Sometime between now and next Monday, March 2nd, at 4 PM, the Giants will franchise tag Jason Pierre-Paul, locking him in to a guaranteed salary of 15 million dollars for 2015 and allowing the team to continue to negotiate a long term extension. The NFLPA announced last week that the salary cap is expected to jump to $143 million in 2015, and the Giants currently have just over $123 million worth of contract obligations for their top 51 players, the number that counts as their salary cap until the final 53 are named in August. Several of those players will be candidates to be released to free up cap dollars, asked to restructure to remain with the team, or offered a contract extension and therefore have a lower cap hit in 2015.
Overthecap.com is a web site that compiles and summarized NFL player contracts and salary cap information for all NFL teams. By comparing the cap obligation with the player’s performance rating for the last three seasons from profootballfocus.com as well as from watching all the games, there are ten moves the Giants will consider to free up enough cap space to bring in enough free agents to plug the glaring holes on the team.
J.D. Walton, Center. Walton was signed last season coming off of two injury plagued years, and was expected to compete with rookie Weston Richburg for the starting center job. A preseason injury to Geoff Schwartz and Chris Snee’s surprise retirement prior to training camp forced the team to play Richburg at guard and Walton at center for the entire season. Understandably rusty after being inactive since 2012, the team waited for Walton to shake off the oxidation, but instead found him locked in position like an iron gate built during the great depression. Poised to count $3.625 millon against the cap in 2015, the Giants can save $3,000,000 by releasing him and will realize only $625,000 in dead money. Asking him to take a pay cut was a possibility until Canadian superstar center Brett Jones was brought in and passable backup Dallas Reynolds re-signed last week. Walton is the 12th highest paid center in the league.
- Mathias Kiwanuka, Defensive End. Kiwanuka took a pay cut in 2014 to remain with the team and was still overpaid based on his performance. A knee injury ended his season after week 12 and Tom Coughlin hinted at his press conference that Kiwanuka may retire following knee surgery. If he doesn’t, he will surely be cut, as he is set to count a whopping $7.45 million against the salary cap. It will be an expensive proposition for the Giants as Kiwanuka is in the last year of a 4 year, $17.5 million dollar contract signed in 2012 and will generate dead money of $2.625 million while saving the team $4.825 million. That contract will go down as one of the worst re-signings in Jerry Reese’s tenure as general manager, right up there with David Baas.
Zak DeOssie, Long Snapper. DeOssie is the second highest paid long snapper in the NFL, paid $87 less than Dolphins long snapper John Denney. DeOssie rated third worst in the NFL as a long snapper in 2014 and his skills have been fading over the past two seasons. Cutting him will save $1 million cap dollars and only result in $200,000 in dead money. Even if he would take a pay cut, it’s not worth it, as there will be better long snapper options on the free agent market. DeOssie was part of two Super Bowl championship teams for the Giants, and for that the team, and the fans will forever be thankful, but it’s time to move on.
- Peyton Hillis, Running Back. Many were surprised when Hillis, an injury prone veteran, made the team last season. Fewer were shocked when he wound up on injured reserve with a concussion after appearing sporadically in just 9 games. With a cap figure of $945,000 and no dead money, cutting Hillis makes sense. Only Tom Coughlin’s irrational attachment to veteran running backs will prevent the team from picking up these easy cap dollars.
- Markus Kuhn, Defensive Tackle. In his three year career, Kuhn has proven injury prone and wound up on injured reserve in two of those seasons. When he finally made it through the 2014 season relativelyhealthy, Kuhn, one of Reese’s infamous project picks, did little to distinguish himself, save a lucky highlight reel fumble return for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. While releasing him will only save $660,000, he’s shown little and has no chance of making the team over younger players at the position. It will only cost the Giants $11,474 in dead money, so why not reinvest the cap dollars elsewhere?
- Jayron Hosley, cornerback. Inactive for the last 6 games of 2014, Hosley was horrendous when he did see the field. Cutting him will generate $128,750 in dead money and save the Giants $667,250. Departed defensive coordinator Perry Fewell commented on Hosley possessing all the tools to be a solid NFL cornerback but cited mental roadblocks to his success. This reminded me of what was said of Corey Webster early in his career before returning defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo revived his career. He may be able to do the same for Hosley, who is last on this list because his release is thought possible, but not a sure thing.
- Eli Manning, quarterback: Manning is in the last year of a contract signed in 201 and will count $19,750,000 against the salary cap in 2015. He experienced a career revival in Ban McAdoo’s offense, throwing for 4,410 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. If you eliminate his one nightmare game against San Francisco, the interception total drops to 9. It makes sense to sign the 34 year old Manning to a 3 to 4 year extension, convert the $20 million to a signing bonus, and spread it out over the life of the contract. An easy 10 million can be picked up against the salary cap with this approach.
Prince Amukamara, cornerback: Amukamara is in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract and has developed into a solid starting NFL cornerback. He will count nearly $7 million against the cap this season and should be signed to a 5 year extension that will keep him off the free agent market and in Giants blue for the majority, if not all of his career. The torn biceps he suffered in 2014 was a freak injury and he had started 24 straight games prior to that injury, demonstrating durability after a shaky start to his NFL career. It’s time to reward him and save, conservatively, $2 million in cap dollars as a result.
Jameel McClain, outside linebacker: McClain will make $3.4 million in 2015 and had a poor 2014 playing while largely out of position. He was signed away from the Ravens expected to make a splash with the Giants and failed to deliver whether playing outside linebacker, as expected, or in the middle for the injured Jon Beason. Shaving $1.5 million off his base salary would be a small price to pay to keep the bulk of his 2015 salary and bonus structure. It’s doubtful he’d see much more on the free agent market given his 2014 performance. If he refuses, releasing him saves $3.1 million and results in only $300,000 in dead money.
- Jon Beason, inside linebacker: Beason is set to count just shy of $6.7 million against the Giants salary cap, huge money for a player who has appeared in 4 games or less in 3 of his past 4 NFL seasons. Beason’s leadership and run stopping prowess is unquestionable, but he is a liability in pass coverage and is overpaid at that salary, given his recent injury history. Asking him to accept a lower salary comes with two major risk components. First, players who refuse are generally cut, and cutting him will only save $2.9 million of the $6.7 million and generate a huge dead money of $3.8 million that could be dropped to $2.4 million by designating him a Post June 1st cut. Second, as explored yesterday, the free agent market for inside linebackers is limited. Beason’s agent undoubtedly knows these facts as well, and will recommend against renegotiating as a result.
Some may have been expecting to see Will Beatty, offensive left tackle, on this list, but his 2014 performance, while uneven, was his second solid season in the past 2 years, and came while he played next to a rookie starter for the season. His contract would not result in cap savings in 2015 due to the signing bonus acceleration and he would never agree to renegotiate. Some have proposed looking at Josh Brown’s $1,350,000 salary or Steve Weatherford’s $3,075,00 for some cap savings, but both are reliable special teams veterans who would be notable in their absence if the moves were made.
If all of Giants360 cap cuts are made, except Jayron Hosley, both Eli Manning and Prince Amukamara’s contracts are extended, and Jameel McClain’s base salary reduced, the Giants would create $21.8 million in cap space while adding only $3.5 million in dead money to the $5.6 million that already exists. That’s plenty for Reese to go out and get some safeties, linebackers, and offensive linemen and ensure January football for the Giants the first time since the 2011 season.
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