At this time of year, there are two favorite pastimes for fans of NFL teams like the New York Giants who are not still, or never were, chasing a Super Bowl berth. Those would be arguing interminably over which players their team should select in the upcoming NFL draft, and speculating about which free agents their team should sign.
We are going to focus here on free agency.
Over The Cap says the Giants are about $43.3 million under a projected salary cap of $150 million. That, of course, is before any players are cut or have their contracts restructured to save cap space. Just to highlight two, cutting wide receiver Victor Cruz ($9.9 million) and linebacker Jon Beason ($5.9 million) would save the Giants nearly $16 million more in cap space.
So, the Giants will have money to spend this offseason as they try to fix a roster that co-owner John Mara clearly believes has not been good enough in recent years.
"I know what our roster looks like and I know it has to get a heck of a lot better if we're going to put the fifth (Super Bowl) trophy in the case," Mara said Friday when the team introduced Ben McAdoo as its new head coach.
The Giants will almost certainly be active in free agency, but Mara and the rest of the organization realize that draft success is the way to build teams that are competitive year in and year out.
"First thing we have to do is get them (the coaching staff) better players. That comes through the Draft and we got some room to do some things in free agency too," Mara said. "One of the things that I liked about Ben (McAdoo) was that he realizes that free agency is not the, be all end all. It's still the Draft and you can fill in some holes in free agency but it's still about drafting the right way."
Yes, it is. Look at some of the teams that are in the playoffs nearly every year. Pro Football Reference shows that 39 of the 53 players on the Green Bay Packers roster were drafted by the team. Amazingly, only one Green Bay starter -- Julius Peppers -- was not drafted by the team. The New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are each listed with 33 players they drafted on their 53-man roster.
PFR's data lists only six Giants as having been starters -- defined as guys who started more than half the Giants' games in 2015. Let's actually correct that as there were nine. Those are: Ereck Flowers, Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Johnathan Hankins, Devon Kennard, Prince Amukamara and Landon Collins. Eli Manning was not drafted by the Giants, so he doesn't count here.
Point is, want to be consistently competitive? Get the draft right.
The Giants have, unfortunately, had to try to fill too many holes in free agency the past couple of seasons. They were particularly busy in free agency before the 2014 season. Let's look at the free agents the Giants have added the past two years and see how much value they have actually gotten. These will be players picked up during the offseason free-agent signing period, not guys added during the preseason or regular season.
2014 free-agent class
OG Geoff Schwartz -- Signed four-year, $16.8 million deal ($5.75M guaranteed)
RB Rashad Jennings -- Signed four-year, $10 million deal ($2.98M guaranteed)
DE Robert Ayers -- Agreed to two-year, $3.75 million deal [Full Story]
C J.D. Walton -- Signed two-year, $6 million deal ($3M guaranteed)
LB Jameel McClain -- Signed two-year, $4.5 million deal
CB Walter Thurmond -- Signed one-year, $3.5 million deal
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- Signed five-year, $35 million deal
OL John Jerry
S/KR Quintin Demps
CB Zack Bowman
OT Charles Brown
PR/KR Trindon Holliday
TE Kellen Davis
WR Mario Manningham
That's 14 players, probably the biggest and most costly free-agent haul ever by the Giants. What did they get for their money?
Jennings, Ayers, and Rodgers-Cromartie have been good, reliable players. That's three out of 14, or 21 percent, who have been reliable contributors since they were signed. Jerry has started for two years, but he is the definition of replaceable. Schwartz has played in just 13 games over two seasons. Thurmond, McClain, Walton, Demps, and Bowman weren't retained after 2014. Brown played one regrettable game and cut cut. Holliday, Manningham, and Davis didn't even make the team.
The Giants have gone 12-20 since making that big offseason splash. Did they get their money's worth? Not close.
2015 free-agent class
RB Shane Vereen -- Signed three-year, $12.35 million contract ($4.75M guaranteed)
LB Jonathan Casillas -- Signed three-year, $8 million contract ($2.975M guaranteed)
KR/WR Dwayne Harris -- Signed five year, $17.5 million contract ($7.1M guaranteed)
OL Marshall Newhouse -- Signed two-year, $3 million contract ($1M guaranteed)
LB J.T. Thomas -- Signed three-year, $10 million contract ($4.5M guaranteed)
DE George Selvie -- Signed one-year, $1 million contract ($200,000 guaranteed)
DT Kenrick Ellis
Harris was a terrific signing. He is an outstanding return man and had the best season of his career as a wide receiver with 36 receptions, four for touchdowns. Vereen is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield who many not have always been used as well as he could have been. Casillas and Thomas played a lot, but both are replaceable parts at linebacker. Newhouse would have been fine as an emergency backup at tackle, but he's not a starting-caliber NFL tackle. Selvie is just a guy. Ellis didn't make the team, and yes I know that still mystifies some fans.
All in all, not much there beyond Vereen and Harris.
There are, obviously, good players who will be on the market. There are some big names who are scheduled to be free agents. The Giants have money, and they have needs. Dream about the big names like Von Miller and Eric Berry if you want, but be realistic. Those guys are not getting away from their current teams.
Hope that the Giants spend their money wisely and wind up with a handful of players who can help them win games. Free agency is flashy and it's fun to talk about -- especially since we're talking about spending someone else's money. The right free agents can help and there is no doubt the Giants need some help.
The future of the franchise, though, will still be decided by how well they draft. Not by how well they spend their money in free agency.