Free Agent Duel: Bennett or Beatty?
The New York Giants were one of the first teams to make some tough roster cuts this offseason, parting ways with key Super Bowl cogs like Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Boley, and Chris Canty. However a bigger decision is yet to come, as we’ll find out which key free agents Jerry Reese decides to keep around. With tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Will Beatty both having shown promise, and entering their primes, which offensive player should the Giants make a bigger priority? PFF Analysts Gordon McGuinness and Pete Damilatis state their case in our latest Free Agency Duel.
Why it has to be Bennett
By Gordon McGuinness
In today’s NFL, where the focus seemingly shifts more and more toward the passing game every season, the “complete” tight ends often don’t get the credit they deserve. Players like Tony Gonzalez, who has been an elite receiver throughout his career, are praised, and rightly so, but they don’t often aid the offense much in the running game. That’s fine if all you want from a tight end is a receiver, but if you look at our cumulative rankings for the position, you’ll see that only one player in the Top 10 has a negative run blocking grade (just five out of 50 total over the past five years as well).
After four seasons of being the backup to Jason Witten for the Dallas Cowboys, and the team’s designated blocking tight end, Martellus Bennett finally got his chance to start for the Giants in 2012. Our fifth-highest graded tight end on the year, Bennett put up career highs in yards and receiving touchdowns, while averaging his highest yards per catch total since his rookie year. Yet, despite all of this, I still think the Giants can get even more out of him, provided they make the correct decision and keep him around.
His Drop Rate of 9.84 might not be the greatest rating around, although it did rank 11th of all starting tight ends in 2012, but it was still a season where he showed that he can be a weapon in the passing game. Averaging 1.48 Yards Per Route Run, Bennett scored four of his five touchdowns in 2012 from the slot, a mark only three tight ends bettered in the regular season, highlighting how big a red-zone threat he can be for the Giants. It’s a role they could expand on in 2013, with his 45 targets from the slot being 10th among receivers.
It’s as a run blocker where Bennett has excelled throughout his career, however, and, while he ranked as the 13th tight end in that regard this past season, he was in with the Top 5 in terms of run blocking grade in all of the three seasons before. Good enough to impact an offense both as a blocker and a receiver, he might not be the type of elite talent of a Rob Gronkowski or Jason Witten, but he’s still a very good all-around player. Factor in that he’ll still only be 26 years old when the 2013 season begins and the fact that he was in on 91.3% of the Giants’ offensive snaps last year, and it’s clear he’s exactly the type of player they should be keeping around.
Why it Shouldn’t be Bennett
By Pete Damilatis
Gordon’s evaluation of Bennett is right on the money. In a league where well-rounded tight ends don’t get the recognition they deserve, “Black Unicorn” is the one of the better ones. However, Bennett’s run blocking clearly regressed as he was asked to take a bigger role, so we can’t assume that it will return to the lofty standards he set as a role player. Still, that may not matter if he continues to develop as a receiver. Also with a potential franchise tag number below six million dollars, Bennett could be considered a bargain… but it’s one the Giants can pass on right now.
As evidenced by their recent cuts, New York is short on cap space. Although losing Bennett isn’t ideal, the Giants have a recent history of getting by with unheralded tight ends. After Jeremy Shockey whined his way out of the Big Apple in 2008, Kevin Boss gave the Giants similar production with none of the headaches. Three years later, the Giants were clearly disappointed to lose Boss to free agency. In stepped undrafted Jake Ballard, who earned the 11th-best receiving grade for a tight end in 2011 while catching more passes than he did in four years at Ohio State. Then, after Ballard and Travis Beckum both tore their ACLs in Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants merely turned Bennett from a backup into our fifth-highest-graded tight end of 2012. With a decent crop of potential free agents like Fred Davis, Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, and Dustin Keller, Big Blue won’t be short on options come March. Losing Bennett does bring some unwanted uncertainty to the Giants’ offens, but no team is better equipped to find his replacement than New York.
Why it has to be Beatty
By Pete Damilatis
The bigger priority for the G-men should be left tackle Will Beatty, the best player on an offensive line that can’t afford to lose a good one. Beatty’s +22.3 grade this season placed him ninth among left tackles, and he was one of only four offensive tackles who earned both a pass block and run block grade over +10.0. His 96.3 Pass Blocking Efficiency was among the 10 best marks at his position, and he allowed just three sacks and no hits on Eli Manning all season. New York could count on him to hold his ground every week, as he didn’t receive a grade worse than -0.9 in any game, and only twice received negative pass block grades.
Beatty looks like a prized free agent when compared to other offensive tackles. Now compare him to his teammates, and he becomes a must-sign for the Giants. He was the only New York offensive lineman to receive a positive grade in 2011, on a unit that we ranked as the second-worst in the league. It’s a credit to Manning and his receivers that the Giants lost Beatty to an injury in Week 11 and still won the Lombardi Trophy.
Big Blue’s front line was markedly better this season, jumping to 11th in our rankings thanks to bounce-back seasons from David Baas, Kevin Boothe, and Chris Snee. Still, Beatty will be the only 2012 starter under 30 entering this season, and the Giants’ depth at tackle is a huge question mark. David Diehl improved from a historically awful -47.2 grade in 2011 to a “just disappointing” -6.8 this season, and should be relegated to backup duty if he even survives roster cuts. Sean Locklear performed admirably as a one-year rental, but the 31-year-old is currently recovering from a gruesome knee injury. James Brewer has never played more than 11 snaps in a game in his two-year career, so handing a starting job to him is a risky proposition. That’s just the Giants’ dilemma at right tackle. Could you imagine what crisis they’ll face if they have to replace Beatty to boot?
There’s no denying Bennett’s talent, and the Giants will be losing a offensive weapon if they can’t re-sign him. New York is no stranger to making chicken salad out of chicken feathers at that position though. Keep in mind that on the list of roster priorities, a well-rounded tight end falls far below a franchise left tackle, especially when you have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback to protect. Keeping Bennett is a luxury. Keeping Beatty is a necessity.
Why it Shouldn’t be Beatty
By Gordon McGuinness
I’m not going to argue that Beatty didn’t perform like a Top 10 left tackle in 2012, he absolutely did. There are plenty of reasons why it makes sense for the Giants to keep him around long term. This season was his best in terms of consistency as well however, and a look back over his play from his rookie season in 2009 to 2011 shows that he was prone to some poor games in the past. Is the Beatty we saw in 2012 the guy we see for the rest of his career, or was 2012 the best we are going to see out of him? That’s the decision the Giants have to make and, while I like Beatty as a player, I think there are a few solid left tackles available this year who could be had for a fraction of the price he will cost.
Conversely, I don’t see too much out there at tight end, especially a guy who can both block well and be an asset in the passing game like Bennett can. The Giants are lucky in that this was the closest to a real “breakout” season he’s had and, despite how good we think he is, I can see players like Tennessee’s Jared Cook getting more attention on the open market. Ultimately, as a guy who does everything well, I’m just of the opinion that Bennett is the type of player I’d want on my team if I were the Giants.