With projections that the 2021 NFL salary cap will go down from $198.2 million to somewhere around $180 million, we know that the New York Giants have work to do in order to to clear cap space.
Over the Cap lists the Giants as $3.373 million over a projected $176 million cap. That will be helped if the cap is actually $180 million or higher, but still illustrates that the Giants have decisions to make.
The biggest and perhaps hardest to predict in terms of simply clearing cap space could involved Kevin Zeitler. The veteran right guard, who will be 31 and in his 10th NFL season in 2021, has a base salary of $12 million and a cap hit of $14.5 million due to $2.5 million in prorated bonus money.
A 2012 first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, Zeitler has long been an excellent player. He has never received Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition, but that probably has less to do with performance than it does playing an unglamorous position for bad teams (Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Giants).
Zeitler is still a good player, though if you judge by Pro Football Focus data his play slipped considerably in 2020. Zeitler’s 65.9 PFF grade was the first time in his career he had been below 73.2. That was mostly due to a career-worst 68.7 pass-blocking grade, which is good but not not near the elite numbers Zeitler posted earlier in his career. His pass blocking grades the past three seasons — 91.7, 75.0, 68.7 — show a clear downward trend. So, too, do the number of pressures he has allowed. A career-best 11 in 2018, 22 in 2019 and a career-worst 28 allowed in 2020.
So, you can make the case that there are clear signs of slippage. Yet, grade-wise Zeitler was still the Giants’ best offensive lineman. He also remains incredibly durable, having missed one game over the past six seasons.
What do the Giants do here?
Cutting Zeitler would save the $12 million salary against the cap, carrying only the $2.5 million prorated bonus.
If the Giants cut Zeitler, who plays right guard?
Either Shane Lemieux or Will Hernandez could transition to the right side. The 13 snaps Lemieux played at right guard in 2020 are the only right guard snaps either player has ever taken. Plus, Hernandez’ declining playing time over the final few weeks of 2020 has to be read as an indication this Giants’ coaching staff wasn’t thrilled with him. Would they be willing to hand him a starting job in 2021?
If not, do they trust Chad Slade or Kyle Murphy? Do they move Cam Fleming inside and put Matt Peart at right tackle? Do they sign a less expensive free agent? Do they use an early-round draft pick to try and fill that hole?
To me, the likely outcome is parting ways with Zeitler. The Giants have an option on the roster in Lemieux/Hernandez for filling that spot, and they will need the cap room for Leonard Williams, perhaps Dalvin Tomlinson and other potential free agents.
Vote in the poll and let us know what you would do with Zeitler if you were Dave Gettleman.
Before we get to the poll, though, let’s look at some of the other cap moves the Giants can make.
It would be surprising if these players aren’t cut.
OT Nate Solder — The Giants would only save $6.5 million of his $16.5 million cap hit by making him a pre-June 1 cut. They could save $10 million by making him a post-June 1 cut. That’s a big enough difference that it might be smart to make him a post-June 1 cut, even though that money would not be available for the first wave of free agency.
WR Golden Tate — The signing of Tate hasn’t really worked out, the Giants need to improve at wide receiver and more Tate is not the answer. The Giants could save $6.147 million with $4.705 million in dead money as a pre-June 1 cut and $8.5 million with $2.353 in dead money post-June 1. The savings would be nice but I might opt for pre-June 1 to have the money available in the first wave of free agency.
TE Levine Toilolo — I still haven’t figured out why the Giants signed Toilolo to a two-year, $6.2 million deal with $3.225 million guaranteed. Eric Tomlinson could have done Toilolo’s job, and did eventually for the Baltimore Ravens after being waived by the Giants, for a fraction of the cost. Cutting Toilolo saves $2.95 million.
Others worth considering
LB David Mayo — Mayo is nice depth, but with the cap going down he is also the type of middle of the road veteran player who is going to get hurt. The Giants would save $2.3 million against the cap this year and $2.55 million in 2022. They should probably move on.
WR Cody Core — I hate this one. Core was a tremendous punt gunner before tearing his Achilles tendon, and he probably still is. He really doesn’t contribute much as a receiver. The Giants can save $2 million against the cap with no dead money, and again they probably should.
FB Elijhaa Penny — The Giants barely used Penny in 2020, as he was on the field for only 73 offensive snaps (7 percent). He is a good special teamer and is probably under-utilized on offense. If he isn’t going to play, though, why have him? The Giants can save $990,000 in cap space by moving on.
DT RJ McIntosh — McIntosh wasn’t active for a single game in 2020, and has really done nothing in three seasons. Cap savings from moving on would be $920,000. It’s not a ton, but McIntosh probably wouldn’t be missed.
CB Sam Beal — The Giants would only reap $588,833 in cap savings from cutting Beal. Thing is, I just don’t know if he has a future with the Giants, or if he’s even an NFL-caliber player.
I’m not going to get deep into re-structures, although the Giants could go to players like Jabrill Peppers and Sterling Shepard for that. They could also save $6.013 million by moving on from Evan Engram, but that’s a wider discussion.
What should the Giants do with Kevin Zeitler’s contract?
This poll is closed
Keep it as is. He’s a good player they need to keep.
Cut him and save the $12 million