Will Giants really let Landon Collins walk? It's complicated

The Giants can apply the franchise tag -- estimated at $11.2 million for 2019 -- to keep Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins. Photo by Brooks Von Arx/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants have a decision to make by Tuesday on the future of Landon Collins. It would seem straightforward that a team with subpar defensive talent would make sure it didn't let a 25-year-old playmaker leave. Only it's not.

"We're still evaluating," general manager Dave Gettleman said Wednesday from the NFL scouting combine, where markets seem to take shape for impending free agents.

The Giants can prevent Collins from becoming a free agent. They can apply the franchise tag (estimated at $11.2 million for 2019) if they so desire.

They are contemplating the possibility, but also seriously considering allowing Collins to walk free. As a source said this week, it seems to be a "50-50" proposition that the team utilizes the franchise tag on the three-time Pro Bowl safety.

It's a decision that is being monitored around the league. There are other teams salivating at the possibility of Collins' services being available.

"They're not really going to let him go, right?" one NFC pro personnel executive asked, as if it were a foregone conclusion the Giants would be keeping their 2015 second-round pick.

Maybe yes, maybe no. A deeper look at the decision from both sides explains why.

Pros of using tag

Playmakers: Gettleman stood at the podium at the conclusion of the season and decried the Giants' lack of defensive playmakers. They didn't have enough. Losing Collins would strip defensive coordinator James Bettcher of one of his best players on a porous unit. Collins has a useful skill. He's a top tackler and can make difference-making plays near the line of scrimmage. He topped 100 tackles in three of his four professional seasons, with this past season the only time he didn't (and that was because his season was cut short by injury). There is a reason Collins made the Pro Bowl in three straight seasons and was an All-Pro in 2016. He's an upper-echelon safety, despite not being known for his coverage. The Giants can't be letting players of this caliber walk in exchange for what might amount to a future compensatory midround pick.

Sending a message: Collins is a respected figure in the Giants' locker room. He's well-liked personally and highly regarded as a player. If he was allowed to walk without even being offered a long-term deal (which hasn't happened yet) what message would that send to the rest of the team? Here is a quality player who works hard and plays injured, yet the team doesn't even try to retain his services. The franchise tag would at least signify the Giants respect his contributions on and off the field.

Buying time for a deal: The real purpose for the tag isn't to keep players on a one-year lease program. It's to provide the team and player time to come together on a long-term deal -- a placeholder of sorts. Using the tag would give the sides time to talk and hopefully hammer out a new deal. There hasn't been anything meaningful between the sides to date. That is somewhat puzzling.

Cons of using tag

Money, money, money: This was the first factor Gettleman mentioned when asked about what went into the decision to use the tag. "It's how the money lays out. For example, how much cap space do we have floating around?" he said. Gettleman added that the Giants are in the range of $29 million under the salary cap (per OverTheCap.com). They need about $10 million to work with during the season and there is another $6 million or so that needs to be allotted to rookies. The Giants don't have a ton of money to work with and the $11.2 million Collins would count against the cap under the tag could be prohibitive. That is not optimal asset allocation. Of course, there are always ways to work around the ever-inflating cap. Quarterback Eli Manning counts $23.2 million against the cap. The Giants could hypothetically cut Manning, then tag Collins and sign Teddy Bridgewater for what would likely amount to an equivalent cap figure. Choices, I guess.

Unhappy player: If Collins is tagged, it won't be met with enthusiasm. He wants a long-term deal and wouldn't be part of the offseason program or training camp without one. That would leave Gettleman confused and frustrated.

"Again, let's go [to] the discussion of eliminating distractions," Gettleman said. "You tag a guy. He's mad. That is all you guys are going to write about ... for six months!"

Collins' absence and unhappiness with his situation would be a constant topic of conversation.

"I have to say to myself, is it worth it?" Gettleman said. "I don't understand where the franchise tag became such a terrible thing for the player to be tagged. I don't get it. But that is me."

He is not Collins.

Misfit: Keeping Collins under the pretenses of the tag might be unwillingly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There is a belief among some with and close to the team that Collins isn't an ideal fit in Bettcher's defensive system. Maybe finding a player who is handpicked by this new regime is a better move for both parties.

These are all factors the Giants should be considering when deciding by Tuesday whether to use the tag on Collins. That and everything else the Giants hear and do this week at the always-active combine in Indianapolis. It should provide them a better feel for the safety market for a potential replacement and what the future holds for their team.

"Nothing can be done in a vacuum. It can't," Gettleman said. "You have to look at the whole picture, the whole package and we're not done."