If the Giants' 9-7 season has taught us anything, it's that no problem exists in a vacuum. WR Hakeem Nicks' knee injury allowed defenses to focus on WR Victor Cruz and effectively take away the threat of the big play.
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And because the offense wasn't playing with very many leads late in the season, opponents didn't have to pass as much and subsequently the pass rush dried up and the defense stopped creating turnovers. The real issue was depth, and that was a problem with nearly every unit in 2012. If the Giants are to return to their championship form, they'll need to go deeper at every position.
Free agents who must be signed:
- WR Victor Cruz -- Cruz is a restricted free agent, so the Giants are in the driver's seat on this one. They've tried and failed to ink the Pro Bowler to an extension in recent months, so they may just wait to see what kind of offer he gets before matching. Make no mistake, though, Cruz is coming back to the Giants. He's New York's top big-play threat and in just two seasons -- he was on IR in 2010 -- he's accumulated 168 catches, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Stevie Brown-- S Kenny Phillips also is a free agent, but Brown made a much bigger impact in 2012 and has a better bill of health. Brown led the Giants with eight interceptions and added two forced fumbles and 76 total tackles. He's also a restricted free agent, so New York will have the right of first refusal.
- MLB Chase Blackburn -- He's an encyclopedia of football-related injuries and he wasn't even that fast to begin with, but the Giants defense might be lost without Blackburn. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell jokes that he could lose the playbook and still get by with Blackburn's notes -- and that's a good indication of Blackburn's value to the Giants. He doesn't even need to be on the field to help the defense, but that's not to say he didn't contribute in 2012 -- his first season as a starter on defense. Blackburn finished with 98 tackles, five forced fumbles and an interception. Just imagine what he could do if he were healthy.
- TE Martellus Bennett -- The Giants' never-ending search for a tight end may have finally ended. Bennett had the most productive season from a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey was on the team, with 55 catches and five touchdowns. He also gave the team a new element with his ability to stretch the field. Bennett said he could be even better next season and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride agreed. The Giants' scheme is complicated by all of the different route options. Bennett was still mastering those details at the end of the season.
Positions needing improvement:
- Offensive line -- RT David Diehl declined in 2012, and whether that had to do with an early-season knee injury or his age is debatable. The bottom line is that he wasn't as effective as he was in the past, and while he'd make a great backup -- he can play every position beside center -- he'll be making starter's money next season ($4.1 million base salary). RT Sean Locklear is coming off a season-ending knee injury and will be a free agent, as will starting LT Will Beatty. Beatty will probably get the deal he's looking for, but the Giants still need depth at tackle and along the interior as C David Baas and RG Chris Snee could each have surgery on their respective hip injuries. LG Kevin Boothe also will be a free agent.
- Defensive line -- The Giants had only 33 sacks this season and the defensive line also struggled to defend the run (the Giants yielded 4.6 yards per carry in 2012). A lot of that had to do with DT Chris Canty's knee injury and the lack of development from former second-round pick Marvin Austin. The team will probably lose DE Osi Umenyiora, and since DE Justin Tuck regressed in 2012, they might need to add two or three defensive ends in addition to another defensive tackle.
- Secondary -- This was not CB Corey Webster's best season and since his base salary balloons to $7 million next year, he could be on his way out. That means New York needs to find a starting-caliber cornerback to play opposite CB Prince Amukamara. CB Jayron Hosley struggled some as a rookie, but still seems like a long-term solution at nickelback. The depth at safety isn't nearly as much of an issue as the depth at cornerback, thanks to the emergence of S Will Hill.