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Positional review: Defensive end — how much is Jason Pierre-Paul worth to Giants?

JPP is going to get rich — will the Giants be handing him the check?

NFL: Preseason-Miami Dolphins at New York Giants
Jason Pierre-Paul
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end is next on our list as we go position-by-position to review where the New York Giants ended 2016 and where they might be headed in 2017. That, of course, means discussing the future of Jason Pierre-Paul is front and center.

2016 season

Olivier Vernon and Pierre-Paul gave the Giants an outstanding pair of defensive line bookends. Vernon justified the outlandish-looking five-year, $85 million ($52.5 million guaranteed) free-agent contract the Giants signed him to. Despite an injured hand that forced him to switch sides with Pierre-Paul for several weeks, Vernon had a team-high 8.5 sacks, was second in the league in hurries with 37, was among the top 10 defensive ends in the NFL in run stuffs with seven and played an incredible 93.7 percent of the Giants defensive snaps. Pierre-Paul, playing on a one-year “prove-it” deal, proved that he still had the ability to be a dominant player despite his mangled right hand. He had seven sacks in 12 games and finished 14th among defensive ends in hurries despite the four missed games.

Undrafted Romeo Okwara made the 53-man roster and was a pleasant surprise, more or less becoming the third defensive end. Kerry Wynn, as always, proved to be an effort player useful in a limited role. For 2015 third-round pick Owamagbe Odighizuwa, 2016 was another year where he did little to justify his draft position.

2017 free agents

Jason Pierre-Paul (Unrestricted)
Kerry Wynn (Restricted)

Offseason decisions to make

Can the Giants afford to re-sign Pierre-Paul? Can they afford NOT to re-sign Pierre-Paul? Will they be forced to choose between Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins? Will they somehow be able to keep both? The nightmare scenario, of course, is watching half of their dominant defensive line sign elsewhere. How would the Giants replace Pierre-Paul if he does move on, or if they simply decide they can’t pay him what he wants?

Joel Corry, former sports agent and current CBS Sports cap analyst, told me that “at a minimum, he (Pierre-Paul) should get $15M per year with at least $45 million in guarantees on the open market.” That would put JPP among the league’s five highest-paid defensive ends.

A $15-million annual salary for Pierre-Paul would mean $32 million, or roughly 19 percent of an estimated $168 million 2017 salary cap, tied up in two defensive ends. Could the Giants actually do that?

Given Pierre-Paul’s injury history — he has played 16 games only once in the past four years — and the fact that he is two years older than Vernon, could the Giants get him for, say, four years, $64 million?

The Giants’ defense played well in four games without Pierre-Paul, but you’re fooling yourself if you think he’s easily replaceable. Defensive ends with his skill set and motor are not easy to find. Remember this — Vernon had seven sacks in the five games prior to JPP’s injury. He had a half-sack in five games without Pierre-Paul in the lineup.

Draft/FA priority level

Medium ... for now. There is a school of thought, and probably a valid one, that the Giants could use a speed rusher off the edge — whether that be a pure defensive end, outside linebacker, or hybrid player. That is without even considering the loss of Pierre-Paul. Obviously, should Pierre-Paul get his fortune elsewhere the need to find a quality replacement via free agency or the 2017 NFL Draft increases exponentially. Okwara and Odighizuwa have potential, but can’t be counted on as answers.