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Potential Giants free agents: Who should stay? Who should go?

Let’s take a look at some of the decisions a new Giants general manager will have to make

NFL: New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants head into 2022 with many questions about their roster. The 2021 free agent spending spree was an attempt to quickly upgrade the Giants roster for a chance of automatically competing after a 6-10 season where the Giants narrowly missed the playoffs in a historically bad NFC East.

Their attempt dramatically failed, and New York finished with an embarrassing 4-13 record. Dave Gettleman has retired as general manager. Joe Judge remains as head coach, but whether he gets a third season remain uncertain.

The “all-in” approach of the 2021 New York Giants failed, posing as an obstruction heading into 2022. Assistant general manager Kevin Abrams commented on the potential lack of maneuverability and cap space during the 2022 offseason before the 2021 season.

“2022 could be a little bit of a challenge depending on where the cap goes to,” Abrams said. “Then beyond, I’m more optimistic that nothing that we’ve done this year puts us in any kind of precarious position, but the next year could be a little bit of a challenge.”

The main concern for the Giants cap guy is 2022, and the Giants currently have 21 unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents (Cullen Gilllaspia, Steven Parker, and Joshua Kalu), two street/other free agents (Omari Cobb, Ka’dar Hollman), and four exclusive restricted free agents (Jarren Williams, Jake Fromm, Kyle Murphy, and J.R. Reed). According to Over The Cap, the Giants have $2,061,736 cap space for 2022.

The new Giants’ general manager will have his hands full with navigating around the cap and finding ways to create space. There are plenty of 2021 contributors that New York would like to retain, but the cap situation, and the individual player’s market value, may prove too difficult for the Giants to keep them around. Here’s a list of some unrestricted free agents the Giants have to make decisions on this offseason.

TE Evan Engram

Engram’s name elicits many emotions among the Giants’ fan base. Engram has failed to be a reliable asset for the Giants. He never lived up to the first-round selection that former general manager Jerry Reese spent. His rookie season was his best; he had career highs in targets, receptions, receiving yards per catch, and touchdowns in 2017.

It was all downhill from his rookie season. He was injured for much of his second and third years and then had a devastating drop that lost the Giants a game in Philadelphia during the 2020 season. His blocking developed while in New York, but he’s inconsistent and still not a dominating tight end in that area. has Engram’s market value at an average annual salary just north of $8 million. They listed him at a potential price tag of four years, $31 million. Engram’s athletic profile and potential as a 27-year-old free agent will entice teams. It’s unlikely he’ll be back as a Giant in 2022.

G Will Hernandez

Hernandez was the 34th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Much like Engram, his best season was his rookie year, but there has been a dramatic fall since then for Hernandez. His play was inconsistent and flat-out unreliable at times, and he ultimately was a bust for the Giants on the interior offensive line.

Hernandez lost his job to a fifth-round rookie in Shane Lemieux last season and seemingly forgot how to block a simple Tackle/End stunt in his fourth year as a professional guard. It’s best for both sides if Hernandez goes to another team, which says a lot about Hernandez’s time in New York with the current state of the Giants offensive line.

S Jabrill Peppers

I would love for the Giants to find a way to keep Peppers, but I don’t believe it to be likely. Peppers ruptured the ACL in his right knee at the end of October. Peppers is just 26 years old. He fits the criteria of a New York Giant in Joe Judge’s vision; incredibly hard-working, bought into the program, versatile, and had a career year in 2020.

The current cap situation, and Peppers’ injury, will likely prevent the Giants from signing Peppers long-term. One more thing to note is that Peppers snaps were dialed back at points during the 2021 season; the rise of Xavier McKinney and a three-year, $31-million deal invested into Logan Ryan made Peppers more expendable. However, there’s certainly a chance he is brought back on a one-year, prove it, type of deal.

EDGE Lorenzo Carter

I would love for the Giants to retain Carter, who is finally showing that unique potential he always had but couldn’t reach ever since his Week 5 Achilles injury in 2020. Between weeks 15-17, Carter had 14 pressures and four sacks. His burst, bend, and movement skills look great, and the 26-year-old 6-foot-5, 250-pound, versatile EDGE could be a target for other NFL teams.

I wouldn’t be shocked if plenty of NFL teams show interest in Carter, but I don’t know the extent of the contracts he’d be offered. He could look at plenty of shorter prove-it deals since the post-injury sample size isn’t large. If that’s the case, I would love for New York to sign him to a deal in that ballpark.

C Billy Price

Price’s presence on the 2022 roster will come down to the price of the contract he is looking to earn. Price wasn’t excellent with the Giants, albeit he was in a bad situation on a poor line. I wouldn’t mind him being retained on a cheap deal, but I also don’t want the Giants relying on Price to start next season. Price, 26, has never fully lived up to his first-round draft selection in 2018. He would be a solid swing interior offensive lineman; hopefully, Nick Gates can recover from his brutal injury to play in 2022.

OT Nate Solder

Nate Solder won’t be starting in the NFL next season. He shouldn’t have started in 2021, but with Matt Peart not seizing an opportunity the Giants’ options ran thin at tackle after Andrew Thomas. He won’t be a Giant in 2022.

G Matt Skura

New York’s offensive line is in a terrible position heading into 2022. Skura played very poorly down the stretch of the season. Ideally, he won’t be relied on in 2022, but the Giants may not have many options. Skura could be retained on a minimum deal as a depth piece.

DT Austin Johnson

Johnson played well in 2022. He had 21 pressures and three sacks while consistently making solid plays in the run game. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 34 stops, which ranked first on the team.

Johnson is playing for his college positional coach Sean Spencer, the current defensive line coach for the Giants. He re-signed on a one-year deal to return to New York last offseason and is 27 years old.

2021 was his best season so far by almost every metric. I don’t know how the Giants re-sign him. He won’t garner a huge contract on the open market, but he’ll likely get enough to price the Giants out of his range. I would love for the Giants to keep him, but I don’t know if it’s realistic.

DT Danny Shelton

The Giants let Dalvin Tomlinson walk in free agency last year. They expected that Shelton and Austin Johnson would fill his role. The latter was surprisingly effective all season, but the former didn’t live up to his build, nor was he reliable as a block eater. Shelton won’t, and shouldn’t, be on the team next season.

WR John Ross

I love the speed Ross can offer an offense, but the Giants never fully utilized that unique trait. Ross ended the season with 11 catches on 19 targets for 224 yards and one touchdown catch against New Orleans. The 27-year-old has value, but I doubt he’ll be prioritized heading into 2022.

New York may quietly need receiver help. Sterling Shepard’s Achilles injury, coupled with a lack of reliability from Kadarius Toney, may lead to small investments at the wide receiver position. I wouldn’t mind if the Giants wanted to bring Ross back on a small deal, but his inability to stay healthy has plagued him his entire career, and that may ultimately lead to the Giants parting ways.

FB, Elijhaa Penny

I’m fine with Penny’s return on a veteran minimum type of deal. Penny is fun when he gets on the field offensively, although it’s not often. His real value is on special teams, and there’s always a place on Joe Judge’s team for special teamers.

LB Reggie Ragland

Ragland was forced into more acting than he probably should have been. The injury to Blake Martinez left the Giants thin at linebacker. Ragland isn’t a terrible two-down linebacking option, although he struggles on stretch running plays. But, having Ragland in coverage north of 200 times through a season isn’t ideal. New York can look to upgrade their linebacking corps somewhere else in 2022.

LB Jaylon Smith

Smith isn’t perfect; he guesses a bit, is overly aggressive, and attempts to make splash plays that don’t always help the continuity of a defense. However, he has pop, is fast, plays hard, and is much more versatile than a player like Ragland. I want the Giants to give him a shot at the third-linebacking spot behind Martinez and Tae Crowder, with Smith hopefully developing enough to usurp Crowder.

Smith is a 26-year-old who was offered a five-year, $63-million deal not long ago. If he accepts a small prove-it deal, I wouldn’t mind seeing him in blue next season.

Final thoughts

New York isn’t in a good position heading into 2022. A new general manager will attempt to fix this vexatious state of affairs. The new general manager will have to get creative with his roster construction. The Giants hold nine picks in the upcoming draft, with five currently in the top 81. It will be interesting to see what the Giants can achieve this offseason and if they can put a respectable product on the field for the 2022 season.