The New York Giants‘ linebacking corps already rosters the most accomplished tackler in the NFL over the past four seasons in Blake Martinez — a homerun signee of Dave Gettleman’s a season ago. Yet, aside from the 27-year-old standout, the rest of the position is littered with mostly unproven, albeit intriguing, young prospects.
Former Mr. Irrelevant Tae Crowder is the leader in the bullpen to start alongside Martinez in Patrick Graham’s base defense. Ex-Bills’ failed second-round pick Reggie Ragland and 2020 late-round selections Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin and T.J. Brunson could also factor into snaps at the position.
With that said, the team’s best option to compliment Martinez could be sitting on the open market.
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K.J. Wright Floated as the Answer at LB for the Giants
Imagine this, it’s June — nearly three months into the start of free agency — and Pro Football Focus’ No. 14 rated linebacker in all of football is still looking for a home. That’s the exact situation that former Seattle Seahawks mainstay K.J. Wright currently finds himself in.
While he may be on the older side (turns 32-years-old in July), the one-time Pro Bowler brings the type of production and stability to the position that could make him an “ideal candidate to start at linebacker” for the Giants this coming season, per G-Men HQ’s Matt Lombardo.
Wright would take away playing time from Brown, Crowder, Brunson, and Coughlin early. While the NY Giants seem to be operating as a franchise eager to get young players snaps in hopes of developing sustained success, the four rookie linebackers combined for just 86 total tackles, one sack, four forced fumbles. But none started more than six games.
Much like Logan Ryan’s arrival brought stability to a young secondary last summer and into the season, if the younger players can’t beat out Wright, he would certainly elevate this defense.
Making the Case for Wright in NY
As Lombardo noted, any pursuit of Wright would likely be a telltale sign of how the Giants view themselves in terms of being legitimate postseason contenders. With up-and-coming talents at the position, chances are New York wouldn’t want to minimize the youngsters’ growth in a season that could theoretically end with a sub-.500 record.
Then again, Wright’s age and lack of legitimate interest received on the free agency market thus far points to a player likely to be had on a team-friendly deal. In that case, not jumping at the chance to potentially solidify the second level of a defense with top-10 upside could prove detrimental to the unit as a whole. For instance, while Crowder flashed at times a season ago, he finished 2020 with an overall PFF grade of just 36.4. Conversely, Wright amassed a PFF grade of 75.3, making him the eighth-highest-graded linebacker in the NFL on the season.
On top of that, Wright offers position flexibility that could prove highly beneficial in the Giants’ multi-look defensive scheme. After playing the first nine years of his pro career at WILL (weakside) linebacker, Wright moved to the SAM (strongside) backer spot in 2020 and excelled, collecting 86 tackles and 11 tackles for loss (second-most in his career).
There are still those in the Pacific Northwest, such as perennial All-Pro Bobby Wagner, who are holding out hope that Wright could return to the Seahawks. However, Wagner understands such an outcome remains very much up in the air.
“I hope that’s not the case, I hope we’re able to figure that out and work it out, but it would definitely be different,” Wagner said. “Not having him, having a guy like that a playmaker, someone that’s really, really productive — especially these last two years, he’s been very, very productive— it’ll be different, but this is a business, and we’ll figure out what we need to do.”
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