A Very Early Look at the Giants 2021 Salary Cap Situation

Plus a look at how the Giants can boost their 2021 cap space.
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There is still another month of the NFL’s regular-season plus an entire playoff slate to go, but already there have been projections about the 2021 salary cap.

According to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic, the preliminary cap estimate, as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on team revenue such as fan attendance and more, is shaping up to be around $175 million, the minimum floor agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA before the start of the season.

“Barring the unexpected, that is likely to be the 2021 figure,” Kaplan writes. “The cap is based in part on the previous year’s local revenues, which this season have been practically nonexistent, causing at the very least a $4 billion reduction in league proceeds. Without the minimum floor, the cap certainly would have fallen far more.”

While the final number won’t be set until late February and all of this is preliminary--there could be some new rules implemented to account for the lowered cap floor that might affect these projections--I took a look at where the Giants stand. I also explored what decisions they can make to set themselves up to take care of their free agents while also adding others.

(All figures are from Over the Cap unless otherwise noted.)

Summary

Summary of Savings

Figures from Over the Cap

PlayerTransaction DesignationSavings2021 Dead Money

Kevin Zeitler

Pre-June 1

$12,000,000

$2,500,000

Nate Solder

Post June 1

$10,000,000

$6,500,000*

Golden Tate

Post June 1

$8,500,000

$2,352,942*

Levine Toilolo

Pre-June 1

$2,950,000

0

David Mayo

Pre-June 1

$2,300,000

0

TOTAL Savings Pre-June 1

$17,250,000

$11,352,942

Total OVERALL Savings

$35,750,000

$20,205,884

*As a post-June 1 transaction, these players' remaining dead money accelerates into the team's 2022 salary cap.  

Where Things Stand

The Giants have 42 players under contract for 2021 and have committed $165,470,516 in cap dollars. However, once the new league year begins in March, the Top 51 rule returns, which means of that money committed, only $162,341,023 will count toward cap liabilities.

If we use the $175 million figure that Kaplan is hearing will be the 2021 cap floor, that will leave the Giants with $12.658 million of effective cap space (money they can spend on free agents plus the money they’ll need to sign their draft picks).

Speaking of draft picks, according to OTC’s 2021 rookie number estimates, they have the Giants slotted to pick No. 12, which means New York would need approximately $6.299 million for their class.

(Note: The Giants do not have a fifth-round pick, as that pick is the final compensation owed to the Jets for Leonard Williams, but they do have two sixth rounders, one of which was acquired in a trade with Arizona for Markus Golden).

But if the Giants win the NFC East, they’ll pick somewhere between No. 19 (where Tankathon currently has them listed) and No. 24 unless they advance in the postseason tournament. (And quite frankly, the lower the pick in the first round, the better as that means less money is needed for the draft class.)

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Giants finish at No. 19 in the draft order. They would need $6,388,092 of cap space for their rookie class.

Rather than subtract what they’re going to need for their rookie class, let’s put these numbers on the back burner for the time being until we figure out how to clear more space.

Kevin Zeitler

Zeitler’s contract, which has a cap hit of $14.5 million. Although the veteran right guard is still very much a functional player, I could see the Giants trying to remove his contract from the books if they believe that Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez are their guards of the future.

Removing Zeitler’s contact from the books would save the Giants $12 million and cost just $2.5 million in dead money.

Again he’s still very much a functional player with a lot of good football left. Contrary to what head coach Joe Judge says about the offensive line rotation, it doesn’t make financial sense to carry big contracts unless you plan on playing those guys on every snap.

Nate Solder

Solder’s contract also has to be removed as if Andrew Thomas is the future at left tackle, there is no way this team can carry Solder for $16.5 million against its cap. Because Solder opted out of 2020, his contract from this year tolled, meaning it froze to where instead of ending in 2021, it’s going to end in 2022.

If the Giants ripped the bandage off before June 1, they’d save just $6 million while taking a $10.5 million dead money hit. Teams that wisely manage their caps seldom make a move in which the dead money exceeds the savings—that doesn’t make sense.

So the likelihood here is that Solder, who is due a $9.9 million base salary in 2021, will be designated as a post-June 1 cap transaction. Doing so would mean the Giants end up saving $10 million on the transaction and are only hit for $6.5 million in dead money this year and again next year.

However, because Solder would be a post-June 1transactin, the Giants would not receive the $10 million credit until—you guessed it—after June 1. But the good news is that $10 million windfall could be used to sign the rookie draft class, regardless of where the Giants end up drafting.

Golden Tate

The Giants will almost certainly be in the market for a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and that receiver has to come from the draft. New York never really replaced Odell Beckham Jr. However, they tried with Golden Tate and with rolling the dice on three undrafted receivers in the summer, Derrick Dillon (no longer with the team), Binjamin Victor (who hasn’t made it off the practice squad), and Austin Mack, the most successful of the three.

The Giants' best place to find that guy is going to be in the draft, where there is another deep class of receivers taking shape. Sure the Giants could try to solve it via free agency with an Allen Robison, for example. Still, with cap dollars being at a premium, teams need to be as judicious as ever when spending in free agency).

Getting back to Tate, there’s little chance the Giants carry his $10,352,942 cap hit next year. The question is whether to designate him as a pre-June 1 cut or a post-June 1 transaction.

If the team does the former, they will save $6.147 million and be hit with a $4.705 million cap hit. Ouch!

If they do the latter, the savings swells to $8.5 million, and the dead money shrinks to $2.352 million.

If it were my call, I would do the latter, even though the savings won’t be available until after June. The reason why is that if I’m using the savings from Solder’s contract on signing my draft picks, I can then use the savings from Tate’s contract to sign my franchise player, whom my guess will be Leonard Williams.

Levine Toilolo

The Giants signed Toilolo to be their blocking tight end, a role that he’s had mixed results with so far. But perhaps in foreshadowing their expectations, they only signed Toilolo to a two-year deal, structuring his contract in such a way to where his $2.95 million cap hit in 2021 can come off the books with no dead money.

With Kaden Smith still on a very affordable rookie deal through 2022—he’ll count for $850,000 next year—it makes too much sense to drop Toilolo from the books and lock to replace him with a more affordable veteran free-agent option if not an undrafted free agent.

LB David Mayo

Another player who had his multi-year contract structured to where it becomes cost-effective to cut him in 2021 is linebacker David Mayo. Mayo signed a three-year deal this past off-season that did not include a signing bonus.

If the Giants feel that all of those linebackers they drafted this year are finally ready for game-day duty—thus far Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, and Tae Crowder have contributed, but TJ Brunson hasn’t done so yet—then it makes financial sense to trim Mayo’s $2.3 million salary off the books.

Adding It All Up...

Based on the moves proposed above, I have the Giants saving $37.5 million, of which $17.25 million becomes instantly available to them before June 1.

Thus the Giants' $12.658 million functional cap space stands to increase to just under $30 million, which should be plenty of space if the Giants wish to re-sign some of their own free agents.

...And Spending It Wisely

Safety Logan Ryan has to be at the top of that "must-resign list. Ryan was reportedly looking for $10 million per year before signing with the Giants this summer for the "bargain" price of $6.5 million.

As much as I love what Wayne Gallman brings to the table, I'm not sure I'd re-sign him to a big-money deal, not if I know that Saquon Barkley is going to be back and fully ready to roll. My guess is the Giants might let Gallman test the money and see if he can land himself an RB1 spot with another team and the money that goes along with it.

Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson is a guy that I don't think the Giants will be able to re-sign because I suspect Leonard Williams is going to be the priority. I would not be surprised if the Giants have to tag Williams while working out a new deal.

(The franchise tag estimate for 2021, by the way, is $17.309 million, which would wipe out the Giants' pre-June 1 savings that I came up with through my calculations, basically putting the Giants back at square one in terms of cap space.)

I always thought the Giants brought in Austin Johnson as a potential replacement for Tomlinson, as run defenders are generally easier to replace than pass rushers. Johnson, who is a UFA in 2021, would need to be re-signed as well, though I suspect he'd come at a much lower rate than Tomlinson.

The only other remaining Giants free agents I'd give any consideration to re-signing include backup quarterback Colt McCoy (I'd be willing to spend a little more on the backup quarterback as Daniel Jones has now had to miss at least one game in each of his first two seasons), special teamer Nate Ebner, one of running backs Alfred Morris or Devonta Freeman, and long snapper Casey Kreiter.

As for external free agents, the most significant team needs are pass rusher, cornerback, and receiver. I'm using the draft to find a No. 1 receiver, and that's not up for debate.

Suppose I am spending to re-sign Williams, who per Spotrac is projected to earn around $8 million per year based on a three-year,$24,175,686 deal (which I feel is too low). In that case, I'm not sure I have enough for another top-quality pass rusher (not that any of them will likely even see the market, as was the case last year when teams used the franchise tag to lock up their top edge rushers).

I could see a scenario where the Giants stand pat on adding another quality pass rusher, though, especially since this coaching staff didn't get a full season to work with Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines in developing them further. If not, then the draft might provide the answer, but if anyone is hoping for the next Chase Young, I don't think that guy will be in the 2021 draft class.

Tying the Financial Loose Ends

Again, I can't stress how much this is all preliminary, as the NFL and NFLPA might meet and implement rule changes that govern accounting and what teams can and can't do once it comes out of a league year that's been heavily affected by COVID-19.

But to put my projections into perspective, if the Giants stand pat and have $12,658 million in functional space already for next year, my estimate of $17,250 million in pre-June 1 savings will boost their available cap room to $29.908 million. 

Add in the post-June 1 estimated savings, and the Giants' 2021 cap space will grow to roughly $48.408 million total which should leave them with enough to get through 2021.

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