Decisions That the New York Giants Have to Make Before the Start of Free Agency

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Decisions That the New York Giants Have to Make Before the Start of Free Agency
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

In his season-ending press conference, New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese admitted that he and the rest of the front office have “a lot of work to do” to fix an underachieving roster that finished 7-9 after a 0-6 start. 

As such, the front office has been busy behind the scenes evaluating every player on the roster during the 2013 season. However, to date, the actual changes to the roster have been minimal.

So far, the Giants have signed some players to reserve/futures contracts. They also voided the contracts of cornerback Corey Webster and tight end Brandon Myers.

The impact of the Myers and Webster transactions results in an estimated $5 million of cap space available for 2014:

2014 Estimated Cap Savings on Webster's and Myers' Voided Contracts
Player Amount
Corey Webster $1 million
Brandon Myers $4 million

Sources: Over the Cap, Spotrac and NFLPA (login required)

Over the next several weeks, more moves are coming. Here is my take on what some of those moves might be. 

 

Tag! (You’re It!)

Between February 17 and March 3, NFL teams can use either the franchise or the transition tag on an eligible pending unrestricted free agent of their choice.

Duane Burleson/Associated Press
Linval Joseph

According to NFL.com's projected franchise tender amounts for 2014, it would cost the Giants approximately $9.2 million to franchise defensive tackle Linval Joseph, $11.6 million to franchise receiver Hakeem Nicks and $11 million to franchise linebacker Jon Beason.

When applying the tag, the tender immediately is deducted from a team’s cap space regardless of whether the player has signed the deal (the same as with restricted free agents who are tendered).

The Giants have over two dozen free agents and need a lot of help on the offensive line and at running back, just to name a couple of spots.

With Spotrac estimating that the Giants currently have $12,588 of cap space , it doesn’t make sound financial sense for the Giants to use the tag on any of their pending free agents, even if they were to clear additional space through cuts and restructures.

 

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

(Love Me) Tender

One forthcoming decision will be which, if any, of their restricted free agents—linebackers Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger, fullback Henry Hynoski, running back Da’Rel Scott and center Jim Cordle—will be tendered. 

According to Joel Corry, a former NFL agent and salary-cap expert, the lowest 2014 restricted free-agent tender (right of first refusal) will be $1.389 million. Meanwhile, the minimum base salary for most RFAs is $645,000.

ESPN’s John Clayton notes that it probably isn't cost-effective for a team to issue a right of first refusal offer to a restricted free agent if he hasn't taken a significant amount of his team's snaps.

“For a player who is clearly a backup or special-teams player, it's almost better not to tender the player and then try to sign him for something close to the minimum,” Clayton wrote.

With that in mind, let’s look at the playing time of the Giants restricted free agents. 

 

NYG RFA 2014 Snap Count Percentages (Excluding Special Teams)
Player Snap % (2013) Snap % (Career)
LB Spencer Paysinger 64.9% 28.1%
LB Mark Herzlich 17.8% 14.0%
FB Henry Hynoski 2.9%* 27.8%
C Jim Cordle 49.7%* 19.1%
RB Da’Rel Scott 14.3%* 5.6%

* Spent part of 2013 on IR; Source: Pro Football Reference (subscription required)

For the sake of this argument, I'll use the 30 percent mark as a baseline and discuss exceptions where applicable.

 

Linebacker Spencer Paysinger

Paysinger is the one restricted free agent who I think will receive a right of first refusal tender. Each year, his snaps have increased, his defensive snap count jumping from 137 in 2012 to 707 in 2013 per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).  

Paysinger also started 10 games for the Giants in 2013, five as the middle linebacker in the nickel and five on the weak side. 

 

Center Jim Cordle

Although Cordle played close to 50 percent of the snaps in 2013, a knee injury cut short his season.  

Usually when a player is coming off a season-ending injury, the most common approach by a team is to try to sign him for a one-year minimum offer.

That, in all likelihood, is going to be the course of action the Giants take with Cordle if he is in the team's plans.

 

Linebacker Mark Herzlich

Which Giants restricted free agent should receive a minimum Right of First Refusal (ROFR) tender?

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An argument could be made that Herzlich’s inability to hold the starting middle linebacker job probably cost him a right of first refusal tender. However, he probably has a little more leverage than initially thought.

Besides performing well on special teams, where he finished as the team leader in tackles (14), also working in Herzlich’s favor is that Jon Beason is currently unsigned.

While Beason has on numerous occasions openly expressed a desire to return to the Giants, until it's done, Herzlich and his knowledge of the defense offers a backup plan if things don’t work out.   

An important thing to remember regarding restricted free-agent tenders is that they are not guaranteed. If a recipient of such a tender doesn’t make the 53-man roster, the team receives a full credit on the amount.

The team can also work to lower the tender, as it did last year with receiver Victor Cruz, if the player is in the long-term plans.

 

Fullback Henry Hynoski 

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

Hynoski’s situation is interesting. His 2013 season took a turn for the worst before it began thanks to a significant knee injury suffered during a non-contact drill in the team’s first OTA workout last May.

The team announced that Hynoski suffered “an injury to his medial collateral ligament and a chip fracture to the lateral plateau” in his left leg, also confirming that Hynoski would have surgery to “repair the ligament and the fracture.” 

Hynoski worked hard to return by the start of the 2013 season. In retrospect, he might have been better off waiting, as he didn't really look like the same player he was in 2012.

Per Pro Football Focus, Hynoski posted his worst game of his young career in the season opener against Dallas, earning a -1.5 overall grade in a game that saw him uncharacteristically miss a block, be charged with a penalty and drop a pass.

After admitting to the New York Post that he was “a little rusty,” Hynoski was better in Week 2 against Denver, a game in which he took 13 snaps per PFF.

In Week 3, however, he suffered a fractured left shoulder on the first offensive series, an injury that ended his season.

As a result, the Giants signed John Conner to a two-year contract, an unusual occurrence considering that most every other street free agent the team brought in last year in response to an injured player was signed to a one-year deal.

Per Over the Cap, Conner will count for $740,000 in 2014, a number that includes the minimum $730,000 base salary and a $10,000 workout bonus.

If he doesn’t make the 2014 roster, the Giants’ dead money cap hit would be just the $10,000 unless he's cut before April 21, the start of the team's voluntary offseason conditioning program.

Getting back to Hynoski, the odds that he'll receive a right of first refusal tender from the Giants seem slim for several reasons.

As noted, there is the injury factor. Hynoski will presumably be good to go by training camp, but what isn't known is where he is in his rehab and if he's been cleared to do everything he needs to in order to get ready for 2014.

Another issue is that it's also unlikely that the Giants want to devote $2.119 million to the fullback position, even if one of the two probably won't make the final roster. 

Speaking of spending on fullbacks, per Spotrac's historical data (subscription required), no Giants fullback during Reese's tenure has ever received a base salary payout of more than $1 million in any given year.

Madison Hedgecock came close—he was due to earn a $1 million base salary in 2011. However, he never collected that salary because he was waived/injured following the lockout. 

If the Giants want Hynoski back, the terms will most likely be a one-year deal for the minimum base salary of $645,000. He could also get a roster bonus and/or a small signing bonus.

 

Restructures, Extensions and Retirements

If the Giants are looking to gain more cap space, there are a few ways they can do so with some of their existing contracts.

Here are three ideas that could potentially clear significant cap space. (Salary data is from Over the Cap, unless otherwise noted.)

 

The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

Guard Chris Snee

The first and perhaps most obvious is Snee’s contract, which is due to count for $11.3 million in 2014.

Snee, who had surgeries on each hip and on his elbow last year, should be, according to Conor Orr of the The Star-Ledger, coming to a decision regarding his intentions very soon:

Regardless of what Snee decides, it doesn’t make sense for the team to leave his $6.75 million 2014 base salary as is.

If Snee retires, the team will gain $6.8 million in savings. If he doesn’t retire, the Giants will probably lessen his cap hit by tacking on a voidable year for 2015.

That would allow them to convert some of his base salary into upfront money and spread the upfront money over the two remaining years of his contract (2014 and 2015).

 

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Center David Baas

What should the Giants do with David Baas' contract?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Baas currently has the fourth highest cap figure, $8.225 million, on the Giants. His extensive injury history is a concern, and while there is hope that all of the surgeries he had in 2013 have fixed everything, it’s a gamble that might be too risky to take on a player who will turn 33 years old. 

If the Giants were to cut Baas now, their cap savings would be $1.775 million. If they want to optimize their savings, their best bet would be to designate him as a post-June 1 transaction.

Doing so means that the Giants won’t be able to recognize any savings on Baas’ contract until after June 1, but when they do get the savings, it will increase to an estimated $5 million.

This is because only half of his remaining $6.45 million prorated signing bonus will count against the 2014 cap, with the remaining half hitting 2015.

With the NFL draft pushed back to May, a post-June 1 transaction would make sense because it would allow the Giants to address their most pressing areas of needs during the initial free-agency crush.

By the time the draft picks complete the rookie minicamp, it would be a matter of a couple of weeks before the credit from Baas' contract would be available to use to sign the draft class with money to spare.

 

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Safety Antrel Rolle

When the Giants signed Antrel Rolle in 2010, his five-year, $37 million deal was an NFL record for a safety at the time.

The Giants have certainly gotten their money’s worth from Rolle. He’s not only a locker room leader, he hasn’t missed a NFL game and has traditionally performed at a high level, finishing as the Giants' defensive leader in total tackles in each of the last three seasons.  

What should the Giants do with Antrel Rolle?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Rolle’s $9.25 million cap figure is currently  the third highest on the team. Because he’s in the final year of his contract and is coming off a Pro Bowl season, the Giants should be able to get some cap relief if they extend his contract.

The question is how long would they consider extending the contract of a player who will be 32 by the time the 2014 season ends.

The answer could hinge on the following factors.

First, how close is Cooper Taylor, whom they drafted last year in the fifth round, to being ready to step into a larger role? Considering Taylor lost chunks of his rookie season due to injuries, he might need more time to develop.

What about Will Hill, the talented safety who has had some off-field issues? If Hill were to slip up again, will the Giants send him packing?

Then there’s Stevie Brown, currently an unrestricted free agent who’s coming back from a torn ACL. How long will it take for him to be able to contribute if he re-signs?

Sure the Giants could look outside of the team if they wanted to make a clean break from Rolle. However, you don’t cut a guy who was arguably the team’s best defensive player for all 16 games. 

If the Giants were to extend Rolle, I think the approach they might take is to lower his $7 million base salary by $1-$1.5 million per year of the planned extension and front him that money. That would allow them to spread that, as well as any new bonus money received as part of the extension, over the remaining life of the contract.

If the Giants think they can only get another solid year or two out of Rolle, they can also convert part of his base salary into upfront money and insert voidable years or give him an option bonus.

Per Joel Corry of the National Football Post, an option bonus is “an additional signing bonus that’s usually paid in the second or third year of a contract to exercise later years in the deal.”

Like a signing bonus, an option bonus is prorated over the life of a contract for a maximum of five years if it’s exercised.

 

I am the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.

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