INDIANAPOLIS -- Jason Pierre-Paul's free agency will be unpredictable and unprecedented. Having lost his right index finger and badly damaged other fingers in a Fourth of July fireworks accident last year, the New York Giants' defensive end hits the market this spring with a ton of question marks about what kind of player he still is and how much he should be paid. At this point, it's unclear whether the Giants will be interested in paying him what he wants.
But if you base your prediction just on the words of new Giants coach Ben McAdoo, it's easy to conclude that at least one powerful person in the organization would like to have Pierre-Paul back.
"I've spoken to Jason a couple different times so far throughout the offseason, and we'll have to see how that goes," McAdoo said Wednesday at the NFL combine. "It was obvious when Jason came back last year how disruptive he was. When you look at him, his ability to get off the ball and get after the quarterback is easy to see. That's something that comes naturally to him, and I don't see that changing anytime soon."
When he returned from the injury last year, Pierre-Paul definitely showed his old speed and burst off the edge, and he was able to get by blockers and disrupt things in the opponent's backfield. But because he was playing with a heavy club wrap on his damaged right hand, he struggled to tackle and to get off blocks when engaged by offensive linemen.
"He's not the same player," said one of the NFL decision-makers we interviewed on the topic of Pierre-Paul's impending free agency. "You can see he's not. It's all there on film. He still has the burst, but he's obviously limited in what he's able to do."
The handful of executives and agents surveyed anonymously on this topic Tuesday and Wednesday seemed to agree that the best Pierre-Paul could hope for at this point is about $8 million a year on a relatively short-term deal. That's not bad, but it's a far cry from the top-of-market, $14 million to $15-million-a-year deal Pierre-Paul was seeking last year before his accident. The problem is that teams don't believe he's the same player he used to be, and they have no way of knowing what kind of player they can expect him to be in the future.
Pierre-Paul had surgery on his hand after the season. The procedure had been planned for a while, and in December Pierre-Paul said the goal of the surgery was to improve the flexibility in his damaged right middle finger in the hope that he could ditch the club and play with a four-fingered glove in games. Of course, any team signing Pierre-Paul this spring is going to have to take his word for that, since they won't be able to see him play in games before signing him. Which is why any deal he gets is likely to require him to prove he can still play consistently at a high level before maxing out what he can earn.
Pierre-Paul surprised a lot of people by coming back as effectively as he did last year, so he's not to be underestimated. But if he hits the market in two weeks, he's likely to find that teams view him as a situational pass-rusher who offers some value but not as much as he would have offered if he'd hit the market one year ago.