Now that the Super Bowl is over, the NFL offseason officially transitions over into free agency and NFL Draft watch. We’ll take you through all the New York Giants’ positions of need and look at potential targets for fans to keep an eye on in free agency.
We started with the wide receiver position a week ago, so today we’ll look at another major position of need: linebacker. While linebacker is not as “sexy” a position to discuss as wide receiver, it could arguably be a bigger need for the Giants.
In 2022, the Giants linebackers were continuously beaten out wide by running backs and tight ends, so this defense needs linebackers that can run sideline to sideline, protect the middle of the field in the passing game, and fill holes in the run defense. When your leading tackler is a member of the secondary (Julian Love) that’s a pretty clear indication that the guys playing in front of him aren’t pulling their weight.
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Potential Giants Linebacker Targets
Tremaine Edmunds – Bills
This is going to be the easiest dot for people to connect since Edmunds is a member of the Buffalo Bills, which is where both Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen were for years. They clearly know the type of player Edmunds is, but so do Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, which makes it highly unlikely that Edmunds will leave Buffalo.
However, if he does, he’d be a tremendous fit in New York. He finished 2nd among linebackers in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus, and posted a forced incompletion rate on 15% of the pass targets against him. Edmunds has posted over 100 tackles in every NFL season in which he’s played, and while not a big sack guy–he has 6.5 career sacks
He may be a bit out of the Giants’ price range. Spotrac sets Edmunds’ market value at $11 million per year, which could be tough for the Giants to swing while also trying to re-sign Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and Love, among other in-house free agents.
T.J. Edwards – Eagles
Another option for the Giants might be 27-year-old Edwards. An undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, Edwards started 17 games this season for the NFC champions and recorded 159 tackles with ten tackles for a loss.
He was a fixture on the Eagles’ defense playing 94% of snaps this season, so his addition would also take away a piece from a rival, which is never a bad thing. While Edwards was exposed a little bit by the Chief’s pre-snap motion in the Super Bowl, he had shown improvement during the season in his coverage with seven pass breakups. He did allow a 69.7% completion rate against him, which was a career-best mark, and hopefully shows that there is even more improvement that could come.
He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th best linebacker in 2022, one spot below Edmunds, and Spotrac projects his market value at $11.9 million, so he’s potentially another option that could be out of the Giants’ price range.
David Long – Titans
A cheaper option could be David Long, who graded out as PFF’s 14th-ranked linebacker this year but is expected to command just $5 million per year, according to Spotrac.
Long is a tremendously balanced linebacker, with the 4th-best run-defense grade at the position in 2022 (89.0) while also ranking 12th in the NFL with 13 tackles for loss or no gain. He plays a downhill, which is something the Giants desperately need, and attacks the line of scrimmage in a way that allows him to blow up many plays in the backfield. It also makes him susceptible to play-action, which is something he will need to be coached on.
Still, this past season was his first as a full-time starter at middle linebacker and putting up 86 tackles and two interceptions wasn’t a bad debut. Over his last three seasons in Tennessee, he had a 19.8% pass-rush win rate and 23.8% pressure rate, which rank among the best for off-ball linebackers, so he brings a versatility that Wink Martindale can get the most out of.
Germaine Pratt – Bengals
Germaine Pratt is another impactful and potentially expensive linebacker option who could become available due to some salary cap navigation that the Bengals have to endure this offseason. With both starting safeties – Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell – entering free agency, along with wide receiver Tee Higgins and linebacker Logan Wilson, plus the looming extensions for Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, it’s possible Pratt hits the market even after a career year.
The 26-year-old had a career-high 99 tackles, while also registering three interceptions and ten passes defenses. His 90.1 coverage grade on Pro Football Focus was the best mark in the NFL, and he missed just two tackles in coverage and none in run support. In fact, he missed on just 5.9% of tackle opportunities during the season, which is a major improvement for him and shows the growth of his fundamentals.
He remains a much better pass-defender than run-defender, but he is solid all-around, ranking as the 11th-bets linebacker according to Pro Football Focus. His addition would help the Giants over the middle of the field against explosive tight ends like Dallas Goedert.
Azeez Al-Shaair – 49ers
Lastly, we end with a riskier option in Azeez Al-Shaair. The 25-year-old had a breakout season in 2021 when he stepped into the starting lineup for an injured Dre Greenlaw. Al-Shaair racked up an impressive 102 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries.
It was the first season he played over 29% of snaps on defense after primarily playing on special teams prior to that. As a result, his ability to post nine-plus tackles in five games, caused the 49ers to place a second-round tender on him as a restricted free agent in 2021, which is a massive statement about how they viewed him since he was originally an undrafted free agent.
However, 2022 didn’t go according to play for Al-Shaair. The 49ers added Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw returned form injury, which means there simply weren’t enough snaps to go around. Then Al-Shaair injured his knee in Week 3, which caused him to miss five games. Still, he actually graded out better, according to PFF, than he did during his breakthrough 2021 year, shining as both a run defender and pass rusher. While he lacks consistency in pass coverage, he is still inexperienced when it comes to NFL snaps but could be an intriguing blend of raw tools for Martindale to get his hands on.
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