No Strahan or Umenyiora – how will Giants’ defensive line cope?

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at how the New York Giants expect to cope without having Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan on their defensive line.

Michael StrahanWhen the New York Giants selected defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka with the 32nd pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, many eyebrows were raised at the pick. Why would the Giants take another defensive end when they already had Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck on the roster?

After Strahan retired following the Giants’ Super Bowl victory in January and Umenyiora was lost for the 2008 season because of a knee injury, nobody is questioning New York’s decision to draft Kiwanuka now.

Kiwanuka not only has the daunting task of having to transition from outside linebacker back to defensive end, but he also will attempt to fill the shoes of Umenyiora, a highly productive player who registered 52 tackles and five sacks last season.

Playing opposite of Kiwanuka on the line will be Tuck, a promising fourth-year player who compiled 10 sacks last year as part of a rotation. While he’s shown plenty of upside, this will be the first time in Tuck’s career that he’ll be counted on as a full-time starter.

Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins will man the interior of New York’s defensive line. Neither stands out as impact players, although Cofield did show promise in his rookie season when he compiled 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

There’s no denying that losing both Strahan and Umenyiora was devastating. The Giants demonstrated what a heavy pass-rush could do for an entire defense in the Super Bowl when they completely flustered Tom Brady and his offensive line. While young corner Aaron Ross is developing into a nice player, the rest of the secondary is average at best – especially after safety Gibril Wilson signed with Oakland this offseason – and will need the front seven to put pressure on opposing teams’ quarterbacks so they’re not vulnerable in coverage.

New York GiantsNew York is going to need Kiwanuka and Tuck to provide the type of rush that Strahan and Umenyiora got last year in order for the defense to not be exposed in certain areas. Both ends have a ton of talent, but how will they do as full-time starters? Can they be as effective as every-down players as they were in a rotation last year? Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was outstanding in devising game plans last year to frustrate opposing teams, but a lot of what he does depends on his ends getting pressure.

Time will tell if the Giants will sink or swim without the two ends that helped them when a Super Bowl last season.

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Giants contact Michael Strahan about return

According to the New York Daily News, Giants’ GM Jerry Reese has reached out to Michael Strahan’s agent about possibly returning to the team in wake of Osi Umenyiora’s season-ending injury.

According to the agent, Tony Agnone, he spoke with Reese earlier today about whether Strahan would be interested in returning to the Giants. Agnone said the discussion was very general and very preliminary and definitely didn’t involve any talks about money.

They ended with Reese telling Agnone to let the Giants know if and when Strahan decides he’s serious about a return.

“They reached out and they talked to us about the possibility of Strahan returning,” Agnone said. “It’s something he’s thinking about.”

Agnone said that Strahan wasn’t considering a return at all before his friend and former teammates, Osi Umenyiora, suffered a season-ending knee injury Saturday night. After seeing that, Agnone said, Strahan “feels the ship isn’t even out of the harbor and they’re already taking on the cannons. He feels like maybe he should jump back in there.”

Agnone insisted he had no idea what the 37-year-old Strahan would decide to do, or what would happen if he told the Giants officially that he’d like to return.

If I were a betting man (“if” – ha!), I’d throw money on Strahan returning. Either way I think it’s a good move by the Giants. I know they’d be willing to move Mathias Kiwanuka from outside linebacker back to end (he played end in college), but why move him after he’s already spent two years learning linebacker? And when Umenyiora returns next season, what do they do with Kiwanuka? Move him back to end? Strahan coming back for one more year just makes sense if he’s willing to do it.

Michael Strahan would return to Giants for $8 million?

The New York Daily News has discovered that former Giants’ defensive end Michael Strahan would be willing to come out of retirement to help his old team in the wake of Osi Umenyiora’s season ending injury. But it’s going to cost the G-Men $8 million.

“If the Giants make a sincere overture, it’s a good chance that Strahan would consider coming back,” the source said. “There are other things he has to take into consideration: the money and his contract with Fox. But if the Giants really want him, they have a shot. It’s not out of the question.”
Strahan, in an interview with the NFL Network, wouldn’t rule it out either.

“I haven’t heard from anybody else, so to say if I would or wouldn’t is premature,” Strahan said, “so I’m enjoying my retired life right now.”

The question, though, is do the Giants really want Strahan to return for a 16th NFL season? They obviously need help at defensive end now that an MRI revealed torn cartilage in Umenyiora’s left knee and he will undergo season-ending surgery tomorrow. And they were looking for help at that position even before Umenyiora’s injury, which is why they discussed trading disgruntled tight end Jeremy Shockey to Miami last month for Jason Taylor.

But as of last night, they had not reached out to Strahan’s agent, Tony Agnone, and one source close to the defensive end said, “I don’t think they will.” They know Strahan’s asking price — the same $8 million that they would’ve paid Taylor — but back in the spring they weren’t willing to go any higher than $6.5 million, including incentives.

The Giants are reportedly fine with moving linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka back to defensive end (he played the position in college). But if the team was willing to pay Strahan $6.5 mil this summer for him to postpone retirement, what’s another $1.5 mil if that’s what he’s asking for? Kiwanuka just spent an entire summer getting used to outside linebacker, now you’re going to ask him to change positions two weeks before the season starts? Paying Strahan a little more makes sense, assuming he’s in football shape, that is.

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