What We've Learned About the NY Giants After the Start of Free Agency
He wasn’t kidding, but then again, I don’t think very many people who sat through the Giants’ 7-9 season last year thought he was.
So here we are in the early days of NFL free agency, and already the Giants roster is taking on a significantly different complexion than it had last year.
Here are a few impressions about what the Giants have done so far and what it could potentially mean for the team going forward.
They're Reluctant to Touch the Big Contracts
The Giants started free agency with approximately $18 million, per historical data from Over the Cap. While that’s not exactly small change, it still wasn’t enough for the team to do everything it wanted to do in free agency.
To create more cap space, the Giants did the expected and the unexpected.
The expected? Per ESPN, guard Chris Snee agreed to a pay cut, which reduced his base salary from $7.2 million to $1.1 million.
The Giants also released center David Baas, designating him as a post-June 1 transaction, which will result in a $5 million cap savings. That money should be more than enough to sign their incoming rookie class.
In an unexpected move, punter Steve Weatherford also took a pay cut, his $2.025 million base salary reduced to $900,000, per USA Today.
The two contracts, however, that they surprisingly didn’t touch belonged to quarterback Eli Manning and safety Antrel Rolle, whose respective cap figures are currently first and second on the Giants’ Top 51 list, per Over the Cap.
I’ve outlined my arguments as to why I didn’t think it made sense to do anything with Manning’s contract. So far, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to do anything this year with him.
It’s possible the Giants could still do something with Rolle’s contract, which carries a $9.25 million cap charge in this, the final year of his contract. The Giants have yet to land a tight end and are also believed to still be on the lookout for a cornerback and receiver as well.
If they don’t, the only possible explanation for shying away from redoing those contracts is they want to minimize their long-term financial risk involved with such big contracts.
They Still Need a Center
As previously noted, the Giants waived David Baas after the former starter’s recovery from his numerous surgeries. However, what was a bit of a surprise is that the Giants made the move before securing a replacement.
This is significant because when a potential free agent and his agent knows that the team has a glaring need, they play the laws of "supply and demand" by trying to drive up their asking price if they sense the team is desperate.
If the Giants are desperate for a long-term center, they’re hiding it well. Instead of signing a top-tier free agent to replace Baas, they went with what could very well be a stopgap solution.
That would be former Denver Broncos center JD Walton, a two-year starter until a severe ankle injury suffered in 2012 put him on the shelf.
What does this mean for the future as far as the center spot goes?
It would not be surprising if the Giants are planning to draft their center of the future, perhaps as soon as the second round, where Arkansas’ Travis Swanson could be sitting there when their turn comes up to pick.
It would make perfect sense to put a veteran in as the starter for the short term while a rookie makes his transition.
If this is the Giants’ plan, it’s a gamble, but it’s one that could potentially pay off handsomely if it works out.
David Wilson Is No Longer No. 1
Usually when a team drafts a player in the first round, the expectation is that the player will be a starter, or at the very least take the majority of the snaps.
That apparently won’t be the case for running back David Wilson, the team's No. 1 draft pick in 2012 who is rehabbing from neck surgery.
The Giants remain optimistic that they will have Wilson back at some point in 2014. Wilson’s role, however, probably won’t be as the No. 1 back.
That role is likely to go to newly signed Rashad Jennings, who inked a new multiyear deal with the Giants worth $14 million with $3 million guaranteed, per Jerry McDonald of the Oakland Tribune.
Understandably, the Giants had to protect themselves just in case Wilson experiences a setback. However, it’s still interesting to see that the Giants seem ready to move on from their expectations of the No. 1 draft pick becoming the No. 1 guy.
They Still Value "Value"
While some teams are throwing money around like confetti, the Giants continue to be prudent as far as matching contract values to the type of role the player receiving the contract will have on the team.
Take for instance running back Peyton Hillis, who was signed to a two-year, $1.8 million contract, per USA Today.
According to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com, Hillis’ contract only contained $100,000 of guaranteed money, which means if Hillis doesn’t make the team, the Giants’ dead-money cap hit is minimal.
That’s a small price to pay considering that Hillis potentially provides the Giants with some depth at a running back position that was a mess prior to the start of free agency.
By being prudent when it comes to paying their supporting cast, the Giants are ensuring the long-term health of their cap. That in turn will enable them to continue to build on the roster’s foundation in years to come.
Cornerback Is a High Priority
The Giants are usually tight-lipped about their personnel plans, but it didn’t take any special inside access to know that the the team needs another starting cornerback.
Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are not coming back. Meanwhile, the Giants’ other unsigned UFA, Terrell Thomas, has begun exploring the market to see what’s out there and will pay a visit to Oakland, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
Not only is Giants DE Justin Tuck visiting the Oakland Raiders today but so is Giants CB Terrell Thomas.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 12, 2014
While it’s still possible that Thomas could return to New York, the Giants were reportedly exploring other options at cornerback—and not just any options, either.
Per Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, the Giants had interest in two of the biggest names on the cornerback market: Sam Shields, who has re-signed with the Green Bay Packers, and Alterraun Verner, who has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
More recently, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that the Giants were one of several teams to make an inquiry about Darrelle Revis, prior to his release from the Bucs:
Is this simply a matter of the Giants doing their due diligence on what’s out there, or was there serious interest?
I think it was a lot more than just simply kicking the tires and the Giants were trying to get a sense of what the cornerback market might look like.
With many of the top corners now off the market—Revis signed with the New England Patriots on Wednesday night, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter—the Giants’ next course of action to find a starting cornerback might just be the draft.
The obvious pick would be Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert if he’s there at No. 12, as he has the pedigree to become a starter from Day 1 and an anchor of the defensive secondary.
In the interim, the Giants did re-sign Trumaine McBride, who was the starter last year after Webster and Ross went down with injuries.
McBride played well enough to earn a two-year deal worth $3.1 million, per ESPN, but as Dan Graziano pointed out in that same article:
The Giants used him as a starter in 2013 and know they can do it again in a pinch, but their preference would be to get a premier guy who pushes McBride down the depth chart a bit, strengthening them overall at this important position.
If the Giants want a premier guy to push McBride down the depth chart, drafting Gilbert makes the most sense if he’s there at No. 12.
That’s because, as Over the Cap notes, the No. 12 draft pick would only cost them an estimated $1.892 million—a bargain price for a player who could become a solid starter for several years.