Big Blue needs a real free safety to pair with Landon Collins
The New York Giants have a situation at safety entering the 2019 offseason. First, they need to ensure — via the franchise tag or a long-term deal — that free-agent-to-be Landon Collins is a Giant next season. Then, they need to get him some help.
Curtis Riley, the worst-tackling safety in the NFL in 2018 per Pro Football Focus, simply can’t be patrolling the back end of the Giants’ defense again next season. Michael Thomas is a nice player, but not a full-time center fielder. Sean Chandler has a great back story and is a useful player, but he probably doesn’t have the necessary center fielder skills, either.
So, what do the Giants do?
They might be able to find a safety in the 2019 NFL Draft class, but that’s no guarantee.
What about free agency? The names Tyrann Mathieu and Earl Thomas are the first ones that come to mind. What, though, about someone who will be patrolling center field for his team on Sunday in Super Bowl 53?
Experience: 5 seasons
2018 stats: 78 tackles (3 for loss), three passes defensed, one interception
2019 cap hit: $1.926 million (fifth-year option declined)
Pro Football Focus: Overall grade (71.7) | Run (75.7) | Pass (68.4)
Joyner bet on himself with the franchise tag this season, only to have his grade drop just over 16 points, and the biggest reason for that was his coverage grade dropping over 20 points itself (91.3 in 2017 to 71.2 in 2018). His playmaker index went from among the best in the league last season at 38.5% to a mere 11.1% this year. The former slot cornerback turned safety allowed a passer rating of 73.1 (25th) in 2018 after allowing just 27.4 (5th) in 2017. However, Joyner did continue to show off his sure-tackling, especially in the passing game with only one missed tackle over the last two seasons (73 tackle attempts). It’ll be interesting to see if a team pays for 2017 Joyner or this past season’s Joyner.
It would be easy to look at the 2018 synopsis from Pro Football Focus and think Joyner had a bad year in 2018. That’s not really the case. What he had was a breakout season in 2017, followed by a 2018 season that regressed closer to his career norm.
Joyner is a good but not great player. He would be a huge upgrade over what the Giants had at the position in 2018. He has also played cornerback, so he has coverage skills. That, if you recall, is one of the reasons Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said he was attracted to Riley as a free safety.
Joyner is also a sure tackler, something Riley is not.
PFF has Riley missing 11 tackles in 2018 (my eyes tell me the number should be a whole lot more than that). He’s last in the league among 61 qualifying safeties, anyway, missing a tackle once every 3.9 attempts.
Joyner is seventh on that list, missing only five tackles. That’s one every 16.0 attempts. That’s not a fluke, either. In 2017, Joyner missed only one of every 17.0 tackle attempts. That characteristic alone would make him a massive upgrade over Riley.
A major question for the Giants with Joyner — and any free safety, really — would be cost. The Giants will have to spend a good chunk of money to keep Collins — the franchise tag is likely to be just south of $11.3 million for safeties. How much money can they pour into the safety position?
Spotrac’s Market Value Tool estimates that Joyner can expect a five-ear, $53.2 million deal on the open market. That equates to $10.6 million annually and would put him in the top five highest-paid safeties in the league.
Would Joyner be worth that to the Giants?