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Giants salary cap: After cutting Kevin Zeitler, what else can the Giants do?

The Giants still need more salary cap space, so how can they get it? Here are some possibilities.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
Sterling Shepard
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Now what? After cutting veteran guard Kevin Zeitler to save $12 million, the New York Giants are just $3.283 million under the $182.5 million salary cap, per Over The Cap.

That isn’t going to be enough for the Giants to do anything in free agency. What can the Giants do to create more space after already shedding the contract of Zeitler, Golden Tate, Cody Core and David Mayo, and re-structuring Levine Toilolo?

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.

Leonard Williams

The biggest cap issue the Giants currently have is the $19.351 million franchise tag they felt they had to place on Leonard Williams to keep him off the free agent market.

I certainly understand the Giants’ desire to keep Williams. He is a really good 26-year-old player they consider part of their core, and they want to build around him on defense. Yet, readers of this site know I was opposed to using the franchise tag to make that happen.

I know the belief is that the Giants issued the tag as a placeholder, to reaffirm their commitment to Williams and keep him in the fold while they negotiate a long-term deal. They will be hamstrung entering free agency, though, if they can’t reach a deal in the next few days that would knock, say, $12 million or so off Williams’ 2021 cap hit.

Nate Solder

After opting out of the 2020 season, the veteran offense tackle seems less than fully committed to playing again in 2021. Coach Joe Judge said this week that he has talked to Solder, and that “other areas of our building” have also had discussions with Solder. Perhaps that is an indication that the Giants are working to keep Solder, perhaps as a veteran swing tackle behind Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart, while getting out from under the $16.5 million and $18 million cap hits on the remaining two years of his deal.

In the end, the Giants are probably going to end up having to cut the 32-year-old. if they designate him a post-June 1 cut, they can save $10 million against the cap while carrying a $6.5 million cap hit. Considering their current need to clear money for free agency, though, the Giants might not be able to do that. Cutting him now would basically reverse those numbers, saving them $6 million while carrying $10 million in dead money.

What else can the Giants do?

The Williams and Solder moves are obvious. There are some other less obvious things the Giants could do in order to create more cap room.

Re-structure Sterling Shepard

I know what GM Dave Gettleman said the other day about disliking re-structures because it’s just “kicking the can” down the road. Gettleman understands, though, that they are are necessary evil in a salary cap world. In Shepard’s case, doing so makes a lot of sense.

Shepard has three years remaining on his four-year, $41 million deal. He has a base 2021 salary of $6.975 million and a cap hit of $9 million. Convert maybe $5 million of that base salary into a signing bonus that would be spread over those three seasons, and the Giants could save nearly $1.7 million on this year’s cap.

Trade Evan Engram or Will Hernandez

I’m not recommending either move. Just raising the possibility that the Giants could likely get at least some type of draft compensation, which they could use with only six selections in the upcoming draft, in return for either of these players.

Engram is playing this season on his fifth-year option at a cost of $6.013 million. I have supported keeping Engram. The Giants appear to believe in him despite his inconsistencies. Here is what Judge said about Engram earlier this week:

“I love Evan. I have a ton of confidence in Evan. He’s fun to coach, the guys have fun playing with him, he gives everyone in the locker room a ton of confidence. This guy goes out there every day and this guy works tirelessly, I mean tirelessly. This guy is a tank every day, so in terms of confidence within the program, absolutely we have confidence in him, 100 percent. He’s a guy that obviously we have to keep continuing to feature in the offense.”

Engram is a player who has often disappointed in his four seasons. Still, he has physical skills many who play his position don’t possess. Could there be teams willing to give the Giants mid-round draft capital in exchange for a chance to unlock them? Might that be enough for the Giants to move on? I don’t know, but it’s a consideration.

As for Hernandez, his status remains a bit of a mystery. After cutting Zeitler, the Giants could be planning on going with Hernandez and Shane Lemieux as their starting guards, though one would obviously have to transition to the unfamiliar right side.

It seemed clear as last season wound down, though, that the Giants preferred Lemieux to Hernandez despite Lemieux’s obvious struggles in pass protection. Hernandez might not be Joe Judge’s cup of tea, and he probably hasn’t been the player Gettleman hoped he was drafting back in 2018, but he’s still a starting-caliber NFL guard. Would the Giants move Hernandez and save his $2.183 million base salary in exchange for, let’s say, a fifth-round pick? That’s something they don’t currently have, so perhaps.