This was the New York Giants‘ plan all along: Keep together the defense that evolved late last season into one of the league’s best units. Simple in theory, much more difficult in practice, with players hoping to be paid for their performances last season.
The Giants have so far been fairly successful this offseason, even if reserve cornerback Coty Sensabaugh got away Monday and landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, days after re-signing defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in a move that ultimately created more salary-cap space, they made sure not to let linebackers Mark Herzlich and Keenan Robinson leave.
Herzlich re-signed Monday for a seventh season with the Giants, and Robinson is expected to re-sign within the next few days, a source told ESPN.
Robinson, 27, is a substantial move for a defense that went from 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed to 10th in the span of a year. The former Redskin played the second-most snaps among Giants linebackers this past season, behind only Jonathan Casillas. In his first year in New York, he proved capable of remaining healthy as a full-time nickel linebacker.
Now, he’s back for more.
Grade: B+ The goal was to keep last season’s defense (which allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL) together, and this helps the cause. The Giants don’t have another linebacker on the roster who can fill Robinson’s role as the full-time nickel linebacker, given his cover skills. That is an important role, considering they have struggled at times to cover running backs and tight ends in recent years. The signing is a move that makes sense for the Giants and Robinson. The team adds depth and a different skill set to their linebacker room; Robinson has a chance to thrive and stay healthy in a specific role that seems to be a fine fit for his ability.
What it means: The Giants have options at linebacker, especially on passing downs. Even if B.J. Goodson, a fourth-round pick last year out of Clemson, can lock down the starting middle linebacker job and prove to be a quality three-down linebacker, he can play alongside Robinson, who was their best cover linebacker last season. If he doesn’t, the Giants know they can be successful with the combination of Casillas and Robinson, regardless of what they do in the upcoming NFL draft. The signing gives them options. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is likely to continue to mix and match his linebackers and defensive backs in a multitude of different packages designed to maximize their skills. Robinson provides him flexibility.
What’s the risk: Robinson has struggled with injuries in the past, even if he remained healthy this past season. He played in 16 games in 2016 for the first time in his career. The Giants are banking on Robinson remaining healthy again, one year after they wrote an injury waiver into his contract for a “pre-existing condition” related to his right shoulder for a rotator cuff/labrum tear. That could prove difficult if Goodson fails to win the starting job and Robinson is asked to play a bigger role. He’s not known as the most physical of linebackers at 6-foot-3, 238, and could wear down if asked to play regularly against the run. It’s a risk the Giants are hoping doesn’t come into play.