On Monday, word came down the wire that the Giants would be placing Jon Beason, their starting middle linebacker, on season-ending injured reserve with a toe injury. Beason broke his foot in the offseason, aggravated it during the season opener in Detroit, and is now the second starting defender the Giants have lost to injury this season after cornerback Walter Thurmond tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2 against Arizona.
On its face, this is terrible news for a Giants’ defense that is middle-of-the-pack statistically. Beason is a team captain and relays the defensive calls from coordinator Perry Fewell. Middle linebacker is one of the most important positions on a defense, claiming responsibility for concise communication on audibles and changes in coverage.
The numbers, however, seem to tell a different story, one that doesn’t foretell the Giants missing Beason all that much. The obvious statistic is 0-4—that’s the Giants’ record with Beason on the field, as compared to 3-0 without him. In the four games he played this season, Beason has recorded just 6 solo tackles and 5 assists, atrocious totals for a starting middle linebacker. His lack of production can chalked up to injury, but it brings about more questions—about Beason, but also about the Giants’ willingness to sign an aging linebacker who has played just 24 games since 2010.
The Giants signed Beason this offseason to a three-year, $17million deal, with $6.6 million guaranteed, far more resources than the team has been known to allocate for its starting linebackers. That came after the team acquired him in a 2013 midseason trade with the Carolina Panthers, Beason’s team for the first six full seasons of his career. Beason immediately injected energy into a lifeless Giants’ defense—he was clearly the best player they’d fielded at the position all season long, and obviously the Giants saw him as the answer to the middle linebacker issues they’ve been trying to solve since Antonio Pierce retired in 2009.
When a team trades a player, especially for a late-round draft pick, there’s usually some sound reasoning behind it. With Carolina and Beason, it was a mix of injuries and big money and a better replacement. Beason impressed during his first few years in the league, recording at least 121 total tackles in each of his first four seasons. Before his fifth year, in 2011, the Panthers signed Beason to a five-year deal worth $50 million, $25 million of which was guaranteed, making Beason the highest-paid middle linebacker in NFL history at the time. Just two months later, Beason tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the season. Despite three Pro Bowl appearances and an All Pro First Team selection (2008), Beason returned in 2012 only to lose his job to rookie Luke Kuechly—currently one of the best linebackers and overall defenders in the NFL—before being placed on season-ending injured reserve, this time for a knee injury.
With Monday’s news of Beason’s torn toe ligament, what this adds up to is a player who has finished three of his last four NFL seasons on injured reserve, each time with different ailments. What he gave the Giants last season is undeniable—the Giants won all of their 7 games with him at middle linebacker, and he clearly provided a jolt that hadn’t been present during the team’s abysmal 0-6 start.
The fact remains, however, that Beason has already played the final down of his seventh NFL season. His career has been plagued with serious injuries even before this one, as well as a massive underperformance of the contract he signed with Carolina in 2011. This is all information the Giants were privy to before they signed him this offseason, which makes it all the more questionable that a team known for lowballing on linebackers would commit so much to Beason.
Playing without Beason might end up being a positive for the Giants, as his playing time will be siphoned amongst younger developing players more adept to playing in pass coverage (and without injured feet). The strain of losing Beason will be more emotional than anything else, but if he’s unable to return to the healthy player he was during his early years in Caroina and last season in New York, that strain would extend to the Giants’ salary cap numbers for the next couple of seasons.