With three weeks to go before the start of training camp at the time of this writing, the smell of football in the air around the Meadowlands – not the usual ones – has begun to ferment.
The anticipation of the Giants’ seeking to further redeem and solidify themselves from anti-climactic 4-12 season with a budding second-year quarterback, a game-changing third-year running back, and a presumed wunderkind first-year head coach is quickly sprouting like summer weeds.
Sure, Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, and Joe Judge will garner most of the media attention, as the trio will be centerpieces who will look to formulate a solid foundation for the future.
Yet, here are five Giants who also can be gamechangers toward a successful 2020 run.
Jabrill Peppers – He was viewed as the key player in the Odell Beckham Jr. trade and a building block on defense. The strong safety played in 11 games before a rare back injury ended his season, recoding 76 combined tackles, three forced fumbles, and one interception. Yet, Peppers had trouble against the run and also was caught on too many, wide-open downfield plays. The addition of veteran corner James Bradberry (he’s only 26) will bring more experience to the unit, but the 24-year-old Peppers easily can emerge as the leader in a contract year. If Peppers’ play crystallizes as, the Giants would be well advised to extend him and keep a young secondary together before Peppers can hit the free agent market in 2021.
Nate Solder — He remains the albatross of GM Dave Gettleman’s free-agent signings when he inked a four-year, $62 million deal in 2018. Solder has endured a higher scrutiny due to his New England pedigree, but he hasn’t been the expected All-Pro at left tackle. The Giants could have cut him before his $3 million bonus was due and would have played some cap games. All indications –including the pandemic– before camp now have Solder being a Giant in 2020, but unlikely in 2021 when the team will have Barkley’s deal and others to deal with. Top pick Andrew Thomas and third-round pick Matt Peart along with former Cowboy cam Fleming can begin to jostle for the spot.
Spencer Pulley – Pulley is involved in the most intriguing battle for the summer. He is penciled in as the starting center as former incumbent and current free agent Jon Halapio torn his Achilles in the final game of last season. The Giants haven’t been anxious to resign Halapio, as they were looking for more consistency from the position. Halapio still could be in the mix if he full recovers from the Achilles injury. Nick Gates, whose stock has rapidly risen, also could surface as a candidate. Through it all, though, Pulley is the most stable option.
Markus Golden – If Pulley’s situation is intriguing, Golden’s is puzzling. He led in team with 10 sacks – the first Giant with double figures since Jason Pierre-Paul in 2014 – and played on a one-year deal due to his recovery from an ACL tear in 2017. Instead of signing the linebacker/edge rusher to a new multi-year deal, the Giants placed the UFA tender on him, getting him back for just over $4 million unless he signs with another team before July 22. Golden’s 10-plus million asking price hasn’t drawn much attention, and the Giants loom as the favorite for him to take another step forward in 2020.
Will Hernandez – After a much-heralded and deserved debut in 2018, Hernandez’s play dipped last season. He has many lapses in his pass protection and his run-blocking wasn’t as fluid, mainly due to the loss of Barkley. In the left guard’s defense, the offensive line never got in sync under former line coach Hal Hunter and head boss Pat Shurmur. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will look to run the ball more, and new line coach Marc Columbo has worked wonder with young linemen. However, Hernandez will need to regain the luster he had his rookie season to make the first move into the category of the league’s elite class.
When camp does begin, there will be other storylines that will rise to the forefront. But those involving Peppers, Solder, Pulley, Golden, and Hernandez are the ones that can create some pleasant and productive Sundays ahead.