The end of February is a time when many look forward to the warmth of spring. The NFL is also looking ahead to the start of a new league year. The New York Giants (as well as the other 31 NFL franchises) have to decide whether or not to cut players or restructure their contracts in the days and weeks ahead.
They began with running back Jonathan Stewart and linebacker Connor Barwin. The Giants did not pick up the option on Stewart’s contract and released Barwin. Those moves freed up $4.7 million in salary cap space.
Currently, there are just 20 players on the Giants’ roster from the 2017 season. General manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur, both entering their second season with the team, have the daunting task of deciding who will go and who will stay (and at what price).
Here are some of the major players the Giants will have to decide on before the start of the league year on Mar. 13.
Tight end Rhett Ellison
Ellison signed a 4-year, $18 million contract in 2017. He will earn $4.475 million in base salary and a workout bonus of $25,000. He will carry a cap hit of $5.75 million. If the Giants release him, they will save $3.25 million.
Ellison was brought to the Giants to be a backup tight end. When Evan Engram was in and out of the last lineup last season, his role on the team increased. Ellison proved to be a better blocker than Engram on running plays. His 25 receptions for 272 yards and a touchdown were icing on the cake. In two seasons with the Giants, Ellison only dropped three passes.
The Giants could release Ellison out of desperation for salary cap space. However, his blocking ability makes him extremely valuable for a team with the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year coming out of the backfield. Ellison and Shurmur are familiar from their days with the Minnesota Vikings. The team could conceivably keep Ellison and look to deal Engram, a 2017 first-round draft pick who underachieved last season.
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins
Jenkins signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract in 2016. He is scheduled to make $10.15 million this upcoming season with a $1 million roster bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus. He will carry a cap hit of $14.75 million. If the Giants release him, they will save $7.5 million against the cap.
Jenkins is the Giants’ best option at the cornerback position. Last season, he racked up 70 combined tackles (59 solo), two interceptions, 15 passes defended, and a forced fumble. He is also a favorite of Shurmur’s because of his competitive nature.
The Giants moved some of his 2018 money into the final two years of his deal last summer. This was a sign the team saw Jackrabbit as part of their future plans. At the same time, Jenkins will be the NFL’s fourth-highest paid cornerback this season. Jackrabbit should be around for 2019 considering the Giants’ other options at cornerback are rookie Grant Haley, waiver wire pickups Antonio Hamilton and Tony Lippett, and journeyman B.W. Webb.
Quarterback Eli Manning
Manning is entering the final year of a four-year, $84 million contract. He will make $11.5 million in base salary with a $5 million roster bonus and a $500,000 workout bonus. He will carry a cap hit of $23.2 million. The Giants would save $17 million against the cap if he is released.
The Giants would save a boatload of money if they parted ways with Manning. He could be replaced by a veteran at a discount or a rookie. This is fiscally prudent, but highly unlikely.
After a 1-7 start, the offense looked lethargic and dismal. They turned it on the second half of the season. The Giants won four of their final eight games with Manning having one of his best statistical seasons. He completed 66 percent of his passes (380 of 576) for 4,299 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Manning’s completion percentage was the highest of his career.
Manning’s $17 million 2019 salary ranks 15th among active quarterbacks. This is relatively cheap for the franchise’s all-time leader in every significant quarterback category with a Hall of Fame resume. It would behoove the Giants to see if they could get him to rework his deal to give the franchise more financial flexibility. The team has not yet approached him with this.
Linebacker Alec Ogletree
Ogletree was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams last offseason. He signed a four-year, $42.75 million contract with the Rams in 2017. He will make $4 million in base salary and a $6 million roster bonus. He will carry an $11.75 million cap hit and a dead cap value of $5.25 million. The Giants will save $6.5 million if he is released.
Ogletree was brought in to help the change the team culture and was named a defensive co-captain in his first season with the team. On the field, he led the Giants with five interceptions. Two of his picks were returned for touchdowns, also highest on the team. Ogletree was the first Giants linebacker with at least four interceptions in a season since Vince Costello in 1967.
Ogletree excelled in covering the run but was frequently picked on in passing situations. He gave up more than 700 yards passing in the 13 games he appeared in.
Linebacker Olivier Vernon
Vernon signed a five-year, $85 million contract in 2016. He will make $15.25 million in base salary and $250,000 in workout bonus. He will carry a cap hit of $19.5 million and a dead cap value of $8 million. The Giants would save $11.5 million against the cap if he is released.
Vernon is coming off a 2018 season that saw him miss five games, playing through ankle and shoulder injuries, and get called out publicly by his head coach. He said all the right things in front of the cameras and microphones, but privately seethed.
Vernon is the Giants’ best pass rusher by a very wide margin. He led the team in sacks (seven) and quarterback hits (21). This was despite missing more than a quarter of the season and needing a few games to get back into playing shape.
Vernon’s contract is an expensive one, the NFL’s second-highest for a 3-4 outside linebacker. There is no more guaranteed money on his contract, making him a potential valuable commodity on the trade market. At the same time, the drop-off in talent after Vernon on the depth chart could be too great to ship him off.