You can't keep 'em all. Or at least not in most cases.
With new contracts going out to Rashad Jennings, Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, Jon Beason, Stevie Brown and Trumaine McBride (via NFL.com's free-agency tracker), the early part of the 2014 offseason has been friendly to the New York Giants and their fans. But the loss of Linval Joseph can't be ignored.
Joseph had been a rock in New York for three years running, missing only two starts since the beginning of 2011 and earning very positive grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which ranked him as the 15th-best run-stopping defensive tackle in football in 2013.
By no means was he an All-Pro-caliber player, but Joseph improved steadily over his first four years and is only 25 years old. That's why we thought the Giants, who had plenty of cap space entering this offseason, should have considered slapping him with the franchise tag in the worst-case scenario.
That obviously didn't happen, and now Joseph is a member of the Minnesota Vikings with a contract worth $31.25 million over five years, including $12.5 million in guaranteed money, according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post.
|Highest-paid defensive tackles in football|
|Player||Avg. salary ($M)||Guaranteed ($M)|
|1. Ndamukong Suh||12.7||23.3|
|2. Haloti Ngata||12.1||27.1|
|3. Gerald McCoy||11.0||20.8|
|4. Geno Atkins||10.7||15.0|
|5. Vince Wilfork||8.0||25.0|
|6. Kyle Williams||7.3||8.8|
|7. Paul Soliai||6.4||14.0|
|8. Linval Joseph||6.3||12.5|
|9. Barry Cofield||6.0||12.5|
|10. Domata Peko||5.5||6.0|
Maybe it was always New York's intention to let Joseph walk, at least at that price. That's playmaker money for a guy with just nine sacks and two forced fumbles since he became a starter three years ago. He was probably the team's most consistent defensive player during that period, but that's quite a lot of money for anyone who isn't a star.
Maybe that's why the Giants instead invested in the offensive trenches to start free agency, bringing in the versatile Schwartz as well as Walton, who could start at center.
It's impossible to know just how much salary-cap space the Giants have entering what is essentially the second wave of free agency, but that number has obviously shrunk significantly from the $22.3 million Spotrac projected before they signed the six players we mentioned above. Regardless, don't expect them to replace Joseph on the open market.
The only two starting-caliber defensive tackles remaining on said market are Jason Hatcher and Henry Melton. Hatcher has been touring the country, but there's been no reported interest from the Giants. He'd probably be too pricey anyway, and Melton hasn't been linked publicly to Big Blue either.
Cullen Jenkins might be 33, but he had a great 2013 season, especially as a pass-rusher. They know they can get by with him in one starting spot, and I think it's time to see what 2013 second-round pick Johnathan Hankins has in him as a run-stuffer.
If the G-Men trust their scouts and their drafting ability, it makes a lot more sense to give Hankins a shot, especially after he looked like a force with increased playing time during the second half of a lost 2013 season.
|Giants: Top-rated run defenders, 2013|
|Player||PFF run grade|
|1. Justin Tuck||11.7|
|2. Jason Pierre-Paul||9.6|
|3. Johnathan Hankins||9.5|
|4. Linval Joseph||8.0|
|5. Mike Patterson||6.4|
|Pro Football Focus|
Hankins might not be Joseph, at least not right away, but he makes about 16 percent of Joseph's new salary and about 11 percent of what they would have had to pay Joseph with the franchise tag.
Consider, too, that they can find support and more defensive line options in what is considered to be the deepest draft in several years.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, Notre Dame's Louis Nix and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan could all be ready to start at defensive tackle as rookies, and there's a good chance all three will be available to New York in Round 1.
Considering that they've already taken care of themselves in the secondary and linebacking corps while also shoring up the offensive line in free agency, there's no reason they can't draft a defensive lineman in Round 1 for the first time since 2010.
Nothing is set in stone, and we'll still have to wait to see what happens with last year's team sack leader, Justin Tuck, who is also an unrestricted free agent and has been doing some traveling.
But right now, the Giants have no reason to panic about the hole Joseph has temporary left in the middle of the defensive line.