The New York Giants are very clearly in a position where they would like to be adding talent, not shedding it. Yet, in a league where lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic is set to drive the salary cap down for the first time since it was instituted in 1994, that’s where the Giants find themselves when it comes to guard Kevin Zeitler.
There are multiple reports indicating that the Giants are trying to trade the 31-year-old Zeitler to get out from under his $12 million 2021 base salary.
That’s no surprise. Per Over The Cap, the Giants currently have $6.064 million in space with a cap estimated at $180.5 million. The franchise tag deadline is Tuesday, March 9 — one day from now. If the Giants want to even have the option of using the tag on defensive lineman Leonard Williams, which would cost them $19.4 million, they need to clear roughly another $14 million in cap space before even having that option.
Which brings us back to Zeitler, and why the Giants are probably going to end up cutting their most established offensive lineman. I’m not counting Nate Solder since he opted out of the 2020 season.
The Giants are not going to be able to trade Zeitler. Two other high-priced guards, Andrew Norwell of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Trai Turner of the Los Angeles Chargers, are also being marketed by their teams. I’m pretty sure no one is going to bite, not when these three players and several other quality interior linemen are soon going to be available in a crowded market where they will have to take lower-cost, team-friendly deals to find employment.
Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap addressed this reality recently in a really smart free agency preview. Fitzgerald’s finding, in a nutshell, is that guard is one of the easiest positions at which to find cheap, quality labor. Fitzgerald writes:
Corner, guard, and linebacker are clear positions that have potential replacements for cheap in free agency while safety and wide receiver are a bit more draft dependent. Right now we are hearing about teams trying to bail on some expensive guards and I think this table says why as teams can find production on the cheap at these positions with 6 guards a year available for under $2 million who will wind up with at least 500 snaps on the year.
It mighty seem counter-productive to building a good offensive line to cut Zeitler. He has, though, never been voted to a Pro Bowl or selected as an All-Pro. He is coming off his worst season, with his lowest Pro Football Focus grade and second-most pressures allowed in nine seasons.
In my view, coming off that kind of season you can’t restructure and extend Zeitler’s contract. Fitzgerald clearly makes the point that you can replace Zeitler at a far lower cost.
If he isn’t willing to take a pay cut, I don’t know that the Giants will have any other choice than moving on from Zeitler.