Monday was the first day NFL teams could release players, and a couple of teams started early. The Philadelphia Eagles cut Riley Cooper, the New Orleans Saints cut Jahri Evans, the Atlanta Falcons cut William Moore and Justin Durant.
This carnage will continue throughout the coming weeks. NFL contracts are structured for the benefit of the team, not the player. When a guy gets too expensive and the guarantees have run out, those contract vanish in a hurry.
With that in mind, here's a look at four high-profile New York Giants players who could find themselves on the chopping block this offseason:
WR Victor Cruz
Details: Cruz has three years and $24 million left on his deal, of which none is guaranteed. His 2016 salary cap number is $9.9 million. He is 29 years old, and when the 2016 season starts he will not have played in a real NFL game in 23 months. In his most recent game, Week 6 of 2014 in Philadelphia, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee. A left calf injury that required surgery prevented him from playing at all in 2015. The Giants still have no idea whether Cruz can be the same kind of player he was before his significant knee injury. They would save $6.1 million on this year's cap by releasing him.
Likely outcome: Cruz is aware of the very good reasons the Giants don't want to pay him $8 million a year anymore and likely will be amenable to a pay cut. There's enough goodwill built up between player and team that the chances are good they work out a new deal for a lower salary that keeps Cruz in New York and allows him an opportunity to recover fully from the injuries.
OT Will Beatty
Details: Beatty has two years and $13.5 million left on his deal, again, none guaranteed. He missed the entire 2015 season after tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights in May. The Giants drafted Ereck Flowers with the No. 9 pick of the 2015 draft, and he started 15 games at left tackle, Beatty's old position. Beatty said at the end of the season that he still considered himself a left tackle. He is scheduled to cost $9.175 million against this year's salary cap. The Giants would save only $4.175 million of that by releasing him. They'd save $6.675 million by designating him a post-June 1 cut, but then they'd also carry a $2.5 million dead money charge on him in 2017, rather than clearing all of the dead money out this year.
Likely outcome: If the Giants think Flowers is better at right tackle, they could bring back Beatty and play him on the left for one more year. The price really isn't bad for a starting left tackle. But I think the Giants are planning to move ahead with Flowers on the left side, and if Beatty really wants to play there, he's unlikely to accept the pay cut he'd need to take to stay with the Giants and play on the right. Beatty turns 31 in March, which doesn't set him up too well as a free agent, but my gut says they part ways.
LB Jon Beason
Details:: Beason has one year left on his contract. He's scheduled to earn $2.8 million in salary and could earn another $2.2 million in bonuses. Of the bonus money, $1 million is a roster bonus due on March 13. Beason is 31 years old. He has missed 23 games the past two years and 50 games over the past five seasons due to injury. He is scheduled to count roughly $6 million against this year's cap, and the Giants will save $4.5 million in cap space by cutting him.
Likely outcome: There's no chance they're paying that bonus or that salary. The Giants love Beason and would keep him around in some capacity if he wanted to stay, but they're not going to pay him to sit on IR anymore. He's sure to be released before March 13.
Details: As part of last offseason's contract restructuring, Schwartz got $500,000 of his $3.95 million 2016 salary guaranteed. He's signed through 2017, scheduled to make $3.95 million that year too (though none of that is guaranteed). His cap number for this year is about $4.9 million, and they'd save a little less than $3 million if they cut him. He turns 30 in July. He has missed 19 games during the first two years of his contract due to injury.
Likely outcome: The Giants could approach Schwartz about restructuring as they did last year, when they converted salary into playing-time incentives. I doubt he could secure any guaranteed 2017 money in this year's edition of that deal, though. The other option is just to move on and swallow the $500,000 guarantee. The Giants don't need cap room, and if Schwartz will agree to the same kind of deal as he did a year ago, they could roll the dice that he's able to stay healthy this time.