TSX - The Inside Slant

The Giants insist their veteran tackle, Keith Hamilton, will make a full recovery from the ruptured Achilles tendon that put him on the shelf Oct. 13, but he is 32 and weighs nearly 300 pounds and those are negative factors in the rehabilitation from such a serious injury.


The fact that the Giants have 11 draft picks -- seven of their own, one in each round, and then four compensatory selections -- doesn't mean that they will select 11 players.

To the contrary, they don't want to and probably couldn't afford to do that, so they are almost certainly going to try to bundle some of their choices for a higher pick, as in the second or third round. The NFL awards the compensatory picks but then stipulates that they cannot be traded, so the two additional picks in the sixth round and two more in the seventh will be made.

It's the other ones that are in doubt.

"I'm not going to tell you guys anything specific," said general manager Ernie Accorsi, as he began his annual Ernie Avoids Tough Questions Day less than two weeks before the draft. "That wouldn't be smart, and in all honesty, drafting where we do (the 25th slot in the first round, unless they move up) leaves us pretty much in the dark until it gets closer and we see who's gone and who's still there."

DRAFT STRATEGY -- The biggest problem, in all likelihood, is how the Giants determine the philosophical question of drafting the best available athlete or the best available athlete at a specific position.

TEAM NEEDS: Defensive tackle/defensive end, offensive tackle, cornerback, tight end, running back.

DT/DE -- The Giants insist their veteran tackle, Keith Hamilton, will make a full recovery from the ruptured Achilles tendon that put him on the shelf Oct. 13, but he is 32 and weighs nearly 300 pounds and those are negative factors in the rehabilitation from such a serious injury. Accorsi admitted the team's first priority was the defensive line, but said that there are significant supplies of D-linemen in the second and third round area, too. But the truth is that even if "Hammer" does come back to re-join starters Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes (the ends) and fellow tackle Cornelius Griffin, there is virtually no depth. The same holds true for backup ends as well, and so if one of those is still on the board and is valued higher than the best available tackle, the Giants might jump in that direction.

OT -- For the second year in a row, free agency damaged the O-line put together by assistant coach Jim McNally, a certified guru when it comes to centers, guards and tackles. Tackle Mike Rosenthal went to Minnesota and guard Jason Whittle became a Buccaneer. That was the right side of the Giants' line, and while there is some hope for a backup to emerge at guard (Tam Hopkins, for instance) there are no tackles who appear ready to start. There is an intriguing prospect, however -- last year's third-round pick, Jeffrey Hatch, the Ivy Leaguer from Penn. He is sporting a "different body" this spring, having lost baby fat and added muscle and tone. He is 6-6 and 315 and, according to Accorsi, "plays with a wonderful mean streak." But even if Hatch does make it, there is still a gaping hole in terms of O-line depth. The Giants need to fix that.

CB -- With the release of nine-year veteran Jason Sehorn, the Giants must begin grooming a third corner capable of starting. "In today's offenses, there are almost always three wide receivers on the field, sometimes four, and you have to have at least three corners you can start," Accorsi explained. The two who start now -- Will Peterson and Will Allen -- are fast becoming a pair of potential Pro Bowlers, but there is a significant drop after them. Ralph Brown would be the third corner going into camp and he isn't experienced and/or that capable. Others include Kato Serwanga (not the one who was the Green Hornet's sidekick) and newly signed veteran Ray Green. It could be that a corner will stand out as the best available player when the Giants pick; if so, they could well go in that direction.

TE -- Head coach Jim Fassel is fooling himself if he thinks Marcellus Rivers or Darnell Dinkins, the "journeyman without portfolio," can replace Dan Campbell, who signed as a free agent with Dallas. Campbell was a solid blocker, who ideally offset the receiving star, Rookie of the Year Jeremy Shockey, and Campbell will be hard to replace. "Last year," says TE coach Mike Pope, "there were 22 tight ends drafted and 12 more signed as rookie free agents, and a lot of them played very well. I think the team is going to try to give me a gift in the fourth or fifth round."

RB -- Accorsi bridles when asked if he's comfortable with his running back situation. "Why shouldn't I be?" he responds. "We have a player who should have been in the Pro Bowl (starter Tiki Barber), another with a Super Bowl ring (newly signed Dorsey Levens, who's 32) and a third who has a Heisman Trophy (the annually disappointing Ron Dayne)." Despite the protestations, if something should happen to Barber, who gained 1,387 yards last season and added 597 receiving, the offense will take a huge hit. Levens would probably be given the starting job, and that is no longer within his capabilities. It is possible the Giants will go for a running back in the second round, especially since there are few with any quality this year, and Accorsi is mum about taking a chance on Miami's Willis McGahee -- but that could be a second-round possibility.

--The Giants are hoping to bundle up a few mid-round choices and land another second- or third-round selection, but in this year's draft all the teams are trying to unload picks and the chances are appreciably slim.

--Someone asked Accorsi if he had any thoughts of drafting Drew Henson, the former Michigan quarterback now doing an impression as a very bad third baseman in the New York Yankees' chain. "No, I don't think I'd want to upset Mr. (George) Steinbrenner," he joked.

Nevertheless, Steinbrenner might be secretly pleased if a team in the NFL helped him unload a staggering contract, and if Chad Hutchinson (Dallas) can come back after four years as a failed baseball player, why not Henson? He had exceptional grades as a football player and might well have been a first-round pick.

"This is going to be a very unpredictable draft," Accorsi said, "and I think there could be more first-round trades (of position) than last year, when there were six." Accorsi feels "the floodgates will open" if Cincinnati keeps its first overall pick but doesn't take USC quarterback Carson Palmer.

It would appear to be more important than in the past for teams to consider drafting players at specific positions because free agency has proven to eat away at depth. Just ask the Giants at their O-line positions. Last year they lost Pro Bowl guard Ron Stone, this year they lost Rosenthal and Whittle.

"We hated to lose those two guys," Accorsi said, "but our first priority was to sign (left tackle) Luke Petitgout and we did. You can't be experimenting with your left tackle heading into camp."

--If the Giants stay in the 25th slot in the first round, recent 25th selections include DE Charles Grant (by New Orleans last year), WR Freddie Mitchell (by Philadelphia in 2001) and DT Chris Hovan (by Minnesota in 2000). Do you think they'd trade for Hovan even up for their first-round pick in 2000? That would be Dayne.

"If you'd like to have a top 10 pick, and who wouldn't, then you have to be prepared to give up your first-round pick for next year, and we aren't going to do that. In addition to all the other negative factors that could create, doing that completely demoralizes your scouting and personnel department." -- Giants' general manager Ernie Accorsi.




UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LS Trey Junkin (somebody has to be kidding. He's 41 years old and after coming out of retirement to make two bad snaps in the Giants' playoff game, he'll slink back without getting a nod); WR Tony Simmons (was a late-season pickup with almost no value. If another team signs him, no problem. Giants may not even try to re-sign him).

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): DE Byron Frisch (not tendered as RFA); CB Reggie Stephens (ERFA tender of $375,000 withdrawn); RB Damon Washington (not tendered as ERFA).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: C Chris Bober (tendered at $605,000; should be re-signed, is one of better young centers in conference); LB Dhani Jones (tendered at $605,000; started all season at weakside, and while found wanting he also improved. Until somebody better comes along (as in this upcoming draft he is going to be critical to keep); LB Brandon Short (tendered at $605,000; started at strongside and was more than just acceptable. He is being counted on to start -- and get better -- this year.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: TE/LS Dan O'Leary (tendered at $375,000); OG Omar Smith (tendered at $300,000).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Barrett Brooks (UFA; $655,000/1 yr, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); CB Ralph Brown (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); WR Ron Dixon (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); DE Frank Ferrara (ERFA; $375,000/1 yr); QB Jason Garrett (UFA; $780,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000); WR Ike Hilliard (UFA; $12.78M/5 yrs, $2.5M SB/$1M SB option '04; 2003 cap: $1.03M); S Clarence LeBlanc (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); LB Kevin Lewis (RFA; $1.975M/3 yrs, $450,000 SB; 2003 cap: $600,000); OT Luke Petitgout ($30M/6 yrs, $9.75M SB; 2003 cap: $2.155M); PK Owen Pochman (ERFA; $300,000/1 yr); CB Kato Serwanga (UFA; $530,000/1 yr, no SB/$25,000 base guarantee; 2003 cap: $450,000); S Omar Stoutmire (UFA; $3.2M/3 yrs, SB unknown).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: P Jeff Feagles (UFA Seahawks; $4.32M/5 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $855,000); FB Jim Finn (not tendered as RFA by Colts; $985,000/2 yrs, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); CB Ray Green (not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; $985,000/2 yrs, no SB; 2003 cap: $450,000); PK Mike Hollis (UFA Bills; 5 yrs, terms unknown); LS Ryan Kuehl (UFA Browns; $3.62M/5 yrs, $325,000 SB; 2003 cap: $595,000); RB Dorsey Levens (UFA Eagles; $2.48M/3 yrs, $300,000 SB; 2003 cap: $755,000); KR Brian Mitchell (UFA Eagles; $3.55M/4 yrs, $500,000 SB; 2003 cap: $880,000); DE Keith Washington (FA Broncos; $680,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB; 2003 cap: $475,000).

PLAYERS LOST: P Matt Allen (cut); TE Dan Campbell (UFA Cowboys; $4M/3 yrs, $1.47M SB); DT Ross Kolodziej (ERFA tender of $375,000 withdrawn/49ers; terms unknown); WR Herman Moore (cut); OT Mike Rosenthal (UFA Vikings; $1.8M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB); CB Jason Sehorn (cut); LB Clayton White (cut); OG Jason Whittle (UFA Buccaneers; $8.2M/5 yrs, $1.8M SB); FB Adam Wright (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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