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5 Underrated Free Agents New York Giants Should Target This Offseason

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5 Underrated Free Agents the New York Giants Should Sign

The Star-Ledger-USA Today Sports

The New York Giants started their 2013 season on an optimistic note. GM Jerry Reese decided it would serve as a great motivational factor to hang a scoreboard up at the facility that displayed a running countdown of the days, hours and minutes until Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. It didn't take long for that half-full glass to turn half-empty even for the most optimistic of fans. The Giants started their season off by losing their first six games in a row.

Although they showed improvements over the final 10 games, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, they finished with just seven wins and failed to make the playoffs. The 2013 version of the Giants was a much different roster from the one that took home the Lombardi Trophy in 2011. Many of the heroes from that season fell prey to injuries and old age. What was left was a roster with glaring weaknesses at several different positions.

First and foremost, the Giants must improve their offensive line. This is the spot on the roster that stands the best chance to improve in free agency. Former All-Pro right guard Chris Snee was a shell of his former self last season as he attempted to return from hip surgery. He is likely to be cut. Center David Baas might also find himself on the chopping block after another season filled with ineffectiveness and a season-ending injury. Even left guard Kevin Boothe, while serviceable, is not the answer at the left guard position.

The good news is that guards and centers are the easiest positions along the offensive line to be filled in free agency. Many teams have found reasonably-priced solutions there in the past. Evan Mathis has become one of the best guards in the NFL, and it took the Philadelphia Eagles under $2 million to sign him away from the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency.

Free agency can also be used to upgrade Eli Manning’s weapons. The Giants need a big and strong outside receiver to replace Hakeem Nicks, but they are unlikely to find one in this free agency. There are plenty of options in the draft. Besides, the Giants already have three young and talented receivers in Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and Jerrel Jernigan on the roster already. Instead, this period can be used to upgrade his running backs and tight ends. Neither position was consistently productive or consistently healthy in 2013.

Although the 2013 version of the defense finished in the top third of the league, improvements can still be made. In recent years, the cornerback market has been very dry for free agents. Teams have been able to find very solid cover cornerbacks at reasonable prices. No cornerback signed a contract that averaged over $6 million a year in 2012.

Interior offensive line players and cornerbacks offer the greatest value and return on investment compared with the Giants’ greatest needs in free agency. Manning is short on weapons and with a host of varying talent at running back and tight end, the Giants will hope to find this free agency’s version of Martellus Bennett when he signed with the team for one-year and $2.5 million in the 2012 offseason.

Take a look at five options who can successfully fill these major needs and are not getting the recognition and buzz in the early stages of the offseason.

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5. Andrew Quarless

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Andrew Quarless has already been linked to the Giants this offseason because of the Ben McAdoo hiring at offensive coordinator. Last season, Quarless started for Jermichael Finley after his season-ending injury, and filled in admirably by racking up career highs in catches (32), yards (312) and touchdowns (two). He will definitely not make the impact that Martellus Bennett made two seasons ago, but he will come at a cheaper price and provide competition that will hopefully push third-year tight end Adrien Robinson into a more prominent role with the offense.

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4. Travelle Wharton

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Travelle Wharton had a bit of renaissance season in 2013. The Carolina Panthers added him on the cheap, and he went on to play all 16 games in 2013. Offensive line is difficult to predict, so I usually stick to the rankings from Pro Football Focus. Wharton graded out as the fifth-best guard overall in the entire NFL last season. The only thing working against Wharton is his age (32) and past injury history.

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3. Maurice Jones-Drew

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Maurice Jones-Drew is certainly not the sexiest addition, but as the market plays itself out, it is likely that he will turn out to be a great bargain in the latter stages of free agency. If he is able to string together a fully healthy season, he will pay huge dividends for however signs him. Last season, he showed flashes of his old self when he racked up 124 total yards on 16 touches against the Houston Texans. He can pass protect and help on third downs, and he is a good inside runner. He will be a solid veteran addition for any team.

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2. Tarell Brown

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Tarell Brown's play was never the reason for his demotion this past season. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown still graded out as the 32nd-best cornerback in 2013 and the 13th-best in 2012. Brown would be a perfect fit across from Prince Amukamara as the Giants' second cornerback.

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1. Brian De La Puente

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Brian De La Puente stands a chance to go down as the most underrated free agent signing in the entire league. He has been a major piece of the New Orleans Saints offense, and plays a key role in identifying blitzes and sliding protections to keep Brees upright. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished as the 16th-best center in 2013 and was the second-best in 2012. He is the exact kind of player that Eli Manning needs to help guide him through a new offensive line and a new offensive scheme.