The New York Giants linebacking corps took a massive step forward in 2020. Blake Martinez proved to be a homerun free-agent addition. The former Green Bay Packer racked up 151 tackles in his first season in East Rutherford, in return becoming the first player in NFL history to finish within the top three in tackles four years in a row.
Alongside Martinez, late-round draft picks Tae Crowder and Cam Brown exceed expectations. The former, the NFL’s reigning Mr. Irrelevant, flaunted impressive range from the position over his six starts. As for Brown, the former Penn State standout operated mostly on the edge as a rookie, yet has the traits capable of moonlighting as a stand-up linebacker moving forward.
While the arrow is clearly pointing up for a position group readily deficient of talent over years past, the presence of an elite coverage linebacker continues to elude New York. That could change this offseason should they pluck one of the top impending free agents at the position from nearby Buffalo.
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Giants ‘Must Consider’ Bills LB Matt Milano
Says Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report, and it’s easy to see why.
Jacquian Williams’ short-lived run in the early 2010s and Keenan Robinson’s performance in 2016 are the two outlier performances that come to mind for an otherwise prolonged run of Giants linebackers putting forth subpar play in coverage.
This would prove to be an issue for any team in the modern NFL. Yet, especially so for a team like the Giants, who play within a division littered with near-elite receiving threats from the tight end position. From Washington’s Logan Thomas to Philly’s combo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and to a lesser degree Dallas’ Dalton Schultz, New York has their hands full when it comes to opposing big-bodied receiving threats.
This is where Milano comes in, as Knox believes the linebacker’s three-down skillset is “worth freeing up the cap space to get a deal done” as he could help take the Giants defense from “impressive” to “championship-caliber.”
Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham forged an impressive defensive unit in 2020, and with a few additional pieces, it could be championship-caliber. Adding a rangy, run-stuffing linebacker like Matt Milano of the Buffalo Bills could help take the defense where it wants to be.
As a second-level defender, Milano could augment New York’s stout defensive front. He could also be an asset in pass defense, as he allowed an opposing passer rating of just 70.9 this past season.
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What Milano Brings to the Table; How Much Will He Cost?
To further elaborate on Milano’s abilities in the passing game, Pro Football Focus has graded the Bills defender as the 11th-best coverage linebacker in football since 2018, showing well in numerous alignments, from man-to-man coverage with running backs to lining up over the slot. In fact, over his four-year career, Milano has allowed a passer rating of just 83.9, “some 20 points lower than the average target into a linebacker’s coverage,” per PFF.
Yet, while Milano may excel in coverage, he’s far more than a one-trick pony. While not an elite run defender, the Florida native has proven more than serviceable throughout his run in Upstate New York.
Limited to just 10 games in 2020 due to hamstring and pectoral ailments, his production took a dip this season. With that said, Milano’s 2019 performance demonstrates his well-rounded skillset, finishing with 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks and seven QB hits over 15 games.
Throughout his 54 game career, the linebacker has amassed a total of 273 tackles, 30 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 25 QB hits, 21 passes defended and five interceptions.
The biggest drawback of Milano is his injury history. He’s missed 11 total games over his four-year playing career, appearing in 38 of his possible 48 regular-season games over the past three seasons.
However, Milano’s age (turns 27-years-old in late-July) and modern-day abilities will likely lead many teams to glance past injury concerns en route to the linebacker earning a lucrative deal on the open market this offseason.
So how lucrative are we talking? PFF currently predicts the Bills to retain Milano on a four-year, $45 million ($11.25 million average per year) deal with $20 million total guaranteed and $15 million fully guaranteed at signing.
In other words, it would cost the Giants a pretty penny to insert themselves in the Milano sweepstakes this free agency. Although, it could prove worth the investment in the long haul.
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