INDIANAPOLIS -- Although the New York Giants and the rest of the NFL are in Indianapolis for the annual combine, the first critical step in rebuilding a roster that finished 11-5 in Ben McAdoo's first year as head coach is free agency.
A common belief that is held by people outside the Giants organization is that they need to find a way to keep the NFL's 10th best defense (339.7 yards per game) together.
That won't be easy.
Although the Giants franchised defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they still have a couple more key pieces set to be unrestricted free agents, those being defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and linebacker Keenan Robinson.
McAdoo, who said he was pleased with how the defense came together following a multimillion dollar spending spree that included defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, admitted that while he would like to retain as many good players as possible, if the Giants can't do so, it's not going to be a time to panic.
"We're not looking to play defense the way we played defense last year; we're looking to get better," McAdoo said. "We can't show up thinking we have everything figured out on the defensive side of the ball; we need to make gains, marginal gains, maybe one percent gains. We need to generate those. We can't be too big to do the little things. And that needs to show up the first day we get together in April."
In other words, while the Giants would like to have some of their unrestricted free agents back, it doesn't sound as though they will lose sleep if they go elsewhere because the team believes that new faces, whomever they might be, can bring a new wrinkle or two to help the unit reach its goal of improving.
Interestingly, McAdoo was asked if the offense, which last year came up well short of expectations despite primarily having the same personnel, fell victim to that trap of thinking they had everything figured out.
"I know there were a lot of questions being asked about how good our offense was going to be last year going into the season," McAdoo said, adding that execution was a problem for the offense.
"As I said last year, that's a loser's mentality. If you think you can just show up and start where you left off, you're not going to get very far for very long in this business."
--Giants head coach Ben McAdoo left the door slightly ajar regarding the team's potential interest in Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, who is set to become a free agent after the Vikings declined to pick up an option year, has been linked to the Giants after mentioning them as a team of interest he might want to play for in an ESPN interview last month.
Peterson further fanned the flames of speculation when he issued a tweet following the Giants' release of receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings, a tweet in which he described the Giants' moves as "interesting."
"We'll go take a look at him, we'll evaluate him, we'll get a grade on anyone who's available," McAdoo said at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Whether the Giants and Peterson would be even remotely close to being a fit for one another is debatable. Peterson had some of his most productive years running behind a fullback, something that really wasn't part of the Giants offense last year.
However, McAdoo hinted that might change moving forward.
"Well it just really depends how things shake out, whether it's the free agent market, whether it's the draft class, it depends on what you have to choose from, the guys on your roster," he said.
McAdoo pointed out that the Giants have two fullbacks on their roster, Nikita Whitlock and Will Johnson, but both never made it out of training camp healthy. As a result, the Giants were forced to shelve whatever plans they had that involved the fullback position in the running game.
Regardless, a union between Peterson and the Giants would appear to be a long shot for a couple of reasons.
The Giants have limited cap space after devoting close to $17 million on the franchise tag for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul earlier in the week.
Second, Peterson has played one 16-game season in the last four years due to injury. The Giants have, of late, steered clear of players with extensive injury histories. Considering Peterson has a lot of miles on his tires, that could discourage the Giants from getting too involved with a potential pursuit.
--It's widely believed that the Giants will be on the hunt for a new left tackle to, at minimum, provide some competition to incumbent Ereck Flowers.
Flowers, the team's No.1 draft pick from 2015 and ninth pick overall in the draft, has struggled in each of his two pro seasons, particularly with being consistent with his technique.
Despite those struggles, head coach Ben McAdoo isn't necessarily ready to give up on the former Miami (Fla.) offensive lineman.
"I have a ton of confidence in Ereck," McAdoo said at the NFL Combine. "He's a guy that, he's all in, he's working at it. You could make a case that he could be here right now preparing to go out there and run in the combine. He's a young player who has a lot of room to grow, and I have confidence that he's going to grow.
McAdoo's confidence in Flowers shouldn't really come as a surprise. Despite the offensive lineman's struggles, it would be a stunning upset if Flowers isn't among the starting five offensive linemen this year.
The Giants, remember, must decide at the end of the 2017 season whether to pick up the option year on Flowers' rookie contract, so it is important for them to give him as many opportunities as possible to turn the corner.
Whether Flowers continues as the team's left tackle remains to be seen.
McAdoo was a purposely vague when asked about that, saying: "Where he ends up, is where he ends up. Right now, he's playing left tackle like he's always played for us, and we'll go from there."
Would Flowers' position ultimately be decided based on what the Giants can do in free agency and the draft?
"I'm not saying," McAdoo said. "I'm saying right now it's March 1 and he's an offensive lineman for the New York Giants."
--The Giants promoted Rob Leonard, their defensive quality assistant coach of the last four years, to assistant defensive line coach.
Before coming to the Giants, Leonard was a graduate assistant at North Carolina State for three seasons. He began his coaching career in 2009 as a defensive assistant at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, NC.
Leonard and defensive line coach Patrick Graham will join forces this coming season with an eye on helping the starting defensive line that accounted for 21 of the Giants 35 sacks to get even better.
The assistant defensive line coaching position was created last year by head coach Ben McAdoo. Former NFL defensive lineman Jeff Zgonina was originally hired to fill that role, but he left the organization after just one season to become the defensive line coach on new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan's staff.