Why the New York Giants Should Trade Tight End Evan Engram
The NFL trade deadline is just around the corner, and there are sure to be several teams looking to sell.
Will the Giants be among them? General manager Dave Gettleman has shown that he’s not afraid to get involved in the market. This year, regardless of what his fate might be at the end of the season, he should be planning to be in the market as a seller to potentially move tight end Evan Engram.
Engram, a talented receiver/tight end hybrid, was supposed to be a featured piece in the Giants offense this year and was a preseason favorite to earn his first Pro Bowl berth given the history of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's use of tight ends while in Dallas.
Unfortunately, Garrett hasn't been able to replicate the production with Engram that he managed to get from the complementary tight ends to future Hall of Famer Jason Witten while with the Cowboys.
While some might argue that it's too soon to give up on Engram turning it around under Garrett since they've only had five games together, there isn't much in Engram's history to suggest that he might reach those lofty goals with the Giants.
Should the Giants look to trade Engram, then? I weighed the pros and cons of such a move, and in the end, I came up with a lot more pros than cons to justify making the move, which I've outlined below.
Where the Giants Currently Stand Resource Wise
If the Giants continue at their current pace where wins are hard to come by, New York will almost certainly be assured of another top-10 draft pick in 2021.
The problem with this (besides obviously drafting that high, which means they had another bad year record-wise) is that the Giants currently do not have a full slate of draft picks.
They owe a fifth-round pick to the Jets to complete the Leonard Williams trade, and earlier this year, they sent a seventh-round pick to the Broncos for cornerback Isaac Yiadom.
And if you think help is coming via comp picks, you can probably forget about that as well.
According to Over the Cap’s Compensatory Draft Picks Cancellation Chart, the Giants “spent” more in 2020 free agency than they lost, which means they’re not in line to get any comp picks next year—not good news for a team that is sure to have a bunch of needs to fill.
The Salary Cap? Glad You Asked
The 2021 salary cap is projected to drop to as low as $176 million thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on the league's revenue.
In using that number as a base, OTC projects the Giants as only having $16.205 million in effective cap space, which, per the site, represents the maximum cap space a team will have when it signs at least 51 players (the top-51 rule that begins on the first day of the new league year).
The Giants will be trimming dead weight off their 2021 books—that article is for another time—but embedded in their 2021 cap commitments is the estimated $6.013 million cost to exercise the option year of Engram’s rookie deal, a number that will exceed 49ers tight end George Kittle’s $5.5 million 2021 cap number.
It’s All About Production
I’m using Kittle as the measuring stick instead of Travis Kelce of the Chiefs simply because they were both drafted in 2017, Engram in the first round, and Kittle in the fifth. Both have also emerged as TE1 options for their respective teams.
Before going any further, yes, Engram has had injury issues that have kept him from completing a full 16-game season—the closest he came was his rookie year when he played in 15 games.
Engram has, to date, appeared in 39 games. Kittle, who has made it through one 16-game season so far, has appeared in nine more games than Engram.
The stat lines? Engram has 171 receptions out of 279 pass targets for 1,913 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kittle has 247 receptions out of 334 targets for 3,287 yards and 13 touchdowns.
For as talented as Engram is, he’s never really been featured as much in the offense as you’d have thought his talents would warrant. His season target average is 69.75, while Kittle, who led the 49ers in receiving yards in 2018-19 and is currently their receiving yardage leader despite playing in just three games this year, has been targeted 83.5 times per season.
"I think Evan's done a really nice job," Garrett said. "There's been some really positive plays that he's made over the course of the first five games, [and] certainly areas where he can get better [and] we can get better.
"I think Evan has done a good job taking advantage of the opportunity we've given him and certainly we're trying to create more and more for him."
Where’s the Value For the Giants?
Kittle has proven himself to be the more consistent and productive tight end despite his draft pedigree at this point in his career.
But the point though of this exercise is to call into question the wisdom of retaining Engram on his rookie year option when thus far, due to injuries, his production hasn’t warranted the price tag.
This year, it was thought that Engram would thrive in Garrett’s scheme. That hasn’t happened either.
Through five games, Engram has been targeted 31 times, just one more target than what he had in the first five games of his rookie campaign when he played on a roster with a legitimate No. 1 receiver (Odell Beckham Jr).
By comparison, through five games in 2019, Engram had been targeted 48 times.
Both head coach Joe Judge and Garrett have said that the offense’s focus will change each week according to the opponent.
However, you can also bet that if they had a consistent threat in the passing game who demonstrated an ability to run crisp routes and be good for at least 60% of their pass targets (Engram is currently at 58.1%), and who could produce solid yards after catch numbers, that individual would probably see a more significant role.
So, where exactly is the value for the Giants of keeping Engram at that fifth-year option price?
Given the production, there is none. But that the Giants did pick up that option year means that if they decide to trade Engram by the November 3 trade deadline, the acquiring team can take solace in knowing that they’re not getting a player for a half-year rental like the Giants got with Williams.
Who Might Be a Willing Trade Partner?
To arrive at some potential answers to this question, I went to the website Sports Injury Predictor to see what tight ends around the league have a higher percentage of injury given their histories.
Besides the Giants, the tight ends on five other teams—Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia—all had a probability rate for injury this season of at least 90%.
If a trade of Engram were to happen, I couldn’t see them sending him to the 49ers, who have Kittle (Jordan Reed is the reason why the 49ers are in the top five), nor do I see them sending Engram to the Eagles, who are the division.
The Steelers picked up Eric Ebron in the off-season, so I don’t think they would be an option unless they view Engram as a complementary player.
The best option appears to be the Colts, who right now are projected to have $66,500,205 in functional cap space next year. The Colts tight ends are Mo Alie-Cox, who leads them with 11 receptions out of 14 pass targets for 194 yards and two touchdowns; Jack Doyle; Trey Burton; and Noah Togiai.
Alie-Cox is currently dealing with a knee injury, and Burton has the third-highest probability of injury in the season (97%) given his history.
Engram, whose injury probability rate is 97%, is a high risk without question, but adding him to a Colts team to go along with Alie-Cox, a third-year player who is more of a two-way tight end than Engram, might be worth exploring by the Colts if
But What About Building Around Daniel Jones?
Finances aside, the question he Giants must answer before moving Engram is whether he can help franchise quarterback Daniel Jones with his development.
As I wrote in this piece, the biggest problem I have with the way general manager Dave Gettleman has approached rebuilding this team is in the order he’s done so.
There is little logic in drafting a franchise quarterback without having a solidified offensive line in front of him and a few reliable skill players to take some of the onus off the quarterback as he gains seasoning.
The Giants have running back Saquon Barkley—or at least they did until a torn ACL removed him from the picture.
Receiver Darius Slayton has recently come alive with his production, but no one is quite ready to crown him a No. 1 receiver yet.
And Sterling Shepard, when healthy, is more than serviceable. But the Giants need a lot more talent around Jones.
The offensive line? It might very well be good one day, but it’s not there yet, and there’s no telling when or if it will be considering it’s still not a completed project if you believe as I do that Matt Peart is the future at right tackle and that Shane Lemieux will replace Kevin Zeitler sooner than later.
Engram? As I noted above, he is off to his worst start to a season with a 30.6 rating (his career rating is a pedestrian 89.4) in an offense that was supposed to have emphasized his talents.
Talent aside, that kind of production is probably replaceable, especially if this coaching staff is not planning to fully use Engram’s talents.