Giants badly need to bolster cornerback in NFL free agency

New Giants head coach Joe Judge made it abundantly clear: You should not sign a veteran player to serve as a mentor to younger teammates. The veteran must have a defined role and offer enough past work on the field for the new team to project a contribution on game day.

Of all the positions the Giants need to attend to, there is no more glaring absence of experience than at cornerback. This is alarming. Schemes and strength elsewhere can camouflage weakness in certain areas, but a lack of wherewithal at cornerback will always come back to haunt a defense.

If the young cornerbacks assembled by general manager Dave Gettleman does not evolve into a reliable and steady group, the Giants are in big trouble.

DeAndre Baker is a first-round pick, and the best thing to be said about his rookie year is he ended it much stronger than the abysmal way he started it.

Sam Beal, a third-round supplemental draft pick, spent his rookie year and the first nine games of his second season on injured reserve. He started three games and showed his physical skill is far ahead of his preparedness for the rigors of playing corner in the NFL.

Another rookie, Corey Ballentine, struggled more often than not. Grant Haley, best-suited for a role in the slot, is 24 and is likely to face a challenge for a roster spot every summer.

It is a unit badly in need of a leader. Janoris Jenkins tried to fill that role in 2019, and the youngsters around him benefitted from his unusual brand of mentorship. Jenkins, though, was too much of a maverick and ultimately not an ideal fit. He grew frustrated, successfully forced his way out — landing with the Saints after being cut by the Giants in December.

Someone will be signed in free agency to guide the youngsters. The cornerback room needs it. The entire defense needs it.

Once upon a time, the Giants — with Gettleman running the pro personnel department — brought in Antonio Pierce and they won a Super Bowl. They did it again a few years later — brought in Antrel Rolle and won another Super Bowl. Smart veterans signings can work.

“Yes, we’re looking for it because of the way we’re designed, the way we’re built right now, we have very few veterans,’’ Gettleman said. “Antrel and Antonio, but we had done a lot of work on those guys. We knew enough about them, even though back in that day, the Internet and Twitter and Instagram and whatever else is out there, Snapchat or whatever, it wasn’t there back then. But you had enough people you could touch to find out what’s this guy like? I know you may not buy it, but all the film that I’ve watched, you watch the way a guy plays, it gives you an indicator of who he is.’’

With the No. 4 pick in the draft, the Giants might — repeat, might — see Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah on the board, if the Lions pass him over at No. 3. Okudah would instantly become a starter but also be a rookie added to a cornerback group devoid of any established NFL pedigree.

This is why signing a cornerback is a necessity for the Giants. Corners are costly any time and especially on the open market. Byron Jones, a five-year starter for the Cowboys, makes sense but there are estimates he will command at least $16 million per year. That is quite a chunk of change for a player with two career interceptions and one Pro Bowl (in 2018).

Jones, 27, provides the versatility Judge craves in his players, having started at free safety and cornerback. His former position coach with the Cowboys, Jerome Henderson, now holds that job with the Giants — who also have former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as offensive coordinator. So, the Giants will know all there is to know about Jones. In the end, money will talk and there is already speculation the Eagles are gearing up to make a strong run at Jones.

Gettleman with the Panthers made James Bradberry a second-round pick in 2016, and Bradberry, 26, was a four-year starter in Carolina. He has eight career interceptions and would instantly upgrade the Giants’ defense.

Other options include Bradley Roby, 27, who spent five years with the Broncos and last season with the Texans; Kendall Fuller, 25, from the Chiefs; and Chris Harris, 30, from the Broncos. Jones is the most appealing and most likely will be the most expensive. Proven veterans who can play do not come cheap.

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