Giants' Corey Coleman, free-agent receiver, just wants a 'fair chance'

Editor's note: Wide receiver Corey Coleman is returning to the New York Giants on a one-year deal. This story was originally published on March 14, 2020.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At some point this offseason, the news probably will come across that wide receiver Corey Coleman has been signed as a free agent -- either by the New York Giants or another team. It might cause a few heads to turn, if only because once upon a time, Coleman was a highly regarded first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns.

The modest recognition of the move will stem from his name and talent; not his on-field play. Coleman has traveled a bumpy road since being selected No. 15 overall in the 2016 NFL draft, and his career receiving production (61 catches, 789 yards and 5 TDs) in 27 games is comparable to backups such as New England Patriots running back Rex Burkhead and Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle. Coleman, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, is coming off a knee injury that cost him the 2019 season, when he was in the best shape of his life and in position to be the Giants' No. 3 receiver.

He will get another chance. He's seven months removed from a torn ACL and freely cutting and running routes in Dallas with other wide receivers (including Dez Bryant). Doctors have told Coleman there is no reason he can't physically return to his previous form.

"Just give me a chance," Coleman said this week about his impending free agency in a phone interview with ESPN. "I'm not asking for anything. Just a fair chance and opportunity."

The league remains intrigued. Coleman is a reclamation project that should cost little with a potentially high reward.

One NFL executive predicted Coleman would receive a minimum salary deal, perhaps with an injury split that protects the team financially from another injury.

"Somebody is going to give him an opportunity, even if he has to go on the workout junket for a little bit," a pro personnel scout with an NFC team said. "I would be very surprised if he doesn't get that opportunity. But, he is running out of time. This might be the last chance."

Coleman says he expects to be back for organized team activities this spring and is confident he can be the player most expected he would be coming out of Baylor. He says he hopes his return can be with the Giants.

Coleman has a strong relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman and recently had a good conversation with coach Joe Judge. He hasn't forgotten it was the Giants who took a chance on him when things fell apart in Cleveland. He never got onto the field during stints with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, and it was the Giants who gave him an opportunity by signing him to their practice squad midway through the 2018 season.

The Athletic reported that a source put Coleman's odds of returning at "50-50."

Coleman says he is open to anything in free agency, as long as it comes with a chance to show who he really is as a player.

He is rehabbing and working out each morning and afternoon, doing gymnastics to strengthen the muscles around the knee and increase his explosiveness without the traditional pounding.

"I have a lot of growing to do, but I've grown so much," Coleman said. "I look at myself four years ago, OK, I was 20 years old. I was a baby. Now I look at myself and my mind, and the way it works and my work ethic -- everything has changed and matured. I got hurt, but I learned so much stuff."

Coleman tweaked his knee early in training camp with the Giants last season. He finished practice but woke up the next morning with pain, and tests revealed the worst-case scenario. His strong spring was wasted. He probably would have started alongside Sterling Shepard had he stayed healthy, because Golden Tate was suspended to start the season.

"I was bummed. I was crying. I was devastated. I was like, 'God, dang, why me?'" Coleman said. "I just didn't understand."

It took weeks to snap out of the funk. But after encouragement from his mother, he made a choice.

"I can either sit here and stay down -- or man up, attack this thing and come back better," he said. "I set a goal. I'm going to be back better."

Coleman singled out Giants' director of rehabilitation Leigh Weiss for helping him navigate the process and get through tough days. He also leaned on teammates Saquon Barkley, Shepard and Markus Golden.

'The table has to turn'

The adversity is nothing new for Coleman. He went through turbulent times in Cleveland (some of which uncomfortably aired on HBO's "Hard Knocks"), which led to a trade to the Bills. He thought the 2019 season would finally be his breakthrough season before the knee injury happened.

"The table has to turn. It has to," he said. "Keep on learning. And when my time comes, it's going to be perfect timing."

Coleman sees a different player than the one who ran into trouble in Cleveland. When asked to pinpoint an area of growth, he chuckles when noting the way he used to watch film. His approach is more professional now.

"I look at my routes. Are they crisp? How am I coming off the ball? Does everything look the same? I'm looking at the defender. Which hand does he jam with? Which way does he step?" Coleman said. "He steps left, all right. My move."

This is what he considers the more mature Corey Coleman. The one who is on a mission.

"At the end of the day, you have to look in the mirror and I know what I'm capable of. I know my talent. Be myself. Work hard and come compete every day. I love this game of football and I have a lot in the tank."

It's part of why Coleman will get that next opportunity. When it happens, some will scoff at the idea he will ever develop into a significant player. Those critics undoubtedly exist after four relatively unproductive seasons.

Coleman has a message for them.

"I'm in my prime," he said. "I'm just scratching the surface. ... It's gonna happen. I'll be good."