Where there’s a will, there's a way.
The New York Giants probably hope that age-old cliché comes to fruition regarding their ability to keep pending free-agent defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson and still have enough to sign other players (including their rookie class).
But can it be done? Let’s unwind the factors and see what it would take.
Projected Available Cap Space
We can safely say some players won’t be on the Giants in 2021 and whose contract removals will yield an abundance of space.
Here was the original spreadsheet I developed, the proposed moves and benefits detailed in this article.
There are two players I need to revisit on this list, offensive lineman Nate Solder and guard Kevin Zeitler.
If Solder is contemplating retiring, he could help the Giants cap out right away by agreeing to lower his base salary to the minimum (which would free around $8.8 million of space right off the bat).
By delaying a final decision until June 2, the Giants would then be able to save on what’s left of the base salary and not get hit with having to take the full dead-money hit upfront.
There is another factor that needs to be mentioned. If the league permits players to opt-out of the 2021 season for COVID-19, although the contract would still toll, based on Over the Cap's reported numbers, the Giants would save on his full and original base salary ($9.9 million) and be on the hook for just a $6.6 million cap hit versus a $16.5 million charge.
Zeitler, who initially I projected as a cap cut given where he is in his contract, is a move that I initially believed was a no-brainer. I still think that this is the way to go, but at the same time, you can't project a cap cut just for the sake of timing unless there is a solid replacement option behind him.
Right now, there isn't, as the Giants have a pair of two left guards in Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux and journeyman Chad Slade. Thus, once can't rule out the possibility of Zeitler, who was the most consistent offensive lineman for the Giants, as sticking around and maybe even getting an extension with a voidable year or two for the sake of easing his cap hit this year to about $7-$8 million.
If the Giants are hard-pressed, they can restructure and extend the contracts for James Bradberry and Blake Martinez, two players who are likely in their long-term plans.
Smart teams don’t go crazy with restructuring contracts because you only end up kicking the can down the road, and you can end up setting yourself up for some significant dead money hits if you seek to terminate those extended/restructured contracts early.
The Giants will want to get Leonard Williams signed, sealed, and delivered before the start of the free agency negotiating window.
If they have to use the franchise tag on Williams, he will get a 20% raise on what he earned last year, bringing his cap number to approximately $19.4 million. So again, it behooves them to get Williams done before the start of the legal tampering period, a tall task.
Currently, there is no deal imminent, but before we give up hope, if the two sides really want each other, contracts can usually come together quickly enough once the basic parameters are agreed to.
I redid my original mock contract for Williams using OTC's Contract Constructor. Along the way, I made a few minor tweaks to bring the APY more in line with Williams' estimated market value. (I projected an APY market value of $19.4 million per year.)
Here is what I came up with.
Dalvin Tomlinson: A Mock Contract
In coming up with a mock contract for Tomlinson, I made this a four-year deal with the last year voidable. This helped with prorating the signing bonus to four years (as opposed to three).
While it does dump $3 million into the Giants’ 2024 cap, the expectation is that the league-wide cap will continue to rise and that $3 million won’t hamstring the team from doing what needs to be done.
Here is the mock contract:
I also included an LTBE (likely to be earned) incentive tied into Tomlinson's defensive snaps. He's averaged approximately 60% of the defensive snaps through his career, so this LTBE incentive should be easy enough for him to achieve, barring injury. (A LTBE incentive counts against the current year's cap number, whereas an NTLBE--not likely to be earned incentive--counts against the following year's cap.)
I was able to get Tomlinson to an APY of $12.8 million. This might be a little high, but there is a potential out for the Giants after the second year if it no longer becomes practical to keep him on this particular deal.
Can the Giants Afford Both Tomlinson and Williams?
I still think this is a long shot as between the cap not being locked in and the unlikelihood of Williams wrapping up his deal before the start of free agency, time is not on the Giants' side.
But there is a very slim chance the Giants can keep both Tomlinson and Williams and still have enough cap space to add one more significant free-agent signings before turning to a bunch of depth signings on modest contracts.
The problem is the Giants, much like what happened with their 2020 playoff hopes, need for too many dominoes to fall a certain way. If Williams is tagged—and that does seem to be where things are headed—the longer that tag sits on him, the less likely they’ll be able to bring back Tomlinson and address another significant need on the roster with a blue-chip prospect.
Even if the Giants do get Williams done early, there are still no guarantees that Tomlinson won’t want to test the market—and he’d be foolish not to.
There are plenty of teams out there with a lot of cap space. That’s why the longer that tag sits on Williams, the more likely another team will swoop in with a mega deal for Tomlinson that the Giants probably won't be able to match.
And quite honestly that would be a shame, as if the Giants are to solidify the new foundation that head coach Joe Judge helped to put in place, this Giants team has to break the very bad habit of letting homegrown talent worthy of a second contract from the team walk out the door.
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