Examining the Return-To-Play Agreement's Impact on the Giants

From roster decision to salary cap issues, here's a look at some of the potential impact the NFL and NFLPA's return-to-play agreement could have on the Giants roster in 2020 and 2021.
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With the NFL and NFLPA having ironed out their remaining differences regarding operational and financial issues brought about by the impact of the novel coronavirus, it’s game on for the league.

Jackson Thompson pulled together some of the highlights the NFL and NFLPA agreed to regarding the hurdles that needed to be resolved before it was full steam ahead.

But let’s take a more in-depth look at what these new protocols mean for the Giants, whose rookies reported Thursday for the first of their two COVID-19 tests and who will report Sunday for the second mandatory test.

Roster Cuts. As part of the agreement, teams have until August 16 to trim its rosters from 90 to 80, thereby adding back a second cutdown date which had been eliminated a few years ago when teams would cut from 90 to 75 after three preseason games and then from 75 to 53 after the final preseason game.

With there being no preseason games, that means undrafted free agents who were at least hoping to put film together for the rest of the league are going to be out of luck as according to the timeline reported by Albert Breer, Day 20 would bring the calendar to August 16, the day before the first padded practice is scheduled.

But there might be hope for those players looking to get a fair shake if, in the time they do get to work with the team that they manage to stay healthy, come into camp in optimal condition and show they have a firm understanding of the playbook.

With coaches looking to hit the ground running, it wouldn’t be surprising if head coach Joe Judge keeps those guys who meet all of the criteria above, regardless if they are undrafted free agents or veterans.

Practice Squad Flexibility, Taking the roster cuts a step further, if, for example, a player that the coaches were counting on to play a critical role on the team suffers an injury from which he can potentially recover in a reasonable amount of time, there is always a chance he could be added to the practice squad (expanded to 16 players, including four who can be protected every week, and six players comprised of any number of years accrued experience).

Acclimation period. The acclimation period, which will be between Days 7-15, is crucial for all the players to get their sea legs back underneath them, especially those players returning from injury.

Many of us have probably seen, for example, videos of tight end Evan Engram running and cutting on his surgically repaired foot and looking no worse for the wear. We have also probably seen videos of safety Jabrill Peppers (back) running around with a helmet.

All of those videos are encouraging. But for every video that’s out there, there are many more players who chose to do their rehab without the benefit of cameras.

One player who might fit this category is left tackle Nate Solder, who had a cleanout procedure on his ankle before the start of the 2019 training camp. Solder never looked as though he was able to move as fluidly, and I wondered if perhaps he was nursing soreness that affected his game.

The point is the more extended acclimation period will allow the coaches and medical staff to see what all these players who were banged up look like, information they're going to need to make some roster decisions later on.

The Salary Cap. The key takeaway from the agreement between the league and the NFLPA is that the 2021 salary cap will not drop below $175 million and could be higher, depending on league revenues this year. The $175 million floor was decided upon to allow teams flexibility in planning for the 2021 season.

According to Over the Cap, the Giants currently have $165,515,585 in cap liabilities for 2021, which would put them under the $175 million floor by $9.484 million. But that space doesn’t include the 2021 rookie pool, nor does it appear to include the anticipated signings of Andrew Thomas and Xavier McKinney, both of whom are expected to have cap hits that qualify for the Top 51.

That space also doesn’t include any potential carryover from this year, of which the Giants currently have $12, 201,338 of cap space left (a fluid number) under the Top 51 rule, which expires after the preseason.

So what is the impact? Let’s say the Giants were planning to sign defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to a contract extension. That deal may or may not have to wait for the time being—perhaps later in the year when the Giants have a better idea just how much they have left.

Moving forward, if the cap doesn’t rise above the $175 million floor, re-signing defensive tackle Leonard Williams or extending running back Saquon Barkley might be difficult, especially if the Giants want to add veteran free agents next year and have enough in reserve for their rookie class.

(With Williams, it is believed that if the Giants can’t reach a deal with him next year and need to use the franchise tag again, it will cost them the same as this year’s tag, $16.1 million, which might be a tough financial pill to swallow if the cap drops to the established floor.)

Remember, the Giants already picked up the option years on safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end Evan Engram. Those two deals will cost them $6.8 million and $6 million, respectively, in 2021 unless the team rescinds.

The Giants will likely make salary cap cuts next year as they always do—Solder and perhaps even receiver Golden Tate, currently among the top-five highest cap figures on the 2021 roster could be two names to watch as potential cap hits.

These are all decisions that will have to be made once the salary cap is set eventually. Until such time, the Giants are focused on the present.