What we know about Justin Tuck is that he'll turn 31 in March, he had 11 sacks this year and is a free agent who wants to re-sign with the New York Giants. He's won two Super Bowls with the Giants, is one of their defensive captains and will be a franchise legend whether he re-signs this winter or not.
What we don't know is how far the Giants will be willing to go to re-sign Tuck. Great year in 2013, for sure, but not so great in 2011 and 2012. At what price will and should they be willing to commit to him to keep him in blue?
Let's start with Osi Umenyiora, who was 31 last year when the Giants decided to part ways with him and he signed a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons. Tucks' situation is different from Umenyiora's in a couple of important ways. He's coming off a better season than Umenyiora was a year ago, and his relationship with the team appears to be quite strong, whereas Umenyiora's was damaged beyond repair after years of constant griping about his contract. Tuck has been the good soldier, not to mention a better player, and can reasonably ask for more than the $4.25 million per year that Umenyiora got out of Atlanta.
Now let's look at Mathias Kiwanuka, who signed a three-year, $17.75 million extension with the Giants two offseasons ago and hasn't really played up to it. Tuck's a better and more important player to the Giants than is Kiwanuka, who also turns 31 in March, so you'd think he could reasonably ask for more than Kiwanuka's $5.92 million per year. Of course, the Giants may be about to cut Kiwanuka or at least ask him to take a pay cut, so that comparison may not hold water.
Does Tuck deserve to be paid in the $6.5 million-per-year range, along with guys like Miami's Cameron Wake and Seattle's Cliff Avril? Does he deserve to be paid the same $6.2 million per year he was making on his expiring contract? Could the Giants make an argument that they've paid him more than he's earned over the life of that deal and convince him to take less because it's in his best interest to stay in New York?
If Tuck was status-obsessed and determined to get paid as much as possible as a reward for his years of service and the championships he's helped deliver, I don't think this negotiation would ever get off the ground. But Tuck has made a ton of money, not just from the Giants but from Subway and Nike and other high-level endorsement deals. He's spoken openly about his appreciation for the platform the New York market offers him as someone determined to give back through his charitable work. There are more important things, in other words, to Justin Tuck than the number on his paycheck.
For that reason, I think the Giants probably could convince Tuck to stay on a three-year deal that paid him something like $5.5 million per year. The question is whether, given their myriad other needs, they want to. I think he's a player they like a great deal and, dollar for dollar, a better investment for them than whatever else is out there on the pass-rusher market this offseason. With another question looming next year about Jason Pierre-Paul and with Damontre Moore still in the project stage, the defensive end position is in an uncertain place for the Giants right now. Tuck brings a level of certainty for which they should probably be willing to pay.