When is $55 million not really $55 million? When you start applying NFL salary cap wizardry to the accounting, that's when. The most impressive thing about the New York Giants' NFL free agency fishing trip on Tuesday was that they netted five -- hopefully -- useful players while still leaving themselves plenty of room under the salary cap to do more.
The combined combined dollar amounts of the deals given to Shane Vereen ($12.3 million), Marshall Newhouse ($3 million), Dwayne Harris (17.1 million), J.T. Thomas ($12 million) and Jonathan Casillas ($10 million) is a shade above $55 million. Keep in mind also that these numbers have not been finalized.
If what has been reported thus far is accurate, Vereen's base salary for 2015 will be $1.25 million and Newhouse's $850,000. That's $2 million plush bonuses for two players. You see where this is going. If Harris, Casillas and Thomas have similar low bases in the first years of their deals the Giants should consider have considerable room to manuever.
What the Giants did on the field was add depth and play-making on offense and special teams, and add a pair of linebackers to a defense that needed them, without crushing their chances at making any other significant moves if the opportunity should arise.
You can argue that the total amounts of Vereen's and Harris's contracts in particular seem high. And maybe they are a little higher than anticipated. None of these players is a true 'marquee' talent, but each brings something to the table for the Giants. There is a clear reason for each move. Not to mention that all five players are under 30. All in all, at first blush this was a pretty good haul for the Giants on Day 1 of free agency.
Now, let's look at each move individually.
I don't know if I can be any clearer than to say I love this signing by the Giants. We have already been over it, but Vereen brings an element the Giants offense simply did not have in 2014. And it is one that Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning should have no trouble finding ways to utilize.
Vereen simply has pass-catching and open-field skills that Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams don't have. Even in McAdoo's offense, how difficult was it for the Giants to get anything out of their screen game? How often did Jennings or Williams take a check down pass and make something from it? How often was a running back actually a primary target for the Giants in the passing game?
Vereen will bring that element to the Giants, and it is one fans should be excited about.
Pro Football Focus says "Vereen is joining a crowded backfield in New York, but his versatility and pass-catching ability should provide him with a significant role in the Giants' offense."
One of two linebackers signed by the Giants on Tuesday. The Giants had some interest in Casillas a year ago, but had a bigger need this time around with Jacquian Williams gone, and with Spencer Paysinger and Mark Herzlich also available in free agency. That meant there was no weak side linebacker on the roster.
Casillas, 27, is a five-year veteran. He split time last season between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots. Casillas has 18 starts over those five seasons, and has played both outside linebacker spots. Casillas has played for the Patriots, Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. He is a Jersey City, N.J. native.
Casillas should also help the Giants on special teams, where he has long had a reputation as a solid player.
First and foremost, Harris is known as a dynamic return man. If that is all he brings to the Giants, who have been looking for one on those, that would be considered a plus. Especially if it means reducing, or eliminating, the use of Odell Beckham Jr. as a punt returner.
Harris, though, could also be emerging as a receiver. He had only seven catches in 2014, and has never caught more than 17 in a season. Still, at 5-foot-10, 202 pounds there is a better chance the Giants could find a way to occasionally throw Harris the ball than there was a season ago with the 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday.
The total money given to Harris is a little surprising. If he matches with the Giants what he has done in his career as a return man and contributes even marginally in the passing game his signing will be a definite plus. Besides, it takes a weapon away from the Dallas Cowboys.
There must be more than 22 players on an NFL roster. And there must be backups for the five players whose job it is to be starting offensive linemen. For the past couple of seasons the Giants have struggled to a) find five quality starters and b) find anyone close to competent who could come off the bench when one of those starters got hurt.
That is the reason for the signing of Newhouse. The contract ($3 million) sounds impressive, but it really is barely more than league minimum each year with a small guarantee and a token bonus tossed in.
Newhouse isn't great -- that's why he has only started seven game over the past two seasons. He can play both tackles and guard, however, is only 26 and does have four years of real NFL playing experience. The Giants love flexibility along the offensive line, and Newhouse gives them that.
Of course, I know that being able to play a lot of positions doesn't mean you can play any of them well. When you are really only being asked to be better than Charles Brown or James Brewer, however, that really isn't a big ask.
Versatility. Flexibility. Depth. Youth. There are all of those words again that you seem to hear over and over when you talk about the Giants and the free agents they like. Thomas has all of them. He can play middle linebacker, giving the Giants insurance in the event Jon Beason goes down again. He can play outside linebacker. He will only be 27 years old in 2015. Perhaps Thomas even gives the Giants the ability to cut Jameel McClain if they desire to do so.
Thomas is a player who gives the Giants options, which they love. He got their attention with a career-high 12 tackles and a forced fumble when the Giants lost to the Jaguars in 2014. Can he play like that for New York? Only time will tell, but for the Giants this was another trademark type of Jerry Reese signing.