The NFL was bracing for an unprecedented financial hit as it prepared for its 2020 season amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As the regular season came to an end last week, the league had lost upwards of $2.7 billion in revenue from this year alone. The remuneration lost from teams playing games without fans in the stands took a significant chunk out of the league’s yearly income. With this loss of revenue, a drop in the league’s salary cap is sure to come. This drop would put many teams into sticky situations in terms of cap management, the Giants included.
Prior to the start of the 2020 season, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to set a salary cap floor for the 2021 season. It would be a steep decline from the cap from the 2020 season, but the agreement meant avoiding an even more alarming drop by potentially spreading out the lost revenue across multiple seasons.
$176 million is now the projected number for the 2021 salary cap. That is a decrease of $22.2 million, or 11.2% from the 2020 cap number of $198.2 million.
According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, there is now optimism that the 2021 salary cap could be significantly higher than the initial floor of $176 million. In a best-case scenario, there is a possibility for the cap to be set in the range of $195 million.
New developments with the Covid-19 vaccine are mainly responsible for the optimism. Team owners are now hopeful that by the time the 2021 season rolls around, they will have their stadiums packed to maximum capacity.
It remains to be seen how effective this new vaccine is going to be. The veracity surrounding a new strain of the virus is unknown as well.
This new strain of the virus is said to be more contagious than before.
Giants Cap Situation as it Sits Today
As it currently sits, the NFL salary cap for 2021 is going to be $176 million. The Giants recently signed safety Logan Ryan to a 3 year $31 million extension. That equates to $10.3 million committed annually, with Ryan receiving $6million as a signing bonus and $20 million guaranteed.
The team now has 42 players under contract for 2021 and has $165.5 million already committed towards the cap.
However, once the new league year begins in March, the Top 51 rule returns. This means that only $162.3 million of the above mentioned $165.5 million will be counted toward the 2021 cap liabilities.
That will leave the Giants with around $13.7 million in effective cap space. That is the money they can spend on free agents and draft picks.
Speaking of draft picks:
The Giants do not hold fifth or seventh-round selections this year. Their fifth-round pick is the compensation owed to the Jets from the Leonard Williams deal. The seventh-round pick was dealt to the Broncos just prior to the 2020 season, for defensive back Isaac Yiadom.
They do, however, hold two sixth-round picks. With the extra pick being acquired when they dealt Markus Golden to Arizona before the 2020 trade deadline.
The Giants also currently hold the 11th overall selection in the 2021 NFL draft. This slot, amalgamated with the aforementioned adjustments in draft picks, will cost the Giants approximately $6.2 million towards the 2021 salary cap.
That leaves them with approximately only $6.5 million in cap space to address all of their remaining needs.
If the Giants would like to re-sign some of their own players, find positional upgrades, and improve depth, they are going to have to find a way to clear up some cap space.
Here are a few potential roster moves that could have the Giants sitting pretty as they head into free agency:
Cody Core WR/ST
Cody Core was a sixth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2016. He quickly became a special teams ace while seeing time as an improving receiver.
The Giants claimed him off of waivers in September of 2019. He played in all 16 games and racked up a team-leading eight tackles in 282 special teams snaps.
His excellent special teams play earned him a two-year/$4 million contract with the Giants back in March 2020.
Core was expected to assume his role as the lead gunner on New York’s special teams. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during training camp, and those plans were derailed.
This injury forced him to miss the entirety of the 2020 season.
Achilles injuries are extremely tough to recover from. They are even more difficult for positions such a wide receiver- who are forced to run, jump, and cut on a regular basis.
If the team doctors feel Core has not progressed to their liking, or they feel he is at risk of re-injury, they could cut ties with the special team’s ace. They would save $2 million against the cap with $0 in dead money.
Rather than eat the entire $4 million without getting any playing time, they should cut ties and seek a cheaper replacement.
Cap Savings: $2 million
Pulley signed a three-year/$8 million contract with the Giants prior to the start of the 2019 season. He withstands to earn a base salary of $2.75 million next year.
The 2021 season will be his fourth with New York and his sixth in the league. He originally signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft.
His playing time has decreased considerably during his tenure with the Giants. He appeared in thirteen games in 2018- receiving nine starts. Since then, he only appeared in four games in 2019 and zero in 2020. This dramatic decrease in playing time only further sets the stage for the two sides to part ways in 2021.
Pulley was almost released last offseason. Should he be cut, the Giants would save the entirety of his $2.75 salary towards the cap with nothing in dead money.
They should have no problem finding a suitable replacement for much less than his nearly $3 million salary.
Cap Savings: $2.75 million
Total Savings: $4.75 million
David Mayo LB
Mayo’s contract is structured in such a way, that it actually becomes cost-effective to release him in 2021. The Giants signed him to a multiyear contract last offseason that did not include a signing bonus.
Tae Crowder, aka the 2020 NFL draft Mr. Irrelevant, emerged as a reliable player in the middle of the defense alongside Blake Martinez. He started six games and amassed 57 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, three tackles for loss, and one touchdown.
Crowder, along with Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin, all showed flashes of promise at different times. The Giants also have added depth in the form of linebacker TJ Brunson. He is a fellow 2020 7th-round pick who fills out the linebacker depth chart for this roster.
The emergence of these young players, along with a sizeable contract for an unutilized player, make David Mayo very expendable. Cutting him would save the Giants $2.3 million in cap space with no dead money.
Cap Savings: $2.3 million
Total Savings: $7.05 million
The Giants again used sagacious contract language to potentially save themselves a few million dollars. They structured his deal in such a way that they can cut him now without incurring a dead cap hit. The money owed to him for this season will come off the books without penalty if he is cut before the 2021 season.
By cutting him, they will save an additional $2.95 off the cap, penalty-free.
Toilolo signed a multi-year deal with the Giants last year. He failed to live up to the expectations the team had set forth for him. With Kaden Smith on a cheap rookie contract through 2022, it makes sense to dump Toilolo for a cheaper replacement.
When given the chance, Smith showed himself to be a reliable blocker and pass-catcher in his own right.
Cap Savings: $2.95 million
Total Savings: $10.0 million
Kevin Zeitler stands to earn $14.5 million in 2021. A season that will be his 10th-year in the league.
Although he is still a good player, he is nowhere near the player he once was. They have two young guards on their current roster. If they feel they can remotely replace Zeitler’s production, they would be wise to let him go.
The Giants would save $12 million towards the cap with $2.5 million in dead money by cutting him this offseason.
Zeitler definitely still has the ability to help a team win games. It doesn’t make financial sense for them to pay that much money for a rotational player. If they don’t feel the answer is currently on the roster, they should still be able to find a capable replacement for a fraction of the cost.
Either way, the Giants will likely bring in at least one more guard to compete for snaps.
Cap Savings: $12 million
Total Savings: $22.0 million
Dead Cap: $2.5 million
Golden Tate WR
It is safe to say that the Golden Tate experiment has been a failure.
So far, he’s been: injured, suspended for PED’s, benched for conduct detrimental to the team, and overpaid. He has also- vastly under-performed as a player, started a fistfight on the field after a game, and been a headache on social media.
All of this, in only two seasons.
But this is the guy that was brought in to replace OBJ? Given all his “troubles”, at least Beckham performed.
Tate has lost at least one step and been unable to get open. His 1.6 yards of separation per routes ran ranks him 118th out of the 126 qualified TE/WRs. Not to mention he will turn 33 before the 2021 season begins.
All things considered, there is little chance they will carry his $10+ million cap hit going into 2021.
But this is where things get tricky. The Giants have two options with releasing Tate:
They can let him go prior to June 1st. This will net $6.15 million against the cap while incurring $4.71 million in dead money.
Or they can wait and designate him a post-June 1 transaction. This will net them $8.5 million against the cap with only $2.35 million in dead money.
The smart way to play this would be to cut him after June 1st. They won’t get his $8.5 million until that happens, but they won’t need it before that either.
I will further explain this decision in the next segment.
Cap Savings: $8.5 million
Total Savings: $30.5 million
Dead Cap: $4.85 million
Solder opting out of 2020 only delayed the inevitable and rolled his mega-contract over to the 2021 season.
The Giants simply can’t pay Solder $16.5 million in 2021 to be a swing tackle.
That is exactly what he will be unless they choose to further delay the progression of 2020 rookie Matt Peart.
It’s no secret Solder has been a massive disappointment since joining the Giants. He has drastically underperformed on the monster 4yr $62 million contract he signed before the 2018 season.
Be that as it may, Dave Gettleman HAD to make this move.
The Giants now find themselves in a fairly similar situation to Golden Tate.
They can cut Solder prior to June 1st, but it will cost them. Doing so would save $6.5 million in cap savings but $10 million in dead money.
Dave Gettleman just got them out of salary-cap-hell last year.
Good teams who manage the cap well almost never make a transaction in which the dead money outweighs the good savings during that season.
If they were to designate him a post-June 1st transaction, they will net $10 million in cap savings with $6.5 million in dead money. The only trick with that is an additional $6.5 will go against the 2022 cap as dead money as well.
Again, the smart play here would be to wait until after June 1st.
How Can The Giants Cut Solder?
As stated in the aforementioned Tate segment, they won’t need the money prior to June 1st. They will have already incurred an additional savings of $22 million to add to the $12.7 million they already had. That is more than enough to re-sign Leonard Williams and add some valuable depth at other positions.
Whatever money they have left from free agency will roll over with the $18.5 million in post-June 1 savings.
With training camp not beginning until the third week of July, they have no reason to sign the draft picks prior to June 1st. They could also designate Dalvin Tomlinson as their franchise player. By doing so, they won’t have to pay him until after June 1st.
They could also designate Tomlinson as the franchise player to keep him from signing elsewhere. Then after June 1st, they can negotiate a multi-year deal with the extra savings they will incur from cutting Tate and Solder.
This would allow for the Giants to allocate the necessary resources to bring back Leonard Williams and fill some holes while also keeping Tomlinson for at least another year as well.
Cap Savings: $10 million
Total Savings: $40.5 million
Dead Cap: $11.35 million + $6.5 million in ’22
The Giants also have an assortment of moves they could make if they wanted to free up a little more cap space without incurring any further dead cap penalties. These moves are not pertinent in any way, but should the team feel they do not like some of their depth pieces or that they can improve upon their talent for an equivalent salary, these are some names the team could look to let go of.
$825K: Shakail Taylor CB
$900K: R.J. McIntosh-DL
$940K: Ryan Lewis–CB
$950K: Isaac Yiadom-CB
$990K: Elijhaa Penny-FB/RB
$1.1 Million: Sam Beal-CB*
*Sam Beal comes with a $500K dead cap hit