Teams can begin free-agent negotiations this weekend, and the New York Giants have been busy carving out cap space to retain some of their key players and perhaps sign some veterans.
General manager Jerry Reese cleared some more cap space this week, with cornerback Corey Webster agreeing to a pay cut and center David Baas restructuring his contract. The Giants now reportedly have $8 million to $9 million in cap space, and they still might do more maneuvering before free agents are allowed to officially sign Tuesday.
"We have to wait and see," head coach Tom Coughlin said when asked if the Giants will do more in free agency besides trying to keep some players. "It is all cap-driven."
The Giants plowed a chunk of cap space when they released veterans Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty and Michael Boley in early February. Those cuts helped the Giants take care of their biggest free-agent priority, Will Beatty. The team locked up their left tackle to a five-year deal worth as much as $38.75 million before Beatty could hit the open market.
But they still have holes to fill. Left guard Kevin Boothe and tight end Martellus Bennett are two of the top free-agent priorities for Reese. Both could first see what they can command on the free-agent market.
And then there's restricted free agent Victor Cruz. Both sides want to work out an extension, but the situation appears heading toward the Giants tendering Cruz with a first-round tender that would allow the team time to work out a deal later.
If the Giants tender Cruz and another team makes a lucrative offer to the receiver, the Giants can match it or receive a first-round pick as compensation if that team gives Cruz the highest RFA tender.
Webster struggled last season, but his return for 2013 after taking a pay cut is important because the Giants simply do not have much depth or experience at cornerback after Webster, Prince Amukamara and Jayron Hosley. ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that the Giants are one of four teams to have an interest in former Packers safety Charles Woodson, 36, who could provide depth at corner as well. But the Giants likely would try to give a veteran like Woodson a short-term deal if possible.
It's likely that the Giants could lose more key veterans who helped the team win a Super Bowl just one season ago. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, safety Kenny Phillips, linebacker Chase Blackburn, kicker Lawrence Tynes and wide receiver Domenik Hixon are all free agents.
When the Giants parted ways with Bradshaw, Canty and Boley, they not only needed to free up salary -- the cuts also signified a Giants' move in a different direction. The Giants appear ready to go with some younger, less proven players on the roster and add some new blood.
There is veteran talent available in free agency, and the Giants need to add depth at cornerback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker. At linebacker, the Giants might re-sign free agent Keith Rivers on the cheap or look for a veteran. At running back, the Giants hope to go with David Wilson and Brown sharing carries, and they could re-sign a veteran free agent like Ryan Torain for depth. But they aren't expected to splurge on a high-priced big name and sacrifice cap space in the future.
So while it might be nice for fans to play fantasy general manager and want the Giants to sign free agents like tackle Jake Long, Reese could try to identify cheap and young talent like he did last year when he signed Bennett early. And he could also perhaps try to find a veteran willing to sign a reasonable short-term deal.
If the Giants can re-sign Boothe and Bennett -- Coughlin says he wants both back -- they can go about adding depth to their other positions through free agency and the draft. If they lose Boothe and/or Bennett, they will have to find two new starters.
So as free agency nears, the Giants have to think long-term as well as the present. They have a core that won it all just one season ago, and the Giants are likely banking that stars like Eli Manning and Pierre-Paul can get them back to the playoffs and make another run with a little more added help. And they want to contend for years with Manning in his prime, and not sacrifice cap space in the future.
The Giants missed the playoffs by pretty much one game last season. They need to make some alterations and bring in some new pieces, but they don't need to make any drastic moves in free agency.
"It's obvious that we have had to part ways with some very, very special players and special people that have helped us win one or two championships," Coughlin said. "I would prefer not to lose anybody, but that is just the nature of the business."