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2019 Giants salary cap primer: What you need to know

From decisions to be made and dollars to be spent, here’s an overview of what the Giants are likely facing when free agency begins next week

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On March 13, the 2019 league year will be here, which of course, means the start of the freewheeling spending that comes with teams trying to outbid each other and outsmart each other.

To get you ready for what is sure to be an interesting offseason, here’s what you need to know about the Giants salary cap and then some.

How much money do the Giants have to spend?

The Giants 2019 salary cap is $194,104,993, a total that includes the $188.2 league-wide cap figure set last week and the $5,904,993 carryover from 2018 that the Giants opted to move into their 2019 pot.

According to Spotrac, the Giants have $158,016,326 currently tied up in contracts and $9,879,730 in dead cap space. That leaves them with an estimated amount of $26,203,944 of space to spend.

Well, not quite. You see, the spending space is actually fluid.

According to Over the Cap, the Giants will need $10,685,931 to cover the cost of their 10 draft picks — assuming they keep all 10, that is, and assuming they don’t trade up or down in any given round.

Assuming the Giants keep all 10 picks and stay put where they are slotted to draft, the actual cap liability will probably be closer to around $8 million since once the draft picks are signed because players that who are at the bottom of the Top 51 list will be replaced by a rookie signing.

General manager Dave Gettleman also mentioned at the Combine last week that he wants to have around $8-10 million to carry over into the 2019 season for any transactions that might be necessary.

If we do all the math and work on the low ends of the scale for the amount needed for the draft class and the amount needed for the regular season, that comes to roughly $10.203 million of actual spending space, which, as of the March 5 deadline to apply the franchise/transition tags, wouldn’t have been enough to franchise safety Landon Collins. (More on that in a little bit.)

So about this $8-10 million they need for the season. Is that normal?

Yes and no. Yes in that a team needs to have a few million in reserve for in-season emergencies.

But I’m not so sure a team needs more than maybe $5-6 million tops, unless it’s really anticipating a lot of injuries to develop.

The issue I had with Gettleman’s statement about needing to reserve about $8-10 million for the season is that in his explanation, he neglected to point out a couple of key things.

First, once the season starts, anyone worth signing to big bucks is likely already on a roster. Unless you’re planning an in-season trade in which you might have to take on a contract or two (and even in those instances, contracts can be redone before acquiring them), a team could conceivably function with maybe $5-6 million during the season.

Second, when a team acquires a player in-season, that newcomer’s base salary is prorated over the rest of the season.

For example, if a player is signed to a 1-year deal that carries a $1.020 million base salary in Week 8 of the season, assuming that player finishes out the season with the team, his actual cap liability is $600,000 ($60,000 per week) for Weeks 8-17.

Now granted, most NFL teams, the Giants included, due a lot of roster tweaks within the firsts month of the season, but still, I can’t see them needing large chunks of money for that unless they’re putting in waiver claims—and even then, most of the players who hit waivers have manageable contracts to begin with.

What moves have they made so far to clear cap space?

The two “biggest” moves made so far were the removal of running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Connor Barwin.

Barwin yielded a $1.5 million cap savings; Stewart a $2.35 million savings. That’s a total of $3.85 million in savings from those two transactions.

On the flip side, they re-signed tight end Scott Simonson and quarterback Alex Tanney, both believed to have inked deals that fall under the Veteran Minimum Benefits rule.

This rule, which applies to veterans with at least four years of accrued experience, allows for these veterans to earn his maximum salary and up to $90,000 in bonuses while only counting against the cap as though he were a two-year player.

For example, Simonson’s deal is one-year and carries a base salary of $805,000 with $90,000 in bonuses. However, rather than count for $895,000 against the cap, he’ll count for $735,000 ($645,000 base and the $90,000 in bonuses).

That might not sound like a huge savings, but it’s actually a smart move, especially when it comes to retaining restricted free agents.

Using Tanney as an example, the Giants were able to retain him at a much lower cap hit than the $2.025 million cost of the lowest RFA tender.

If the Giants decide to move on from Tanney down the line, they’d be on the hook for the $90,000 in bonuses paid out.

The Giants also netted $1.5 million in cap space following the trade of edge rusher Olivier Vernon’s $19.5 million cap hit from the books. The net savings comes about given the removal of Vernon’s $15.5 million base salary less the $8 million dead money and the $10 million cap figure it cost them to acquire guard Kevin Zeitler in the trade with Cleveland.

What other potential cap moves are coming?

There are three potential moves to keep an eye on.

The first is whether the Giants will look to lower Zeitler’s $10 million base salary. Of his 2019 base salary, $3.5 million is guaranteed , so the Giants could look to shave off the non-guaranteed money and convert that into a signing bonus, similar to what they did when they acquired linebacker Alec Ogletree in a trade last year and needed to get his number down.

It will also be interesting to see if the Giants re-work any other bloated contracts such as tight end Rhett Ellison ($5.75 million cap hit) or quarterback Eli Manning ($23.2 million). Of those, Ellison’s would probably be the one to watch, especially if the Giants pay out the $5 million roster bonus due to Manning on the fifth day of the new league year.

What other decisions do the Giants need to make before free agency?

Now that we know what direction the Giants are going in regarding Landon Collins, the only other free agent of theirs that needs top attention is offensive lineman Jamon Brown.

Word at the combine is that both sides are very much interested in reaching a new deal and I think one will happen at some point. But what I’m sort of struggling with a bit is whether the Giants will pour the financial resources to both Brown and a veteran right tackle or will they cut a corner?

My gut feeling is with them having committed to Manning for another year, they won’t skimp on the offensive line — they can’t.

While I don’t see the Giants making anywhere near the splash they did in 2016 (which they’re still paying for to this day), my gut tells me that Gettleman will spend the bulk of his free agency dollars on right guard, right tackle and free safety, and use the draft to fill in any other holes on the roster.

What can we make of the decision not to franchise Landon Collins and could he still be back with the Giants?

Let’s start with the second question. My guess is after how everything went down, Collins is headed to a team that has more cap space and who can afford to make him among the highest paid safeties in the league. That, unfortunately, wasn’t going to happen if he stayed with the Giants.

As far as the decision to not franchise Collins, I wrote for Forbes that I believe the reason why the Giants didn’t feel he was worth the money was two-fold.

First, there was a legitimate concern that Collins would hold out and not sign the tag until the week before the regular-season began.

For a team that has a lot of needs to address, to tie up $11 million in a player who not only wasn’t going to be around during the critical spring installs but who very well might have overvalued his worth didn’t make sense.

I believe the Giants are going to pour significant resources into the free safety spot. I probably don’t have to remind you how inconsistent the team’s coverage has been in the middle of the field the last few years.

And for those who put stock in Pro Football Focus’ grades, the Giants were ranked 27th in pass coverage last year, allowing 45 percent of the receiving yards to come after the catch.

I also believe that given the depth of this year’s draft class, I could see the Giants adding an upgrade at outside linebacker and a box safety to go along with an edge rusher and perhaps an interior defender who can push the pocket as I’m expecting the Giants draft to have a heavy defensive flavor this year.