New York Giants Final Free Agency Outlook and Predictions
I don’t know how you feel about New Year’s celebrations, but give me the start of the NFL league year over the start of the new calendar year any time.
In addition to being able to quietly celebrate in the warmth and comfort of my home office, it's exciting to see how the new roster starts to take shape.
If that’s not an exciting event for a football enthusiast, then I don’t know what is.
So dust off those party hats and streamers. The new league year begins on March 11 at 4 p.m. ET. To help get you ready, here's a final projection for what might be ahead for the New York Giants.
Love Me Tender: Restricted Free Agents
Before free agency can begin, there is still one unfinished piece of business regarding the restricted free agents.
That would be the status of linebacker Mark Herzlich. If he's going to be tendered a right-of-first-refusal offer, it would have to be done before free agency begins.
Herzlich’s situation could very well depend on what happens with Jon Beason. Beason has been a top priority for the Giants, and I believe that the two sides will strike a deal that will keep him from hitting the open market.
If they do not, then it becomes important to ensure they retain Herzlich via the right-of-first-refusal tender because, as of right now, Herzlich is Beason's understudy.
That could change though depending on how the Giants' meeting with former Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain goes. Per Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, that meeting will occur on Thursday:
Jameel McClain's visit with the #Giants will be tomorrow, per source.— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) March 5, 2014
If McClain finds a home with the Giants that will probably mean the best Herzlich can hope for is a one-year minimum qualifying offer.
If, however, Herzlich received a right-of-first-refusal tender, which is worth $1.431 million, there are two things to remember.
One, a team can rescind the offer at any time so long as the player hasn't signed it.
Two, the tender is not guaranteed which means if the player signs it and doesn't make the team, the full amount gets credited back to the team's salary cap and there is no dead-money hit.
On paper, it doesn't make financial sense to tender Herzlich considering he played 194 snaps on defense last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and was unable to make the starting middle linebacker job his.
In case you missed the news on the Giants' other restricted free agents—fullback Henry Hynoski, center Jim Cordle and linebacker Spencer Paysinger—only Paysinger received a tender, per Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY Sports:
Although Hynoski, who is coming back from a season-ending fractured shoulder, wasn't tendered, Pro Football Talk reports that the 25-year-old fullback could be-resigned by the Giants for a one-year minimum qualifying offer at a later date if he doesn't draw interest on the open market.
The tenders given to restricted free agent Spencer Paysinger and to exclusive-rights free agent Dallas Reynolds, an offensive lineman, will chew up $2.001 million of the Giants’ available cap space.
That will leave them with an estimated $17.287 million as of this writing, pending any additional restructures/contract terminations that might be coming.
Is that enough money for a team that currently has six draft picks and glaring needs along the offensive line and at receiver, tight end, running back and cornerback to fix what ails them?
Hardly. That’s why the Giants are going to massage at least a couple of contracts to clear more space.
The first target that will be addressed is offensive lineman Chris Snee, who is coming off of two hip surgeries and a procedure on his elbow that he’s still rehabbing. Per Over the Cap, Snee’s $11.3 million cap figure consists of a whopping $6.75 million base salary.
The good news is that Snee is more than willing to take a pay cut to help the Giants out. In an interview last week with SiriusXM NFL Radio, Snee said he has no problem accepting a pay cut.
"I've never complained, even when I was a younger guy on my rookie deal, I never complained about wanting to make more money,” he said.
“I've always restructured. Now comes a time where I know my (cap) number is high. The most important thing is to be a part of a winning team. My role is to take a pay cut and to bring in guys who can help the team."
How much of a cut is Snee potentially looking at? Per a report by Jordan Raanan on NJ.com, the Giants could lower Snee’s cap number to $5.8 million by having the veteran guard take a pay cut on his base salary to the veteran minimum.
That figure for a player with 10 or more years of accrued service is listed as $955,000 per the chart on Steelers Depot.
Along with the base salary, Snee will likely be given numerous incentives to boost his total earnings, such as number of games played, percentage of snaps, number of games started, etc.
Regardless of how the final year is structured, it doesn’t sound like the Giants are going to add on a voidable year and convert part of Snee’s current base salary into a signing bonus.
The other player facing a restructure is center David Baas, who, remember, last restructured last March. Baas is currently carrying an $8.225 million cap figure that includes a $4.75 million base.
If the Giants were to cut Baas now, their savings would only be $1.775 million.
If they were to designate him as a post-June 1 move, that number shoots up to a $5 million savings which would be credited to the team’s 2014 cap as of June 2.
If they take that avenue—they’re allowed two such post-June 1 transactions per league year—Over the Cap has the Giants being hit with a dead money charge of $3.225 million if they were to make that move.
Does it make financial sense to do that? If projections of the salary cap rising as much of $10 million in each of the next two years come to fruition, as Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports notes via the John Feinstein Show, carrying that much dead money probably won’t handcuff a team whose next unrestricted free agent class includes defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Antrel Rolle.
Market Blocks: UFAs Who Are Likely to Be Resigned Soon
Despite what general manager Jerry Reese said at the scouting combine about being patient and letting players test the free-agency market, there have been discussions behind the scenes with some of their pending unrestricted free agents.
While the progression of those discussions varies at this time, the point is the Giants haven't been sitting idly by and not doing anything.
The one pending unrestricted free agent that I believe will sign his new deal before March 11 is linebacker Jon Beason, as Raanan first noted on NJ.com. Those negotiations have been aided by the fact that both sides want each other.
“Jon came in and I think he stabilized our defense,” Reese told reporters at the end of the season.
“He came in, he had a voice right away, and he fit in very quickly with the players. He did a good job for us. We think it was a good trade at the time and we still think it was a good trade."
“I know it’s something that we both want to get done,” Beason told the New York Daily News in January.
“We’ve expressed interest that they want me back and I told them that we want to be back. The thing about it is, it’s got to work for both parties. Though you anticipate that it will, you never know."
The biggest issue that usually holds up a contract, and which could be at play regarding Beason, is guaranteed money.
Given Beason's injury history, the Giants might be cautious about guaranteeing 100 percent of Beason's annual base salaries at any point in the deal. Meanwhile, the player would obviously prefer to have as much money guaranteed as possible.
If the two sides are to meet in the middle, Beason's new deal will probably have a percentage of his salaries guaranteed in each of the first two years.
There could also be some built-in attainable incentives tied into sacks, games played and postseason honors such as the Pro Bowl, all of which could potentially boost Beason's average-per-year (APY) earnings.
Another potential unrestricted free agent who could re-up with the Giants before the start of free agency is safety Stevie Brown.
Brown, who like Beason wants to be a Giant, told Pro Football Talk during Super Bowl week that his representatives have discussed a new contract with the team.
"The Giants are a great organization—great fan base out here," Brown said beginning at the 1:29 mark in the video.
"I love my teammates, so I definitely want to be back with them. But you know at the same time, it's a business and you just have to see how everything works out."
That Brown is coming off season-ending ACL surgery should help make for a cap-friendly negotiation that probably will resemble what cornerback Terrell Thomas received last year when he was trying to come back from ACL surgery.
That deal was for one year at the minimum base salary (for Brown that would be approximately $730,000).
Brown's new deal would also probably include both signing and workout bonuses not to exceed $75,000, and up to $500,000 of not-likely-to-be-earned incentives (NLTBEs) which former NFL Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist defines in this blog post for The Football Educator.
Moving Out? Deciding on the "Bubble" Unrestricted Free Agents
The Giants have several “bubble” free agents whose return could go either way. Here's a look at the three that, in my opinion, could go either way.
Defensive End Justin Tuck
Regardless of what the Giants plan to do in the draft at defensive end, I think they need to bring Tuck back in 2014 based on their current depth.
Jason Pierre-Paul is coming back from a shoulder issue for which he didn’t have surgery.
While there is optimism that he’ll be okay moving forward, if the injury was bad enough to keep him out of five games out of concern that it would get worse, there has to be some concern that one wrong hit might re-aggravate it.
Damontre Moore, meanwhile, did have a surgical procedure on his shoulder for an injury he suffered in training camp.
While the prognosis is encouraging, as is usually the case with players coming back from surgery, they often have to spend a significant amount of time with rehabbing, which cuts into training.
Even if he wasn’t coming back from surgery, Moore was not assured of a starting spot in 2014.
Mathias Kiwanuka is healthy and under contract, but he didn’t have one of his better years last season. Early on, I thought he could be a salary cap cut, but given Tuck’s situation and the recovery of Moore and Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka appears to be safe for this year.
This is why the Giants need Tuck. He’s relatively healthy, and he did post one of his better seasons in 2013.
While I don’t think the Giants should break the bank for him, I do think if they can get him back for a reasonable two-year deal averaging around $3 million per season, they would be foolish not to.
Running Back Andre Brown
The Giants’ running back situation is a mess. Other than David Wilson, whose exact return date remains a mystery, and Michael Cox, who is entering his second season, this team has no experienced running backs under contract.
Brown is currently an unrestricted free agent, who, due to injuries suffered by the guys in front of him the last two seasons (Ahmad Bradshaw and Wilson), was thrust into the No. 1 running back role with mixed results.
In 2012, before suffering his first broken leg, Brown started off strong, having his breakout game in Week 3 against Carolina when he ran 20 times for 113 yards.
Unfortunately for him, his carries after that dipped to single digits, and with that, his yardage totals.
In his final game of that season, Brown, who had been reduced to a third-down back and goal-line rusher, carried the ball 13 times for 64 yards.
His pass protection, though, wasn’t always a strong point, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), who gave him a -1.8 pass blocking grade for that season.
In 2013, it was more of the same. This time, Brown missed the first half of the season due to a broken leg suffered in the preseason.
When he returned, he was sporting a protective shin guard as he assumed the role as the Giants No. 1 running back.
He started out with two 100-yard performances in his first three games, this behind an offensive line that was already deteriorating due to injuries.
In his last five games of the season, Brown’s rushing yardage only exceeded the 40-yard mark once (81 yards on 16 carries against San Diego).
More alarmingly, though, is that he lost three balls in his final four games while also leaving some yards to be had on the field.
So where does that leave Brown on his quest to return to the Giants? If New York doesn’t view him as a No. 1 back—and based on his injury and production history, they might not—they’re not going to pay Brown a premium per-year salary.
Currently for 2014, the Giants have committed $3,489,520 toward the running back position (including fullback), per Over the Cap.
Brown’s average-per-year worth probably falls somewhere between just shy of $2 million per year if the plan is to return him to being the change-of-pace and goal-line back while making a still to-be-determined free agent the bell cow.
Kicker Josh Brown
At the end of last season, the 34-year-old Brown, who was one of about a dozen players signed to a one-year minimum qualifying offer, told me that he was interested in returning to the Giants, but only if a multiyear deal could be worked out.
Brown certainly made a strong case to earn such a deal. Last season, he made 88.5 percent of his field goal attempts, his second-best showing in 16 games played since 2004 when, as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, he converted 92.0 percent of his attempts.
Brown, who last year made $1.040 million between his base and bonus, also finished 2013 having made all 31 of his PAT and made eight out of 10 field goal attempts of 40 or more yards.
While not a league leader in any of those categories, his solid kicking was likely good enough to earn him at least a two-year deal that I estimate will average a little more than the $1.040 million per year he made last year.
Making a List and Checking It Twice: Unrestricted Free Agent Targets
General manager Jerry Reese promised during the combine that the 2014 roster is going to look different than it did in 2013.
Given that there are 28 players currently without contracts according to Pro Football Focus’ free agent tracker, I don’t think there’s any question about the roster taking on a different look.
Of the remaining list of players I haven't already mentioned, running back Brandon Jacobs and offensive lineman David Diehl have retired; cornerback Corey Webster and tight end Brandon Myers have had their respective contracts voided; and fullback Henry Hynoski, while not tendered as a restricted free agent, could very well be back at some point at the veteran minimum.
I don’t think defensive tackle Linval Joseph, receiver Hakeem Nicks, safety Ryan Mundy, linebacker Keith Rivers, receiver Louis Murphy or defensive tackle Shaun Rogers will be back.
I think of the cornerbacks, Trumaine McBride and Terrell Thomas have a better chance of returning while Aaron Ross does not.
I also think the Giants might bring quarterback Curtis Painter back on a one-year veteran minimum deal, just until they see how much progress Ryan Nassib makes in his development under new quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf this coming spring and summer.
Rounding out the list, I think defensive tackle Mike Patterson, tight end Bear Pascoe, running back Peyton Hillis and offensive lineman Kevin Boothe all have a good chance at returning on one-year minimum deals.
What about some new faces? Here is a look at some names that could be in the mix once the free agency negotiating period starts March 8:
Running Back Toby Gerhart (Minnesota)
Gerhart has been buried behind Adrian Peterson, but fresh legs, ability to pass-block and playing in the NFC North, the division from where new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo comes from, could be enough for the Giants to roll the dice on this 27-year-old.
If the Giants envision David Wilson as their future bell cow once he’s cleared to return to the field, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a moderately priced veteran who should be determined to show the NFL that he is more than just a backup to the best running back in the game over the last several years?
Center Alex Mack (Cleveland)
While he’s likely to come with a steep price tag, wouldn’t it be worth it to have a two-time Pro Bowler who at 28 years old is entering his prime, who has never missed a game as a pro, and who won’t cost the Giants any draft picks if they do manage to sign him?
Guard Zane Beadles (Denver)
I’ve mentioned Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah as a potential free-agent target at guard, but the likely return of Chris Snee has me wondering if the Giants don't go in another direction.
That’s because Snee, like Asamoah, is a right guard. Even though Snee is looking at one more season at the most (assuming he makes it back), it doesn’t pay to spend big bucks on a free agent playing the same position just to generate some competition.
I think it’s possible the Giants could look to draft and develop a young guard prospect to succeed Snee in 2015. In the meantime, I think the biggest need is at left guard.
Enter Beadles. By signing the 6’4”, 305-pound Beadles, the Giants would be getting a young offensive lineman just entering his prime who could become a permanent part of that line for several years.
Tight End Andrew Quarless (Green Bay)
The veteran tight end class isn’t exactly overwhelming, but as Raanan on NJ.com points out, the 25-year-old Quarless is intriguing—and will likely be available if Houston’s Garrett Graham somehow finds his way to the Packers.
Quarless, who had 32 receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns last season, will be two years removed from a knee injury that cost him the entire 2012 campaign.
Receiver James Jones (Green Bay)
As I noted earlier this week, the 29-year-old Jones is an intriguing veteran acquisition at receiver if McAdoo’s offense strongly resembles what Green Bay runs.
If nothing else, Jones is not only serviceable as a receiver—he led the NFL in touchdown receptions with 14 in 2012—as a veteran presence, he could prove to be of value in helping to implement whatever it is McAdoo plans to install from his time at Green Bay.