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Giants free agency: Bargain-hunting could be the rule

Let’s look at free agency options as negotiating period starts

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Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos
Kenny Golladay
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

NFL free agency swings into action for real today when the “two-day negotiating window,” or legal tampering period begins at 4 p.m. ET. Players cannot officially sign contracts until the league year begins at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. By then, though, we will likely know exactly what is going to happen in the first wave of free agency.

What will the New York Giants be able to get done? Despite a need to add talent to a team that went 6-10 in 2020, probably not a whole lot. At least not unless some dominoes fall quickly to open up some cap space.

As of Sunday afternoon, Over The Cap lists the Giants with just $2.491 million to spend on the $182.5 million salary cap.

Two obvious things could change that for the Giants.

First, a long-term deal for Leonard Williams. The defensive lineman is currently on the franchise tag and costing the Giants $19.351 million against the 2021 salary cap. The Giants have been hopeful of getting a long-term deal done with Williams, both to keep him in New York for the next few seasons and slice perhaps $10-12 million off his 2021 cap hit. With each passing hour, though, the window to get that done in time for it to help them compete in the deep end of the free agency pool grows smaller.

I still have a hard time seeing the Giants carrying that massive cap hit, which brings tag-and-trade or rescinding the tag into play. We haven’t heard any reports of those things being serious considerations, but they are worth mentioning.

CBS Sports cap analyst Joel Corry, a former sports agent, expects a Williams deal to come in around four years and $86 million ($21.5 million per year) with about $45 million guaranteed.

The other thing is a pending contract re-structure with veteran offensive tackle Nate Solder. After opting out of the 2020 season, Solder wants to play again in 2021 and there is reportedly an agreement in principle between Solder and the Giants on a new deal. Thing is, that has yet to be finalized. Thus, with the clock ticking and the Giants’ ability to have money to spend currently almost non-existent, Solder is still carrying a $16.5 million cap hit.

Spotrac says league average for salary cap space entering the negotiating window is roughly $22.5 million. If the Giants can get the Williams and Solder deals done in time, they could be right around that number. If not, they will be facing a tremendous handicap in trying to compete for top-tier players.

Even if they do clear that money, I have doubts that the Giants can or will be major players when it comes to the early big-money deals. They might be able to make a big offer to the wide receiver or edge rusher of their choice, but they will have to get at least one of the Williams and Solder deals done first.

There are some other ways the Giants could clear cap space, but this could easily be a year where the Giants are bargain-hunting at Marshall’s rather than high-end shopping at Macy’s.

Coach Joe Judge talks often about how it is incumbent upon not only the personnel department but the coaching staff to know the players throughout the league and be able to identify the ones who fit your program.

“I think the one thing to keep in mind as we go through this free agency point of the year – and, look, it’s very exciting, and there’s a lot of press and media and it’s all over TV, but the reality is it’s not fantasy football. You can’t just grab a player, put him on your team and think everything’s going to work out. It has to be the right fit for your team going forward and that’s a fit culturally and a fit schematically, and it’s got to go both ways,” Judge said. “There’s things that we do here that, look, we don’t make it easy on our players and coaches, that’s by design. The guys we have in this locker room have bought in, we have a lot of fun here through doing that, but we have a way of doing things. That’s not for everyone, to be honest with you. You have to make sure you bring someone in who’s going to fit the culture and that’s going to buy into what you’re doing, and that shares the same principles and values and team goals that you have.”

There are two major areas where the Giants, if they can clear the cap resources, might be justifiably tempted to go big-game rather than bargain hunting. Let’s break down some of the possibilities.

Wide receiver

If the Giants are going to try to make a big free-agent splash at wide receiver, that would mean a run at Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay. there has been some reporting that people in league circles believe the Giants are planning a run at Golladay. that should surprise no one. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound 27-year-old offers a combination of size to help in the short areas and big-play ability to help in the deep ones. He could be for Daniel Jones what Stefon Diggs was for Josh Allen a season ago. Mark Schofield tells us why:

Golladay had back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019, but played only five games in 2020 due to hamstring and hip injuries. Golladay averages 16.8 yards per catch and 9.7 yards per target over his four-year career.

Our own Nick Falato wrote this about Golladay to the Giants:

The former third-round pick out of Northern Illinois would be a great addition as an X type of receiver on the outside. He can beat press on the line of scrimmage, has exceptional body control/adjustment ability, and uses his length well when the ball is in the air. Golladay could be Garrett’s Miles Austin, Amari Cooper, or Terrell Owens. If there are no long term health issues with Golladay, he would be an ideal fit.

Pro Football Focus says “Golladay is going to garner a whole lot of interest, but none may want or need his services more than the Giants.” PFF predicts Golladay lands with the Giants on a four-year, $85 million deal. Spotrac’s market Value Tool predicts a four-year, $85 million deal for Golladay.

Can the Giants play in that financial stratosphere for Golladay? Should they? If they can’t, they could supplement the wide receiver position with some medium- or bargain-priced free agents before turning to the draft. Falato recently offered us some suggestions:

Tony Pauline is reporting this morning that the Jets and Dolphins have emerged as favorites to sign Golladay. Pauline writes that “after Golladay, many of the top free-agent receivers could end up with below-market contracts.” That could be exactly what the Giants are hoping for.

Edge rusher

Whatever happens with Williams, he is a hand in the ground defensive lineman. The Giants’ defense would take a major leap forward with a dynamic edge player to threaten offensive lines.

I have doubts that the Giants will have either the financial assets or the desire to try for splash signings at both wide receiver and edge. If they figure out a way to do that, great. As we enter the negotiating window, though, I see the top of the edge defender market as a Plan B for the Giants.

We have talked a lot about Carl Lawson of the Cincinnati Bengals, and why you have to look beyond his sack numbers to understand the player. NFL.com’s sixth-ranked free agent, Gregg Rosenthal calls him “pass rush in a bottle.”

Falato recently listed Lawson, Matthew Judon, Bud Dupree and Hasson Reddick among top-tier edge defenders the Giants could pursue. There are some who believe Reddick, a New Jersey native who had a breakout 2020 season with 12.5 sacks, is a natural target for the Giants.

Rosenthal lists him No. 30 on his top 101 free agents list and cautions that he would “be wary of expecting 2020 production from Reddick again.”

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia predicts a Reddick deal with the Giants, writing that “Reddick’s versatility would fit well in defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s system, making this a nice fit for both sides.”

Spotrac’s Market Value Tool expects a four-year, $46.679 deal for Reddick, which works out to $11.6 million annually.

I recently went on record supporting making a play for Reddick. I will stand by that. Here is part of what I wrote:

“Given the opportunity to play full-time on the edge for the first time in his career in 2020, Reddick showed everyone why he was selected in the top half of Round 1 in the 2017 NFL Draft.

“To go with his 12.5 sacks, he had 16 quarterback hits — doubling his career total. He had 35 hurries, after generating just 38 over his first three seasons. Reddick also forced 6 fumbles. Among qualifying pass rushers who rushed 278 or more times, Reddick’s PFF pass-rush productivity score of 8.9 was fifth in the NFL. ...

“Now, it’s dangerous to pay a player if you’re looking at the fact that his the best game of his career came against your team. Reddick’s five-sack effort against the Giants last season was just that for him. As much as he gets “Kudos” for that, the Giants are just as deserving of a “Wet Willie.” That was the “a statue of Daniel Jones impersonated a quarterback” game, when he was a sitting duck and — in my view — absolutely should not have been playing.

“Still, Reddick’s 2020 shows a rising player entering his prime who was finally used the correct way. The way, in fact, that the Giants would use him if they signed him. I would absolutely pay $11 million and change for that. It might end up being a bargain.”

I also still wonder if the Giants will make a play for Kyle Van Noy, released by the Miami Dolphins. His time with Judge as a member of the New England Patriots as well as his skill set, make him attractive.

Here are some low-cost options the Giants could pursue if they miss out on the high-end players.

Bargain-hunting for other help

As I wrote above, wide receiver and edge are the only places I can see the Giants considering a splashy signing. Even in those spots, bargain-hunting is possible. Remember, with Judge as coach there is increasingly a Patriots-style influence on Giants decisions, and New England is not known for splashy offseason moves.

I can see the Giants looking for bargains at running back, guard, cornerback and maybe even off-ball linebacker.

On the running back front, all has been quiet around the idea of Wayne Gallman returning to the Giants. Here is our look at some of the budget options on the free agent running back market.

The Giants also could be in the market for a starting-caliber cornerback. Here are some of the players they might consider.