The New York Giants have some tough decisions to make over the next several weeks regarding the direction of their roster.
One such decision in particular that is shaping up to be a difficult one involves defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team’s lone established pass-rusher who once again will be an unrestricted free agent barring a last-minute contract extension.
The problem with Pierre-Paul and big money is rather obvious—does it make sense for the pass rush-starved Giants to back up the truck for the talented pass-rusher with the permanently damaged right hand who's missing his index finger and the tip of his thumb?
Let’s break it down and see why passing on Pierre-Paul probably makes the most sense for the Giants.
The Market: What Is a Pass-Rusher Worth?
According to Over the Cap, the top five contracts given to 4-3 defensive ends average anywhere from $11.3 million to as much as $16 million per year.
Using the data provided by Spotrac, let’s now compare Pierre-Paul to the other pass-rushers with similar experience.
Those top-paid players who entered the league in 2010, the same year as Pierre-Paul, are averaging anywhere from $7.8 million to as much as $9 million per year.
With all that said, let’s assume the Giants can sign Pierre-Paul to a multiyear deal averaging between $8 million and $10 million per season with at least 40 percent of the money guaranteed.
The case for re-signing Pierre-Paul isn’t quite as strong, and no, it is not solely based on what happened with his fireworks accident last year.
Let’s step back for a moment, though. In their annual personnel evaluation meetings, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if new head coach Ben McAdoo and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo go to general manager Jerry Reese with pass-rushers at the top of their wish list.
The truth is the Giants really don’t have much. They have an untested Owa Odighizuwa, who lost most of his rookie season because of injuries and will be like a rookie starting all over again this year.
They have an aging Robert Ayers (30), who while providing something that looked like a pass rush, probably won’t be mistaken for a game-changing player worthy of a long-term deal.
That leaves Pierre-Paul, who at 27 years old is entering the prime of his career and would otherwise be in line for a healthy contract.
The Case Against Re-signing Pierre-Paul
Significant injuries are hard to overlook—just look at last year when Reese repeatedly preached that the Giants would not put all their eggs in one basket regarding receiver Victor Cruz’s return from a knee injury.
Pierre-Paul’s situation is much different. Unlike Cruz’s knee, which was presumably fixed via surgery, Pierre-Paul’s index finger and thumb were not replaced. This means that he’s going to have to learn how to use his hand again after having done things a set way for most of his career, a process that could take a while to develop.
However, let’s assume, if just for a moment, that the surgeries that Pierre-Paul said he was going to have to help further restore the range of motion to his hand are successful and that he legitimately has a chance to be the JPP of old.
We won't look at 2012 and 2013, seasons in which he was dealing with injuries. When you examine his 2014 season, it really wasn’t that stellar, despite the fact that he was not only healthy but also managed to post 12.5 sacks, his second-highest career total.
Per NFL.com, nine of Pierre-Paul’s sacks that year came in the Giants’ final five games. Using rankings from Football Outsiders, let’s see where those offensive lines against whom Pierre-Paul had such tremendous success ranked.
|JPP's 2014 Sacks, Last 5 Games|
|Opponent||OL Rank||No. Sacks by JPP|
|Sources: Football Outsiders, NFL.com|
Pierre-Paul collected 72 percent of his sacks in 2014 against offensive lines that finished the year ranked in the bottom third of the league in pass protection.
Let’s quickly compare these numbers to what he did in 2011, his breakout season. The following table shows Football Outsiders’ offensive line pass-protection rankings for 2011 and those opponents against whom Pierre-Paul recorded multiple sacks.
|JPP's Sack Production: 2011|
|Opp||OL Rank||Sacks by JPP|
|Sources: NFL.com, Football Outsiders|
The takeaway? Eleven of Pierre-Paul’s overall 16.5 sacks (66.6 percent) in 2011 came against opponents whose offensive lines ranked in the top half of the league.
When it comes to run defense, Pierre-Paul has been in the top 10 among 4-3 defensive ends who have taken at least 60 percent of their team’s snaps every season except 2010 (his rookie year), 2013 and 2015, according to multiple data pages at Pro Football Focus.
In terms of pass rushing, which is where a defensive end makes his money, Pierre-Paul has never, at least per Pro Football Focus, been in the top 10 among 4-3 defense ends who have taken at least 60 percent of their team’s snaps.
The highest he managed to get was in 2014 when he finished 14th with an 8.9 pass-rushing productivity rate.
Is that enough to justify paying Pierre-Paul like a top-10, let alone a top-five, pass-rusher? No.
However, if both sides are agreeable to a one-year incentive-filled contract that might allow Pierre-Paul and his newly repaired hand to get through an entire season and prove that he’s going to be even better than he was before, that's the way to go.
If not, then that’s what free agency and the draft and the estimated $42 million in cap space are for: to get pass-rushers for a defense that’s in dire need of them.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.