- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's been a long wait, but the lockout is finally ending and free agency will begin shortly.
It figures to be an unpredictable and unprecedented free-agency period since this one is coming so late in the offseason.
With the expectation that fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year players and higher can become free agents, ESPNNewYork.com takes a look at a few of the most pressing free agency questions facing the New York Giants:
1. What should be Job 1?
The Giants need to bring back as many of their own free agents as possible. With the lockout wiping out offseason training, the teams with the most returning veterans should have an advantage with such little time for new acquisitions and rookies to get acclimated to a team's system.
2. Can the Giants re-sign Bradshaw?
Simply put, Bradshaw is the most important Giants free agent. In his first season as a starting running back, Bradshaw, 25, rushed for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns. He did lose six fumbles, but there will be teams interested in a back who runs hard and is elusive.
Bradshaw wants to remain a Giant but he and agent Drew Rosenhaus have expressed interest in the Miami Dolphins, who are in the market for a running back. The Giants are expected to be over the salary cap. Still, it would be somewhat surprising if the Giants don't re-sign Bradshaw. Figure general manager Jerry Reese to maneuver his way under the cap by restructuring some deals and releasing some players to do his best to re-sign his starting running back.
3. What will happen with Osi Umenyiora?
Umenyiora isn't a free agent, but he is looking to capitalize on his high value after recording 11.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles last season. The defensive end, who has two years remaining on his deal at a total of approximately $8 million, wants a new contract with the Giants or to be traded to a team that will give him what he wants.
It's possible that Reese will try to take care of free agency first before deciding what to do with Umenyiora. Trading him might not help the Giants much this season. Even if they deal him for another player, the Giants would have to get their new acquisition up to speed with very little time. But if the Giants don't give Umenyiora what he wants, there's the potential that this could get ugly, and Tom Coughlin doesn't need any distractions during what will be a pivotal training camp.
4. Will Barry Cofield return?
The defensive tackle wants to remain a Giant, but he also wants to cash in on the biggest payday of his career. He is popular in the locker room and is coming off his best season as a pro with 54 tackles and four sacks. But the Giants are loaded at defensive tackle with Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, last year's second-round pick, Linval Joseph and this year's second-round pick, Marvin Austin. That means Cofield may have played his last game as a Giant.
5. How will injuries affect the Giants' thinking with Kiwanuka and Smith?
Kiwanuka and Smith are two valuable contributors, but both are free agents and are coming off serious injuries.
Kiwanuka missed all but three games last season with a herniated disk in his neck. He has been cleared to play again, but Reese said he might have to think about offering Kiwanuka a one-year deal to re-establish his worth. Kiwanuka, though, could receive a better deal from another team willing to take the risk. Also, Kiwanuka wants to start at defensive end, and the Giants already have Justin Tuck, Umenyiora and the emerging Jason Pierre-Paul. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell wants to keep Kiwanuka, who was the team's most versatile defender prior to the injury and can also potentially help at linebacker.
Smith is expected to be back. His value took a hit when he underwent microfracture surgery on his knee last December. Reese could also offer a one-year deal to Smith, who will likely be brought along slowly in camp, like the team did with Kenny Phillips last year.
6. What will the Giants do at linebacker?
Clint Sintim tore his ACL last December and may not be ready for a bigger role. Sixth-round picks Greg Jones and Jacquian Williams will have to learn the system quickly. And Keith Bulluck is a free agent who wants to return but also wants a bigger role.
The list of free agent outside linebackers includes San Francisco's Manny Lawson, Atlanta's Stephen Nicholas, Washington's Rocky McIntosh, Carolina's James Anderson, Tampa Bay's Quincy Black, Minnesota's Ben Leber and Detroit's Julian Peterson.
Free-agent middle linebackers include Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch, Buffalo's Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville's Kirk Morrison, San Diego's Stephen Cooper and Tampa Bay's Barrett Ruud among others. Posluszny is intriguing because he played for Fewell in Buffalo.
7. Plaxi-go or Plaxi-no?
Several Giants players want Plaxico Burress back. But after hearing Burress talk about his cold relationship with Coughlin, it's hard to see a reunion happening.
Burress could come in and have a relatively smooth transition since he already knows the system, is familiar with Eli Manning and knows most of the players in the locker room. Reese will look into it, but it sounds like Burress will seek a fresh start elsewhere.
8. Nnamdi the Giant?
Nnamdi Asomugha will likely be the most coveted free agent on the market. And although he would be an incredible addition to Fewell's defense, the Giants paid safety Antrel Rolle big money last season and then drafted cornerback Prince Amukamara in the first round. The Giants will likely have to get under the salary cap and re-sign many of their own players while addressing other bigger areas of need such as linebacker.
So although Tuck said earlier in the summer that he would try to recruit Asomugha, it's hard to see the Giants being able to afford him.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne