It’s a well-known maxim in NFL free agency that teams always overpay to acquire free agents.
And for the most part, that’s been proven true, particularly when teams are signing big-name free agents at the top of the market. There can be deals and tremendous value to be found in free agents who hit the open market due to a numbers game or a poor scheme fit on their previous team.
That, however, is not what the New York Giants did over the course of the 2021 free agency period. While the Giants were considered cash-strapped (at roughly $8 million over the salary cap) and therefore unlikely to make any (or many) major moves, they turned out to be one of the most active — and splashy — teams in the NFL.
The Giants spent roughly $200 million in free agency, headlined by DT Leonard Williams, WR Kenny Golladay, CB Adoree Jackson, RB Devontae Booker and TE Kyle Rudolph.
And while those moves are certainly exciting for the team and fanbase, the question becomes, how badly did they over-spend? Did the Giants get value for their money?
In an attempt to find out which teams got value for their dollar in the 2021 free agency period, analytics website Football Outsiders conducted a Cost-Benefit analysis of the various signings around the NFL. They compared the contracts signed by the players to the value they have historically added to their previous teams, and used that do describe the various contracts as deals or over-pays.
So, how did the Giants do? Well, as should be expected, the Giants overpayed on their big signings. And, at least in the view of Football Outsiders, they over-payed by a lot.
Let’s start by looking at what FO had to say about the Giants’ biggest signings.
Kenny Golladay (WR)
- Age: 28 years old
- Contract: 4 years, $72.0 million ($18.0 million per year), $28.0 million guaranteed
- PAYME: $9.104 million
- Value: -$18.896 million
Well, the Giants got the best receiver—and arguably, best player—to hit the open market, but man, did it cost them a pretty penny. Kenny Golladay is now tied for the sixth-highest paid receiver in football, sharing that rank with Odell Beckham and Tyreek Hill. Now, remember that this is a measure of value, which is only one part of evaluating a deal. You try to make as many value deals as you can so you have the cap room to outbid everyone on a player of Golladay’s caliber. Still, though, $18 million a year is a huge deal for someone who has had trouble staying on the field.
Over the last three seasons, Golladay ranks 17th among wideouts with 624 DYAR and just 25th in receiving yards at 2,591, but that’s a little misleading. His strained hip flexor cost him 11 games in 2020, preventing him from racking up raw value. If you weight DVOA by targets per season, Golladay’s three-year average of 16.4% is 11th among qualified wideouts, and he ranks 13th with 72 yards per game. That’s who Golladay is at the moment—a top-15 receiver who has flashed top-10 potential, but has yet to prove he can be that sort of guy year-in and year-out. In addition, because Golladay missed so much time last season, his PAYME is artificially depressed. The model gives partial credit for games missed, but it doesn’t try to make a distinction between a one-year affliction and the sort of injury that might hamper a player for years to come. Golladay’s injury doesn’t seem like it will be the lingering kind, so if you manually sub in his 2019 value for 2020 as well, he gets bounced up to a PAYME of $12 million a year. Frankly, that’s still a little low in my book—that would only put him at WR21, as his 2019 AV is hurt somewhat by playing with David Blough and Jeff Driskel—but don’t get too bogged down in the individual numbers; just look at the bigger picture. The Giants are paying Golladay to produce at Tyreek Hill levels, levels he has yet to reach in his career. The potential is obvious, and it’s easy to understand why teams were lining up for the opportunity to pay Golladay. It is a risk, however, and it certainly isn’t a value.
Adoree Jackson (CB)
- Age: 26 years old
- Contract: 3 years, $39.0 million ($13.0 million per year) $24.5 million guaranteed
- PAYME: $5.691 million
- Value: -$7.309 million
Adoree’ Jackson is getting dinged for missing basically all of 2020 due to injury. Give him his average performance last season, and his PAYME rises to $9.3 million, which would be 20th in the league at the cornerback position. You could argue that’s still a bit low, though reasonable, and it’s a surprise that Tennessee didn’t use their fifth-year option on him; that would have been just $10.2 million.
Devontae Booker (RB)
- Age: 29 years old
- Contract: 2 years, $5.5 million ($2.75 million per year), $2 million guaranteed
- PAYME: $944,000
- Value: -$1.806 million
Devontae Booker is valued at less than the league veteran minimum of $1.1 million by PAYME. He wouldn’t pop up on the list if he were making the minimum, as those veteran contracts get discounted when it comes to caponomics. But the Giants are paying a premium for a player without the production to back things up.
Yeah, the Giants definitely overpaid in free agency, but we knew that they would likely do so for any player they signed going in. Like I said above, unless it’s a situation like the Buccaneers signing Shaq Barrett for $2.9 million, overpaying is what teams do in free agency. As FO says in the introduction to their piece, free agency is one of the very few times that players (top players, anyway) actually have leverage over teams in the NFL.
It’s notable that, as a retained player and not a street free agent, Williams wasn’t included in the defensive tackle chart. The Giants signed Williams to a three-year, $63 million ($21 million per year), $45 million guaranteed contract. That deal made Williams one of the highest paid defensive linemen in the NFL, second only to Aaron Donald in fully guaranteed money. The Giants certainly hope Williams is able to play to the level of his pay — or even to the level of Chris Jones or DeForest Buckner, who have similar deals — and replicate his 11.5 sack 2020 season. However, he has only average 5.5 sacks per year over the course of his career, a number which drops to 3.5 per season if we set the 2020 season aside as an outlier. Given the possibility that Williams could regress to something like his career average, the Giants may well have over paid for him as well.
Looking at the Giants’ big signings as a whole, it’s not surprising that Football Outsiders came to the conclusion that they significantly overpaid in free agency. Like Williams, Golladay only has one season of top-level production (2019, in which he lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns). Golladay and Jackson have both struggled with injuries, each with just one full season since entering the NFL.
Jackson has yet to live up to his pedigree as a first round cornerback, and Booker has been a backup for all but six games in his career.
Of course, the true measure of whether or not the Giants truly over-paid in their free agent contracts is whether or not they play up to them.
If Kenny Golladay plays like (a healthy) Odell Beckham Jr. or Tyreek Hill...
If Leonard Williams plays like Aaron Donald, DeForest Buckner, or Chris Jones...
If Adoree Jackson plays like Stephon Gilmore, Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters, or James Bradberry...
If Devontae Booker plays like Josh Jacobs, Mike Davis, or Raheem Mostert...
Then the Giants would have gotten good value for those contracts. We’ll just have to wait and see whether or not that’s what happens