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Giants again eye former Steelers

Monday, March 06, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

Remember 12 months ago when the Giants transformed themselves from pretenders to contenders in a little more than two weeks? Remember when the signings of linebacker Antonio Pierce, tackle Kareem McKenzie, kicker Jay Feely and wide receiver Plaxico Burress turned a 6-10 team into a potential division champ by St. Patrick's Day?


Forget a sequel. For the Giants, the lack of an extension for the collective bargaining agreement -- and a subsequently smaller cap figure at $94.5 million -- means the next couple of weeks will be much quieter than the same period last year. Whereas they had nearly $10 million to play with in 2005, this year they have only a few million dollars free. And most of that will be used on a few of their own free agents they would like to re-sign.


But in an off-season when the only certainty so far is that everything has been uncertain, there figures to be one similarity between this year and last for the Giants: The pipeline from Pittsburgh to East Rutherford will likely remain open.


Defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, the Steelers' head defensive honcho from 2000-03, was a major force in the Giants' free-agency plans the past two years. In 2004 he recommended the signing of safety Brent Alexander and linebacker Carlos Emmons, who both played in Pittsburgh during Lewis' nine-year stint there. Last year he helped bring in two former Steelers for visits in the first two weeks of free agency: linebacker Kendrell Bell and defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy. The Giants passed on Bell for Pierce -- a very wise move, as it turns out -- but Clancy was added and became a key component of their defense.


This year there are three Steelers available at defensive positions the Giants would like to strengthen. Free safety Chris Hope, cornerback Deshea Townsend and linebacker Clint Kriewaldt will look to turn their Super Bowl seasons into big paydays in the upcoming week.


Signing either Hope, 25, or Townsend, 30, would require some crafty cap management by general manager Ernie Accorsi and assistant GM Kevin Abrams. The Giants' extremely high opinion of safety James Butler, an undrafted free agent last year, could diminish plans to make a big push for Hope. The team might also hand a starting corner spot to Corey Webster -- last year's second-round pick -- rather than sign Townsend.


But Kriewaldt, who turns 30 on March 16, is the kind of player the Giants need to build depth at linebacker -- a position that was ravaged by injuries late last season. He could very well be the latest to trade the black-and-gold for blue.




Five free agents the Giants are likely to consider in free agency:



S Chris Hope. A career year and a Super Bowl ring came at the perfect time for Hope, who will command one of the biggest contracts for a safety -- perhaps too big for the cap-strapped Giants.



LB Clint Kriewaldt. The Giants would have loved to have had him when Antonio Pierce went down with an injury last year. He's a solid backup who proved last year with the Steelers that he can start -- and play well -- in a pinch.



CB Deshea Townsend. Another Steeler. Are you sensing a theme yet? Starting corner Will Allen is likely gone and Will Peterson's back remains a question mark. Townsend is a proven veteran who had 11 INTs and 35 passes defensed in the past three seasons. Cornerback Sam Madison, cut by the Dolphins last week, is also a possibility.



WR Corey Bradford. The Giants made a run at him last year, but didn't land him. With Tim Carter set to leave via free agency and Jamaar Taylor's health always in question, the Giants need a new burner for their third receiver. Bradford could be that guy.



QB Jay Fiedler. He was another free agent the team pursued last year. The Jets signed him, but his season was cut short by a separated shoulder. The Giants are still looking for a veteran backup for Eli Manning and Fiedler could finally fill that void.


-- Mike Garafolo

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