Giants Expected to Cut Ties With 21-Game Starter ‘Loyal’ to Wink Martindale

Giants' Jihad Ward predicted to leave in NFL free agency.

Getty New York Giants outside linebacker Jihad Ward was predicted to depart in NFL free agency.

The New York Giants retooled their coaching staff in a major way in 2024, and that could lead to several departures in free agency.

While predicting which impending free agents stay and which go on March 9, The Athletic’s NYG insider Dan Duggan seemed pretty confident that veteran outside linebacker Jihad Ward would be leaving the organization this spring.

“Ward was assured a roster spot as long as Wink Martindale remained the Giants’ defensive coordinator,” Duggan explained. Adding that “Martindale is no longer the Giants’ defensive coordinator after a messy divorce. So, it makes sense for the Giants to cut ties with one of Martindale’s most loyal players.”

The journeyman has been a steady presence for the Big Blue defense over the past two seasons, starting 21 games and appearing in all 36 possible outings including the two playoff matchups last winter. However, Ward didn’t exactly overwhelm from a production standpoint.

The edge defender racked up 8.0 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss over his tenure, impacting the game with four pass defenses, three forced fumbles and one recovery.

Having said that, his pass rush win-rate ranked tied for 114th in the NFL at 4.8% according to Pro Football Focus (minimum 20% of snaps). As a run defender, Ward was actually worse with a “stop” percentage (2.1%) that ranked 120th in the NFL at his position (minimum 20% of snaps).

To sum him up as a player, the staff favorite was durable and resilient for the G-Men but overall, there was nothing spectacular or efficient about his game.

Giants ‘Desperately Want to Add’ Edge Rusher in 2024 Free Agency

With Ward likely to depart and very little reliability on the roster behind Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Giants are expected to prioritize the edge rusher position in free agency.

“The Giants desperately want to add at edge rusher,” ESPN NYG insider Jordan Raanan relayed on March 8.

“They’re going to monitor the top of the market (i.e., Danielle Hunter) but aren’t really looking to spend in that range, one source told ESPN at the combine,” he went on. Noting: “There are a lot of quality, starting-caliber options [in the second tier], such as A.J. Epenesa, Bryce Huff, Andrew Van Ginkel, Josh Uche and Leonard Floyd, a player the Giants have long coveted.”

Raanan called that the “more likely the path” for Big Blue general manager Joe Schoen.

Concluding: “Expect a notable move for the Giants for an edge rusher to play opposite Thibodeaux. It’s a position at which they need depth with Azeez Ojulari coming off a down season and entering the final year of his contract.”

Giants Reporter Agrees Josh Uche Could Be ‘Best’ Free Agent Fit

One of the potential free agent targets that Raanan listed at edge rusher was Uche, of the New England Patriots. The Athletic’s Charlotte Carroll agreed with this suggestion on March 8, naming the former second-round talent as one of the “best available free agent fits” for the Giants.

“Spending big money on one of the top available edge rushers is a recipe for an overpay,” she reasoned within her article. “Rather, the Giants should look to add a third piece behind Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari.”

Continuing: “If the Giants are looking for a prove-it, one-year-deal option with a history of production, Uche could be the guy. He had a strong 2022 as one of the NFL’s leaders in pressure rate and finished with 11.5 sacks. However, his production dipped significantly (3.5 sacks) without Matthew Judon for most of the 2023 season.”

In the end, Carroll described Uche as an “interesting addition” that could “thrive” alongside Thibodeaux and a healthy Ojulari. She also labeled the edge rusher position a “priority” on the defensive side, as Raanan alluded in his free agency primer.

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