New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was practically invisible in 2012. In fact, he was invisible for the vast majority of 2011 as well. In the final six games of 2011, Tuck had 5.5 sacks and 18 tackles. He was an instrumental aspect of the Giants 2011 Super Bowl victory, which is perhaps the only reason he's still going to be on the roster again next season.
In the the other 30 games the team has played during that time period, the eight year veteran out of Notre Dame has just seven sacks. Without a productive Justin Tuck, the Giants vaunted pass rush was non-existent and the team ranked in the bottom third of the league in nearly every major defensive statistical category in 2012.
Obviously, Justin Tuck brings a lot more to the Giants defense than just rushing the passer. Tuck is the captain of the defense and provides veteran leadership to a team that has won two Lombardi Trophies in the last six seasons. Clearly, his level of play has dropped significantly. However, in an offseason that could see the team part ways with Ahmad Bradshaw, Kenny Phillips, Osi Umenyiora, and/or David Diehl, it gets to a point where it would no longer be prudent to further diminish the leadership of this roster.
General manager Jerry Reese already said he expects Tuck back next season. There's a chance that changes between now and the start of free agency, but it's unlikely the team changes their stance on that issue. Tuck still has one year and $4.5 million dollars remaining on his contract, which is a salary that he did not play up to last season. If he wasn't the captain of the defense and the proud owner of two Super Bowl rings, this probably wouldn't be a debate. The team would not pay a salary that large to a player who has shown serious signs of decline.
By cutting Tuck, the Giants could clear their entire $4.17 million dollar salary cap deficit and then some, while giving younger guys like Adrian Tracy and Adewale Ojomo opportunities to play. It's not likely that either of those players would transform the Giants pass rush back into the most feared units in the NFL. Then again, Justin Tuck has been unable to do that for the better part of the last two seasons.
With the likely departure of Osi Umenyiora, it makes sense to keep Tuck on the roster at least for depth. If the Giants can work the salary cap around his contract, then it would be prudent to allow Tuck to claim his entire salary in 2013. Tuck has had issues in the past few years with injuries and maintaining a sharp mental state. The last thing that would propel Tuck back into playing productive football would be making him take a pay cut.
That said, next season is a contract year for Tuck. His stature and reputation will more than likely earn him an extra year with the team, a year that many others who produced at his level last season would not receive. However, if he does not return to form in 2013, then next season could very well be Tuck's last hurrah as a member of the New York Giants.
Also…Adewale Ojomo, Adrian Tracy, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Diehl, Football, Jerry Reese, Justin Tuck, Kenny Phillips, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Osi Umenyiora, Super Bowl