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New York Giants 2023 NFL free agency primer: Everything you need to know

A look ahead to free agency for the Giants

New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The 2023 NFL free agency negotiating period begins on Monday, with the official signing period to begin on Wednesday, March 15. Here is everything you need to know about the New York Giants as they enter a free agency period where GM Joe Schoen has promised to be more aggressive than he was a year ago.

Let’s break down free agency for the Giants.

What they have already done

  • Re-signed quarterback Daniel Jones to a four-year, $160 million deal ($82 million fully guaranteed).
  • Franchise-tagged running back Saquon Barkley at a cost of $10.1 million for 2023.
  • Re-signed linebacker Jarrad Davis.
  • Signed exclusive rights free agents Isaiah Hodgins, Jack Anderson and Lawrence Cager.

Which Giants can become free agents

OL Nick Gates

Gates made a base salary of $2.05 million last season and carried a cap hit of $3.204 million in the second year of a two-year, $6.82 million contract.

After coming back from his horrific 2021 leg injury, Gates played 367 snaps (32.33 percent), primarily at left guard and center.

If Gates returns, it figures he will have to take less money.

C Jon Feliciano

The Giants’ starting center in 2022, Feliciano played on a one-year, $3.25 million deal. The Giants, with deep Buffalo connections to him, love Feliciano. It won’t be a surprise if he is back.

WR Sterling Shepard

The veteran wide receiver’s contract voided earlier in the offseason. Shepard loves the Giants organization, and the feeling is mutual. After two seasons almost entirely lost to injuries it is hard to imagine much of a market for the 30-year-old.

Maybe the Giants will bring him back on a non-guaranteed, incentive-laden contract to see if he has anything left to give. All Schoen has been willing to commit to is that the team will monitor Shepard’s rehab.

[UPDATE: Shepard is reportedly returning to the Giants].

DL Justin Ellis

The veteran defensive tackle played 362 snaps last season in a backup role, and wasn’t very good. He had a base salary of $1.12 million. The Giants are committed to improving their defensive front seven. Even at that low price, it seems unlikely the Giants will bring the 33-year-old back.

RB Matt Breida

Breida did what the Giants signed him to do in 2022. He was an adequate backup for Barkley at a bargain basement cost of just $1.035 million in base salary. The Giants have young backs Gary Brightwell and Jashaun Corbin and could be tempted to use the draft to supplement the position.

It will be interesting to see if Breida is brought back.

Edge Jihad Ward

Ward will be an interesting case. The journeyman edge defender is a favorite of defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. Schoen has said he does not want to see too much of the leadership from the 2022 team escape the locker room, and Ward was definitely a vocal veteran leader. Schoen has said Ward’s presence was important for Kayvon Thibodeaux during his rookie year.

Working on a one-year, $1.035 million contract in 2022, Ward played a career-high 657 defensive snaps. Pro Football Focus gave him a poor 42.1 grade, the worst of his seven-year career.

Do the Giants value his presence enough to bring him back? Or, will they look for a more talented player? My guess is that Ward will return.

LS Casey Kreiter

Kreiter is a seven-year veteran who has been the Giants’ long-snapper for the past three seasons. His work is perfectly acceptable, and he made only the minimum salary of $1.035 million last season. Unless the Giants want to pinch pennies and sign an undrafted free agent for a few hundred thousand less there isn’t any real reason to move on.

S Landon Collins

A 2016 second-round pick by the Giants, Collins returned to the team midseason as a street free agent. He had an interception and carved out a minor role as a sub-package linebacker, playing 160 defensive snaps over six games. Collins cost the Giants only $149,167 against the cap in 2022.

Collins doesn’t seem to have a role at safety, and the Giants are committed to improving at linebacker. The bet here is that odds are against a return to the Giants for Collins in 2023.

S Tony Jefferson

Much like Collins, the veteran safety found a small role with the Giants as a sub-package linebacker. Also like Collins, I would bet against a return to the Giants by Jefferson in 2023.

DL Nick Williams

The 33-year-old eight-year veteran provided some decent depth for the Giants until a torn pectoral muscle landed him on IR after eight games. Williams had a one-year, $1.12 million contract last season. Did the Giants see enough before he was injured to bring him back on a similar deal?

P Jamie Gillan

Gillan is a strong-legged, but inconsistent punter. He often missed opportunities to pin opponents deep in their own territory last season by kicking the ball too deep. Gillan’s inside the 20 percentage of 34.6 was 21st among 35 punters. His touchback percentage of 11.1 was 29th out of 35.

Special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey often said Gillan’s struggles were related to him being a young, developing punter. In reality, though, the 2022 season was Gillan’s fourth in the NFL. He will be 26 in 2023.

The Giants might bring him back on a minimum contract, but it would not be a surprise if he faces competition for the job in 2023.

WR Richie James

James had a career season in 2022. He tied Barkley for the team lead in receptions with 57, was second in receiving yards with 569 and had four receiving touchdowns. He was also the Giants’ punt returner most of the season.

Will that be enough for the Giants to bring James back for a second season? He made $1.065 million a year ago, and figures to want more. James was reliable, but not dynamic, averaging 10.0 yards per catch.

With Wan’Dale Robinson returning, the possibility of bringing back Shepard, and free agency and the draft to pursue additional receivers the Giants might move on from James.

LB Jaylon Smith

Smith has been an in-season acquisition for the Giants in two consecutive seasons, and has basically functioned as a placeholder because the Giants did not have anyone better.

The Giants are committed to improving their front seven. At linebacker, they already have Darrian Beavers, Micah McFadden and Jarrad Davis. It would seem unlikely they would bring Smith back.

CB Fabian Moreau

Moreau did an excellent job for the Giants last season after being elevated from the practice squad. The six-year veteran played in 14 games with 11 starts. Moreau was on a veteran minimum contract a year ago. It makes sense for the Giants to bring Moreau, who will be 29 next season, back on a one-year deal. Unless, of course, someone wants to outbid them.

WR Marcus Johnson

Johnson played a role on offense for the Giants in the middle of the 2022 season after signing early in the year. By season’s end, he was a non-factor. Even on a minimum contract, which is what he had in 2022, there seems to be little reason to bring Johnson back for 2023.

WR Darius Slayton

In a week wide receiver free agent market, the 26-year-old Slayton might find a nice pay day. It might, though, come from someone other than the Giants.

Slayton had to take a pay cut from $2.54 million to $965,000 to stay with the Giants last season. This might be his one chance to enter the free agent market, and no one should blame him if he takes the opportunity to see what his market is.

Slayton is a nice deep threat, but he has struggled with drops throughout his career. The Giants might want to look in another direction, anyway.

Pro Football Focus projects Slayton to get a two-year, $5 million deal in free agency. Spotrac projects two years and $7 million.

Edge Oshane Ximines

Ximines did a credible job as a reserve in 2022, with 2.0 sacks and 24 tackles in 506 defensive snaps. The 2019 third-round pick’s rookie contract is up, though, and you have to wonder if bringing him back will be a priority.

The Giants might want to give a bigger role to Tomon Fox, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent last season. If he is back, it would likely be on a one-year, minimum deal.

S Julian Love

What happens with Love will be fascinating to watch. He was a key player for the Giants in 2022, a first-time starter and defensive captain who was a mainstay on defense and special teams. Love took over as the defensive signal-caller after Xavier McKinney’s Cabo accident.

Schoen has mentioned several times this offseason that there is depth at safety in both free agency and the draft, perhaps an indication that he might not be amenable to getting into a bidding war for Love.

Pro Football Focus projects that Love will get a three-year, $25 million contract ($8.33 million per year) with $15.5 million guaranteed in free agency.

Spotrac projects a five-year, $39.811 million deal for Love, an average salary of $7.9 million per year.

Will the Giants be willing to go to that number to keep Love?

How much cap space do the Giants have?

As of Friday morning, Over The Cap shows the Giants with $16.232 million in available cap space. In terms of effective cap space, which is the amount the Giants really have to spend when factoring in future expense, they have $13.048 million.

The Giants will get additional space on Wednesday when they plan to officially release wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Schoen has hinted that the Giants will make Golladay a pre-June 1 cut, saving $6.7 million in cap space they could use immediately. If they make Golladay a post-June 1 cut they would save $13.5 million but would carry $6.8 million is dead money charges into 2024.

The Giants will try to get more cap space by getting a long-term deal done with Barkley and perhaps by reaching a long-term deal with defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence is currently set to play on his fifth-year option, counting $12.407 million against the cap. The Giants could also extend the contract of Leonard Williams, lowering his $32.26 million cap hit.

Who are potential free agent targets?

“We have some financial flexibility this year,” Schoen said.

That is something the Giants did not have last year, when they were in a salary cap mess left to Schoen by former GM Dave Gettleman. The Giants signed offensive lineman Mark Glowinski and back quarterback Tyrod Taylor to modest contracts, but otherwise signed players to minimum or veteran salary benefit contracts.

This time around they aren’t likely to big spenders, but they also won’t be limited to staying in the shallow end of the free agent pool.

“We’re not shopping for minimum players anymore,” Schoen said, point out that a season ago even players with a modest $2.5 million price tag were out of the Giants’ budget range. “Even players like that that can be really good depth players will make us that much better. So, just having the flexibility now to be creative, go get players at maybe a little bit higher value, but also being able to sign, whether it’s tier three players, two, one, however you do it. We can map it out, and there’s players that we can go procure now that maybe we weren’t in the past.”

BBV’s Nick Falato has been profiling a wide variety of potential free agent targets. You can read all of those by perusing our free agency StoryStream. Defensive help at linebacker and defensive line could be on Schoen’s shopping list. A cornerback or safety at the right price. A receiver or tight end at the right price.

Stick with Big Blue View over the next few days as we track all the rumors and signings, and give you analysis of both what the Giants do and don’t do.