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Rebuilding the Giants: How many current players are likely to return?

Let’s go through the roster, and the decisions the Giants have to make

New York Giants v Los Angeles Chargers
Kenny Golladay
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Just how much roster change could the New York Giants be headed for in 2022? There is a new GM, new head coach, new coaching staff, some changes already in the front office with more certain to come there and in the scouting department.

The 2022 53-man roster then can’t have a whole lot of resemblance to the one the Giants went 4-13 with in 2021, can it? BBV reader Bob Donnelly, one of those who regularly sends questions to the ‘Big Blue View Mailbag,’ sent a question this week that required far more than a short ‘mailbag’ answer.

The question:

“Between free agents and cap casualties how many vacant roster positions do you project Mr. Schoen and company will need to fill before the start of next season?”

With that as my starting point, I went position-by-position through the roster to determine which players I thought would be back. Let’s take a look.

Quarterback

Likely to stay (1): Daniel Jones

John Mara, Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll have all expressed the belief that going forward with Jones is the right thing to do in 2022. Anything is possible, of course, but it would be stunning for the Giants to pivot from that plan.

Competing for roster spot (3): Davis Webb, Jake Fromm, Brian Lewerke

Both of these guys were practice squad quarterbacks for the Buffalo Bills. We have seen Fromm, and it wasn’t pretty. I think Giants fans would like to see Webb finally get a chance to play. He might, unless the Giants sign someone like Mitchell Trubisky or Tyrod Taylor and Webb lands on the practice squad again. Lewerke is a camp arm, if he makes it that far.

Outta here (1): Mike Glennon

You saw him play last season right? He’s an unrestricted free agent.

Running back

Likely to stay (2): Saquon Barkley, Gary Brightwell

You should know by now that I am a proponent of using Barkley as a trade chip this offseason. I believe Schoen will listen to offers for Barkley before the draft. Whether he would move him, I don’t know. Even if he starts the season with the Giants, though, I do think it’s possible the Giants let him establish some value and look to move him at the trade deadline.

Brightwell is on a rookie deal and has a future as a special teamer/backup running back.

Possible cap casualty (1): Devontae Booker

Booker did a nice job for the Giants in 2021. Schoen and Daboll might think, though, that Brightwell, Antonio Williams, a different veteran or a draft pick can do the same job for a lot less than a $3.125 million cap hit. They might be right.

Fighting for a roster spot (1): Antonio Williams

The former Buffalo Bills practice squad player was Schoen’s first Giants signing, joining the team on reserve/futures contract. No guarantee he sticks, but the familiarity he has with Daboll and Schoen gives him a chance.

What about fullbacks?: Elijhaa Penny is a UFA. Cullen Gillaspia is an RFA who was only on the roster in 2021 because of Joe Judge’s love for special teams guys. No guarantee the Giants use a fullback in the Daboll-Mike Kafka offense. Even if they do, no guarantee it will be one of these guys.

Tight end

I honestly don’t believe there is a single tight end on the roster I would call “likely to stay” with the Giants in 2022.

UFAs (2): Evan Engram and Levine Toilolo are both unrestricted free agents. I believe it would be best for everyone if Engram started over somewhere else. As for Toilolo, after spending last season on IR with a torn Achilles I wonder if his career is over.

Possible cap casualties (2): Signing Kyle Rudolph to a two-year, $12 million deal before the 2021 season proved to be a bad investment in a fading player. The Giants can save $5 million against his $7.408 million cap hit by cutting him, and that seems like a no-brainer.

Kaden Smith is a nice player as a second or third tight end. He spent the 2021 season battling a knee injury, ended up on IR and there is some speculation that Smith’s knee injury is a long-term one that could impact his career. Rather than take a chance on his health, the Giants could cut him and save $2.54 million against the cap.

Competing for spots (2): Jake Hausmann was on and off the practice squad a number of times in 2021, and has a reserve/futures contract. Rysen John was on the practice squad in 2020 and spent the 2021 season on IR with an ankle injury. It seems unlikely either player would be a major part of the Giants’ plans.

Wide receiver

Likely to stay (2): Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney

Yes, out of the plethora of wide receivers on the Giants’ roster these are the only two I feel confident will be on the roster in 2022.

Golladay isn’t going anywhere. The Giants still have $23.6 million in guaranteed money for Golladay on their books. His 2022 cap number is $21.15 million, and it would cost the Giants that $23.6 million figure against the cap if they were to cut him. The cap savings? A paltry $2.45 million. That’s cap suicide, and Joe Schoen isn’t stupid. As for a trade, I don’t think anyone is foolish enough to take on the remaining three years of Golladay’s four-year, $72 million contract.

As for Toney, I do wonder if he is a player Schoen and Daboll would have selected had the choice been theirs to make. If not, there has to be a possibility they would see if there is a market for the 2021 first-round pick.

Toney came to the NFL with questions about both his durability and his maturity. His rookie season did nothing to assuage either question. He played in just 10 games, and seemed to be hurt from almost his first day of practice. Giants’ coaches talked openly about Toney needing to gain trust of teammates and coaches, and between his lack of availability and some social media missteps it’s hard to argue he did that.

Still, new regime or not, it would surprise me if the Giants cut bait on Toney this quickly.

Maybe, maybe not: Darius Slayton

I am very curious to see what the new regime thinks of Slayton. He had a tremendous rookie season, with 48 catches, 748 yards receiving, an average of 15.4 yards per catch, and 8 touchdowns.

His production has gone backwards since. In 2021, he had only 26 receptions, 339 yards, and two touchdowns. His drop percentage has gone from 2.4 in 2020, to 6.3 in 2021 to 10.3 in 2021. His passer rating when targeted dropped from 98.3 in 2020 to 53.7 last year.

Slayton is entering the final year of his rookie contract. I don’t know if the Schoen-Daboll regime will look at Slayton and think they can get him back to his rookie form or better, or if they will look at the potential $2.54 million cap savings and decide to try someone else.

Possible cap casualty (1): Sterling Shepard

As much as I respect Shepard’s talent, it is time for the Giants to stop throwing money at players with a history of not being able to stay on the field. Shepard has played full seasons only twice in six years, has played just 29 of 49 games the past three years, and played in only 7 of 17 games in 2021.

The Giants can save $8.5 million against the cap with a $3.995 million cap hit if they designate Shepard a post-June 1 cut. I expect that to be what they do.

UFAs (3): John Ross, Dante Pettis and C.J. Board are all unrestricted free agents. I would guess that only Board, who did a good job as a returner before suffering a season-ending broken arm, might be brought back to compete for a roster spot.

Competing for spots (5): Collin Johnson, David Sills, Alex Bachman and Travis Toivonen are players who were part of the team in 2021 and could be brought back to compete for roster and practice squad berths. The Giants just signed veteran practice squad player Austin Proehl, as well.

Offensive line

Likely to stay (1): Andrew Thomas

Coming off an excellent second season and looking like a player who could be a quality left tackle for a decade, Thomas is the only offensive lineman on the roster I would nag the table for and say “this guy has to be part of our future.”

Injured guys (3): Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Kyle Murphy

After missing all but 17 snaps of the season with a partially torn patellar tendon, and coming back to a team without the GM or head coach who drafted him, Lemieux’s future is uncertain. He will be in the third year of his four-year rookie contract, though, and likely gets a chance to come to camp and compete. Could he end up starting? Maybe.

Following his devastating Week 2 leg injury, it is uncertain Gates will play at all in 2022. You have to think the Giants will cut Gates, take the $2.125 million in cap relief and re-sign him at a lower number as he tries to rehab for a Rich Seubert-like return.

Murphy is a former undrafted free agent the previous regime liked. After spending the 2021 season on IR, though, he is the type of player who might fall through the cracks with the regime change.

UFAs (4): Korey Cunningham, Matt Skura, Will Hernandez, Billy Price

After four frustrating seasons, the Giants can’t bring Hernandez back. It’s disappointing because the Hernandez pick in 2018 was widely praised and he was expected to be an offensive line cornerstone. Instead, he’s been a symbol of that group’s failure.

Price will be an interesting decision. It would be great if the Giants could upgrade the center spot in 2022, but Price wasn’t terrible in 2021. He has enough guard experience to be a capable, experienced interior offensive line backup at three spots next season — provided the cost isn’t prohibitive.

Skura and Cunningham are really just replaceable parts.

Competing for spots (4): Ben Bredeson, Wes Martin, Matt Peart, Devery Hamilton

I’m really curious how the Schoen-Daboll regime will see Peart and Bredeson. One or both could end up in the starting lineup. Then again, I also think it’s possible neither ends up on the 53-man roster.

We know how the Joe Judge coaching staff felt about Peart. Basically, they seemed to feel that the 2020 third-round pick was soft — which is about the worst thing you can say about an NFL player. Peart will be 25 this season and is still a player on a rookie contract who has enormous athleticism and has played well at times.

Bredeson is intriguing. The Giants traded for him at the start of 2021 and it looked like they thought he would step in for the injured Lemieux. Hand and ankle injuries derailed that, though, and we never really saw what he could do.

Bredeson was a 2020 fourth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. He was considered a starting-caliber playing coming out of college, and the Ravens aren’t often wrong about trench players. He probably gets a chance to at least compete for a roster spot.

Defensive line

Likely to stay (2): Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams

These are your two defensive anchors. I think we’re all looking forward to seeing if Lawrence can take a step forward with Andre Patterson coaching defensive linemen.

UFAs (2): Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton

There is no reason for Shelton to be back. The Giants wasted a roster spot on him in 2021, and there have to be better rotational nose tackles out there. Coming off his best year, it would be nice to keep Johnson. Problem is, he carried a $3 million cap hit last season and someone is liable to offer him more than that the way in played last season. The Giants can’t get into a bidding war for him.

Competing for spots (2): Raymond Johnson III, David Moa

I don’t know if either of these young players have futures with the Giants. As of now, though, my guess is both would be brought to training camp to compete.

Inside linebacker

Likely to stay (1): Tae Crowder

Crowder isn’t a great player, but he has gotten a ton of valuable experience over his two seasons. On a rookie contract, he could at least be a valuable reserve.

Possible cap casualty (1): Blake Martinez is an excellent, intelligent player. He is also an expensive one on a team with serious salary cap issues, as well as a player with athletic limitations who is coming off a torn ACL. The Giants can save $8.525 million while carrying $5.5 million in dead money if they cut Martinez. It’s an unfortunate reality of the business of the NFL, but I expect them to do just that.

UFAs (3): Reggie Ragland, Benardrick McKinney, Jaylon Smith

Of these three, Smith is the only one I think has a chance to be brought back to compete for a job. Ragland and McKinney are more run-thumpers without the range or coverage ability I believe new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will want.

Competing for spots (5): T.J. Brunson, Omari Cobb, Trent Harris, Carter Coughlin, Justin Hilliard

Out of this group, Coughlin is probably the only one with a real chance to stick. Some of these other guys probably don’t even make it training camp.

Edge defender

Likely to stick (4): Azeez Ojulari, Elerson Smith, Quincy Roche, Cam Brown

Yes, I think all four of these players are on the season-opening 53-man roster. Ojulari, the talented second-round pick who had 8.5 sacks in 2021, could benefit from Martindale’s creativity. Roche deserves to stick after doing some good work in 2021. Elerson Smith is the kind of mid-round pass rusher Martindale and outside linebackers coach Dean Wilkins might like. Brown remains an athletic freak who may not be an impact defensive player, but he is one of the best special teamers in the NFL.

UFAs (1): Lorenzo Carter

This promises to be one of the most interesting decisions of the offseason. The Giants have three young edge rushers to work with in Ojulari, Roche and Smith. They have plenty of draft capital in a draft filled with quality edge defenders and could easily add to their stable that way.

Yet, there is Carter. The 26-year-old has always had tremendous physical gifts, but his production has never lived up to those gifts. Over the last four games of 2021, though, Carter put together the first truly dominant stretch of his career. He had 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed, 6 quarterback hits and 3 tackles for loss.

Was that a mirage, or an indication of a Leonard Floyd/Shaq Barrett mid-career jump to stardom that is about to take place? That’s what Schoen, Daboll and Martindale have to decide.

If the Giants could bring Carter back on a low-cost, one-year “prove it” deal I would be fine with that. I don’t, though, think they can. I think someone is going to look at those four games and pay Carter for what they think he can become, not what he’s been for four seasons.

Competing for spots (2): Oshane Ximines, Niko Lalos

Ximines had fallen way, way, way deep into the Joe Judge-Patrick Graham doghouse by the end of the season. I doubt he makes it to training camp. Lalos was a fan favorite in 2020 who never saw the field in 2021. He’s a replaceable part.

Cornerback

Likely to stay (3): Adoree’ Jackson, Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes

Jackson, like Golladay, is a player who really can’t be moved in 2022. He still has $18.5 million guaranteed on his contract, per Over The Cap, and the Giants would carry that much dead money if they cut him. That’s untenable. Besides, while Jackson might not be a big-time play maker he is a solid man cover cornerback who could be useful in Martindale’s aggressive defense.

Robinson, in particular, is a young player with a lot of upside. Holmes remains on his rookie contract and could still have upside.

Possible cap casualty/trade candidate (1): James Bradberry

Bradberry is a good player, and Martindale would probably love to have him. His $21.863 million 2022 cap hit could make that impossible. The Giants could save $13.5 million by making him a post-June 1 cut, but would still carry $8.363 million in dead money. I think Joe Schoen works the phones and find the best offer he can get for Bradberry. Unfortunately.

UFAs (1): Keion Crossen

I’m ambivalent about Crossen. He’s a Joe Judge guy the Giants gave up a draft pick for. I didn’t see anything special, and I believe he’s a replaceable part. Maybe he gets a chance to compete on a veteran minimum deal, but that’s all I would offer him.

Competing for spots (3): Jarren Williams, Rodarius Williams, Joshua Kalu

Jarren Williams is an undrafted player who came on at the end of the 2021 season. He is fortunate that Jerome Henderson returns as defensive backs coach, because that gives him a chance. Same with Rodarius Williams, who spent most of his rookie season on IR. Kalu is a veteran who spent the year on IR and probably doesn’t make it to training camp.

Safety

Likely to stay (2): Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan

McKinney, along with Andrew Thomas, is a cornerstone player. I don’t see Ryan as a Giants beyond 2022, but it does not make financial sense to cut him this season. The Giants would save $3.75 million against the cap by doing so, but would carry $8.475 in dead money.

UFAs (2): Nate Ebner, Jabrill Peppers

Injuries are likely to force Joe Judge’s favorite special teamer to retire. Even if that wasn’t the case, I can’t see the new regime being interested.

As for Peppers, I just don’t think the Giants are going to want to pay him the kind of money he will be hoping to get on the free agent market.

Possible cap casualty (1): Julian Love

Love qualified for a Proven Performance Escalator that might end up pushing him right off the roster. The escalator pushed his 2022 cap hit to $2.732 million, which is a lot to pay for a backup defensive back — even one as capable as Love. The Giants can save $2.54 million and carry just $192,715 in dead money if they cut Love. I hope they don’t, but it makes financial sense if they do.

Competing for spots (2): Steven Parker, J.R. Reed

These guys both had brief moments of success in 2021. Maybe they stick around as practice squad players.

Special teams

Likely to stay (1): PK Graham Gano

There is no reason to move on from Gano, one of the league’s best placekickers.

UFAs (1): LS Casey Kreiter

Kreiter has been fine the last two seasons in his snapping role. The Giants can probably get him back for a veteran minimum contract, and I hope they do.

Possible cap casualty (1): P Riley Dixon

The Giants can save $2.8 million against the cap by cutting Dixon, and I can’t think of a single reason why they wouldn’t do that. They have already signed former Cleveland Browns punter Jamie Gillan to a reserve/futures deal.

Final thoughts

There are 53 spots on a regular-season roster. I came up with 19 “likely to stay” players, and I think there can and should be some debate about a few of those. There will be draft picks and a smattering of free agents added, but in the end you might have 20-25 roster spots up for grabs when training camp begins.