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How the New York Giants can clear additional cap space in 2018

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Giants are in relatively good shape cap-wise, but can be better with a few moves

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New York Giants v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dwayne Harris
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Recently, I put together an overall picture of where the New York Giants stand regarding projected cap space for 2018.

While the final total is still under review due to the accounting being done by the NFL Management Council and NFLPA, using Over the Cap’s figures, the Giants are projected to have $23,394,235 of space based on a $178 million estimated salary cap for 2018.

To be clear, that figure does not include any carryover from 2017 (not that the Giants have much to carry over), nor does it include the accounting previously mentioned.

Either way, I don’t think the cap space total will fluctuate more than 5% of what it is right now, but we’ll see how the final numbers look as we get a little closer to the start of the 2018 league year in March.

In the meantime, we can take an educated guess as to which players currently under contract are likely cap casualties, targets for restructuring or targets for pay cuts.

Before we do that, let’s touch upon a few housekeeping notes which will hopefully clarify some of the confusion regarding definitions and what can and can’t be done and why.

Usually, in the case of a pay cut, the player gets a chance through performance incentives to make back the money removed from his contract.

Some of those incentives are “likely to be earned” (LTBE) meaning they would hit the 2018 cap; others are considered “not likely to be earned” (NLTBE) which means that if they ARE earned, they would hit the 2019 cap instead of the 2018 cap.

An example of a LTBE would be playing a set percentage of snaps during the season. if the player is a starter or a key member in sub packages, the odds are very much in his favor of earning this bonus.

An example of a NLTBE bonus would be winning the Super Bowl — yes there’s a chance of that happening but it’s a harder and hence, as the name suggests, a not likely to be earned bonus.

Another misconception I often see involves pending free agents. A team CANNOT cut a pending free agent.

According to the NFL Calendar of Important Dates, all pending free agent contracts expire March 14, 2018 at 4 p.m. ET, the official start of the new league year.

So if you’ve been banging the drum, for example, for the Giants to cut running back Shane Vereen, it’s not happening because he does not have a contract with the team for 2018.

The other important thing to remember is that trades cannot be executed until the start of the new league year, and only players with active contracts can be traded.

So again, using Vereen as an example, he cannot be traded because he does not have a contract for the 2018 league year.

One other thing that needs to be mentioned is the Giants 2018 dead money situation. Per Over the Cap, their dead 2018 money estimate is currently at $478,255, the result of the prorated signing bonuses from draft picks Owa Odighizuwa and Adam Bisnowaty not sticking out their rookie contracts from the time of signing.

(Bisnowaty, for those wondering, technically received a brand-new contract that was prorated when he was elevated to the 53-man roster at the end of the 2017 season.)

The key is to keep the dead money cap hit as low as possible because the more dead money a team accumulates, the less it actually has to spend. However, keeping the dead money low doesn’t necessarily mean a team is destined for success that season.

Per Spotrac, the Giants had $10,659,718 in dead money for 2017, the 12th lowest total. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, Oakland and Denver were the three teams with the lowest dead money totals, not one of them making the playoffs.

On the high side, the top three were Cleveland, San Francisco and Buffalo. Only the Bills made it to the postseason.


Ask Pat: 2016 Cap Space

I had to go back to find the answer to this as my memory had them up near $60 million of cap space in 2016, before they went on that big spending spree that brought them defensive tackle Damon Harrison, defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

According to an old NJ Advance Media article penned by Jordan Raanan (now with ESPN), the Giants had an estimated $55.9 million of cap space when the 2016 league year began.

This figure was calculated after some bloated contracts were removed from the books (Jon Beason, Geoff Schwartz and Will Beatty) and after all the postseason accounting was complete.

If you had questions relating to the salary cap (or the Giants in general), send those over to my Twitter account (mark them #askPat so I can find them).


Let’s turn our attention to moves the Giants could make to clear more cap space ahead of the start of the 2018 league year.

Restructure

QB Eli Manning. I would be stunned if the Giants don’t try to do something with Eli Manning’s contract and his $22.2 million cap hit scheduled for 2018 along the lines of the hypothetical salary cap figure reduction I laid out in a prior piece that drives guaranteed money into Manning’s pocket while not tacking on any new money to the deal.

From a player’s perspective, there’s nothing better than guaranteed money. Who among us wouldn’t welcome guaranteed money, especially if we’re talking multimillions?

As to how much the Giants will save if they re-do Manning’s contract, that is the wild card. In my scenario, I came up with an $8.34 million cap savings which does not include any new money for Manning and, more importantly no dead money that would otherwise accompany a roster cut, trade or retirement.

While I don’t know that the Giants do indeed plan to rework Manning’s 2018 cap number, if I were in their shoes, I would certainly look to get this done.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants
Dwayne Harris
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Cuts

WR Dwayne Harris. Harris has two years remaining on his contract, but sadly, his time has probably passed. Harris plays the game hard and fearless, and as a result, he gets beaten up physically to the point where his talents and skills end up being diminished.

In 2015, his first year with the Giants, he not only contributed as a top return specialist in the NFL who averaged 10.0 yards per punt return, and who also had a return for a touchdown on both punts and kickoffs.

Harris also had his career best year as a receiver, catching 36 balls for 396 yards and four touchdowns.

Since then, Harris has been completely removed from the offense save for the occasional snap here and there. His punt and kickoff return averages have also dipped.

In 2016, those averages fell to 5.9 yards per punt return and 24.2 yards per kickoff return.

In an injury-shortened 2017 season, Harris averaged 6.9 yards on punt returns and 20.9 yards per return on kickoff returns.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

WR Brandon Marshall. Marshall’s first season with the Giants was a disappointment long before a season-ending ankle injury cut it short in Week 5.

Before his season-ending injury, he caught 18 passes for 154 yards and no touchdowns, never really looking at ease in the Giants offense despite having had the spring and most of summer training camp to work with Eli Manning. Whether those perceived struggles were a result of the system or the chemistry, the lack of production is concerning.

Per Pro Football Focus, Eli Manning finished with a 56.0 passer rating when targeting Marshall prior to his injury, putting Marshall last (out of four Giants receivers) to be targeted in 2017 (based on five games played).

And when it came to the deep ball, Marshall was targeted six times, coming up with zero receptions (with one dropped pass).

While the injury isn’t his fault, he is two years removed from his last 1,000-yard receiving season in 2015 as a member of the Jets, leaving questions as to whether his best years are truly in the rear-view mirror.

Marshall has expressed a desire to play another two seasons to boost a potential bid for a Hall of Fame nod. He is under contract to the Giants for 2018, but he carries a cap number of $6,156,620.


With just the three moves outlined above, here’s a projection on what the Giants could save.

Projected Salary Cap Savings

Player Savings Dead Money
Player Savings Dead Money
Brandon Marshall $5,156,620 $1,000,000
Dwayne Harris $2,400,000 $160,000
Eli Manning (restructure) $8,340,000 $-
Estimated Totals $15,896,620 $1,160,000

Again, the key is to work with Manning to get his number down without adding more money to what he was already scheduled to make.

Who didn’t make this list (and why)

The following table shows five names that I’ve seen/heard mentioned by others as potential cap casualty targets. I then give you my reasons as to why I don’t think they’re going to be cap-related cuts.

Summary

Player 2018 Cap Hit Pre-June 1 Savings Dead Money
Player 2018 Cap Hit Pre-June 1 Savings Dead Money
OL John Jerry $4,125,000 $2,525,000 $1,600,000
P Brad Wing $2,025,000 $1,025,000 $1,000,000
CB Eli Apple $4,132,436 $(477,468) $4,609,904
CB Janoris Jenkins $13,000,000 $7,000,000 $6,000,000
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie $8,500,000 $6,500,000 $2,000,000
Figures via Over the Cap

The Giants could get a modest savings if they parted with John Jerry, but the reason why I don’t think they will is because you need to remember why Jerry was signed in the first place: to be a backup.

Thanks to injuries, he’s had to be a starter ever since signing with the Giants, but I could easily see a scenario where he’s kept on the roster as a backup in 2018 if Gettleman is able to find his “hog mollies” for the offensive line.

Yes, punter Brad Wing had a poor season, finishing with a career-low net average of 36.7 yards with two blocked punts. He also recorded a career-low 19 balls placed inside the 20 and had his coverage unit allowed one of his punts returned for a touchdown, the first time that’s happened in his career.

While the numbers aren’t great, the biggest reason why you stick with Wing for the time being at least, is that he’s a left-footed punter.

And if you’re not sure what that has to do with anything, you might want to check out this excellent piece by Jenny Vrentas of MMQB that explains the benefit of having a lefty punting for you.

The calls to cut Janoris Jenkins are head-scratching. Jenkins was a Pro Bowl shutdown corner in 2016 but struggled in 2017, this likely due to the ankle injury that bothered him for most of the season before he was finally forced to shut it down before the season ended.

Yes, there was the discipline issue in which he failed to advise then head coach Ben McAdoo that he would be late returning from the bye week — that led to a one-week suspension for the cornerback.

While there is no question that Jenkins was wrong not to at least call to advise he would be late, I would be surprised if they give up on him given the circumstances. It also doesn’t help that he has a $6 million dead-money cap hit if he’s let go before June 1.

Eli Apple is a curious case. ESPN’s Josina Anderson, citing a source, reported on December 27 that Apple was “done” as a Giant. However, Gettleman was hired as the new general manager the very next day and has since met with Apple, who was reinstated from his suspension.

If the Giants do want to move on from Apple — and again that’s not necessarily a slam dunk — the question becomes whether his one-week suspension was enough to void the guaranteed money in his contract.

ESPN reported that Apple’s contract does have language in it that allows the club to “void his guaranteed money in 2017, 2018 or 2019 if, among other things, he ‘is suspended by the NFL or by the Club’ or he ‘engages in conduct reasonably judged by the Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club, in Club’s sole discretion.’”

What isn’t clear though is if the money can be guaranteed if he is reinstated from a suspension. Apple’s situation probably will become clearer once the new league year begins, but as of right now, I suspect they see if they can help him get back to where he left off as a rookie.

Finally, there’s been talk of having the Giants move on from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. While on the surface this would make sense given his cap figure and the potential savings, DRC’s cap figure is currently tied for the 20th highest among NFL cornerbacks in 2018 (with Buster Skrine of the Jets and Sean Smith of the Raiders).

Considering that DRC has expressed a willingness to play safety in 2018 if he’s back, that and his leadership would make him a bargain at his cap figure to where I could see the Giants keeping him around as he finishes out his contract.