The Giants resorted to street-signed starting retreads at inside linebacker in both of their playoff games last season. It was painfully obvious the position needed an overhaul after allowing 268 rushing yards in a 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the Divisional Round.
So on day one of free agency, Giants general manager Joe Schoen landed one of the best inside linebackers out there. Bobby Okereke has agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with $22 million guaranteed, a league official familiar with the deal confirmed.
Okereke, who was No. 38 on Athleticismof the list of the 150 best free agents available, has spent the last four seasons with the Colts. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder made a big impression in the Giants’ 38-10 win over the Colts in Week 17 with 17 tackles and an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit on quarterback Daniel Jones. Obviously, there were no hard feelings, as Okereke now joins Jones as one of the Giants’ highest-paid players.
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How it fits: Okereke immediately steps in as the Giants’ top inside linebacker. He played 85% of the snaps defensively last season at Indianapolis and 98.4% of the snaps in 2021. He’s clearly a three-down linebacker, and he’ll be expected to fill that role in New York.
Okereke’s strength is run defense, which should help a unit that allowed the sixth-most rushing yards last season. Okereke is not a liability in coverage, and he has the physical traits to improve in that area. He has three interceptions and two sacks in four seasons.
Impact 2023: Okereke gives the Giants a quality, NFL-proven linebacker that was missing from the roster before his signing. His presence will allow 2022 sixth-round pick Darrian Beavers or a draft pick this year to develop into the other inside linebacker spot. The Giants also re-signed Jarrad Davis, who entered the roster after signing late last season, as a veteran option.
Okereke was forced into a bigger role last season with Colts All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard limited to three games through injury. Okereke was up to the task, posting career highs for tackles (151) and tackles for loss (6).
History: Okereke is a first generation American as the son of Nigerian parents. An Eagle Scout, Okereke attended Stanford, where he succeeded former giant Blake Martinez at inside linebacker. Okereke ran a 40-yard sprint in 4.58 seconds at the 2019 Recce Combine, posting strong results in his 10-yard yardage, long jump and three-cone drill. The Colts’ 2019 third-round pick, Okereke has missed just two games in four seasons. The 26-year-old has made 49 career starts.
Ceiling update: The Giants entered free agency with approximately $20 million in salary cap space. The structure of Okereke’s contract is not yet known, but it is safe to assume that his cap reached in 2023 will be less than the average annual value of $10 million.
The inside linebacker market was active on the first day of free agency, with Tremaine Edmunds signing a four-year, $72 million contract with the Bears. Okereke landed the next biggest contract for an inside linebacker. There were more economical contracts for Germaine Pratt with the Bengals (three years, $20.3 million), TJ Edwards with the Bears (three years, $19.5 million) and David Long with the Dolphins (two years , $11 million).
Outlook: This is the type of movement predicted by Schoen. Okereke is a major upgrade to a much-needed position, but it’s not a premium offering. The Giants have too many holes to overspend at one position, so they need to keep pouring cash to fix their weaknesses. More reinforcements in defense are needed, and Schoen must also add weapons in the passing game.
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