EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- What's it going to take for the New York Giants and injured defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to get back together? The answer is murky. After Pierre-Paul showed up Monday, let the Giants examine his right hand and expressed his desire to strap on some sort of protective device and play at less than 100 percent, the Giants basically said "thanks, but no thanks," and Pierre-Paul went home. The word is that he'll be back when he's healthy, but no one seems to know exactly what that means. In some respects, his hand will never again be truly "healthy" after a July 4 fireworks accident cost him his index finger.
On some level, this is a dispute about the medical details of Pierre-Paul's condition. Fundamentally, he thinks he can play and the Giants disagree. But the Giants obviously aren't ruling out the possibility that he will be able to play again at some point, or else they'd rescind his $14.813 million franchise tender. And he's still not willing to allow them control over his recovery timetable, or else he'd sign it.
So on another level -- and one that might ultimately end up mattering more -- this dispute is still a financial one.
Because NFL players are paid in 17-week increments during the regular season, the key figure here is $871,352.94, which is one-seventeenth of $14.813 million. That's what the Giants would pay Pierre-Paul per game if he were playing on that one-year franchise tag. Every game he sits out with the tender unsigned is $871,352.94 they don't have to pay him, and $871,352.94 of cap room they get to roll into next season. The Giants were fine with the idea of paying Pierre-Paul at that rate when they believed he would be an impact pass-rusher for them. But if he's less than 100 percent and they're not sure he can produce at an elite pass-rusher level, they don't want to pay him an elite pass-rusher salary.
Does that mean that if Pierre-Paul were a minimum-salary veteran making only $870,000 for the whole season (and thus $51,176 per game), the Giants would be more willing to wrap up his hand and put him on the field? It's possible. I don't know what the hand looks like. Pierre-Paul's people seem to think he could play with it; they showed the Giants a tape of him doing pass-rush drills with the hand as-is. And again, the Giants didn't look at the hand and decide Pierre-Paul had no chance to play this season. So there does seem to be some sort of agreement that playing is possible. But if the team made the judgment that Pierre-Paul can't be expected to perform at the highest level, then it's reasonable to pocket the $871,352.94 per week and use replacement-level options until such time as Pierre-Paul can be a true difference-maker.
How does this gap get bridged? Well, it's possible that time can do it -- that the burns and the skin grafts on Pierre-Paul's hand need more time to heal and will eventually reach a state the Giants believe will allow him to perform the way they need him to perform. It might be that his condition is what it is, and the Giants will reach a point in their season at which Pierre-Paul's cost makes sense for them and their budget even if he's not 100 percent.
What won't happen is a negotiation of the franchise figure downward. I'm not even sure the collective bargaining agreement permits that, and even if it did, Pierre-Paul wouldn't want to negotiate down and start from a lower figure next year in free agency.
This has to be resolved by Week 10, or else Pierre-Paul has to sit out the season. By that point, if this situation hasn't changed, the Giants will have some idea of whether it's worth it to keep waiting for Pierre-Paul or to cut ties with him. In the meantime, Pierre-Paul will wait and work out in Florida until the Giants decide it's worth it to have him back on their team for the franchise-tag price. And given what that price is, that could be a while.