Giants free agency preview: Mike Onwenu, Denico Autry, Darious Williams potential fits


Giants general manager Joe Schoen has preached that his plan is to build through the draft and supplement the roster through free agency. That’s the prudent approach, but Schoen’s discipline will be tested because the Giants’ roster needs some serious supplementing.

The Giants enter free agency with $38.4 million in salary cap space, according to the NFLPA. That’s the 15th-most cap space in the league, and the Giants can easily create significantly more by restructuring the contracts of left tackle Andrew Thomas and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.

It will be tempting for Schoen to spend his way into a rebound after a disappointing 6-11 season. Schoen surely will make a splash or two to fill the biggest holes on the roster.

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Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the Giants’ needs heading into free agency with a look at potential options to address them.

Quarterback

Starter: Daniel Jones
Backup: Tommy DeVito
Free agents: Tyrod Taylor, Jacob Eason
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Drew Lock (Seahawks), Josh Dobbs (Vikings), Marcus Mariota (Eagles), Tyler Huntley (Ravens)

Schoen has promised to add someone at quarterback this offseason. Who the Giants land in free agency will be telling about Jones’ future and their draft plans.

An “exploratory meeting” with Russell Wilson was intriguing, but the nine-time Pro Bowler is reportedly signing with the Steelers. Instead, the Giants will likely sign a veteran quarterback deemed capable of winning games if Jones’ knee isn’t ready for the start of the season or he struggles again. Re-signing Taylor is the most obvious option, but he may desire a change of scenery after getting stuck on the bench behind DeVito when he returned from broken ribs last season.

Running back

Starter: Eric Gray
Backups: Gary Brightwell, Jashaun Corbin, Deon Jackson
Free agents: Saquon Barkley, Matt Breida
Need level: High
Potential free-agent targets: Zack Moss (Colts), Devin Singletary (Texans), Tony Pollard (Cowboys), D’Onta Foreman (Bears), FB Jakob Johnson (Raiders)

The running backs on the Giants’ roster have combined for 154 carries and 496 yards in their careers. The position is a pressing need even if Schoen elects not to spend big on the position.

If Schoen was willing to spend on a top running back, Barkley would have already signed an extension. Instead, it seems the Giants’ plan is to shift to a cheaper option(s), unless Barkley’s market fails to develop and he can be re-signed at a moderate price.

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Moss and Singletary were third-round picks by the Bills when Schoen was Buffalo’s assistant GM. Both players are coming off productive seasons and present affordable alternatives to Barkley.

The Giants could add a fullback as they revamp their rushing attack. New Giants offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo has spent the past five seasons with Johnson in New England and Las Vegas.

Wide receiver

Starters: Darius Slayton, Wan’Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt
Backups: Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Dennis Houston, Chase Cota
Free agents: Isaiah Hodgins, Gunner Olszewski, Parris Campbell, Sterling Shepard
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Calvin Ridley (Jaguars), Gabe Davis (Bills), Curtis Samuel (Commanders), Braxton Berrios (Dolphins), Isaiah McKenzie (Colts)

The Giants’ reported interest in Mike Evans before he re-signed with the Buccaneers could signal a bigger swing than expected at wide receiver, especially if they’re not planning to use their first-round pick to address the position. But the top of the wide receiver class has been thinned out by the Evans extension and franchise tags for Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins and Indianapolis’ Michael Pittman.

The Giants have viable secondary receiving options, but it’s challenging to find the No. 1 receiver they’re missing in free agency. Ridley has ties to coach Brian Daboll from Alabama, while Davis was with Daboll and Schoen in Buffalo. Spending big on those players seems like a recipe for a typical free agency overpay.

The Giants need pieces at the bottom of the depth chart. It makes sense to re-sign Hodgins and Olszewski, who adds return ability that will become a need if he departs.

Tight end

Starters: Darren Waller, Daniel Bellinger
Backup: Tyree Jackson
Free agent: Lawrence Cager
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Noah Fant (Seahawks), Colby Parkinson (Seahawks), Logan Thomas (Commanders), Adam Trautman (Broncos)

Waller’s indecision about retiring adds another major question that wasn’t expected. The Giants now possibly need a No. 1 tight end, while they already needed more depth.

Pre-free agency extensions for Dalton Schultz in Houston and Hunter Henry in New England eliminated two of the top options. Fant and Thomas are two of the best receiving tight ends on the market.

A weak draft class at the position may prompt the Giants to invest in a quality No. 3 tight end who could play a bigger role if Waller retires. Parkinson or Trautman could fit that bill.

Offensive line

Starters: LT Andrew Thomas, LG Josh Ezeudu, C John Michael Schmitz, RG Marcus McKethan, RT Evan Neal
Backups: G Jalen Mayfield, T Joshua Miles, T Yodny Cajuste, C Jimmy Morrissey
Free agents: G/C Ben Bredeson, T Tyre Phillips, G Justin Pugh, T Matt Peart, G Shane Lemieux, C/G Sean Harlow, C JC Hassenauer, G/T Wyatt Davis
Need level: High
Potential free-agent targets: G/T Mike Onwenu (Patriots), G Robert Hunt (Dolphins), Jonah Jackson (Lions), G John Simpson (Ravens), G Jon Runyan (Packers), T Jermaine Eluemunor (Raiders), T George Fant (Texans)

Like inside linebacker a year ago, it’s a lock that the Giants will spend to upgrade their offensive line. The question is how high the Giants are willing to go. They spent in the second tier on linebacker Bobby Okereke’s four-year, $40 million contract last year, and a similar plan at guard seems possible this offseason.

Kevin Dotson set the guard market with a three-year, $48 million extension with the Rams last week. Guards won’t come cheap considering how many of the teams with boatloads of cap space also have needs on the offensive line.

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Onwenu would be a dream fit. He’s young (26), durable (three missed games in four seasons), spent two seasons with Bricillo in New England and can play guard or right tackle. But other teams, including the Patriots, are aware of Onwenu’s value, so he may be out of the Giants’ price range.

Hunt and Jackson are likely headed for overpays, but that’s what happens when good players hit the market and demand outweighs supply. The Giants need to solidify their offensive line after so many misses, so they figure to be willing to pay a premium to secure a quality guard.

Eluemunor, who also has a history with Bricillo, would be an ideal fit as a possible starting right tackle or swing tackle. But he might want a guaranteed starting job — and the commensurate compensation — after making 31 starts over the past two seasons. Fant could be a cheaper option to fill the swing role.

Defensive line

Starters: Dexter Lawrence, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jordon Riley
Backups: DJ Davidson, Timmy Horne, Ryder Anderson
Free agent: A’Shawn Robinson
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Denico Autry (Titans), Leonard Williams (Seahawks), Sebastian Joseph-Day (49ers), Sheldon Rankins (Texans)

Don’t be surprised if there’s an infusion of players from the Titans since new defensive coordinator Shane Bowen spent the past six years in Tennessee. With that in mind, signing Autry is a strong bet. The Giants need a pass-rushing defensive lineman to complement Dexter Lawrence, and Autry thrived in Bowen’s system with 28.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Despite that production, Autry shouldn’t break the bank since he turns 34 in July.

The door was left open for Williams to return after the Giants dealt him to Seattle at the trade deadline for second- and fifth-round picks, but the 29-year-old is once again positioned to cash in. Williams’ salary in a new deal could approach $20 million per year, according to league sources, so that would price him out of a reunion with the Giants.

If the Giants don’t land Autry and want to shop in the mid-level of the defensive line market, it would make sense to re-sign Robinson to a deal similar to the one-year, $5 million contract he signed last year.

Outside linebacker

Starters: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari
Backups: Boogie Basham, Tomon Fox, Jeremiah Martin
Free agents: Jihad Ward, Benton Whitley
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Danielle Hunter (Vikings), Bryce Huff (Jets), Jonathan Greenard (Texans), Andrew Van Ginkel (Dolphins), Josh Uche (Patriots), Leonard Floyd (Bills)

The Giants neglected outside linebacker last offseason and paid the price with lackluster production. There’s more of a premium on edge rushers in Bowen’s system since Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy approach spreads around sacks.

The Giants reportedly have interest in Hunter, but he’s expected to command a monster payday. He’s a great player, but spending top dollar on a 29-year-old pass rusher doesn’t seem to fit where the Giants are in their build.

Huff is another edge rusher who has been linked to the Giants. He broke out with 10 sacks last season, but will be expensive for a situational player. Uche has a similar profile to Huff, but he should be cheaper coming off a three-sack season. Van Ginkel seems like a perfect match as a three-down player who should be more affordable. There’s an obligation to include Lloyd as a potential Giants target any time he’s available.

A wild card to consider: Schoen hasn’t been afraid to make big trades, and the Panthers are willing to deal franchise-tagged edge rusher Brian Burns. Schoen has a close relationship with new Panthers GM Dan Morgan, so a blockbuster deal for the 25-year-old Burns can’t be ruled out.

Inside linebacker

Starters: Bobby Okereke, Micah McFadden
Backups: Darrian Beavers, Dyontae Johnson
Free agents: Isaiah Simmons, Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Jarrad Davis
Need level: Low
Potential free-agent targets: Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans), Tyrel Dodson (Bills), Sione Takitaki (Browns)

It would be surprising if the Giants make much of an investment at inside linebacker with Okereke and McFadden returning as starters and so many other holes to fill. Al-Shaair merits mention due to his connection to Bowen, but signing a cheap veteran for depth seems more likely.

Cornerback

Starters: Deonte Banks, Tre Hawkins, Cor’Dale Flott
Backups: Aaron Robinson, Kaleb Hayes, Stantley Thomas-Oliver
Free agents: Adoree’ Jackson, Nick McCloud, Darnay Holmes
Need level: High
Potential free-agent targets: Darious Williams (Jaguars), Tre’Davious White (Bills), Chidobe Awuzie (Bengals), Sean Murphy-Bunting (Titans), Kenny Moore (Colts), Dane Jackson (Bills), Kristian Fulton (Titans)

The Giants reportedly hosted Williams for a visit on Sunday, so they’re not wasting any time trying to fill the major hole opposite Banks. If the Giants don’t land Williams, there are plenty of options with ties to Bowen and Schoen from their previous stops.

The talented White would be a risky signing due to his injury history, while Murphy-Bunting could be an economical option with the versatility to play outside or in the slot. The slot corner needs to play the run well in Bowen’s system, and that’s something Moore brings along with solid coverage.

Safety

Starters: Jason Pinnock, Dane Belton
Backups: Gervarrius Owens
Free agent: Xavier McKinney
Need level: Medium
Potential free-agent targets: Micah Hyde (Bills), Jordan Poyer (Bills), Darnell Savage (Packers), Quandre Diggs (Seahawks), Jayron Kearse (Cowboys)

The Giants didn’t use a tag on McKinney last week and it appears he’ll head to the open market Monday afternoon. The Giants still want to keep the 24-year-old, but they risk getting outbid once he hits the market.

Savage represents a cheaper alternative to McKinney who is younger than a lot of the other safety options. The Buffalo duo of Hyde or Poyer could provide a veteran stopgap if the Giants don’t want to pay big money in a saturated market.

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Special teams

Starters: K Graham Gano, P Jamie Gillan, LS Casey Kreiter
Backups: N/A
Free agent: K Randy Bullock
Need level: N/A
Potential free-agent targets: N/A

Gano is returning from his season-ending knee injury, and Gillan did enough to warrant staying for the second year of the two-year, $4 million deal he signed last offseason. Gillan has a $250,000 roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year, so if the Giants are planning to move on, they’ll cut him before then. The Giants reportedly re-signed Kreiter on Sunday, so they’ll keep their specialists together for another season.

(Photos of Mike Onwenu, Denico Autry and Darious Williams:
Nick Cammett, Wesley Hitt, Perry Knotts/Getty Images)





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