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Big Blue View mailbag, 2/22: Cap questions, Combine, free agency more

The mail’s here!

The NFL Combine is almost here. Let’s get to the final Big Blue View mailbag before yours truly gets on a plane for Indianapolis.

Jim Caniglia asks: Is it reasonable to expect that after we clear cap space by cutting highly paid underperforming players, we will aggressively go after the best available free agents by positional NEED so that we can fill in the roster with potential starters at the draft? The right moves could make us a sleeper in the NFL East.

Ed says: Jim, thanks for the question. This is generally what teams do in free agency. They don’t just throw money around for the heck of it. They try to identify useful players who can upgrade positions of need, and fill whatever holes they can. That way they go into the draft with fewer “needs” to fill. Truth is, there will always be some needs and those will always impact draft decisions. As Dave Gettleman has said, though, you don’t want to shop hungry during the draft. I think we’ve all hit the grocery store at times when we were hungry, and the results are generally not good. When NFL teams shop hungry in the draft, they make mistakes — they draft lesser players based on the positions they play simply because they feel like they have to.

Simon Hines asks: With the combine approaching, I have read a couple of articles recently that have not been all that positive about the event. Here in the UK The Guardian have run a piece today (20th February), criticizing the event as outdated. This time last year the BBC ran a story about Eli Apple being asked if he was gay during combine interviews with teams. What are your views on the effectiveness of the combine? Is it time to make an NFL representative sit-in on every interview to avoid inappropriate questions?

Ed says: Simon, I don’t think the Combine itself is outdated. It’s great opportunity for team decision makers to get to know players personally, something they really don’t get to do during the regular season or in many other settings. The Senior Bowl is a better “football” event because of the actual live drills. The Combine is more about the medical evaluations, the meet and greets between teams and players and being able to put some final testing numbers in place to see if the drills match what you think you see on tape.

As for questions, I don’t think you can make an NFL rep chaperone players, for lack of a better word. I just think perhaps teams need better training on what is and is not acceptable to ask players. Every team wants to make these kids think on their feet, think outside the box, because to be successful sometimes you have to. It just has to be done the right way.

Seth Weissman asks: Leonard Williams has said that he deserves to be paid at a level right behind Aaron Donald. In my opinion, that’s ridiculous. But, if he really believes what he said, I would pay him $10M and then offer him $250K for every sack he gets. This would give him a shot to earn millions more and prove he’s worth it. If you were DG, how would you approach the negotiation?

Ed says: Seth, Leonard Williams hasn’t said a word. Reports are that his asking price, which would have been floated by his representatives, is $15 million annually. Why shouldn’t they aim high? I would. You would. I love my job, but if somebody wants to pay me double what I make now I’m out the door tomorrow.

Aaron Donald makes $22.5 million annually, tops in the league for a defensive tackle. That’s not the Williams asking price. Oh, and sure, if they can get him to sign an incentive-laden deal with a lower base salary then be all means they should.

I will say this again about Dave Gettleman. He’s in a bind here. One that he put himself in. He has to sign the player, probably for more than he wants to, because of what he’s already surrendered. That’s why the franchise or transition tag could be in play. It would at leastr allow the Giants to get a full season out of Williams.

David Gray asks: Please help me understand why posters think if the Giants do not resign Leonard Williams, they have to replace him with a defensive tackle either via the draft or free agency. I wouldn’t sign Williams at any price but not because he isn’t a solid player — he’s redundant. The defense doesn’t generate a pass rush because all of the defensive linemen are run-stuffing defensive tackles, not pass-rushing defensive ends. Where is the pass rush coming from among the defensive line if the Giants resign Williams or choose not to and sign a defensive tackle in free agency to replace him (such as Jones) or draft defensive tackle D. Brown?

Ed says: Dave, whoever the people are you are referring to are saying the Giants have to replace Williams because, well, they have to replace Williams. Like the deal or not, looking at the situation objectively tells you he made the defensive line better once he arrived. I’m not saying they have to go out and sign someone to a $15 million a year contract or use the fourth overall pick on Auburn’s Derrick Brown, but they can’t just go with what they have if they lose Williams.

Dexter Lawrence could become a great player. Dalvin Tomlinson is good, but not a difference-maker. B.J. Hill? Regressed in his second season and, in my view, showed you more of the player he truly is — a run defender who gives you little in the pass rush. RJ McIntosh has given the Giants nothing in two years. Chris Slayton? Never played a snap.

You can’t go into the 2020 with that as your defensive line group. Not, at least, if you want to have some chance of being a good defense. So, yes, if they decide they just can’t meet Williams’ price tag they will have to supplement the position another way.

Jon Valbert asks: I enjoy your draft prognostications, but doesn’t the Giants’ approach depend a lot on what happens in free agency? Ex: if they spend big $ on an OT, doesn’t that change first round (and every other)? What then? Best player available (Jeudy?)? Trade down and fill two of the numerous holes on both sides of the ball?

Ed says: Jon, of course free agency changes the draft approach. This is where so many people get their noses out of joint when it comes to the draft. There are already people stuck “The Giants have to take Player X” at No. 4. Or, “the Giants have to trade down at No. 4.” Or, they have to get this position in Round 1, that position in Round, this other position in Round 3.

To be blunt, and maybe a little bit too graphic, all of that is a big old boatload of manure. Free agency is like fishing (and, to be honest, I’m on dangerous ground here because I am not a fisherman). You go out there with your fishing pole and your bait and you probably have a pretty good idea what type of fish you’re looking for. Sometimes you have really good bait and other times you might not have much to work with. You cast and see what bites. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t.

If you’re the Giants and you reel in a big fish like right tackle Jack Conklin in free agency, well then you don’t draft right tackle Jedrick Wills of Alabama with the No. 4 pick. If Conklin tells you to go fish and you can’t fill that right tackle hole in free agency, different story.

So, of course the Giants’ draft strategy is going to be impacted by how they fare in the free agent fishing derby.

John M. Scott asks: In the recent post on offensive positional rankings, Invictus suggested that Jedrick Wills is better at pass protection whereas Andrew Thomas is better at run blocking. Considering the Giants have a need to maximize the growth/potential of BOTH Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, which of those traits do you believe is more important for an offensive tackle?

Ed says: To be completely honest, splitting those hairs isn’t something that interests me at all. Getting good players on that line is important for the overall success of the offense. What does interest me is the long-term need for a left tackle. I’ll be shocked if the 2020 season is not Nate Solder’s last with the Giants. What I’m concerned about is finding a player who can succeed him at left tackle and, hopefully, be a long-term upgrade.

I get the Wills love. And I know scouts say “well, we think he can play left tackle.” But, he hasn’t done it so it’s a complete unknown. Can he play left tackle and get by, like David Diehl did for a short period of time, or can he PLAY left tackle and be Tyron Smith? Nobody can tell you that.

I would love to see the Giants solve right tackle in free agency and then use a Day 2 pick on someone like Austin Jackson/Lucas Niang/Prince Tega Wanogho as a potential left tackle of the future.

Doug Mollin asks: In the new Giant setup, is there a “capologist” to help Getty make these kind of decisions? Maybe also help him negotiate a reasonable contract with Leonard Williams?

Ed says: Doug, I boiled your question down to the key part. Kevin Abrams is the Giants’ cap guy. He is technically assistant general manager. Abrams has been in the front office since 1999, when he was first hired to analyze the cap. So, he’s been at this for a long time.

Bruce Frazer asks: Given that as of now nobody knows what will happen in free agency or the draft, and reading that you hope the Giants will take an O-lineman with the #4 pick, how do you envision the team upgrading the linebacker position? Would Kyle Van Noy be a wise choice via free agency or would you rather see them go for youth via the draft and hope to land a Zach Baun? Linebacker has been a real need for the team for many years, they haven’t had a real difference maker in that position since Antonio Pierce retired due to injury.

Ed says: Bruce, first I need to point back to my linebacker position review. The Giants will take a big step forward at linebacker if Ryan Connelly is healthy and able to play the way he did before getting injured in 2019. I would like David Mayo back, but as depth and not a starter. I like Van Noy, but he’s really considered an EDGE player.

For me, so much depends on how the Giants handle right tackle. If they can upgrade right tackle in free agency it allows them draft flexibility, and maybe puts Isaiah Simmons in play at No. 4. We’ll see. I had Simmons to the Giants in my last mock, and Baun to the Giants in the one before that. I don’t think I’d spend big money at this spot in free agency.

Chris Fiegler asks: Since Snacks (Damon Harrison) got released from the Detroit Lions, do you think that Snacks will return to the New York Giants?

Ed says: Chris, I find that highly unlikely. First, ‘Snacks’ isn’t the same player he was. He’s a 350-pound man with creaky knees and we always knew there could come a point in time where his body would begin to give out and he would lose his dominant ability quickly. That’s what seemed to happen last year. He no longer appears to be that great run-stuffer. Now, he might be able to be a rotational guy playing 20 snaps a game to rest guys, but I’m not sure he would want to do that. Also, while I can’t prove it I have a feeling there might have been some friction between ‘Snacks’ and the Giants when he left. Let’s just say Harrison has a ‘prickly’ personality.