NFL team have the option of tagging impending free agents starting today with either the franchise or transition tag and preventing the tagged player from entering the open market when it opens on March 10th. Between now and then several things will occur: Players will be released to create additional salary cap room, as the Giants released David Wilson last week; Players will be asked to reduce their salary to free up cap space – defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins agreed to such a restructure last week, adding an additional $825,000 to the Giants salary cap; Contracts will be extended – the lead candidate for an extension is quarterback Eli Manning, who is in the final year of a contract signed in 2010 and will count $19,750,000 against the salary cap, and finally, players will be tagged.
The most likely candidate for the Giants franchise tag is defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Still only 26 years old, and having played out his rookie contract, the mega-talented defensive end would be one of the most sought after players if he is permitted to hit to free agent market. Jerry Reese is attempting to work out a free agent extension, and the team is reportedly prepared to tag him, which would mean paying him a guaranteed $12 million for 2015, if a long term deal cannot be reached. No other impending Giants free agent is worthy of tag consideration.
Once free agency opens next month, offensive tackle remains a priority need for the Giants. There should be several viable options available and the team will have the cap space to sign an impact player along the lines of Kareem McKenzie who was signed in 2005, and was a fixture on the Giants offensive line for both of their most recent Super Bowl teams. Signing a right tackle would allow the team to move Justin Pugh to guard, the position he seems best suited to play at the professional level. Pugh has 32 inch arms, which are 2-3 inches shorter than conventional wisdom states are required for a successful NFL offensive tackle. Pugh has surrendered 11 sacks in his two seasons with the Giants, and has appeared to be a liability in pass protection, especially against speed rushers.
Will Beatty is the incumbent left tackle for the Giants. After a nightmare 2013 where he surrendered a team high 13 sacks, Beatty bounced back and was credited with surrendering just 3 in 2014 by Pro Football Focus (PFF), the independent grading site that reviews every play and assigns sacks to the lineman, running back, or quarterback depending on how the play develops. If the Giants were to sign a left tackle in free agency, it would allow the option of shifting the newly signed player or Beatty to right tackle and put their best five linemen combination on the field.
The below players should hit the open market on March 10th. Rating information is from Pro Football Focus and salary information from over-the-cap.com. The players are listed in the order Giants360 believes the Giants should consider signing them:
1. Orlando Franklin (6’7″, 320 lbs), LT, Denver Broncos . Denver is faced with a free agency conundrum as both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, two of their premier receivers and Peyton Manning’s top two targets are also impending free agents, in addition to Franklin. Only one of the three players can be tagged and signing all three will present a cap management challenge. Franklin rates the highest combined pass and run blocker in the past two seasons among the free agent tackles and would immediately solidify the Giants offensive line. His made just $989,000 in 2014 and is 27 years old with 3 seasons of NFL experience. Signing Franklin would take upwards of a $5 to $6 million average over 6 years with a potential top of the $10,000,000 that Tyron Smith received from the Cowboys in 2011.
2. Doug Free (6’6″, 325 lbs), RT or Jermey Parnell (6’6″, 307 lbs), RT, Dallas Cowboys. The annual Cowboys cap juggling will start in earnest shortly, with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray in the center ring, but the second coming of the Great Wall of Dallas will suffer a blow as both right tackles hit free agency at the same time. Parnell is younger (28 to Free’s 31) and was better rated this season, but Free battled ankle injuries during the second half of the season. If Dallas general manager Jerry Jones is shrewd, he re-signs the younger Parnell and allows Free to walk. Whichever player is permitted to check out of Dallas, he would be a solid addition to the Giants offensive line. Free made $3.5 million in 2014, and would likely agree to a contract that averaged that for another 4 to 5 seasons. Parnell, who is hitting his peak in NFL years, will command a contract averaging closer to $4.5 to $5.5 million over the same time period.
3. Bryan Bulaga (6’5″, 314 lbs), RT, Green Bay Packers. Of all the players on this list, Bulaga is the most likely to be franchise tagged. Wide receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Tramon Williams are the other big name free agents for the Packers, but Cobb is widely thought to be set to be allowed to leave Green Bay, and Williams had a mediocre season. Bulaga returned from a knee injury in 2013 to have a strong 2014, but is a much better pass blocking than run blocking right tackle. He received an average of $2,650,000 in his latest contract, signed in 2010, is 25 years old, and would likely command a contract averaging $4 to $5 million over 5 years.
4. Michael Roos (6’7″, 313 lbs), LT, Tennessee Titans). Roos played in only 5 games before suffering a season ending knee injury that required surgery to correct. He is said to be mulling retirement and would need to pass medical exams before being signed by the Giants. He’s rated well as both a pass and run blocker in the past two seasons, but is 32 year old and has nearly a decade of NFL wear and tear on his body. Despite making $6,625,000 in 2014, Roos could probably by lured our of retirement, if healthy, for a contact averaging $4 million per season for 2 or 3 years. He comes with considerable medical risk as his history includes the dreaded micro fracture surgery as well.
5. King Dunlap (6’9″, 330 lbs), RT, San Diego Chargers. Dunlap is a much more accomplished run blocker than pass blocker, but surrendered only 6 sacks over the past two seasons combined. He would provide a big, road grading presence on the right side of the Giants line, and at 29 years old, bring 6 years of experience. Having made $1,875,000 in 2014, Dunlap, also a former Philadelphia Eagle, would be a less expensive option, likely sign-able to a 3-4 year contract averaging 3 million per season.
Some of you may be wondering why former Baltimore Raven and Tennessee Titan Michael Oher is not on this list. Among the free agent tackles, he was among the highest paid and lowest rated. Oher surrendered 14 sacks combined in the past two season, and if the Giants were to consider him, is should be for the veteran minimum with an eye towards giving him a shot at a guard position. Perhaps he’s better suited to play inside as a professional as Leonard Davis learned after failing as a tackle with the Arizona Cardinals, but making the Pro Bowl three consecutive years as a guard with the Dallas Cowboys.
Signing one of the premier tackles would allow the Giants to focus on defense in the 2015 draft in late April and, combined with with signing of Canadian Football League 2013 Most Outstanding Rookie and 2014 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Brett Jones, would give them a strong, competitive group of linemen going into the off season program. Some mid level free agents or a mid to late round draft pick could be added for additional competition, but impending free agents John Jerry, James Brewer, and Adam Snyder can be permitted to test the open market. The return of Geoff Schwartz from an injury plagued 2014 will also give the Giants offensive line a boost.
Later this week, we will look at all of the Giants impending free agents, and which the team should consider retaining.
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