It’s that time of year again, moving onward from Super Bowl LI and into the off-season, where players’ careers and legacies with their team are often begun or come to an end. Immediately following the big championship game, many teams will start to dwindle down their rosters to welcome aboard new talent and free up cap space. The first day of off-season moves for the New York Giants was filled with cap casualties such as Victor Cruz and Rashad Jennings. The team also announced they will be letting Larry Donnell walk and move forward at the position by re-signing Matt LaCosse to a one-year deal. Finishing the season ranked 25th in total offense, it was obvious that some work was needed on this side of ball, giving more reason for the team to start clearing house. With a new era in Giants history underway with Ben McAdoo at head coach, his strategy has become clear: out with the old, in with the new.
The Ben McAdoo Era: Out with the Old, in with the New
Long Live the Salsa
In his seven-year career in New York, Victor Cruz truly left an incredible legacy with the team and has arguably one of the best stories in team history. The former 2012 Pro Bowl wide receiver was released by the team Monday morning in the team’s first roster move of the off-season. As much as long-time fans hate to see him go, this move was in the team’s best interest. After coming off two spectacular years, Cruz signed an expensive, long-term deal with the team and since then hasn’t put up the numbers the team was looking for. Cruz was due serious money in 2017, so by releasing him, the Giants saved an impressive $7.5 million in cap space.
Ultimately Cruz’s production dropped in 2016 because second round pick Sterling Shepard stole the role of slot receiver, the same position where Cruz saw the majority of his success. Not to mention that Cruz is 30 whereas Shepard is only 24. With Shepard in the slot, the last piece to the wide receiver puzzle is finding someone to line up opposite of Odell Beckham on the outside. While both are tremendous players, they don’t offer the height advantage that Eli Manning historically has had to help him out. This leaves the door open for a tall player to join the team. If the team is looking to stay relatively cheap, Kenny Britt will be an attractive option to explore. At 28 years old, he stands 6’3″ and is coming off the best year of his career while playing for the Los Angeles Rams. Given the quarterback situation there, that is an impressive accomplishment that could be explosive with Manning under center.
In the likely scenario that the team re-signs Jason Pierre-Paul and is pressed for cap space, the next receivers in line currently on the roster are Dwayne Harris, Tavarres King, and Roger Lewis Jr. Out of this trio, 2016 Pro Bowl kick/punt returner Dwayne Harris is likely to initially see more playing time due to experience on the field. This is a viable option but expect the team to explore other options. King didn’t see the field too much in the regular season but in the playoff matchup against the Green Bay Packers, he had an impressive game recording three receptions on six targets for 73 yards and a touchdown. This should get him plenty of looks for the upcoming season to prove his worth. Un-drafted free agent Lewis also had a quiet season, but despite dropping some passes, he was able to come up with some crucial deep plays throughout the season. It will be interesting to see what the team does with these players going forward.
Bye-Bye Rashad Jennings
One of the biggest issues for the Giants in 2016 was establishing the run game. Averaging 88.2 rushing yards per game, the team finished 29th in the league, something that needs to change if they’re looking to have a real run in the postseason. It’s fair to point out that a lot of the trouble comes from the offensive line, but there are other ways to determine the value of a running back. Unfortunately for starting back Rashad Jennings, he ended up on the wrong side of the evaluation spectrum after having a mediocre season last year. Shortly after the announcement of releasing Victor Cruz, Rashad Jennings found himself next in line of veteran players being cut to save money. This move freed up another $2.5 million in cap space, giving the Giants a total of $10 million freed on the day. With these transactions, the team currently has about $33 million left in their cap salary to spend for the upcoming season.
The decision on keeping Shane Vereen is still yet to come. He can be a threat in the passing game and be a dominant runner but is injury prone and that is a huge concern for the Giants organization. If released, this could free up another $3.75 million in cap space, but this would leave the backfield emptier than it already is. In either scenario of him leaving or staying, it seems very likely that Paul Perkins is going to be the starting back heading into the new season. It would be wise to accompany this with a solid veteran pick up in free agency since the unit is young, but don’t be surprised if you see Jerry Reese pull the trigger on a running back in the first round if the situation presents itself. After all, he usually uses the first round to draft the best available player, even if the position isn’t the number one priority.
(Tight) End of the Road
Although it doesn’t affect the cap situation at all, it should be noted that the Giants have announced that they will not be re-signing tight end Larry Donnell. After a stellar performance in 2014, he missed half the season in 2015 and was benched a year later after repeated poor performances throughout the beginning of the 2016 season. This move was expected, but what came as a slight surprise was the re-signing of Matt LaCosse, who spent all of last season on injured reserve with a knee injury. Before getting hurt, he was splitting reps with the starters during summer mini-camps and was expected to play a significant role in the offense. He still is very young at age 24 and stands tall at 6’6″, giving Eli Manning that tall target he’s desperately needed. If he can stay healthy, this should work in the Giants favor, but expect them to still pursue another prospect in the draft or free agency to provide more depth.
It’s been established that this year’s draft class has an extraordinary amount of talent at the tight end position. This could give the Giants a real advantage in the early rounds of this draft. The team is expected to go with an offensive lineman or tight end in the first round this year, but if the elite-rated tight ends are gone by the time they select at 23rd overall, there will still at least be high caliber prospects available in the second round. This gives a more wiggle room in the first round because they can explore more positions and not have to force a selection and settle with a player just because he’s next in line on their draft board at the tight end position. If an ideal offensive tackle isn’t available, and a player like O.J. Howard or David Njoku is still available, expect Jerry Reese to pull the trigger.