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5 Big Blue's greatest 2017 needs

NY Daily NewsPAT LEONARD
Futures of Odell Beckham and Ereck Flowers are high on the list of Giant concerns for 2017.
AP
Optimists might argue the Giants are a few pieces short of a Super Bowl run. Pessimists could contend that with 17 unrestricted free agents and needs at several key positions, a slide out of playoff contention is as likely as a return to the postseason in 2017. The Giants certainly built what GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo have called a promising "foundation." But that guarantees nothing for next season if Reese does not build on the progress made in 2016. The pressure is on Reese again, particularly since the Giants' list of Top Five Greatest Needs starts at one of the sport's most important positions.
1 FIND A LEFT TACKLE & IMPROVE THE O-LINE
Eli Manning, 36, might be "on the back nine" of his career, but Sunday proved he still can bring it in the postseason. Manning was throwing darts and looked ready to win a shootout if need be against Aaron Rodgers until Odell Beckham Jr. and his teammates on offense let him down. Reese has to continue thinking Super Bowl next season even as he builds through the draft for the future. That means fixing Reese's greatest mistake last offseason, his decision to ignore major needs on the offensive line. Reese drafted Ereck Flowers ninth overall out of Miami (Fla.) two years ago, but even the GM allowed Monday that "it is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first-round draft pick. We will evaluate that," Reese said.
"Is he the left tackle? Should he be in a different position? We will evaluate that." Drafting a tackle again in the first round this soon (the Giants have the 23rd pick in April) wouldn't be the preferred course of action. Adding inexperience to a critical position wouldn't be the best method either, with Manning up there in age. So could the Giants score a reasonable deal perhaps with 11-year veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth, 35, the career Cincinnati Bengals free agent who has not missed a start in the past three years and graded among the highest of all NFL offensive linemen this season? Minnesota's Matt Kalil, 27, is a free agent coming off hip surgery but is much younger and had started all of his first 66 NFL games through four-plus seasons prior to the injury. Or, would the Giants look in the draft anyway, where top-rated tackles by Scout Inc.
include Alabama's Cam Robinson, Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk and Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey? The Giants can't give up completely on Flowers, but finding a reliable left tackle would allow McAdoo to shift Flowers to right tackle. Right guard John Jerry is a free agent, also.
2 UPGRADE THE PASS RUSH, AGAIN
Jason Pierre-Paul wants a longterm deal for big money, but the Giants aren't going to be able to pay him the same $85 million over five years that they gave Vernon to lure him in free agency from the Miami Dolphins last year. Reese said when asked if he considers it possible to re-sign both Pierre-Paul and DT Johnathan Hankins: "I think so." But while Pierre-Paul wants to remain a Giant, he is more likely to get a bigger offer elsewhere. That doesn't mean Reese can leave his defensive end position alone, though. While Vernon had a good year and impressed playing through a broken hand/wrist early in the season, he was invisible in Green Bay on Sunday. And the Giants pass rush this year was not consistent, after being non-existent early in the season. Romeo Okwara is promising, and Owa Odighizuwa will contribute again, but a defense that finished tied for 14th in sacks (35) needs more depth and efficiency at the position. Spending big money isn't the solution. A draft deep at defensive end, led by top-five overall projections Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and Jonathan Allen (Alabama) could yield a diamond in later rounds.
3 SPEND ON TE & GET ELI A BIG TARGET
Martellus Bennett, 29, is truly the one that got away. The "Black Unicorn" caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five TDs in his only season as a Giant in 2012. He then signed in Chicago and played three years as a Bear, catching a whopping 90 balls in 2014 alone. Now, he's starring with Tom Brady and the Patriots in place of the injured Rob Gronkowski. A 6-6, 275-pound tight end who makes life hard on a defense is something this Giants offense sorely misses. Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11) and Sterling Shepard (5-10) are both small targets. Will Tye was the most reliable tight end but has a ceiling. Rookie 2016 draft pick Jerell Adams is 6-5 but still maturing in the offense, hurt his shoulder late, and the jury is still out. The Larry Donnell experiment has to end, no?
4 MAKE TOUGH CALLS ON PRICEY CONTRACTS
Dominique RodgersCromartie is scheduled to cost $8.5 million against the cap next season, per overthecap.com. But even as a third corner, DRC proved critical to the defense's success in 2016. Victor Cruz ($9.4 million), Dwayne Harris ($3.8 million) and Rashad Jennings ($3.0625 million), on the other hand, are deals Reese must revisit. Cutting Cruz seems inevitable. Harris had a good season covering kicks, but he makes too much money for what he provided as a return man in 2016. Jennings is a leader, and he ran well in Sunday's first career playoff game but he may make too much for a veteran who lost his starting job by year's end. I do believe the Giants found something promising at running back in Paul Perkins, but at the skill positions they have to keep their eyes open.
5 CONSIDER FUTURES OF MANNING & BECKHAM
Reese needs to plan for Manning's eventual successor even though it probably doesn't mean drafting someone this April. Forecasting that far into the future, though, also requires evaluating Beckham's deal. The Giants' best player is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, so Reese could consider an extension. Manning is under contract until 2020. Beckham's maturity issues most certainly will play a factor in those deliberations. The Giants also know their offense would be absolutely nowhere without his special talent. So it's a complex conversation when considering the bigger picture. Reese also needs to make sure he's on the same page with McAdoo: If the coach wants a fullback, for example, the GM should get a reliable one. Linebacker wasn't a strength this season and the defense still excelled, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't shoot high. And above all, Reese needs to get the kicker signing right this time.
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