The New York Giants are gearing up for what will be perhaps their biggest offseason of change, an offseason where some major decisions will need to be made regarding the coaching staff and player personnel.
One of the many key personnel decisions the Giants will need to make involves defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, their first-round pick in 2010 whose final year of his rookie deal will void five days after the 2014 Super Bowl, according to Spotrac.
If the Giants are looking to build a solid foundation moving forward, Pierre-Paul needs to be a part of that process—but not if he's going to want to be paid like a top-five NFL 4-3 defensive end.
Money vs. Production: An Overview of the League's Top 4-3 Defensive Ends
When it came to dealing with players seeking new contracts, the late George Young, former general manager of the Giants, always used to say, “When they tell you it’s not about the money, remember it’s always about the money.”
Pierre-Paul, to his credit, hasn’t said much about his contract. In fact, last week when he received multiple questions from reporters regarding his future with the team, including two in a row, Pierre-Paul tried to shift the focus back to football.
"I am not worried about my contract," he said. "Honestly and to tell you the truth, I am not worried about my contract. It will take care of itself. To answer your question about being here long-term, it is what it is. If I am here, I am here. If I am not, I am not."
When pressed further for a response, Pierre-Paul said, "We have to wait and see. I am not trying to get into my contract situation. We will wait and see. I have been here for five years now and there have been ups and downs, but I love it here. We have to wait and see and we’ll see what happens at the end of the season."
Just because Pierre-Paul hasn’t talked dollars doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to receive a fair contract. However, there will always be a difference of opinion as to what the Giants consider a fair deal and what Pierre-Paul and his representatives view as fair.
Per Over the Cap, here’s a look at the top overall contracts currently held by 4-3 defensive ends:
|4-3 NFL Defensive Ends: Top Total Value Contract Figures|
|Player||Team||Years||Total Value||Avg./Year||Total Guaranteed||% Guaranteed|
|Mario Williams||Bills||6||$96 million||$16 million||$24.9 million||25.9%|
|Charles Johnson||Panthers||6||$76 million||$12.6 million||$32 million||42.1%|
|Robert Quinn||Rams||4||$57 million||$14.2 million||$15.6 million||27.4%|
|Trent Cole||Eagles||4||$48.5 million||$12.1 million||$14.5 million||29.9%|
|Chris Long||Rams||4||$48.2 million||$12 million||$23.5 million||48.9%|
Now let’s look at the career production of these top-five paid defensive ends and see where Pierre-Paul stacks up.
|Top 4-3 Defensive Ends Production (through Week 11)|
|Player||Team||No. Games||No. Tackles||No. Sacks|
While Pierre-Paul’s numbers aren’t up there with the top defensive ends—and these numbers will unfortunately be what many people look at when debating whether he is worthy of a big payday, it’s important to look beyond the stats to gauge a player’s effectiveness.
Pierre-Paul the Run-Stopper
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Pierre-Paul is the highest-graded 4-3 defensive end against the run among those who have taken 75 percent or more of their team’s snaps.
“[Pierre-Paul] has always been an outstanding run player,” Giants defensive line coach Robert Nunn told the media during the bye week. “He has been as good as there has been in the league. When he is healthy, he is as good of a run player that I have been around.”
Still, if you’re wondering how Pierre-Paul can be so good against the run despite not having the numbers to show for it, just look at last week’s game against the 49ers" target="_blank">San Francisco 49ers.
Per PFF, of running back Frank Gore’s 19 runs, 10 went to the right side of the formation, which is manned on defense by Mathias Kiwanuka. Gore ended up recording 74 of his 95 yards by running away from Pierre-Paul.
That’s why when looking at the final stat sheet, Pierre-Paul had one tackle.
If Pierre-Paul wanted to pad his stats, he probably would have had to get a head start on reaching the other side of the formation, which would have been an ill-advised move against Colin Kaepernick, who runs that read-option.
We saw the Giants do this all too often against the Seattle Seahawks, where they jumped early thinking the play was going one way only to have it cut back in the opposite direction.
With guys not shedding blocks, not filling gaps, and not playing contain, the Seahawks were able to gouge the Giants defense for 350 yards on the ground.
Pierre-Paul was a part of the meltdown against the Seahawks, but hey, everyone has a bad game at least once per season.
Even a prototype defensive end like J.J. Watt, who barely made a dent against the Giants in their Week 3 game this year, occasionally has a bad game.
Pierre-Paul the Pass-Rusher
In 2011, Pierre-Paul the pass-rusher was simply electrifying.
He was healthy, he was the epitome of controlled chaos and he was making plays on passing downs, racking up a career-high 16.5 sacks
In 2014, a year after he struggled through a season while recovering from offseason back surgery and then a late-season shoulder injury, Pierre-Paul only has 3.5 sacks to his name, only 1.5 sacks more than what he had in 11 games last season.
While one might argue that Pierre-Paul’s production has been hurt by his injuries—last season he was never quite himself while he recovered from back surgery and then later in the 2013 campaign had a shoulder injury that capped a lost year—when healthy, Pierre-Paul has showed that he is fully capable of being a complete defensive end.
“With the pass rush, [if] he continues to stay healthy, it will show up. I think he has a better [pass-rushing] plan than he has ever had,” Nunn said.
“He was able to come into training camp and the offseason and it developed for him. There were a lot of factors for him not being able to develop a plan and he has done that. He is doing a good job of attacking offensive tackles.”
If Pierre-Paul has been so effective on the pass rush, then why doesn’t he have the numbers to show for it?
One reason could be the talent around him.
In 2011, his breakout season, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora were part of that pass-rushing package defensive coordinator Perry Fewell liked to use (Tuck was often moved inside to defensive tackle on pass-rushing downs).
When the three of them were on the field at the same time, opposing offensive coordinators were forced to pick their poison as far as whom they double-teamed.
Here is an example from the game against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 of the 2011 season. The play is a nine-yard sack by Pierre-Paul against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a play resulting in a safety.
Notice how in the frame Tuck is double-teamed while Pierre-Paul is left to beat the solo blocking of the tackle, which he does. This is why it’s imperative that a team has two solid defensive ends who are worthy of the double-team blocks by opponents.
Of course, that’s not the case for the Giants this year. There is no Tuck or Umenyiora. On the other end of the defensive line is the aging Kiwanuka, a lifelong Giant who unfortunately has struggled to win his one-on-one battles.
With opponents knowing that Kiwanuka probably isn’t going to be much of a factor on the pass rush, they can—and have—devoted double-team blocks against Pierre-Paul.
What about Damontre Moore? The problem is that while Moore is a viable pass-rushing threat, the coaches apparently are still queasy about putting him out there if there is the slightest hint that the opponent might run the ball.
That’s probably why, per PFF, Moore’s defensive snap count distribution favors the pass (110) as opposed to the run (47).
Robert Ayers? It’s a mystery why he doesn’t get more snaps ahead of Kiwanuka, but that’s another article for another day.
The (Multi-) Million Dollar Question
If Pierre-Paul is one of those key pieces of the foundation who needs to be re-signed, what kind of a contract would make the most sense for the Giants, who, remember, will probably want to extend cornerback Prince Amukamara and quarterback Eli Manning, two contracts that are not expected to come cheaply to the team?
First, anyone who thinks the Giants will base a contract off Pierre-Paul’s production this year is incorrect. Yes, the numbers pale, but it needs to be remembered that this is really Pierre-Paul’s first season back at full strength from his back surgery and shoulder problem that bothered him all of last season.
If Pierre-Paul stays healthy—always a gamble with any player—by next year he should be even closer to returning to his 2011 form.
As such, it would not be surprising if his new multiyear deal offers between $13 and $17 million in guaranteed money.
His new deal will also probably have a low base salary in the first year and performance incentives tied in to sack totals and Pro Bowl berths.
Whether that new deal will be signed off by a member of the Giants’ front office remains to be seen.
If the Giants are looking to get back to being a more competitive team, then Pierre-Paul’s next contract should indeed come from the team that has spent the last several years developing him into the player he is.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football and The SportsXchange. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.