Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $15.9 million ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 67
Pro Bowlers: 0
Unrestricted Free Agents: 19(6 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 9
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the most difficult free agents to judge. He has immense talent and is very young, but he is also incredibly inconsistent and I do believe there is a worry about what happens once he signs a long term contract. He would seem like a franchise tag player to try to get another year out of him before they see where the team is headed in the future…Antrel Rolle led the team in defensive snaps plays and is clearly the defensive leader of the team. On a veteran team, which the Giants will still be in 2015, that type of player probably needs to come back unless the team is ready to turn the roster over, something the Giants don’t seem inclined to do. They need to aim for a shorter term contract…Henry Hynoski and Daniel Fells are low cost veterans likely earning around the minimum making them easy decisions to keep.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Stevie Brown has talent, but struggled this year and was benched for a portion of the season. Brown gives up a number of big plays and if the staff doesn’t have faith in him it is time to move on…Brown’s replacement, Quintin Demps, eventually lost the job back to Brown late in the season. If he can’t beat out Brown it means he won’t be back in 2015…The Giants took a chance on Walter Thurmond but Thurmond quickly got injured and landed on IR for the third time in his career. They won’t take that risk this season….John Jerry struggled for most of the season and should not be back in 2015 even as a depth player. They need to find younger backups.
Contracts to Modify
If the Giants want to make a run at any free agents in 2015 and keep Pierre-Paul they need to rework the contract of Eli Manning who has a $19.75 million cap hit. Manning is a free agent in 2016 an if they intend on him being the QB in the future then he needs to be extended now…I would strongly consider extending Prince Amukamara before he can further improve and command more money when he hits free agency in 2016. His injury should have no bearing on how he plays and the time is right. He has a $6.9 million salary which will become guaranteed in March and this is the time to get that rolled into his new contract as part of the guarantee. As a comparison Richard Sherman only received $12.4 million in full guarantees so the Giants would only be looking at guaranteeing an extra $2-4 million over what they are already prepared to pay anyway if they get the deal done now. This is the way to maintain roster flexibility in the future…I would not be surprised if the Giants attempt to lower the salary of Victor Cruz. Cruz has landed on IR each of the last two seasons and this last one was a devastating injury. Cruz’ importance to the offense has declined greatly and they can threaten his release to improve their leverage. Cruz has the second highest cap charge on the team at $8.13 million and they can probably cut a few million off that figure.
Players to Consider Releasing
Give Mathias Kiwanuka credit for being a good soldier and bouncing around between defensive end and linebacker like a ping pong ball, but he has never been anything more than an average player. He’s had his pay slashed before, but at this point it’s time to find a better option. Robert Ayers was far more effective last season. Releasing Kiwanuka saves $4.825 million in cap room…Jon Beason played in 15 games in 2013, but just a total of 9 games in 2011, 12, and 14 because of injuries. He was a nice add for the Giants two years ago but with his injury history they should move on even though a small portion of his salary is guaranteed. That should give them another $3.5 million to work with….Expect David Wilson’s retirement to be official, taking his $1.3 million salary off the books.
It seems as if it is more of the same old song and dance with the Giants in 2015. They dealt with injuries again in 2014 and likely believe those injuries derailed the season. While dealing with injuries is certainly difficult, it seems as if that has been a way to rationalize too many seasons recently. They need a healthy season to let them decide once and for all what direction to take the team.
The Giants are always an interesting offseason team to watch because they seem to almost exclusively stick to their best player available philosophy in the draft. Because of that the Giants are not going to necessarily fix a position of weakness but instead add to a strength or have a bridge ready for the future. When you follow that pattern I think in free agency you have to have as many voids filled as possible, often with some very economical signings, going into the draft.
That said, I don’t think the Giants can really justify a big free agency run because of all the questions surrounding the future direction of the team. Any big moves made this year may negatively impact the team in the future. Considering Pierre-Paul may have a long term contract and Manning may be in line for one, the Giants are not really in a position to throw money frivolously at outside players. My guess is at the end of the day the Giants believe that getting players back like Geoff Schwartz and Amukamara or having a fully healthy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is essentially the same as a big free agent splash. I think it would be stunning if they went after Ndamukong Suh. The Giants roster is more or less a pretty equitable positional salary distribution and a player like Suh would probably blow that all up.
Fitting in with their future cap situation and draft strategy my guess is the Giants will target as many minimum salary veterans as possible in free agency. I think their basic thinking will be to develop their draft picks from 2014 and 15 at certain spots and anywhere a void remains stick a professional veteran rather than a reclamation project or questionable younger player. If there is one position where I do believe they will hit free agency it is at running back where there will be a number of relatively cheap options. I would wonder if they would consider a veteran like Frank Gore to provide a steady presence. That would be a very old backfield, but it would also give the Giants more reliability at the position, something they are looking for.
I would expect the biggest upgrades to come in the draft with help coming on the offensive line and secondary. If there is a player they believe will be an elite pass rusher they will certainly consider that regardless of the presence of JPP. I would not be surprised if they land another wide receiver to pair with Beckham either. Even if they make the turn away from Manning, having two young receivers to pair with a young QB is a smart option. They may not have a long term player to pair with him right now.
This is certainly an important offseason for New York. They have trended down for the last few years and they can’t really hold off much longer on deciding if this is an Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin team or a team in need of a new voice. A poor offseason should see big changes in New York while a solid one will put them in contention for the playoffs.