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New York Giants free agency ‘Kudos & Wet Willies’

Let’s review what the Giants have done in our traditional style

NFL: FEB 25 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we all seek a sense of normalcy in our COVID-19 disrupted lives, it dawned on me (somewhere around dawn, actually) that there is nothing more normal around Big Blue View than a “Kudos & Wet Willies” post. Since the bulk of free agency is now over there is no more perfect time for a “K&WW” review of what the Giants have done the past two weeks.

Kudos to ...

Short-term, front-loaded contractsI have written about this before, but it bears reiterating. Dave Gettleman spent the first two years of his reign as GM trying to clear the Giants’ long-term salary cap situation. Part of the pain of that was carrying too much dead money last season. Gettleman and the Giants were finally in a position this offseason where they had real money to spend, and they did so.

One of the pitfalls of having money to spend is potentially putting yourself right back a long-term salary cap crunch. The Giants avoided that. None of the contracts they gave out were for more than three years, and the way they were front-loaded with roster bonus money means most of the financial commitment on those deals is incurred in 2020. That means that, if need be, the Giants could get out from under those deals before they expire without significant financial pain. In other words, without piling up a boatload of dead money.

Spending big on defense — The Giants were awful on defense in 2019. They relied heavily on young, inexperienced players and their cap spending — $88 million on offense to $46 million of defense, per Over The Cap — reflected that. The two biggest contracts the Giants handed out — to James Bradberry and Blake Martinez — changed that. Over The Cap now shows the Giants spending $91.49 million on offense and $79.81 million on defense, with some of the contracts (Dravon Askew-Henry, Cameron Fleming, Colt McCoy, Corey Coleman, Austin Johnson, Dion Lewis, Eric Tomlinson) yet to be figured in.

We can argue over whether or not Bradberry and Martinez were the right signings. I believe, though, that the defensive priority was correct. The primary areas of offensive need, tackle and wide receiver, are areas where the upcoming draft class appears to be strong.

Undervalued depth signings — Colt McCoy, Dion Lewis, Cameron Fleming, Levine Toilolo, Austin Johnson. I love signings like this. By themselves, they don’t move the needle a whole lot on making the Giants better. As a whole, I think that’s a different story. Football isn’t like basketball, where all you have to do to be a good team is collect a couple of star players. Football is a 55-man game (the new roster size). It’s really probably more like a 70-man game, considering the rate of injury and how often teams are playing without their top players.

You need depth. You need as many capable, experienced backups who — at the least — won’t hurt you if they have to play as you can collect. Remember the Jon Hilliman Experience? The Eric Smith Experience? That’s what these signings are aimed at avoiding. Playing a player you really didn’t expect to. What you’re hoping for is something more like the David Mayo Experience.

These signings also give the Giants some options in the draft.

Wet Willies to ...

A potential EDGE downgrade — I fully understand, and support, not giving Jadeveon Clowney a long-term deal of $20 million or more. I would have supported signing Clowney to a one-year deal around $17 million, but I also understand and agree with why the Giants haven’t done that. Clowney played through a core injury that limited his production a year ago. He has a lengthy injury history and has played a full 16-game season only once in six seasons. Without the ability to bring Clowney to New Jersey for an in-person physical by Giants doctors, due to the NFL shutdown caused by COVID-19, the Giants can’t know for certain exactly what they would be buying.

I’m less supportive of replacing Markus Golden with Kyler Fackrell. I have written a number of times that I do not believe Golden is a No. 1 pass rusher, and that I felt the Giants should have no interest in paying him that way. I think the way free agency has played out, with Golden still being on the market, has proven my point.

I understand also that there is a familiarity between Fackrell and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, and that Golden’s only real NFL success has been with James Bettcher as defensive coordinator. Still, I believe Golden is a better overall player and would have been happy to see him back with the Giants on something like the one-year, $9.5 million deal Vic Beasley got from the Tennessee Titans.

Not re-signing Michael Thomas — I’m not sure why Thomas hasn’t been re-signed, especially by a coach with a lengthy special teams background like Joe Judge. In all honesty, I would rather have seen the Giants re-sign Thomas instead of bring in Nate Ebner. I, of course, get the fact that Ebner and Judge have a long history together and the rookie head coach is likely looking for guys he knows will carry his message to the locker room. Still, both are 31, both are excellent special teams players, but Thomas carries value as a reserve defensive back. Ebner, a former rugby player, is special teams only.

Thomas also emerged as a stand-up guy and an excellent locker room leader in his two seasons with New York. In my view, not bringing him back is a mistake.

Kwillies to ...

The Leonard Williams franchise tag — I am conflicted about the whole Williams situation. The 2019 midseason trade is one the Giants should not have made, at least not without getting Williams to sign a contract extension at a reasonable price first. But, they did. So be it.

Williams is a good player who helped the Giants defense after coming over from the New York Jets. He just isn’t an impact player who makes a lot of splash plays or piles up high of tackles or sacks. He probably isn’t a $16 million per year player, which is what the tag will force the Giants to pay him if and when he signs it.

The tag, though, does enable the Giants to at least get a year out of Williams if the two sides don’t reach a long-term agreement.