Bill Barnwell of Grantland hates the way New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese is spending John Mara's money. REALLY hates it. Barnwell Thursday absolutely shredded Reese's work in free agency thus far, making the case that Reese has handed out three of the 10 worst free-agent contracts so far.
The three Giants' contracts Barnwell targeted are those of linebackers J.T. Thomas and Jonathan Casillas, as well as the $17.5 million deal for kick returner/wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Barnwell says "In each case, they've paid a premium for almost the definition of a replacement-level football player."
Let's look at Barnwell's arguments in each case. Of course, I will offer some thoughts of my own.
[Contract: Three years, $8 million, $2.975 million guaranteed]
Barnwell says Casillas is "a perfectly competent coverage guy on special teams and could profile as a backup linebacker, but you should be able to find those guys in the draft every year (or find them for close to the minimum) without having to pay them guaranteed money."
Walter Football doesn't like the money spent here, either, writing "just a special-teams player, and you can pretty much find those anywhere. Casillas shouldn't have received more than $1 million per season."
Valentine's View: Barnwell's argument here is easy to understand. Casillas has started only 18 of 63 career games in five seasons, and has never been more than a backup. He has been, for the Saints, Buccaneers and Patriots, basically what Mark Herzlich has been for the Giants. Does that justify him being the 16th highest-paid 4-3 outside linebacker in football (per Over The Cap)?
Maybe not. And you can also argue all day about whether Casillas is a better play than Spencer Paysinger, a guy the Giants apparently no longer want. Or Jacquian Williams, a player yours truly was never enamored with.
Regardless, Casillas' contract isn't as bad as Barnwell makes it out to be. Casillas counts only $975K against the cap in 2015, barely above the minimum. His cap hit is $1.666 million, escalating to $3.166 million each of the last two years of the deal. The Giants could recoup $1.83 million vs. the cap if they cut him next year and nearly all of the $2.5 million if they cut him the following year.
Is he worth the money? Is he that much better than Paysinger? Casillas will have to prove his worth on more than special teams, but this signing is not as bad as Barnwell makes it appear to be.
[Contract: Three years, $12 million, $4.5 million guaranteed]
Here is Barnwell's argument against the amount of money Reese spent here:
" ... he'll fill in as a special-teamer and should compete for a job as an outside linebacker. He was an anonymous member of Jacksonville's defense over the past three seasons. The Giants committed $7.5 million in guaranteed money to him and Casillas when, elsewhere, it took the Patriots just $5.5 million in guaranteed money to nab Jabaal Sheard, a legitimate pass-rusher who would have played defensive end in New York. Bill Belichick is surely confident he can go out and find a special-teamer who will make the minimum. Why can't GM Jerry Reese do the same?"
Walter Football agrees, saying this signing "makes very little sense." Walter referred to Thomas as "terrible" in 2014 with Jacksonville and said "I don't understand why the Giants paid him $4.5 million in guarantees when they just as easily could've given a similar player a 1-year, $850,000 deal, or something of that nature."
Valentine's View: I wrote earlier in the week that I have no problem with Thomas as a depth signing. I don't know this for certain, but I suspect the primary reason the Giants signed Thomas is to be insurance for the oft-injured Jon Beason at middle linebacker. I have a hard time debunking the argument that Thomas is awfully expensive insurance. To be honest, I don't know enough about the player yet to know if Thomas is even a quality insurance policy.
Thomas will count $2 million against the cap in 2015, including a base salary of $975K and assorted bonuses. That number escalates to $4 million against the cap in the final two years. If the Giants were to cut Thomas next season he would still cost them $2.525 million against the cap. That's a lot.
Reese and the Giants' pro personnel department had better know something about Thomas no one else does. Because right now it's hard not to agree that this one seems like an overpay.
[Contract: Five years, $17.5 million, $7.1 million guaranteed]
Barnwell absolutely destroys Reese on this one:
The deal for Harris is probably the worst of the three. He was the lead return man in Dallas over the past four years, and while he had an excellent 2013, Dallas was below-average on kick returns and punt returns in 2014. At 27, Harris offers virtually no upside as a receiver. Furthermore, there's little reason to think that the market for return men is such that the Giants couldn't find a similar player at a fraction of the cost. They had Trindon Holliday, who looked like a superstar for a year in Denver, in camp last offseason before cutting him. The best return men in football last year were guys like Adam Jones, Jacoby Jones, Darren Sproles, and Julian Edelman, all of whom were once available for close to nothing.
Over the past two seasons, Reese has shown a similar propensity for giving replacement-level talent meaningful money as part of long-term contracts. Last year, it was guys like Rashad Jennings, J.D. Walton, and O'Brien Schofield (who had his contract annulled when he failed a physical). Where was the market to give Harris this much money? Was somebody really going to give him $6 million guaranteed and Reese had to top it? I can't fault Reese too much as a scout, but in terms of valuing talent, it's hard to justify the moves he's made in March in recent years. You can kiss the rings only so many times.
Walter Football says Harris is "very effective as a returner, but I don't think that warrants $7.1 million in guarantees."
Valentine's View: This is a case of Reese paying for what he thinks a player can be rather than what a player has been in the first part of his career. As with Thomas, he had better be right or this will end up looking like wasted money. The way Harris' deal is structured, the Giants are likely tied to him for at least three years. That's because they would not see worthwhile cap savings from cutting him until 2018, when Over The Cap says they could ave $2.425 million.
I like the "idea' of signing Harris because the Giants need an explosive return man. Besides, can you really put a price on keeping Odell Beckham off punt returns and limiting his injury risk? Harris, though, needs to be more than he has been with the Dallas Cowboys to justify this contract. It is hard to imagine that Harris had other offers close to what the Giants are paying him, or that they could not have found a return man for less.
I hear, and understand, the concern that Reese has spent a fair amount of money in free agency without finding any full-time guaranteed starters. It takes 53 players (really many more than that over the course of a season) to build a roster, though.
Has Reese overspent? If these guys turn out to be little more special-teamers, he probably has. I want to reserve judgment until we see the finished product, until we see all the pieces, until the Giants get on the field and we see if they end up being better than they have the past couple of years.
JR isn't exactly being Chip Kelly here, but he certainly is building the roster his way. He has been wrong often enough in recent years that questioning his choices is understandable. Let's just see how this all plays out.