Assessing New York Giants' 2018 Salary-Cap Situation
The late George Young, the one-time general manager of the New York Giants, used to say the salary cap was the last thing he thought about before going to bed and the first thing on his mind when he woke up.
Rightfully so; with only so many dollars to spend on talent acquisition, the job of GM isn't as easy as it looks. For instance, decisions need to be made on whether to overspend on a veteran free agent or wait and hope a comparable player will show up in the draft.
Then there is the matter of ensuring the best bang for the buck if money is spent on free agency, with the way to do that being determining what parameters will be accepted as representing the best return on investment.
Finally, there is a matter of clearing space and adjusting or purging the contacts of guys who didn't perform or whose skills are declining, a task that's never an easy job.
Further complicating things for the Giants is whether ownership plans to retain Jerry Reese, the team's current general manager, or go in a different direction with a GM who has a different philosophy.
It's going to be a wild ride for the Giants once the offseason hits, that's for sure. While there is still some time before the team starts that process, let's take an overview of where things stand and where they might be heading.
Projected 2018 Salary-Cap Space
With that starting point in mind, Over the Cap also projects the Giants will have at least $30,478,050 of space with 41 players under contract.
However, that number is likely to rise even further just on the basis of certain players having not reached playing incentives, for example returner Dwayne Harris not finishing the year having averaged 10.0 yards per return or linebacker J.T. Thomas not reaching an incentive in which he would have received an additional $400,000 if he participated in at least 70 percent of the Giants defensive snaps.
Roughly speaking, the Giants stand to gain another $2 million to $3 million of cap space after this year in unclaimed bonuses.
In addition, Over the Cap reports the Giants have $3,436,453 left in cap space this year which, if they don't touch (unlikely given injuries necessitating roster moves), would likely be carried over to 2018.
Where the 2018 Cap Is Allocated
Now let's look at where the money is going using data provided by Spotrac.
Further breaking down where the money is tied up, the Giants are in the top 10 leaguewide at defensive end (first), cornerback (fourth) quarterback (ninth) and receiver (eighth).
They are at, or near, the bottom in three critical positions: offensive tackle (30th), safety (31st), linebacker (30th) and running back (30th).
Three players are scheduled to account for 38.62 percent of the Giants 2018 salary-cap space. Those three are, in order, quarterback Eli Manning ($22.2 million, 15.12 percent), and defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul ($17.5 million, 11.92 percent) and Olivier Vernon ($17 million, 11.58 percent).
First, the Giants have yet to get a full season of having defensive ends Pierre-Paul and Vernon on the field together, making that investment look like a bad one.
It also speaks volumes to their drafting at the spot that they had to overspend at the defensive end position to begin with if you agree that Vernon—the more consistent of the two defensive ends—was the mulligan for Damontre Moore.
Second, while Manning still gives them the best chance to win, he can only do so with a strong supporting cast around him, which is why he is in the middle or the bottom of the quarterback pack.
That the Giants have grossly neglected offensive tackle, a position which is considered a cornerstone on offense, has been criminal in getting this offense back on track.
The same can probably be said of their frugality with the running backs, though that's a position where it doesn't make sense to break the bank unless they can land themselves an Ezekiel Elliott-type workhorse instead of these complementary pieces.
How They Can Clear More Space
Historically speaking, the Giants have cleared space in the past by following multiple criteria, which is listed below along with the players to whom it would apply and any applicable cap savings, per Over the Cap.
These are usually players who no longer have guaranteed money owed to them; who, for whatever reason, have seen a decrease in their snaps; and/or who have a younger, cheaper option breathing down their neck for a larger role. These contacts are usually swept away in early to mid-February.
The cap saving is calculated by taking the player's total cap number for that year and subtracting any prorated signing bonuses.
Some potential contracts the Giants might want to purge include:
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ($8.5 million cap hit; $6.5 million savings)
Rodgers-Cromartie has done a nice job of putting behind him any hard feelings he might have had with head coach Ben McAdoo, who suspended him.
While Rodgers-Cromartie is a popular figure in the locker room, he's also going to turn 32 on his next birthday and passed being an every-down corner quite some time ago.
The Giants also acquired Ross Cockrell who can fill in for Rodgers-Cromartie in the slot probably for a lot less.
OL John Jerry ($4.125 million cap hit; $2.525 million savings)
Jerry has been better since moving to left guard, but the Giants need to focus this offseason on tweaking that offensive line.
One possibility might see Ereck Flowers at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard (assuming he re-signs), Weston Richburg at center, D.J. Fluker at right guard (if he re-signs) and Chad Wheeler at right tackle. Jerry could still be kept for depth, but he'd be rather expensive to justify.
CB Janoris Jenkins ($13 million cap hit; $7 million cap savings)
The Giants will have an interesting decision to make regarding Jenkins, one of their prized free-agent signings from 2016, who turns 30 next year.
Jenkins' future with the team might be tied into whether head coach Ben McAdoo, who suspended him earlier this year, is kept on.
If he's cut, Jenkins would count for $6 million in dead money, which means he's only netting a $1 million savings.
However, if the Giants were to cut him as a June 1 transaction, they would save an additional $3 million on the transaction ($10 million total) with $3 million in dead money hitting the 2018 cap and $4 million (the balance of his prorated signing bonus) hitting the 2019 cap.
The drawback to using the June 1 designation is that the money wouldn’t come off the books until June 1. The Giants might be better off carrying Jenkins for another year to better optimize any potential savings while not hamstringing themselves down the line.
The injured group usually consists of guys who are at the end of their deals but have sat on injured reserve. Likewise, some of these players could be targets for restructured deals.
Some potential contracts the Giants might want to address under this category include:
WR Dwayne Harris ($4.050 million cap hit; $2.45 million savings)
Harris had one good year for the Giants, that being his first 12 months with the team. Since then, his play has declined. While he's a tough-nosed player, his injuries coupled with the decline in production have made it time for the team to go in another direction.
WR Brandon Marshall ($6.156 million cap hit; $5.156 million savings)
Marshall always looked to be a one-year solution, a Band-Aid to a receiver group that still is in search of three solid and consistent performers. Unfortunately for the Giants, Marshall—who ended up on injured reserve—didn't work out as they hoped when he was in the lineup.
It wouldn't be the offseason for a team if it didn't have some difficult decisions to make. Here then is a list of just a few of the headscratchers the Giants will likely have to consider this offseason.
QB Eli Manning
By far the toughest decision the Giants will have to make involves their franchise quarterback.
As previously noted, Manning is due to count for $22 million against next year's salary cap, a figure that breaks down to a $10.5 million base salary, a $5 million roster bonus, a $500,000 workout bonus and $6.2 million prorated signing bonus charge.
Manning's situation is complicated. First, he has endeared himself to ownership for his years of loyal service to a point where it would be almost unthinkable for them to cut him. Second, he has a no-trade clause in his contract.
But what happens if the team decides to fire McAdoo? Would Manning want to go through learning a new offense at this point in his career? And might the 36-year-old decide to retire if he discovers the franchise is in good hands with Davis Webb or if he knew for certain they were going to be able to draft their next franchise quarterback?
There are no easy answers when it comes to Manning, whose future seems tied in with others.
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
Before he suffered a season-ending injury, Beckham was all but a lock to get a hefty pay day after this season, one that would have likely reduced his 2018 cap hit of $8.459 million if just by a million or two.
Unfortunately, his ankle problem mucked that plan up to a point where the Giants might opt to wait on re-signing the 25-year-old until they see how well he has recovered from the injury and surgery.
OL Justin Pugh
Justin Pugh is finishing up his rookie contract's option year, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
While Pugh falls in the "must re-sign" category, the problem is that other than his rookie season in 2013, he hasn't made it through a 16-game span since. Most recently, he has been dealing with a back injury that may require surgery at some point.
Do the Giants break open the bank for the 27-year-old or buy themselves another year by putting the franchise tag on him, a move that would severely deplete whatever cap space they do have left?
One approach might be to give Pugh a deal in which he receives a per game roster bonus for every game he's active.
OL Ereck Flowers
The Giants must decide after this season if they want to pick up his option year.
While doing so or not won't affect the 2018 salary cap since the option year wouldn't kick in until 2019, they would be looking at paying the 23-year-old the equivalent of a transition player (the average of the top 10 players at his position).
That might be a steep price to pay with safety Landon Collins' contract coming up. Still, it is a decision the Giants need to consider for the 2018 league year.
Where They Need to Spend
Once the accounting is taken care of and the hard decisions are made, the final piece of the puzzle is to determine where the extra cap space should be spent.
(A portion of the remaining cap room needs to be kept aside to sign the rookie class and cover in-season signings, so whatever cap money the Giants have to work with, several millions need to be put away for these two purposes.)
Here is a look at some of the positions where the Giants might want to invest their 2018 cap space.
Brandon Marshall is unlikely to be back next year, and the Giants are hoping Odell Beckham Jr. makes a full and complete recovery from his injury, with no drop-off as Victor Cruz experienced.
If they jettison Marshall as expected, they can still use a big receiver to take his place.
Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard are due to hit free agency as are Kelvin Sheppard, Mark Herzlich and Keenan Robinson. Not only will the Giants have to address this unit in free agency, they might also look to beef up the depth via the draft.
This unit could have used help last offseason, but they have been getting by. Still, with there being a chance Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins are not here next year, the Giants need to think about adding to this unit.
Enough with ignoring the offensive line or with taking shortcuts to build this unit. The Giants simply must add some depth here, particularly at the tackle spot to avoid a situation like this year when they had to move two or more guys around to compensate for an injury.
Patricia Traina covers the New York Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.