Giants fill giant O-line hole with McKenzie
Intent on improving an offensive line unit that was one of the team's major deficiencies in 2004, the New York Giants made a bold move on Friday afternoon, and didn't have to go very far to do it.
The Giants signed unrestricted free agent right tackle Kareem McKenzie away from the New York Jets. The addition of McKenzie, viewed by many as the top tackle in the unrestricted pool, immediately upgrades the Giants blocking unit and provides plenty of flexibility.
McKenzie signed a seven-year contract worth $37.75 million and the deal includes a $12.5 million signing bonus. McKenzie had visited with Giants officials on Thursday and the groundwork was laid then for the deal.
"Kareem McKenzie is a young, powerful and consistent offensive tackle," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "He has put together a string of years where his production has been very high. He has shown outstanding durability. He's a big, strong man who has been an integral part of their run game."
The Jets had attempted to sign McKenzie, one of their top players, to a contract extension during the 2004 season. He rebuffed their overtures, however, and opted to test the free agent market. Once McKenzie got onto the open market, Jets officials conceded that he likely would sign with another team.
McKenzie said he chose the Giants in part because he grew up in New Jersey and will play in the same stadium that was his home with the Jets. He also said he was looking forward to playing with quarterback Eli Manning, the first overall pick in last year's draft.
"I think Eli Manning has everything to be a great quarterback," he said. "You can see it in his work ethic and his family's work ethic."
McKenzie also said that he wasn't scared off by the reputation of Coughlin, a disciplinarian whose actions have resulted in several complaints to the league's players union.
"I had no preconceptions," McKenzie said. "I think he gets an unfair shake in the media. He has a commitment to winning."
The mammoth tackle, listed at 6-feet-6 and 327 pounds, becomes the third key player to depart the Jets this week, following the exits of defensive tackle Jason Ferguson to Dallas and tailback LaMont Jordan to Oakland. The Jets moved quickly Thursday to replace Jordan, signing former Kansas City backup Derrick Blaylock to a five-year contract worth $11.1 million.
Replacing McKenzie and Ferguson, given the dearth of quality players at those two positions, will be much more difficult.
McKenzie, 25, was the Jets' third-round draft choice in 2001, but the former Penn State star appeared in only eight games and started none, and some Jets officials felt that he was too soft. But he improved greatly in his second season, moved into the starting lineup, and started all 16 games in each of the 2002-2004 seasons.
The Giants had some preliminary talks with the Rams about franchise left tackle Orlando Pace, but that option started to dry up when Pace hired two agents, Fletcher Smith and Kennard McGuire.
McKenzie became the next target, and the Giants wrapped up the deal Friday.
"The Giants did everything the right way," said his agent, Kevin Poston, "They know how to recruit."
They made it clear to McKenzie that they wanted him to play right tackle. That allows Luke Petitigout to stay on the left side. It also enables the Giants to move two-year veteran Dave Diehl, an excellent young blocker who was forced to play right tackle in 2004, to his more natural position at guard.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. John Clayton and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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