The Giants traded a seventh round draft pick for middle linebacker Jon Beason prior to Week 5 of the 2013 NFL season. The team displayed an improvement in both rush and pass defense following the acquisition, but was that improvement big enough to warrant bringing Beason back for the 2014 season? Or should the Giants let the veteran sign somewhere else in order to pursue other talents in the draft and free agency?
One thing is for sure: New York's linebackers need a makeover this offseason after the group failed to make a major impact on defense in 2013. The Giants, and NFL teams in general, rarely make in-season trades, so the move to acquire Beason spoke of how desperate the linebacker situation was in the Meadowlands. Dan Connor started the season as New York's middle linebacker, but he was injured in the season-opening loss to Dallas, and backup Mark Herzlich proved ineffective as a replacement.
That forced the Giants to bring in Beason, who provided leadership and productivity despite being a castoff from the Panthers. In the four games before the Giants acquired Beason, they allowed 123 rushing yards per game. In the next 12 games, they allowed just 104 per game.
That doesn't mean that New York should automatically bring Beason back, though. The seven-year veteran has health issues and is clearly not the player he was in his first four years in the NFL. Beason played just five games from 2011 to 2012 before appearing in 15 games last season. While he probably wouldn't be a disaster at middle linebacker in 2014, there are higher upside alternatives.
For example, the Giants could draft Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2014 draft. General manager Jerry Reese doesn't like using early picks on linebackers, but this move is what draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. suggests the Giants do in order to improve the team's worst position.
If New York opts to use a first round pick on the offensive line or another position, there are still plenty of ways to improve at middle linebacker. Players like Donald Butler of San Diego and Pat Angerer of Indianapolis are younger alternatives to Beason in the free agent pool. The Giants could also look to draft players like UConn's Yawin Smallwood, Stanford's Shayne Skov, or Wisconsin's Chris Borland in the second and third rounds of the draft.
Beason was a nice short-term fix for the Giants at middle linebacker last season, but to improve the team for the future, the team will have to invest in a younger free agent or a high draft pick. For a team that has won Super Bowls because of great linebacker play, the Giants haven't had a great one in a while.