How do you integrate a bunch of new players and new schemes in the hypercondensed offseason wrought by the lockout?
That's a question several NFL teams will have to answer in the next couple of weeks as they try to reshape their franchises on the fly before the start of a season that's just over a month away. It would seem to be a major disadvantage, one that stable teams like the Giants should be able to exploit.
The Giants enter free agency with a few key free agents, but they have fewer question marks than a lot of other would-be contenders. Their coach staff is set, the veterans know their scheme and they are coming off a winning season that was a brutal fourth quarter against the Eagles away from a playoff spot and probable division title.
Keeping that stability in place is the best course for the team to plot as free agency gets underway this week. A good place to start would be by re-signing Steve Smith and Kevin Boss.
Smith is coming off a serious knee injury and is reportedly open to signing a one-year deal to show that he's fully recovered and worthy of a big deal. That makes sense for the Giants as Eli Manning definitely seemed to miss his most reliable target after Smith's injury last year.
Boss's status is a bit harder to figure out since he isn't going to need to settle for a one-year deal. He isn't a world beater at tight end, but he fits what the Giants want from the position as a blocker and has shown a willingness to get clobbered to catch Manning's passes.
Simply keeping the status quo won't take care of everything, though. The Giants have other work to do, starting with making room under the cap for everybody.
Rejigger the offensive line - Shawn Andrews and Shaun O'Hara are both capable linemen when healthy, but they weren't healthy last year and make too much money to risk another year of injuries. They need to restructure or go somewhere else, and it wouldn't kill the Giants to look into a little more depth for a line that was inconsistent last season.
Settle the Osi Umenyiora mess once and for all - Giving him a new contract with two years left at a reasonable rate seems like a silly move for a team that's already in a tight squeeze with the cap. That might cause Umenyiora to become an even bigger distraction than he's already been by holding out and the Giants will have to decide if that's worth what he gives them in the pass rush. A tough call, but ending this relationship and re-signing Mathias Kiwanuka might make for a better overall situation.
Tell Ahmad Bradshaw to take it or leave it - Bradshaw's been making a lot of noise about wanting to play with the Dolphins and he's not worth getting into a bidding war over for the Giants. Make a good offer to keep him, give it a time limit and then move on to Ronnie Brown or Reggie Bush or whoever is next on the list if Bradshaw doesn't sign.
The eternal quest for a linebacker - The Giants seem to sign a free agent linebacker or two every year without ever solving their need for more athleticism at the position. They're already linked to free agents Steven Nicholas, Paul Posluszny and Barrett Ruud, so you can expect at least one new name in the corps this year.
Bye-bye Barry Cofield - He's a good player, but Cofield's time with the Giants is almost certainly up. The team has other holes, cap problems and two defensive tackles drafted in the last two years to take his place.