The Giants traded a seventh-round draft pick to the Denver Broncos in 2016 to acquire punter Riley Dixon, and they haven't looked back since.
The 27-years-old veteran has been a solid performer for the Giants, and in 2019, Dixon certainly made a strong case for a Pro Bowl berth when he finished sixth in the league in net average (43.5 yards) thanks to some fine gunner play.
So what happened last year? A big part of it was the loss of both gunners from the previous season, Antonio Hamilton, who signed with the Chiefs during free agency, and Cody Core, who ruptured his Achilles tendon and has since been cut.
Combine this with some spotty punt coverage, and Dixon's numbers not only suffered, but he also had to contribute five tackles (third-most on the special teams), with one tackle appearing to shake him up physically about midway through the season.
If that wasn't enough, Dixon, whom the Giants tried to use on a couple of unsuccessful passing plays, also had one punt blocked and absorbed a heavy roughing penalty late in the year.
That all said, Dixon's decline wasn't solely the fault of others. His pooch punting wasn't as sharp, so when combined with the gunner play, the result was the lowest gross average (44.8 yards) of his career.
What He Brings
Dixon's gross and net averages aren't necessarily going to win him many accolades. Still, there are two things he has done exceptionally well dating back to his college days at Syracuse: hangtime and forcing fair catches.
Last season, Dixon finished fourth among punters who took part in at least 80% of their team's punt opportunities for the fewest punts returned (25).
An excellent directional punter, Dixon also forced 18 fair catches (out of 65 punts), and his average hang time was 4.36 seconds--all top-10 marks in the represented sample size.
And lest, I forget: Dixon, who serves as the holder on place-kicks, has been flawless in this regard during his time with the Giants, even corralling some off-target snaps from center and getting them down swiftly for the kicker to have a chance at a conversion.
Dixon is entering the third year of his contract and is due to count for $2.925 million against the 2021 salary cap.
For the first time in his deal, he doesn't have any guaranteed money owed him, so if he were to lose his roster spot, he would yield a $2.8 million savings with $125,000 in dead money hitting this year's cap and $125,000 hitting next year's cap.
It's very telling that the Giants made it a point to retain Ryan Santoso on their roster. Perhaps that's to give the young man a chance to put together some fresh film for the rest of the league.
Since we're still amid a COVID-19 pandemic that forced the Giants last season to place their kicking battery on the reserve/COVID-19 list after they were deemed close contacts of Graham Gano, who had tested positive for the virus, the Giants are likely trying to keep the versatile Santoso around in case of an emergency.
That said, the Giants are facing some salary cap issues ahead, and it might just be tempting for the team to go with Santoso and cut what's left of Dixon's contract if Santoso can match Dixon's showing this summer.
Dixon will likely win out--as noted above, his dip in production wasn't all on him--but unlike the last two seasons, it's probably fair to say that Dixon isn't a 100% lock to make the roster as long as Santoso remains in the mix.
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