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Giants Free Agency 2012: Defensive Preview

Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross are both headed for free agency this offseason. How will the New York Giants' secondary look in 2012?

Wednesday, we took a look at the New York Giants' upcoming offensive free agents. Below, see whose contracts are set to expire on the other side of the ball.

Restricted Free Agents (1):

CB Bruce Johnson: DNP, injury

Teams can offer free-agent tenders of varying values to restricted free agents, so if another team would like to sign the player, they must offer a certain level of compensation. The player's original team can then choose whether to match the offer. For the highest free-agent tender, if the player's original team does not match the offer, the other team must surrender a first-round pick.

Between tearing his ACL in 2010 after playing six games as the Giants' dime cornerback and then rupturing his Achilles tendon during training camp this year, Johnson has had awful luck in his brief NFL career. Following his latest injury, which happened in early August, Johnson was waived/injured, and once he cleared waivers ended up on injured reserve. Consequently, he seems unlikely to receive a tender from the Giants.

Unrestricted Free Agents (13):

These players are normal free agents, as they are free to sign anywhere for as much as a team can offer.

DE Dave Tollefson: 21 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble (574 snaps played)

In his season ending "Kudos & Wet Willies," Ed made what I feel is a very apt comparison for Tollefson -- he's a defensive version of Pascoe. PFF has Tollefson rated as the No. 67 defensive end -- the lowest they go at that position -- with a minus-16.0 rating.

But Giants fans will point to Tollefson's play-every-snap-like-it's-your-last nature and cling to him as one of their favorites. That certainly is nothing to run a front office by, but it wouldn't be surprising at all to see Tollefson back with the Giants next season.

DT Rocky Bernard: 30 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble (466 snaps played)

At age 32, Bernard played in all 16 games for the first time since 2006 and recorded more tackles than he had in any season since 2008. PFF ranked him the No. 37 defensive tackle in the league with a plus-3.5 rating. Though he didn't record any sacks, Bernard also earned a plus-1.8 rating as a pass rusher, good for No. 26 among defensive tackles.

Overall, Bernard did a solid job as the Giants' third defensive tackle. Though he will be 33 by August, he has never played in fewer than 12 games in a season. That was in 2003, in his second year in the league with the Seattle Seahawks. In his first two years as a Giant, Bernard played in 15 and 14 games, respectively. If nothing else, Bernard's proven his ability to stay healthy and remain in 16-game season shape. Assuming another team doesn't outbid the Giants for the veteran defensive tackle, Bernard figures to be back next year.

DT Jimmy Kennedy: 4 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles (55 snaps played)

Kennedy played sparingly in his first year in New York, recording four tackles in the first five weeks of the season before being suspended for four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. Consequently, he doesn't seem to have shown enough to warrant bringing him back next season.

LB Chase Blackburn: 26 tackles, 0.0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 1 interception (381 snaps)

Those totals above, save for snaps, don't account for postseason stats, so Blackburn really had two interceptions this season. His leaping interception of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game, allowing the Giants to stay within two points of the Patriots early in the fourth quarter. His first interception came in another big game, off Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 13.

Even more impressive was the fact that prior to that game, Blackburn had spent the season's first 12 weeks on his couch, unsigned. He had been with the Giants since 2005 and played 14 games in 2010, but did not initially factor into the team's 2011 plans. That ultimately changed due to injuries, and Blackburn showed once again why he's been a remarkably undervalued player in his tenure as a Giant. Blackburn also is a reliable special teams player, something that surely helps his chances of returning to New York next season. Unfortunately for him, it just doesn't appear it will be as a starter.

LB Jonathan Goff: DNP, injury

Entering training camp, Goff was expected to contend for the starting middle linebacker spot he held for all 16 games in 2010. However, a torn right ACL in September derailed those plans and has the once-promising linebacker entering an offseason of uncertainty.

In that 2010 season, PFF rated Goff the No. 22 interior linebacker in the league with a grade of plus-10.2, and the Giants had been openly optimistic about his long-term prospects. If Goff is willing to fight for a starting job, he could find his way back in blue next season.

CB Will Blackmon: 6 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (17 snaps)

Blackmon returned to the Giants for the second consecutive season, this one primarily as a punt returner. He returned six punts for 25 yards and two kicks 43 yards, hardly remarkable numbers. At the very least, he didn't make many mistakes, which surely would have paved his way off the roster. Nevertheless, Blackmon's lack of production at both corner and as a returner seems to indicate he'll be elsewhere next season.

CB Michael Coe: 10 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (55 snaps played)

Mainly a special teams player, Coe was another promising player who saw his season cut short by injury (shoulder) in late November. Coe played in 10 games first and recorded 10 tackles and one pass deflection in some playing time he mainly earned due to the glut of injuries the Giants suffered at defensive back this season. Coe turned 28 in December and has been in the league since 2007, though he hasn't really found consistent playing time. The Giants seem fond of Coe, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him back next year on a cheap deal.

CB Aaron Ross: 60 tackles, 4 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (1,197 snaps played)

Ross appeared in all 16 games with 15 starts this season, though his year was marked by inconsistency. He started strong before struggling mightily in the middle of the season. After a strong showing against the Jets in Week 16 (PFF graded him at plus-2.0 in that game), Ross became a solid contributor in the Giants' secondary for the remainder of the season.

PFF ranked Ross No. 48 among cornerbacks at minus-1.2 for the season. He seems to be in a similar situation as Mario Manningham, lying somewhere in the second tier of players at his position. If Ross wants -- meaning he isn't interested in searching for big money elsewhere and is content with his role on the team -- he could likely find himself back as a Giant.

CB Terrell Thomas: DNP, injury

When Thomas got hurt early in training camp, it seemed to trigger a nasty domino effect of injuries throughout the Giants' roster that made a Super Bowl championship -- let alone a playoff berth -- seem impossible.

Prior to this season, Thomas played 16 games in each of the past two seasons, starting all but one. In 2010, he led the team in tackles (101) and interceptions (5). Assuming he is healthy, Thomas is likely to remain in New York next season.

CB Justin Tryon: 3 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (80 snaps played)

It's hard to judge a player who played only 80 snaps, though he did make a very favorable impression on Tom Coughlin by playing with a broken arm in Week 8 against Miami. For what it's worth, PFF graded Tryon at minus-1.7 for the season.

S Deon Grant: 64 tackles, one interception, 0 forced fumbles, 1 sack (1,126)

As he has for every season in his 12-year career, Grant appeared in 16 games in 2011. He started nine, and while it seems clear now that at age 32, he's just a little too slow to consistently cover in the NFL. PFF graded Grant at minus-4.4, placing him No. 47 among safeties.

However, his leadership in a secondary that was among the league's most beleaguered for much of the season cannot be understated. A volatile and underperforming group, the Giants' secondary eventually grew into one of the team's strengths during the postseason and Grant played a critical role in making it happen. If he's looking to stay put, it's hard to see the Giants not having him.

S Derrick Martin: 12 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles (4 snaps)

With only four defensive snaps played and just a handful of special teams tackles, it's nearly impossible to fairly evaluate Martin. His future seems up in the air until rosters are settled late in the summer.

P Steve Weatherford: 82 punts (25 inside 20-yard line), 45.7 avg., 62 long

For much of the game's early going, the Super Bowl XLVI MVP trophy could've belonged to Weatherford. The Patriots were held without strong field position for much of the game, especially early. Weatherford punted four times in the game, for 163 yards (40.8 per punt), and three landed inside New England's 20-yard line. PFF rated him at plus-25.5 for the season, No. 6 among punters and miles above last year's punter, Matt Dodge.

All season, Weatherford seemed thrilled to still be playing in New York (he spent 2009 and 2010 with the Jets). It would be surprising to see him go anywhere else, and the Giants surely would like to have him back.