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NFL free agency: Predicting which unrestricted free agents the Giants keep

The Giants can’t keep them all — even if they want to

New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The calendar has turned to March, which means NFL free agency is right around the corner. Way back at the end of January, we looked at some of the moves the New York Giants could make to save some salary cap space.

NFL teams can begin signing free agents who had been with other teams at 4 p.m. ET on March 17. Many of those signings will be known before then thanks to what is commonly known as the legal tampering period. That begins March 15.

Let’s go through the list of Giants who are about to become unrestricted free agents. I will offer my view as to whether or not each player will be a Giant in 2021.

Leonard Williams — This, of course, is the biggest and most expensive of the Giants players who are about to hit the open market. I have talked to former GMs and other talent evaluators, and all agree that given a choice between Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson, Williams has to be the choice.

The trick is going to be getting that done without having to use the $19.4 million franchise tag, which would be a crushing hit to the Giants’ ability to pursue quality help at other positions in free agency. Williams is almost certainly going to end up as one of the league’s top 10 highest-paid defensive linemen at $18 million or more annually. The trick for the Giants will be reaching a deal that keeps the 2021 cap hit down.

Prediction: Staying ... In my view, the Giants really don’t have a lot of choice here.

Kyler Fackrell — Had a nice season for the Giants will four sacks in 12 games. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old five-year veteran falls into that middle tier of NFL players who is likely to be hurt by the falling salary cap. The Giants have a number of young players on the edge, and could add to that group in the draft. There is really no reason to pay Fackrell.

Prediction: Leaving ... There is just no justification for paying him $5 million or more.

Cameron Fleming — This one is tricky for me. Fleming was signed to be a swing tackle, but did an adequate job as a full-time starting right tackle for the first time in his career after Nate Solder opted out. Now, Solder wants to return and many are either clamoring for Matt Peart to get the right tackle job or for the Giants to draft someone like Rashawn Slater to play that spot.

There would be value in keeping Fleming, provided he isn’t the full-time starter. Every team can be helped by a veteran tackle who can fill in adequately on either side without many practice reps. Fleming has spent a career doing that.

Still, it’s complicated. Like Fackrell, it might be hard to justify paying Fleming roughly $5 million if he isn’t a full-time player.

Prediction: Leaving ... unfortunately.

Colt McCoy — McCoy did pretty much what the Giants signed him to do a season ago. He was an excellent veteran presence and teammate behind Daniel Jones. He played adequately when called upon.

It might be nice to have a player with somewhat more upside backing up Jones. Still, you don’t want to sign a backup who would really be considered a threat to Jones — at least not yet. Also, with the cap situation the Giants can’t go spending an exorbitant amount of money for a guy they hope will never play.

Prediction: Staying ... McCoy is a perfectly acceptable backup quarterback.

Spencer Pulley — Pulley did not play a single snap last season as Nick Gates established himself as the team’s center. The Giants have already signed veteran center Jonotthan Harrison to a deal that could be worth as much as $2 million to back up Gates. there’s no room at the inn for Pulley.

Prediction: Leaving

Nate Ebner — Signed away from the New England Patriots a year ago to play special teams be one of Joe Judge’s “culture drivers.” Ebner didn’t have a great year on the field and is obviously a liability when the Giants are forced to play him on defense. Still, he’s a Judge guy.

Prediction: Staying

Dion Lewis — Signed to be a veteran backup behind Saquon Barkley. Lewis didn’t give the Giants a whole lot as a runner, pass catcher or kickoff return man. In my view, there’s no reason for the Giants to bring him back.

Prediction: Leaving

Austin Johnson — Gave the Giants pretty much exactly what they should have expected when they signed the former second-round pick to a one-year deal — pretty good rotational depth, especially as a run defender — along the defensive line. Re-signing Johnson seems like a good idea, especially since he could see expanded playing time if the Giants can’t keep Dalvin Tomlinson.

Prediction: Staying

Dalvin Tomlinson — This is the tricky one. You can bet the Giants would like to keep Tomlinson, both for on-field and off-the-field reasons. They can probably make it happen even with signing Williams to a mega-contract. It’s just going to be a matter of whether or not they are willing to make the needed sacrifices in other places.

Prediction: Leaving ... I don’t think anyone, including Tomlinson, wants that to be the outcome. Still, it’s a business and if it works out that Tomlinson can cash a big check somewhere that isn’t written by the Giants you have to expect him to do that.

Jabaal Sheard — Gave the Giants some adequate play when the plucked him off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad last season. Still, the Giants have a number of younger players pushing for time and an opportunity to add a young edge rusher in the draft. Like Fackrell, there just doesn’t appear to be a spot for Sheard.

Prediction: Leaving

Alfred Morris — The veteran running back was more productive than anyone thought he could be as the backup to backup Wayne Gallman after Saquon Barkley went down. He certainly gave the Giants more than Lewis did. Still, it’s hard to see the Giants depending on Morris to be Barkley’s primary backup next season.

Prediction: Leaving

Casey Kreiter — The long snapper did a good job in 2020. We never had to talk about him, and that’s really all you want from your long snapper.

Prediction: Staying ... Why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

Adrian Colbert — He’s an adequate backup safety and, importantly for that type of player, a really valuable member of punt and kickoff coverage teams.

Prediction: Staying ... Keeping him probably only takes a deal at or close to the veteran minimum.

Wayne Gallman — In an ideal world, the Giants would be able to keep Gallman to be the backup to Barkley. Oh, and they would actually use him rather than bury him on the bench. Dan Duggan pointed out the other day that the Giants might be able to use the “veteran salary benefit,” paying him an additional $1.25 million that wouldn’t count against the cap, to keep him.

In this market I doubt Gallman is going to cash in big, and I think that gives the Giants a chance to keep him. Still, if a team offers him a role as their primary back, I think Gallman would — and should — jump at it.

Prediction: Leaving ... Like Tomlinson, that’s not how I think the Giants want this story to end. You can’t, though, always write the ending you want.