The 2016-17 NFL season is officially over. Free agency begins in a month, and the 2017 NFL Draft is less than three months away. That means we have come to the point in time where teams begin to make decisions about what their rosters for the upcoming season might look like.
The first part of that decision-making process is figuring out which veteran players to keep and which to let go or force to re-structure contracts in an effort to clear salary cap space. The New York Giants have several key players in that category.
So, since it is really Step 1 let’s start there. I will use today’s “Five things I think I think” to look at five veteran Giants who could be on the roster bubble as the team plans for next season.
Before we begin, a little about where the Giants stand in relation to the salary cap. Spotrac estimates that the Giants are roughly $25 million under an expected cap of $168 million. Those numbers are fluid, especially since we don’t know yet exactly what the 2017 salary cap will be.
This is the biggest decision the Giants have to make in this category, at least in terms of finances and sentimentality if not in production.
Cruz carries a $9.4 million cap hit. He wants to stay, but at 30, miscast as an outside wide receiver due to the presence of Sterling Shepard and coming off a 39-catch season the Giants can’t pay him that kind of money. They might not even be willing to pay him the $4.4 million he got for 2016, a lot of money for a No. 3 wide receiver.
The Giants can save $7.5 million against the cap by cutting Cruz. Despite what he has meant to the franchise over the years, I expect them to do just that.
Jennings is a serviceable back, no more. He will be 32 next season and carries a $3.06 million cap hit. Whether or not the Giants believe Paul Perkins is their featured back going forward, the Giants need to do something to upgrade one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks.
Jennings also wants to stay, but the Giants can save $2.5 million against the cap by cutting ties with him. I would expect them to do that as the first step toward re-structuring their running game.
Rodgers-Cromartie is coming off a terrific season, accepting his push into the slot and excelling there. Rodgers-Cromartie, though, will be 31 and will carry an $8.5 million cap hit into next season. The Giants could save $4.5 million by cutting him, but they would still be on the hook for $4 million.
Good corners are hard to find and the view here has always been that teams can never have enough of them. I could perhaps see the Giants re-structuring DRC’s contract, but I can’t see them going into 2017 without him on the roster.
Harris made the Pro Bowl, but the reality is that he had a miserable year returning kicks while trying to play through a myriad of injuries. Harris, though, is still a terrific special teams player even if he is no longer a dynamic returner.
Cutting Harris really makes no sense. He is due $3.8 million and the Giants would save only $1.4 million against the cap by releasing him. Harris’s five-year, $17.5 million deal was, in many ways, really a three-year deal. The 2017 season marks the third year. His cap hit, and the savings the Giants could get from cutting him, rise after the 2017 season. Harris will almost certainly have at least one more year in New York.
Vereen, who will be 28 next season, is a terrific receiver out of the backfield. You don’t want to penalize him for being hurt in 2016, but you wonder just how far the Giants will go to re-structure their backfield. Perkins could potentially do many of the things Vereen can do in the passing game, though he doesn’t have as much experience.
Vereen carries a $4.9 million cap hit in 2017, which is an awful lot for a third running back. The Giants could save $3.8 million against the cap by cutting him. Would they? I don’t think so, but in this discussion it has to be on the table.
The Giants can also save $3 million by cutting linebacker J.T. Thomas III, something I would fully expect them to do after he missed last season with a knee injury. If the Giants were to cut Cruz, Jennings and Thomas that, by my match, adds up to about $13 million in cap savings. That would put the Giants around $38 million in projected cap space, with an estimated $5.5 million needed to sign the 2017 rookie class. That would leave them somewhere around $32 to $33 million to spend.