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Jason Pierre-Paul will cash in, but will the Giants be writing the check?

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Pierre-Paul seems ambivalent about whether he wants to stay with the Giants.

Jason Pierre-Paul
Jason Pierre-Paul

Jason Pierre-Paul, a free agent at the end of this season, seemed pretty apathetic on Friday when asked if he wanted to remain with the New York Giants long-term.

"It is what it is. If I am here, I am here. If I am not, I am not," Pierre-Paul said.

Let's translate.

Pierre-Paul didn't say "I love this organization. It's the team that drafted me, the only one I've ever played for. I'd love to stay here, but I know this is a business." What he did say was "I want to get paid like a premier defensive lineman. I don't care who shells out the dough, I'm going where the money is."

Now that we have that out of the way, let's focus on the real question. To the Giants, will Pierre-Paul be worth the kind of moolah he will likely be seeking this offseason? Here are the 15 highest-paid defensive linemen in the league, sorted by the average annual salary per player.

Player Team Total Value Avg./Year ▾ Total Guaranteed
JJ Watt Texans $100,000,000 $16,666,667 $20,876,385
Mario Williams Bills $96,000,000 $16,000,000 $24,900,000
Robert Quinn Rams $57,014,895 $14,253,724 $15,618,583
Gerald McCoy Buccaneers $95,200,000 $13,600,000 $14,757,308
Greg Hardy Panthers $13,116,000 $13,116,000 $13,116,000
Ndamukong Suh Lions $64,502,000 $12,900,400 $23,250,000
Charles Johnson Panthers $76,000,000 $12,666,667 $32,000,000
Trent Cole Eagles $48,525,000 $12,131,250 $14,500,000
Haloti Ngata Ravens $48,524,000 $12,131,000 $27,100,000
Chris Long Rams $48,200,000 $12,050,000 $23,550,000
Calais Campbell Cardinals $55,000,000 $11,000,000 $17,000,000
Geno Atkins Bengals $53,327,000 $10,665,400 $15,000,000
Junior Galette Saints $41,500,000 $10,375,000 $16,750,000
DeMarcus Ware Broncos $30,000,000 $10,000,000 $16,500,000
Jurrell Casey Titans $36,000,000 $9,000,000 $13,000,000

Source: Over The Cap

It is probably a safe bet that Pierre-Paul is aiming to see his name on the top half of that list. Is he worth that kind of money? Is his own mind, and to his agent, I'm sure he is. To at least one NFL team out there, I'm sure he is. Is he, and should he, be worth that kind of money to the Giants? Of that, I'm not sure at all. Not even close.

Five years into Pierre-Paul's career, I think we know what he is on the field. Pierre-Paul is a tremendous athlete. He has Paul Bunyon-esque strength. He has massively long arms. He has leaping ability. He has good speed for a man his size. He has a tremendous motor and endurance that allows him to play nearly every snap week in and week out. He uses all of those things to be a tremendous force on the Giants' defensive line. No 4-3 defensive end in football plays the run the way a healthy Pierre-Paul does.

'If I am here, I am here. If I am not, I am not.' -Jason Pierre-Paul

I think we also know what Pierre-Paul is NOT on the field. Pierre-Paul is not a tremendous natural pass rusher. The farther and farther removed we get from his 16.5-sack All-Pro season of 2011 the more that season looks like an outlier. An aberration. Even in that 2011 season, when he was second among defensive ends in sacks, his actual pass rush stats weren't that impressive. According to Pro Football Focus's pass-rush productivity ratings, Pierre-Paul was 22nd in the league in that department in 2011 with a productivity percentage of only 8.2 percent. This season, Pierre-Paul is 28th in the league with a pass-rush productivity score of 7.9 percent.

For comparison, Robert Ayers of the Giants leads the league with a PRP of 15.4 percent this season. The means Ayers is productive on almost twice as many of his pass-rush attempts as Pierre-Paul. Miami Dolphins' pass-rush specialist Cameron Wake is second, checking in at 12.7. Pierre-Paul, with 3.5 sacks this season and only 12 since that magical 2011 season, is far from elite in terms of pure pass-rushing ability.

Why? Well, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin usually says it is a matter of technique with Pierre-Paul. Watch him and it seems like Pierre-Paul really isn't that quick or explosive at the snap. He takes a bit to get going. He has a great bull-rush, but doesn't generally show a lot of other pass-rush moves. He seems to do much of his damage not from purely beating his man, but from making athletic plays when other rushers begin to force an antsy quarterback to move around in the pocket. At least, that's the view from here.

No matter, really, for this discussion. What matters is that Pierre-Paul really doesn't appear to be a premier pass rusher. He is a premier run defender. He is a guy whose heart and passion for the game can't be questioned. All-in-all, he is by far the best and most complete defensive lineman the Giants have. He is the closest thing they have to a great player in the front seven of their defense. But, is he a great player?

More to the point, is he worthy of being one of the top 10 highest-paid defensive linemen in the league? Maybe even top five? I just don't know right now. As they say about many relationships, it's complicated.

Can the Giants afford to pay him? Can they afford NOT to pay him? Despite what Pierre-Paul doesn't do, how do the Giants replace what he DOES do if they let him walk? How can they possibly improve a front seven that isn't good enough now if they let the best player in that group leave?

I don't know if the question of whether the Giants should pay Pierre-Paul, or how much anyone should pay Pierre-Paul, has an answer yet.

There are seven games to play. How will the Giants organization view it if Pierre-Paul goes on a sack rampage over those seven games? Will they look at it and say, 'we can't let a player like that get away?' Will they look at it and say 'he didn't do anything when he could have impacted our season -- he just turned it on at the end to try to get paid?'

Will the Giants choose to rebuild their broken defense around Pierre-Paul, who is just 25? Or, will they choose to let him get his big pay day elsewhere?

It's a fascinating question I simply can't answer right now, and it's one that will shape what the Giants defense looks like for years to come.