Written By: Mike Ulatoski

The NFL offseason is now under way.  Teams can start cutting players or making other adjustments to their rosters in preparation for the 2010 season.  While most moves won’t happen right away, it will be interesting to see what moves the Giants will make between now and the start of training camp…

The blueprint the Giants laid out starting in 2007 is tailor made for success in the NFL: a dominating running game, along with a strong defense built around pressuring the quarterback.  There are a few weaknesses on this team that seemed like strengths only a year ago.  What a difference a year makes …

Last season was a disappointment on many levels.  The defense (and New York Giants football has been, and always will be, about playing great defense) was the worst it had been since the late 60’s.  Eli Manning showed why he was selected first overall in 2004, and proved he is an elite NFL quarterback, even while playing with a stress reaction in his right foot; unfortunately, it came in a year in which the Giants were a .500 team.  Brandon Jacobs played all year with an injured knee, which he suffered in week 1, and the dominating running back Jacobs was in 2008 was nowhere to be seen.

I mean, just look at how unstoppable Jacobs was.  Defenders were afraid to make contact, at the line of scrimmage and at the second- and third-levels, and in the open field.  He was hesitant this past year in hitting holes, he wasn’t as fast as he was in his 3 previous seasons, and he seemed reluctant to be that bruising back with breakaway speed and acceleration that we all came to know and love.  I think that can be mostly attributed to the knee injury he suffered and attempted to play through.  After a good offseason Jacobs will be back to being a bulldozer in 2010.

As cliche as it sounds, injuries plagued the Giants from the start.  The Giants never really had every starter playing at 100 percent; not even 90 percent.  Just take a look at this list:  Eli’s foot; Madison Hedgecock’s shoulder; Jacobs’ knee; Ahmad Bradshaw’s feet, and ankles; Rich Seubert’s shoulder; and Kareem McKenzie’s back/groin/knee … and that’s just the offense.  On defense, the list continues: Justin Tuck’s shoulder; Aaron Ross’ hamstring; Antonio Pierce’s neck, Kenny Phillips’ knee; Michael Johnson’s shoulder; Corey Webster’s knee; Michael Boley’s hip, and knee; and Chris Canty’s hamstring/calf/knee.  When you see all the injuries written out like that, it’s incredible the Giants stayed in the playoff race until week 17.

The status of some players heading into the offseason is no doubt in question. The media, the fans, even former players recognized change needed to made. Fast.

Will Rocky Bernard return next season, or will the Giants release him?
I bet some people forgot he was even on the team.  It’s unfortunate because he could be a force in the trenches against the run.  But, Bernard was a monster disappointment, and that might be an understatement.  He has three years remaining on his contract for $9.1MM.  However, none of it is guaranteed.  He failed to make any impact this season because of injuries, and there would be no cap penalties if the Giants cut him.

Is Osi Umenyiora going to retire?

He gets a pass in terms of his performance, from me at least, because he missed all of 2008 due to knee surgery, and there were times when he looked like the Old Osi (and the Next Strahan) rushing the QB. But he made things difficult right from the start of 2009, first by walking out on then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan during a preseason meeting; then by complaining to him and the rest of the coaching staff over his playing time and his role on defense, after losing his starting job to former first-rounder Mathias Kiwanuka after the Thanksgiving Day game.  Many people within the organization and the NY media grew tired of his act.  Even with his diminished role, he still led the team in sacks.  He loves the organization, loves his teammates, and loves New York.  It’s difficult to see the Giants moving on without one of their best defensive players, on a defense that needs significant improvement and would without a doubt be worse without him.  He recently said he expects to have a sit-down with his agent, Tom Coughlin, and GM Jerry Reese “at some point”, most likely before the team’s offseason workouts begin in late March.  If the Giants really like what they saw out of Kiwanuka (and a lot of people liked the way he played in the starting role in December) and decide to give him the starting job heading into 2010, and if Osi really is serious about retiring, his days in Giant blue will be over soon.  Or, the two sides reconcile their differences and Osi comes back and plays the way he did in ’07.  There’s a lot of different ways this could play out …

Will linebacker Antonio Pierce play next year?
The captain and heart-and-soul of the Giants defense was placed on injured reserve following the Thanksgiving game against Denver because of a bulging disk in his neck.  He originally sustained a burner when the Giants played Arizona in week 7, and an MRI later revealed the bulging disk.  It’s unknown whether Pierce will be back to form next year.  He’s a free agent, and at this point very early in the offseason it’s not clear whether the Giants will bring him back or not.  If he does come back, I feel like it might only be for one more year and that’s it.  Right now it’s unknown how he’s even feeling: new defensive-coordinator Perry Fewell said he “doesn’t know” how Pierce’s rehab is going.  Thank you, Perry.  I feel like you should know these things.

GM Jerry Reese, coach Tom Coughlin, and the rest of Big Blue’s management and coaching staff will most likely meet within the next week or two to discuss the status of the team in 2010.  I’ll post Part II in the next couple of days.