Shaping a Competitive New York Giants' 2021 Off-season Salary Cap Plan

The Giants need salary cap space--lots of it. So here's a plan consisting of roster cuts, extensions and restructures to get them some breathing room.
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If there was ever a year for New Giants general manager Dave Gettleman and assistant general manager and salary-cap manager Kevin Abrams to earn their keep, this would certainly appear to be it.

Thanks to the effects of the global pandemic on league revenue, all bets seem to be off when it comes to the salary cap if reports of the 2021 cap dropping to as low as $175 million come to fruition.

According to Over the Cap, the 2021 league-wide cap is projected to be $176 million.

As far as cap space goes, the Giants, who initially had a few million in reserve, saw that wiped out when four of their players qualified for a Proven Performance Escalator raise that will take a bite out of the 2021 cap space and wipe out any carryover.

Where does this leave the Giants in terms of space? Over the cap projects them to be in the red by $3,373,297, which means the Giants will have to get very creative if they want to have money to sign free agents and sign their rookie class.

(OTC projects the Giants as needing $6,573,73 million for the rookie class, but per Top 51 rules, the Giants will need $2,613,732 in functional cap space according to OTC’s effective cap space formula as found on this page.)

What will the Giants do to clear space? I used OTC’s salary cap calculator to develop a plan that includes roster cuts, restructures, and extensions.

Here’s my plan.

Roster Cuts

The easiest way to clear space is to trim those contracts belonging to players no longer in the team’s plans. Here are the contracts I would consider cutting:

OT Nate Solder

With the Giants having found their left tackle of the future in Andrew Thomas, it makes zero sense for the team to keep Solder, who currently has the second-highest cap hit on the team, on the roster.

But complicating the number situation is that Solder’s contract tolled an extra year when he decided to opt-out of last season.

It’s not known if Solder plans to return to football this year, but logically speaking, if he opted out last year due to COVID-19 concerns and the pandemic shows no signs of dissipating, it would be hard to see Solder return in 2021.

With that said, by designating him as a post-June 1 transaction, the Giants would save $10 million and would be charged with $6.5 million in dead money this year and $4 million in dead money next year.

The one drawback to designating Solder a post-June 1 transaction is the Giants won’t be able to touch that money until June 1. But no matter, as the savings can be used to sign the rookie class and any late free-agent signings.

WR Golden Tate

The Giants need playmakers on offense. Sadly, Tate’s playmaking days appear to be behind him as there is little chance the team will carry his $10,852,942 cap number.

Cutting Tate pre-June 1 results in $6,147,061 savings with $4,705,881 in dead money. Making Tate a post-June 1 transaction ups the savings to $8.5 million, with $2,352,942 in dead money hitting the books in 2021 and 2022.

I debated whether to make Tate a post-June 1 transaction, but for the $2 million or so difference, I decided to make him a pre-June 1 cut.

OG Kevin Zeitler

This was difficult because Zeitler is still very much a good football player. But again, the Giants drafted a young guard, Shane Lemieux, presumably to be a part of that starting lineup one day.

Lemieux didn’t get snaps at right guard last year, but you wonder if that might change this year and if the coaches plan to put Will Hernandez back at left guard.

Zapping Zeitler’s contract, which is in its final year, leaves the Giants with a $12 million savings and $2.5 million dead money, making it a no-brainer.

LB David Mayo

The Giants invested many draft resources last year on linebackers after they had signed Mayo to a new contract. It might be time to move on from this run-stopping veteran and focus on finding someone from among that young core group to see more paling time. Cutting Mayo will result in a $2.3 million savings with no dead money.

TE Levine Toilolo

Toilolo is due to count for $2.95 million against the 2021 cap with no dead money. I suspect that the Giants will upgrade at tight end, and Toilolo’s Giants stint will be a one-and-done season.

WR Cody Core

Cody Core was the Giants' most dynamic special teams player in quite some time. But he’s coming off a ruptured Achilles, and while at last check, he appeared to be on track for a recovery, The Giants probably won’t be able to carry his $2 million cap hit. (They will also probably look to add new talent to special teams.)

Core becomes a pre-June 1 transaction for me, assuming he can pass a physical—that part is key. If he can’t pass a physical and the Giants need to let him go, they can negotiate an injury settlement to cover up to 7 weeks of his 2021 salary, which would come to about $823,529.

(Aside benefit to taking this approach, especially since Core would leave no dead money, is that if they want to bring him back later on, they can do so on a lower deal.)

CB Sam Beal

Like Solder, Beal opted out of last season due to COVID-19. Again, the virus doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so it would be surprising if Beal returns to football this year. If he doesn't, Beal would only yield a $588,883 gain.

FB Eli Penny

Penny’s biggest value came on special teams, where he was a core member. But on offense, he played in a career-low 73 snaps (partially due to him missing the last two games of the year).

As I’ve written before, for the number of offensive snaps he gets, why not have a tight end or even a lineman be your big bully lead blocker (the Giants experimented with Shane Lemieux at fullback on a few snaps last year).

If the Giants trim Penny's contract, they'd save  $990,000 with no dead money.

Restructures

Depending on what the final cap number is, I wouldn’t be surprised if many teams engage in restructures of those contracts belonging to players with no guaranteed money left but who are still part of the team’s plans for the future.

Ideally, it’s thought to be best to restructure with about two years left in the deal so that you can prorate the converted base salaries into bonuses.

With that said, here is the one contract I’d look to restructure.

WR Sterling Shepard

Shepard is under contract through 2023. His 2021 cap number is $9 million, and his prorated bonus is at $2 million per year. While I believe Shepard is still part of the team’s plans moving forward, that he’s missed parts of the last two seasons probably makes Shepard a candidate for a restructured deal.

On March 15, 2021, $4.025 million of Shepard’s $6.975 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed. So I’d trim $2,950,000 off Shepard’s base salary (the non-guaranteed portion) and convert that into a signing bonus to be spread over the remainder of the contract ($983,333 per year).


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Extensions

There is only one player under contract for 2021 that makes sense to extend so that his cap number is lower.

S Jabrill Peppers

Peppers is one of two first-round draft picks from 2017 on the Giants roster (the other being tight end Evan Engram), who had the option year in his rookie deal exercised.

That means he’ll be due a base salary of $6.77 million thanks to the option year of his rookie deal being exercised, which puts him just behind Logan Ryan’s $7 million cap figure.

With the Giants appearing to have finally found a safety trio that can potentially rival Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant, it would be surprising if Peppers isn’t in the long-term plans. As such, the Giants might want to try getting a contract extension done with Peppers this off-season to lower his cap number and provide a little more breathing room.

I’ve projected a four-year deal extension for Peppers, which would kick in starting in 2021. In the first year of his deal (2021), I lowered his base salary to $990K (the minimum, fully guaranteed). 

I added a $1 million roster bonus and a $6 million signing bonus, both of which he’d get upfront (the signing bonus would prorate at $1.2 million per year over the life of the contract, starting in 2021), and I threw in a $50,000 workout bonus.

In terms of cash upfront, Peppers would receive in hand $7,040 million in the first year of the extension (2021), which would be a slight raise over his current projected cap hit. But in terms of his cap figure, he’d cost the Giants roughly $3.24 million.

Below is a spreadsheet representing all the moves I’ve described thus far.

cap savngs table

With these projected savings, the Giants should have enough money for the franchise tag for Leonard Williams, projected to be around $19.3 million, a 120% increase on what he earned last year rather than the projected $17.309 million estimated franchise tag for a defensive end.

I do think this year the Giants and Williams will get a deal done if not by the start of free agency, hopefully not long after. I’ve long believed that the reason why the two sides didn’t get a new deal done last year had to do with the incoming new coaching staff and there being some questions on both sides as to how Williams would be deployed and how well he’d fit into the scheme, questions that have since been answered.

If the Giants and Williams can get something done, Williams would benefit from getting a boatload of cash upfront in the first year, but not at the expense of hamstringing the team's cap.

Final Thoughts

I am curious to see if Gettleman makes any trades, especially if the pandemic forces teams to operate as they did last off-season. I don’t think the Giants will necessarily trade for veteran players on other teams for this reason, plus they’d be looking at having to give up an asset or two, which I don’t think happens if they cut the roster down to the bone.

I'm also interested to see if the NFL and NFLPA introduce any new rules regarding salary cap accounting. For example, one idea that's been floated around is the possibility of borrowing against future caps. But given that we are still in a pandemic, that might prove to be a tricky proposition.

The bottom line is there’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m sure Gettleman and Abrams will have a few tricks up their sleeves that I haven’t touched upon, especially with the upcoming 2021 being a big one for the team.


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