Anyone who has ever gone shopping with a long list of needs, a small wad of bills in the wallet and a nearly maxed-out credit card knows the experience is likely to be unsatisfying.
Welcome to New York Giants free agency, 2019.
So much to do, only so much to spend. Rather than a big splash, the Giants likely will make several ripples in the pool of free-agent talent. The moves that move the needle the sharpest might turn out to be ones they already made: not putting the franchise tag on safety Landon Collins and trading outside linebacker Olivier Vernon to the Browns for guard Kevin Zeitler.
Ideally, the Giants would like to fortify a few positions to set themselves up for the draft without a sense of desperation. This means general manager Dave Gettleman, fresh off the unpopular decision to push Collins onto the open market and the more popular deal to acquire Zeitler, will have to be judicious in his signings, as his roster is lacking in so many areas — especially on defense.
“We’re in the roster-building season,’’ Gettleman said recently at the scouting combine. “We don’t play until September. I checked the schedule. So there’s a lot of time to make a lot of decisions. So I just want everybody to understand that.’’
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The freshest memory for Giants fans is the loss of Collins and that will take plenty of salve to heal the wound. The Giants are not in great shape, salary cap-wise, but they are not destitute, either. The legal tampering period begins Monday — teams are allowed to open negotiations — and full-blown free agency begins March 13. The Giants, after gaining $1.5 million from the Vernon trade, are projected to be around $28 million under the salary cap of $188.2 million, putting them 17th in the NFL in cap space, according to Spotrac. There are eight teams in the league that are at least $50 million under the cap and prepared to spend, spend and spend some more.
There is also the financial elephant in the room: Eli Manning’s contract. He is scheduled to make $17 million in salary on the last year of his deal and count $23.2 million on the cap. To this point, Gettleman, at least publically, has shown no inclination to ask Manning to reduce his cap hit.
With Collins gone, the Giants need a strong safety to go with a free safety. They need at least one top cornerback, possibly, two, to play along with Janoris Jenkins. They badly needed pass rushers even before Vernon was dealt away. They need linebackers, as per usual. They need a new right tackle but filled right guard, impressively, with Zeitler. And, at some point, they need to make a move to find a successor to Manning as the next franchise quarterback. Don’t they? This would be a search that takes place in the draft and not free agency.
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“Listen, I have this crazy idea that my responsibility, that every decision we make is in the best interest of the New York Giants,’’ said Gettleman, who after 15 years in pro personnel with the Giants got his break when he became the general manager of the Panthers in 2013. “Carolina coach] Ron Rivera used to kid me, he used to say wait until you have to cut one of your draft picks, because when I first got to Carolina I didn’t know any of those guys. So I had to make moves, you do what you have to do, and when the time came, I picked and chose who we paid money to. I’m gonna do the same thing here. These decisions are not made with my heart. They’re made with my head, and with the experience I have. And I’ve been lucky. I’ve been around a few Super bowl teams, I know what it takes to build one. I know what it should look like.’’
The Giants have 22 of their own free agents to sort through and have already tendered four restricted or exclusive rights players — kicker Aldrick Rosas, receiver Corey Coleman, center Jon Halapio and fullback Eli Penny. Of their 15 unrestricted free agents, the most notable are defensive ends Kerry Wynn and Josh Mauro, cornerback B.W, Webb, receivers Cody Latimer and Russell Shepard, and long snapper Zak DeOssie.
A year ago, Gettleman swung and missed, badly, on guard Patrick Omameh and running back Jonathan Stewart. Both players added a sense of professionalism to the building but nothing to the field. Once again Gettleman is looking to add to the culture of the locker room.
“Talent sets the stage, character sets the ceiling,’’ Gettleman said. “I’ve been to seven of these things [Super Bowls], and every single team had a great locker room.’’