Day 2 of the legal tampering period, otherwise known as full-blown NFL free agency, came and went with the Giants steering clear of the fast lane.
On Day 1 on Monday and again on Tuesday, teams with money to spend handed out soaring contracts for instant gratification, adding talent to rosters at set-the-market prices that excite fans now and, quite likely, will become financial burdens later.
This is how it goes every year, as the teams with the most salary-cap space making meteoric-sized splashes, agreeing to terms with players now known as “the highest-paid [add position] in the league.’’
In the early frenzy, the Giants’ first and only move was to re-sign Spencer Pulley, expected to compete for the starting center job, to a three-year, $9.6 million deal. Tuesday, they agreed to terms with Antoine Bethea, a 34-year-old safety. The most noise around the Giants emanated from the groans of their fans upon hearing Landon Collins is headed to the Redskins for the richest safety contract in NFL history.
Before teams were allowed to contact player agents to come to terms on a deal, the Giants agreed to trade outside linebacker Olivier Vernon to the Browns in exchange for guard Kevin Zeitler, with fourth- and fifth-round draft picks also involved in the transaction. This will be made official Wednesday at 4 p.m. and might hold up as the most significant move the Giants make amid this spending frenzy.
The Giants are around $24 million under the salary cap and will gain $1.5 million after the Vernon/Zeitler trade hits the books. Clearly, general manager Dave Gettleman who rose through the ranks in his formative NFL years in pro personnel, assigning value to players already in the league, is not interested in shelling out money unless he believes the cash is commensurate with value. Free agency in the first few days routinely involves overpaying for talent.
The lack of salary-cap space is also an issue. By Tuesday morning, three players who could have helped the depleted Giants defense came off the board and were headed to the Packers —defensive end Za’Darius Smith (four years, $66 million), linebacker Preston Smith (four years, $52 million) and Adrian Amos (four years, $37 million).
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The Giants would have loved to sign versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu, but not for the three-year, $42 million package the Chiefs put together. The Giants expressed interest in safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon and came close to landing him, but he agreed to a one-year deal with the Buccaneers.
Former Cardinals defensive end Markus Golden is still out there and would help in the pass-rush department, as would outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who had seven sacks the past two seasons with the Broncos. Former Redskins and Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remains on the market.
Capable players at sensible prices must be added to a defense deficient almost across the board. Consider just three of the 10 highest-paid Giants players are on defense — Janoris Jenkins (fourth highest-paid), Alec Ogletree (fifth) and Kareem Martin (eighth). Of the top 15 highest-paid Giants, just five are on defense — and one of them, Dalvin Tomlinson, is on his rookie contract and set to make $880,000 in base salary. There is little doubt the Giants have to go heavy toward defense in the upcoming draft.
As for their offensive line, perhaps Mike Remmers, released by the Vikings, is worth consideration at right tackle, though he is better-suited at guard. More likely, the Giants make a play for Daryl Williams at right tackle — he is a former Gettleman draft pick with the Panthers, albeit coming off a serious knee injury that must be evaluated. Already, the price for starting offensive line help is soaring — the Broncos paid Ja’Wuan James $51 million for four years.