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The cap implications of acquiring Case Keenum, Nick Foles

Just how flexible might the Giants cap situation be if they wanted to replace Eli Manning with either Case Keenum or Nick Foles? Let’s find out.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

We’re less than a month away from the start of the NFL free agency period, which is also the start of the new league year and already there are rumors and opinions galore about what’s in play for the New York Giants.

There are some who, for example, are clinging to the idea that the Giants will somehow find the stones to dump Eli Manning and replace him with Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles or Case Keenum of the Denver Broncos, the latter of whom presumably becomes available following the news of Denver’s trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire Joe Flacco.

Let’s take a peek at the business side of things and how certain transactions would affect the Giants salary cap.

Where things stand cap wise

I can’t stress this enough: Until the NFL announces the official 2019 cap figure for all 32 clubs, all we can do is project what kind of space a team has — and even once that number is announced, the cap situation will continue to be fluid.

To give you a base, we’ll use Over the Cap’s projection of $190 million and then we’ll add in the $5,904,993 that the NFLPA currently has the Giants carrying over from 2018. That should bring the Giants projected 2019 cap to just under $196 million.

As for available cap space, here is where it can get a little tricky. Over the Cap projects the Giants as having $27,262,094 of effective cap space (different from total cap space).

The difference between actual and effective cap space has to do with the Top 51 rule that will begin at the start of the new league year.

For those who don’t remember or who have never heard of the Top 51 rule, only the top 51 highest salary cap figures on a team will count toward calculating the actual cap space a team has to sign players.

Players whose cap figures fall in at No. 52 onward do not count against the cap while the Top 51 is in effect; however, if they are still on the roster once training camp is over, their number will then count against the cap.

With that established, the Giants, who are projected to have 11 draft picks, are projected to need approximately $11,351,927 of cap space for their draft class.

This number will ultimately be adjusted based on the actual number of picks the Giants make and where the picks are made.

For example, if the Giants trade down in the first round to No. 13, the spot currently held by Miami, instead of having to set aside an estimated $4.704 million for their first round draft pick, the Giants would have to set aside approximately $2.828 million.

The good thing about this is the Giants don’t necessarily have to freeze $11.351 million of their salary cap space right now, but they will need to make sure they clear that space no later than June 1 so that they can begin signing their draft picks ahead of training camp.

This is why I am sticking with my belief that if the Giants do move on from edge Olivier Vernon, he will be one of the two post-June 1 transactions every team is allowed each year.

Not only will the Giants cap savings on that transaction be optimized ($15.5 million post June 1 vs. $11.5 million), they’ll also soften the blow of the dead money and, in the process, give themselves enough money to not only sign their draft class, they’ll also have enough to carry them through the rest of 2019.

Yes, this approach would mean a $4 million dead money hit for the Giants in 2019. And yes this approach would mean not having access to at least $11.5 million in additional money to go after premium free agents.

If you match up the Giants needs with the strengths of free agency and the draft, this might not be as big of a deal as some might believe as it all depends on how the Giants plan to prioritize and then fill their needs.

In other words, if the Giants feel that they only need to spend premium dollars on a small handful of veterans — safety Landon Collins and a to-be-named-later free agent right tackle and free safety — and then use the draft to fill their other needs, then they would be foolish not to take advantage of the potential $4 million additional money they could save on the Vernon transaction, if it’s made.

Key date: March 17

March 17 is the day Eli Manning is due a $5 million roster bonus.

Assuming the Giants do not lower his cap hit—and that would be a mistake given how top-heavy they are right now — if that $5 million roster bonus is paid out, it’s probably safe to assume that unless there is an injury, Manning will be the Giants starter in 2019, with any young quarterbacks who are added, be they at No. 6 or later in the draft, having a seat behind him.

Why Case Keenum is an unlikely option

From a cap perspective, Keenum doesn’t make sense.

Let’s start with Keenum first. If Denver were to trade him to the Giants, the Giants would take on an $18 million cap hit which includes $7 million in guaranteed money owed to Keenum, who by the way is in the final year of his deal.

Could the Giants lower Keenum’s number to the guaranteed $7 million and convert the $11 million into a prorated signing bonus?

Yes, but if they were looking to keep the prorated number down, they’d be looking at having to add two more years onto Keenum’s deal at a prorated rate of approximately $3.66 million per year.

If the Giants also move on from Manning under this scenario, they’d carry a $6.2 million dead money hit.

To summarize the finances, the Giants, if they acquire Keenum and don’t touch his current contract figure and cut Manning, would have at minimum $24 million on the books at the quarterback position, 12.2 percent of their cap — in addition to having a receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) already on the books for 10.7 percent of the projected 2019 cap.

There is one other reason why Keenum probably won’t be in play for the Giants: draft capital.

Unless Denver is willing to accept a sixth- or seventh-round pick for Keenum, I don’t see the Giants, who right now do not have a third-round pick, parting with premium draft capital.

In fact, I suspect that the Giants might instead use what extra draft capital they have in Day 3 to get back into the third round before they would consider investing it in a veteran player.

What about Nick Foles?

This all comes down to what the Eagles end up doing. If they place the franchise tag on Foles — and there’s a good chance they might if they want to get something in return for him — then it’s probably the end of the story for any team that might be interested in signing Foles.

Of course for the Eagles to sign and trade Foles, he’d have to sign a contract, which could be tricky given that there is language in the CBA that mandates that if the non-exclusive franchise tag is applied, the team must, in good faith, negotiate with the player.

The Eagles could also go the transition tag route. The benefit is if the Eagles do take this approach and then feel confident enough to expect Foles to get an offer sheet that they know they won’t be able to match, they can rescind the transition tag and be in play for a high compensatory pick in 2020.

Assuming Foles gets his freedom, the next question is what kind of money he’d be able to get on the open market.

Joel Corry of CBS Sports opines that at the bare minimum, Foles might be able to land a deal similar to what Keenum got in 2018, which was a two-year, $36 million contract worth up to $40 million through incentives and which had $25 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Corry also believes a deal similar to what Washington quarterback Alex Smith received might be an option — that was a four-year contract averaging $23.5 million with a maximum value is $106.5 million due to incentives based on playing time and postseason success. Smith’s deal also had $71 million of guarantees, including $55 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Are those figures too steep for a Giants team that right now needs to address Landon Collins’ contract and add more offensive line help, a free safety and a few complementary pieces on defense?

They might very well be unless the Giants are planning a massive salary cap purge, one that while cleaning out some dead weight would also likely create some holes that don’t necessarily need to be created.

But if nothing else, the question becomes whether Keenum and/or Foles are better options than Manning.

If the Giants are going to move on from Manning before his $5 million roster bonus is due, they would probably benefit more in the long-term if they instead focus on reducing Manning’s 2019 cap number and drafting his potential successor.