When Jason Pierre-Paul lost his right index finger in a July 4 fireworks accident, the questions came in a flood. Would he ever recover? Was his football career over? Would the New York Giants cut ties with their former first-round pick, who wouldn’t let them see the damaged hand?
Some of the questions were answered on Tuesday night, when Pierre-Paul and the Giants agreed on an amended, incentive-laden contract for the remainder of the 2015 season. But quite a few questions remain. What Pierre-Paul wanted, and what the Giants gave him, was the chance to answer them himself. They include the following:
When will he be able to play? The Giants reached the conclusion, after their doctors examined Pierre-Paul on Monday, that it was reasonable to believe he could play in some capacity by their Week 10 home game against the Patriots or their Week 12 game at Washington. (They have a bye in Week 11.) That’s an estimate, and whether he can be ready that soon, or at all, depends on a number of factors. How strong is he? How is his conditioning after a summer in which his injuries prevented him from training as he normally would? What kind of protection must he wear on his hand in order to play? How will that limit him? How long will it take him to learn a Steve Spagnuolo defense in which he has never practiced? If difficult to answer, any of those questions could push the timetable back. Pierre-Paul hasn’t practiced with the Giants since Dec. 26 and is sure to be rusty. It sounds crazy to think he could be ready after three weeks’ worth of practices, but that also could depend on the answer to the next question.
How will the Giants be able to use him? Prior to his accident, Pierre-Paul was an every-down anchor at right defensive end — strong against the run and quick and athletic enough to disrupt the passing game. The Giants have absolutely missed that kind of player as they have struggled to generate a pass rush this season. But it’s highly doubtful Pierre-Paul can be that kind of player again, especially this season. Odds are, the best use for Pierre-Paul will be as some kind of situational pass-rusher. He doesn’t know the defense and is physically damaged, but he might still be able to beat an offensive tackle and get into a quarterback’s face in a key spot. And if that’s all he’s got, then it’s still definitely something the Giants can use.
What is his future in football? Pierre-Paul entered the offseason hoping for a long-term deal. The Giants weren’t ready to give him one, and with him just having turned 26 in January, they figured they could franchise him and delay the decision on long-term commitment for a year. That has all changed, obviously, and Pierre-Paul’s accident cost him millions in guaranteed money just this year. Once this season is over, the Giants will be able to franchise him again if they want to, but it highly doubtful he can establish himself in less than half a season as someone worth a franchise tag of at least $15 million. He is all but certain to become a free agent when the league year ends, and where he goes from there will depend in large part on what he shows in whatever game action he sees in November and December. He is still young and talented, and he will have another offseason to build himself back up after his lost summer. So it is certainly possible he has a big 2016-and-beyond comeback story in him, be it with the Giants or more likely with some other team. Pierre-Paul surely questioned in the days and weeks that followed July 4 whether he would ever play football again. He now has that opportunity, and the rest of his story will depend on what he’s able to do with it.