The New York Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul came to a contractual agreement on March 17th. JPP put pen to paper on a 4 year, $62m contract, with $40m guaranteed. He will be entering his 8th season in the NFL, at the relatively tender age of 28 – prime years for many defensive ends.
This coming Independence Day, it will mark 2 years since JPP sustained a serious hand injury, resulting in his right index finger being amputated. It will also mark 2 years to the day, since virtually every football expert wrote his career off, something which Pierre-Paul never once agreed with.
Why keeping ’90’ makes sense
The Giants had one of the best defenses in the NFL last season, ranking 2nd in points scored against, giving up a stingy 17.8 points per game. They also ranked 2nd in both passing touchdowns (26) and rushing yards per attempt (3.6) and 5th in rushing touchdowns (10). All this from a very young and ever improving defense, who see JPP as their emotional leader – a player who’s been to and won the Super Bowl with the Giants.
Keeping Pierre-Paul was imperative for the Giants, who boasted one of the best front fours in the NFL (Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Jonathan Hankins). This quartet quickly became feared through the league, especially for running backs and teams that loved to pound the rock. Although Damon “Snacks” Harrison took the plaudits for his impressive run-stopping ability, Olivier Vernon and JPP were crucial to his success, setting the edge vs the run and forcing running backs inside, where Harrison lay waiting to eat them up.
Admittedly, there is risk in re-signing Pierre-Paul to a 4 year deal, who has seen his fair share of injuries. In 2016, he missed the final 4 games of the season, due to having surgery for a sports hernia. Both Olivier Vernon and JPP were overworked, hardly getting a rest in the 16 and 12 games they played respectively. If the Giants want the best out of their star defensive ends, adequate back-ups will need to be found, to give the starters a breather and to keep them healthy.
For obvious reasons, I’m discounting Pierre-Paul’s club-wearing 2015 season – where he notched just the 1 sack in 8 starts. Last season, his production started pretty poorly, with just 1 sack in the first 10 games. He then heated up, tallying 5.5 sacks in 2 games, before the injury vs Steelers ended his season. These numbers don’t jump out at you and are nowhere near his 2011 (16.5 sacks) or 2014 (12.5 sacks) production. But, for anyone that watched him closely through the season, it was obvious to see he was putting pressure on quarterbacks and generally being disruptive at the line of scrimmage.
JPP also had three forced fumbles through the season, taking one back to the endzone for a touchdown, and 8 passes defended, many of them being batted down at the line of scrimmage- which is an underrated statistic for defensive ends. The intelligence to read quarterbacks eyes and the athletic ability to jump up and bat passes down is one that’s not often talked about around the league, but JPP is certainly one the best in business at it.
Defense wins championships
We’ve all heard them three words uttered again and again, but for the Giants its very true, and recent history will prove that. In both of Eli Manning’s Super Bowl victories, he was enabled by a two excellent Giants defenses, that boasted elite defensive ends. The position was anchored by two key pass rushers and one back-up, who gave relief at times when it was needed. In 2007, the Giants led the NFL in sacks during the season, with 52. Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora were the two elite guys on the edge, accounting for 22 of the 52 sacks. Justin Tuck backed them up with 10 sacks through the season. Similarly in 2011, the Giants had two ends accounting for 25.5 sacks (JPP 16.5 and Osi with 9 in 9 games). Once again, Justin Tuck was the relief guy, with 5 sacks in 12 games.
This formula bodes well for the 2017 Giants and beyond as Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon look to form a powerful partnership up front. The Giants may look for their “Justin Tuck” in this years draft, or they may feel they already have him in Romeo Okwara, who showed glimpses of being a good talent, in the four games he started after JPP’s injury.
The future of this Giants defense is bright, and even brighter for having Jason Pierre-Paul around for the next four seasons. He’s done incredibly well to return from a near career ending injury and deserves all the praise and plaudits he gets. Giants fans will hope his performances earn these praises, as he continues to adapt and grow into his veteran years in the NFL.