroit for a year before the Giants signed him prior to the 2011 season. Ugoh started in Week 16 against the Jets and was a solid reserve lineman once Andrews was placed on injured reserve. Ugoh doesn't seem likely to garner much attention in free agency, so he could be a Giant next season at or near the veteran minimum.