The Giants free-agency activity thus far has been anything but sexy, but if we are to believe that general manager Dave Gettleman has a plan, it would appear from the outside looking in that the moves made thus far indicate more of a build than a rebuild.
As of March 23, the Giants have re-signed six of their own unrestricted free agents from last year, have lost seven to other teams and have signed four newcomers who were with other teams in 2018.
There was, of course, also the big trade involving receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and edge rusher Olivier Vernon for safety Jabrill Peppers (and a couple of draft picks), and veteran guard Kevin Zeitler respectively.
Overall, the moves made by Gettleman are mostly smart, cost-conscious decisions that should help complete the cleanup of the mess created over the years by all the expensive mulligans taken by the former regime.
Let’s go through each category and examine some key points.
Gone: RB Jonathan Stewart, LB Connor Barwin
The only thing surprising about the two players whose contracts were terminated by the Giants long before the start of free agency is that New York didn’t go after bigger fish who might yield more of a cap savings.
That’s not to say that they should have retained Stewart or Barwin, two older players who, it turned out, just didn’t have much more to give the team.
While Barwin and Stewart yielded a modest savings, it wasn’t enough for the Giants to really be competitive in the first days of free agency. However, what Gettleman has done is refrain from releasing guys and having to eat gobs of dead money with nothing to show for it.
A perfect example is edge rusher Olivier Vernon, whom the Giants likely would have released had they not found a trade partner.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Re-signed: FB Eli Penny, C Jon Halapio, K Aldrick Rosas
Not Tendered: DE/OL Kristjan Sokoli, LB Jordan Williams
Retaining Rosas, a Pro Bowl kicker, was a no-brainer given the season he had. While some might be surprised that the Giants didn’t give him a long-term contract given how he turned things around, this is actually a prudent move for a couple of reasons.
First, the Giants did not have a lot of cap space to spare this year on guys whose rights they could still control through other means. Rosas fits right into that category (as do Halapio and Penny).
The Giants under Gettleman have already been at or near the top of the league in dead money.
Per Spotrac, the Giants are already at $33,879,730 in dead money, which currently is second behind Miami’s $36,381,072 dead money hit.
Last year, the Giants finished with $43,913,062 in dead money, second most behind Buffalo’s whopping $70,343,254 in dead money.
While it’s true that there can be more cap space created as needed, Gettleman is trying to stop the hemorrhaging because continuously piling up the dead money is not a recipe for a winning football team.
The second reason for not extending Rosas now is because the Giants probably want to see if Rosas can consistently perform at a high level. It’s rare that NFL kickers spend their entire careers with one team, so before making that investment, it’s important to ensure that the kicker can consistently have a productive shelf life for the team.
Penny’s return comes as no surprise. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the seventh best graded (out of 21) fullbacks last year (based on a minimum of 40 snaps at the position), and only allowed two pressures (out of 90 snaps).
Those aren’t bad numbers considering Penny was added after the season began.
As for Halapio, who is returning from a broken ankle, there was some question as to why the Giants would sign him and Spencer Pulley, the latter of whom received a richer deal.
There are two potential thoughts here. First, it’s possible that the Giants aren’t sure yet if Halapio, who is making progress in his rehab, is going to be ready for the start of training camp. And even if he is, figure that his return gives the Giants a couple of options at the position.
They can either use Halapio as a backup center/guard or if they feel he’s the starter, they could maybe look to move Pulley in a trade, similar to what they did last year when they traded the higher-priced Brett Jones and got a draft pick in reserve.
Restricted Free Agents
Re-signed: QB Alex Tanney, WR Corey Coleman, OC Spencer Pulley, CB Antonio Hamilton
The Giants made some interesting decisions with this group, starting with the decision to retain backup quarterback Alex Tanney to a 2-year, $2.15 million contract.
That deal isn’t your standard veteran minimum deal; however, the deal, as structured, doesn’t carry a huge dead money hit if Tanney is cut (just $75K if he doesn’t make the roster this year and $37.5K next year).
The more interesting thing to keep an eye on is Kyle Lauletta’s status. Head coach Pat Shurmur has always spoken of his preference to have a veteran on the roster with experience, which in this case would be Tanney.
But if the Giants draft a quarterback this year in the first three rounds or trade for Josh Rosen, that probably won’t bode well for Lauletta’s long-term future on this team.
One other note about this group. The Giants, being hamstrung in the cap department at the start of free agency, made the smart move to not tender Antonio Hamilton, primarily a special teams player at a rate that would have cost them $2.025 million for an original tender.
Instead, they got arguably one of their top special teams performers (who is also coming off a season-ending injury) back fir what is believed to be a deal closer to the veteran minimum or more than 50% less what the RFA original round tender would have cost the Giants.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Re-signed: TE Scott Simonson, WR Cody Latimer, WR Bennie Fowler, LS Zak DeOssie, LB Nate Stupar, CB Tony Lippett
Lost: DE Mario Edwards (NO), DE Josh Mauro (OAK), CB B.W. Webb (CIN), S Landon Collins (WAS), G Jamon Brown (ATL), DE Kerry Wynn (CIN), FS Curtis Riley (OAK)
Still Pending: WR Russell Shepard, OL John Greco, DT John Jenkins,
The majority of the Giants UFAs lost went on to sign decent contracts with their new teams whereas of the list of UFAs re-signed, many of them signed minimum salary benefits (one-year deals that don’t exceed $90,000 in guaranteed money, which then makes them eligible to count the same as a second-year pro against the cap).
This is actually a smart cap strategy deployed by Gettleman, who had limited salary cap space with which to work. Although fans are not likely to get excited about those unrestricted free agents the Giants did re-sign, players such as Simonson, DeOssie, Stupar and Latimer all bring some value not just at their respective positions, but also on special teams.
What’s more, if any of these veterans who are on MSB contracts don’t make the roster, the cap hit is minimal.
Finally, of those free agents lost, the Giants are in a good position to pick up compensatory picks for next year’s draft.
According to Over the Cap’s Nick Korte, right now the Giants are projected to be getting a third round pick (for Landon Collins), and three seventh rounders for Josh Mauro, B.W. Webb and (potentially) safety Curtis Riley.
Had the Giants not signed receiver Golden Tate to the contract he received, they also would have been in line for a fifth-rounder as compensation for losing guard Jamon Brown to the Falcons.
Teams are permitted up to four comp picks and there is still another month and a half to go until the cutoff date in which free agent signings will not count toward the comp pick formula.
(This, along with the fact that Mike Remmers is rehabbing from offseason back surgery and isn’t believed to be able to pass a physical at this time, could be the reason why Remmers is still unsigned).
Signed: WR Golden Tate, LB Markus Golden, DL Olsen Pierre , S Antoine Bethea*
*Salary cap cut by Arizona
The Giants weren’t going to have a lot of money to spend on first-tier level free agents.
While for the most part they got good value on their new free agents, the contract that Tate received is a head scratcher, especially if one subscribes to the argument that the skill sets of Tate and Sterling Shepard are very similar.
In fact, the contract Tate received — 4 years for $37.5 million — might provide some insight into the future plans regarding Sterling Shepard, who enters a contract season this year.
It would be hard to justify the Giants keeping two receivers with nearly identical skill sets, but then again, the Giants cap situation next year is going to be much healthier (think 2016 levels) than it was this year, making such luxuries more feasible.
Departed: DE/OLB Olivier Vernon, WR Odell Beckham, Jr
Received: G Kevin Zetiler, S Jabrill Peppers
The Vernon-Zeitler trade might not have yielded a big cap savings ($1.5 million), but if you consider that the Giants were looking to move on from the 28-year-old Vernon anyway (in favor of a still to be determined draft pick who will presumably help the pass rush), the Giants came out ahead on this trade.
That’s because Zeitler, who is one of the more durable and better performing guards out there, fills a major need on an offensive line which, as of this writing, is one quality right tackle away from being a completed unit.
The Beckham trade wasn’t exactly a stunner as I’ve long believed that Beckham wouldn’t see the end of his contract with the Giants. What was a stunner was the timing of the deal.
There is some validity in wondering why the Giants would sign Beckham to that contract only to dump him a year later and incur a major cap hit. Without trying to speak for Gettleman, one possible reason is that there might have been concern about him causing a distraction by potentially holding out if he had been forced to play on his rookie deal.
The other possible reason is that the organization probably felt good about the job head coach Pat Shurmur was doing to build a productive relationship with Beckham, who reportedly didn’t have as strong a relationship with the prior head coach. But once Beckham gave that ESPN interview, that ultimately crushed any good will he had built up with the new regime.
Whatever the reason, Gettleman insists that the team got good value in return, that being safety Jabrill Peppers, a first-round pick, Cleveland's first-round pick in this year’s draft and a third-round pick.
To Gettleman, this was much more than the compensation that would have come via the franchise tag (probably because he got his two “first round picks” for use this year).
The truth is we won’t really know who won this trade until we see who the Giants acquire in the draft using the picks they acquired from Cleveland.
- Round 1: No. 6
- Round 1: No. 17 (from Cleveland – Beckham trade)
- Round 2: No. 37
- Round 3: No. 95 (from Cleveland – Beckham trade)
- Round 4: No. 108
- Round 4: No. 132 (from New Orleans – Eli Apple trade)
- Round 5: No. 142 (from Detroit via San Francisco – Damon Harrison trade)
- Round 5: No. 143
- Round 5: No. 171 (Compensatory pick)
- Round 6: No. 180
- Round 7: No. 232 (from Minnesota – Brett Jones trade)
- Round 7: No. 245 (from the Rams – Ogletree trade)
The Giants 12 draft picks ties them with the Patriots for the most in this year’s draft. However, don’t expect the Giants to use all 12 picks.
If last year was any indication of what to expect in the future, Gettleman will probably try to package up his picks in the sixth and seventh rounds to move up. It also wouldn’t be surprising if he moves one of his fifth round picks as part of a deal.
Okay, so what about trade partners? I’ve indicated before that trading for Josh Rosen makes sense if the price is right (though the more I think about it, the more I’m not so sure that happens as I suspect the Cardinals will try to optimize their return if they make Rosen available).
If I’m the Giants, I save the picks and use them to trade up for those prospects I don’t feel are going to fall my way.
For example, if defensive lineman Quinnen Williams is the best player on my board and the kid I think is gold-jacket worthy, then maybe I try to swing a deal to move up that involves some of those Day 3 picks plus one of my first-round picks.
Regardless, it would be surprising to see any trades involving draft picks until draft weekend when the board starts to take more clarity.