Just last week, word at the NFL Combine spread like wildfire that the New York Giants were looking to move edge rusher Olivier Vernon via a trade, the asking price, according to sources, believed to be a third-round draft pick.
But as we’ll be reminded again and again this time of year, once a rumor hits the airwaves, it usually doesn’t age well given how fluid the various situations around a rumor are.
The Vernon trade rumor appears to be one such example. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, piggybacking off a report by Kim Jones, believes that it sounds like the Giants are planning to keep the 28-year-old edge rusher despite his holding a $19.5 million cap hit on a team that is so cap-strapped that it couldn’t afford to at least place the $9.531 million transition tag on safety Landon Collins.
So what does this latest rumor potentially mean for the Giants as they prepare to enter the upcoming legal free agent tampering period that begins March 11?
Let’s explore some reasons behind the move and see if we can connect the dots in figuring out what this team’s plan just might be.
Why the apparent change of heart?
There can be any number of reasons for this, including that the initial reports weren’t true. However, the most likely reason is that Vernon’s existing contract is simply not one that teams seem willing to acquire given the $15.25 million base salaries he’s owed in 2019 and 2020.
Why offer Vernon in a trade to begin with?
That one is easy. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman is believed to desperately want to get back into the third round after forfeiting his third-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire cornerback Sam Beal in the supplemental draft.
With Gettleman likely wanting to keep his draft capital, the only logical way to get back that third-round pick was to dangle a veteran player and hope someone agreed to it.
The problem with that thinking — if that was indeed the thinking — is, as previously noted, Vernon’s contract makes it hard to move him.
Factor that in with the reported depth of defensive pass rushers in this draft class that can be had on much cheaper rookie contracts plus the sudden influx of veteran pass rushers that have been released already by other teams, and it’s little wonder why the Giants couldn’t find a market for the 28-year-old.
Does this have anything to do with Landon Collins?
It might. Remember, Gettleman, when asked about franchising Collins, said that money was a concern, so he chose not to slap the franchise tag on last year’s defensive co-captain, who will more than likely sign with a new team.
But here’s the thing. In order for the Giants to get a high (third-round) comp pick for Collins next year (a pick that will come in VERY handy if the Giants don’t get their quarterback this year and need to move up to get one in 2020), the Giants have to be careful about how they spend on free agents this offseason.
Without knowing all the ins and outs to the compensatory pick formula, what I do know is that picks are based on free agents signed from other teams and free agents lost.
The Giants will almost certainly add a veteran free safety to the mix to replace Curtis Riley and my guess is they’ll look to draft a strong safety to replace Collins (there was just no way the Giants were going to invest big money in both Collins and a free safety).
There is also a belief that they will try to add a veteran right tackle, but the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to believe that they’ll instead devote the financial resources to re-signing Jamon Brown and use the draft (perhaps the sixth overall pick) to add a rookie right tackle.
Now if the Giants were to have dumped Vernon—and there is still a chance they could — that would mean that they have to add at least two more pass rushers to go along with second-year man Lorenzo Carter, presumably one from the veteran pool.
The chances of getting a veteran pass rusher on the cheap are slim; more importantly, if they do add a veteran who is going to get a decent contract and see the field a lot, the Giants would now run the risk of canceling out the high comp pick they’re likely to get for Collins.
So if you’re the Giants and you want that comp pick for Collins, your action plan is likely to keep Vernon, re-sign Brown, add a quality free safety, use the draft to fill your other holes and let the rest of your unrestricted free agents walk in hopes they sign on with other teams and tip the number of 2020 compensatory picks in your favor.
Then in the draft, you use the sixth overall pick on an offensive tackle (Gettleman did say during his private press gathering with the Giants beat writers that there were two offensive tackles that were going to go high in this year’s class), and your second-round pick on a pass rusher from that deep class.
Even if you don’t get your third-round pick back, you have at least addressed two critical positions that lacked last season, offensive line and pass rusher.
Then you either use your Day 3 picks to get back into the third round (unlikely) or you continue restocking the cupboard.
What about a quarterback?
I’ve already acknowledged that getting the next franchise quarterback has to happen sooner than later, but with that said, I can’t help but shake the feeling that neither Murray or Haskins will be there at No. 6.
And if neither one is there, I highly doubt the Giants would take another quarterback at No. 6 as then you’re talking about a gigantic reach.
So let’s play devil’s advocate and pretend that Haskins is off the board by the time the Giants go on the clock.
If that happens, then you restructure Eli Manning (which again, will necessitate adding a dummy year to his current deal since you can’t restructure a deal that’s in its final season).
You clear some cap space for this year, push a very little amount of potential dead money forward into 2020, and now you’re assured of having one half of your “Kansas City Plan” personnel on board for 2020 when you also happen to have a bigger selection of quarterbacks who are likely to have first-round grades and who can benefit from learning from Manning.
What about Vernon’s huge cap number?
In an ideal world, both parties arrive at a pay cut that trims Vernon’s base salary down but gives him a chance to make the money back through Not Likely to Be Earned (NLTBE) incentives.
You can also protect yourself should the injury bug bite him again by converting some of his base salary into a per-game active roster bonus. If he misses time due to injury, then the Giants automatically get a cap credit for 2019.
The other thing you can do is base an incentive on playing time which would tie in with the per-game active roster bonus. Again, if he doesn’t meet that threshold, then the Giants get a cap credit.
And should Vernon hit the NLTBE incentives, these would be charged against the 2020 cap, which will rise again next year and which will be subject to some different accounting rules in the final league year of the current CBA.