The New York Giants were incredibly fortunate to find Chase Blackburn sitting on his couch in Ohio in the midst of their 2011 season. Michael Boley was injured, neither Mark Herzlich nor Greg Jones were ready for the challenge and the Giants had no answers to fill their void at MIKE linebacker. Blackburn came to the rescue and immediately improved the quality of play that Big Blue had bee receiving at that position. Blackburn's performance in 2011 and at times in 2012 was nothing short of heroic. He doesn't have anywhere near the athleticism that many of his competitors possess, yet he finds a way to play productively at the highest level.
No matter what happens this offseason, Blackburn will remain a beloved member of the Giants organization. His hard work, determination and leadership were instrumental aspects of Big Blue's 2011 Super Bowl victory. Furthermore, his interception on a Tom Brady pass in the fourth quarter of last seasons title game sparked the drive that brought Big Blue their fourth Lombardi trophy. Big Blue coaches, players, front office members and fans all owe Chase Blackburn for the memories he helped create in last season's magical payoff run.
However, as we say here nearly every day at Giants 101, the NFL is a business. For the Giants defense to ever truly be considered an elite unit, the team is going to have to find a way to solidify the middle. It starts up front with the defensive tackles, but Blackburn's play at the second level was detrimental to the overall success of the unit. He's not fast enough to cover tight ends and back out of the backfield or to be a consistent factor against the run. In essence, he's a below average NFL linebacker who possess great awareness with marginal talent.
Blackburn's future with the team is not as cut-and-dry as some make it out to be. Obviously, he's not the ideal candidate to remain the starting MIKE linebacker into 2013. However, it's not like there are any replacements banging down the door either.
Mark Herzlich has shown a concerning lack of awareness throughout his limited playing time. Keith Rivers might not have the size or durability to hold down the middle of the defense consistently. Furthermore, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger are inexperienced and are primarily considered WILL linebackers. With Michael Boley's potential departure, there is no player currently on the roster worth replacing Blackburn with.
If the Giants can muster up the salary cap room, they should look to the free agent market for a potential replacement. This defense does not have time to wait for a younger player to develop into a starting role. Unless Jerry Reese finds a player with worth spending a high draft pick on, free agency is the best bet for finding a new MIKE linebacker.
Given the Giants salary cap issues, signing a capable veteran is going to be a precarious task to accomplish. At best, the team would be able to sign a midlevel player to a $2-$3 million per year deal. There is not going to be a perfect solution to the middle linebacker situation this offseason, but it's important that the team upgrades from Blackburn. If free agency and the draft don't yield a solution, the Giants will struggle against the run once again in 2013.
Also…Chase Blackburn, Football, free agent, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, Jerry Reese, Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, Michael Boley, New York, New York Giants, NFL, Spencer Paysinger, Super Bowl, Tom Brady
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