Last night, the New York Giants signed defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins to a three-year, $8 million contract that will carry a $1.816 million salary cap hit in 2013. With the signing, the Giants have shored up a glaring hole in the middle of their defense and done so without mortgaging the future of the roster. However, as the team prepares for the inception of free agency on Tuesday, there is still a laundry list of issues that need to be addressed before we can have a true sense of how this roster will look once training camp gets underway.
The Giants still have several unsigned free agents that have been major contributors to one or more Super Bowl championships. Offensive lineman David Diehl is still on the books for a $7.45 million salary cap hit coming off the worst season of his career. Victor Cruz is still unsigned, and the team still has to look into restructuring the contracts of Eli Manning, Antrel Rolle or even Chris Snee.
The Giants have had an incredible offseason thus far. The team has shed dead weight in Michael Boley, Chris Canty and Ahmad Bradshaw and managed to clear a ton of salary cap room in the process. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before the team can declare this offseason a successful one. Below, we'll take a look at the three most glaring issues the Giants will face beginning tomorrow.
Clear as Much Salary Cap Space as Possible
The Giants have done a tremendous job at cutting costs and clearing the way for general manager Jerry Reese to have a productive offseason. The team is currently sitting between $8 million and $10 million below the $123 million salary cap—$3.8 million of which is reserved for signing draft picks. Unless the Giants clear more salary cap room, the team will only be able to re-sign one or two of their remaining big-name free agents.
Restructuring the contract of David Diehl is the most obvious way to create more salary cap space. Diehl is guaranteed to hit the salary cap for at least $3 million in 2013; however, his $4.45 million base salary can be negotiated down significantly. As a player who is no longer worth anything more than the veteran minimum, Diehl will surely be open to cutting his salary to avoid being left without a team.
However, after restructuring Diehl, the Giants are going to have to be creative.
Offensive guard Chris Snee is in a contract season and will count $8.8 million against the salary cap. The Giants can clear a significant amount of salary cap space by converting a portion of Snee's base salary to a signing bonus and adding a voidable year to the end of the contract, similar to what the team did with Corey Webster last week.
Creating a voidable year for Snee would cause the team to eat some dead money in 2014 for a player that may not even remain on the roster. But in order to retain the likes of Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett or Kevin Boothe, the Giants need to consider any and all avenues in which to create more available funds to pay their free agents.
Do Not Mortgage the Team's Future on Victor Cruz
Who should the Giants focus on signing to a long term extension this offseason?
The Giants are one of the best teams in the NFL at not overpaying for talent. Victor Cruz has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL over the last two seasons, but he proved in 2012 that he is not a true No. 1 wideout.
With an injured Hakeem Nicks for the majority of last season, Cruz showed a lack of physicality and an inability to play consistently on the outside. As a slot receiver, Cruz presents value and game-changing explosiveness. However, for the Giants to continue to thrive upon big plays on the offensive side of the football, a versatile receiver on the outside is crucial. Hakeem Nicks and even Rueben Randle are candidates to be that threat in 2013, but Cruz is not that kind of player.
For the right price, Cruz is an incredible luxury to have in the slot. But he makes a lot of plays because teams are keying on Nicks and his ability to catch any ball thrown his way. If the Giants can sign Cruz to a long-term contract for anywhere between $4 million and $6 million annually, the team should jump at that chance. Anything more than that, the team should let Cruz play out his first-round tender (assuming no other team gives up a first-round pick to sign him this offseason) and let him walk in 2014 if his contract demands do not decrease.
Find Value on the Free-Agent Market
It's been a foregone conclusion for quite some time that the Giants are going to lose Osi Umenyiora on the free-agent market. The team will also lose at least one, possibly two or three of the following: Martellus Bennett, Kenny Phillips, Stevie Brown and Kevin Boothe.
The Giants cannot afford to keep both Phillips and Brown. With Antrel Rolle and Will Hill on the roster, it makes little sense to spend big money on two free agents in an offseason with limited salary cap room. In all likelihood, one of those players will be elsewhere next season.
Last week, after initially offering a "modest" contract to Phillips, Big Blue made a late push to sign Bennett before the start of free agency. It appears as if Bennett is the highest priority for the Giants at this point, as he established himself as a premier up-and-coming tight end.
Regardless of who the team is able to retain, the Giants are going to have significant holes to fill in free agency and the draft. The Jenkins signing is a perfect example of how the Giants can fill holes inexpensively, and it's imperative that Reese continues with that strategy for the remainder of the offseason.
Some potential targets could include cornerback Chris Houston, tight end Anthony Fasano, defensive end Jason Jones or even linebacker Philip Wheeler. Those aren't the only players the Giants may look into this offseason, but each would fill a specific need for a reasonable price. Value is the theme of the Giants' 2013 offseason, and Reese has done a phenomenal job at sticking with it thus far.