Now on to the restricted and exclusive rights free agents. These are players that can’t just freely sign with another team once free agency opens in March. The Giants have some control over their future.
Below is a player-by-player look at the 10 players affected. But first, an explanation of restricted and exclusive rights free agents.
Restricted free agents (RFAs): These are NFL veterans with three accrued seasons of service, not four, which would give them unrestricted status. RFAs are most often undrafted free agents coming into the league with three-year deals. Teams have an option to “tender” RFAs with one of four qualifying offers, which provide them the right to match any outside offers from other teams.
The tender levels are:
1. Right of first refusal
2. Right of first refusal + original-round draft pick
3. Right of first refusal + second-round draft pick
4. Right of first refusal + first-round draft pick
Exclusive rights free agents (ERFA): These are NFL veterans with fewer than three accrued seasons. Teams can place an ERFA tender on eligible players, who then can not sign an offer sheet with other teams and receive a contract consisting of the minimum salary for a player with their experience.
Giants' restricted free agents
DE Kerry Wynn: When he played, he seemed to produce, including in the playoff loss to Green Bay when he had a sack and several other solid plays. But Wynn fell behind Romeo Okwara on the depth chart and saw limited action in 2016. He’s a strong run defender and decent power pass-rusher. There’s a spot for Wynn on an NFL roster.
RB Orleans Darkwa: He started two games (on the road against Green Bay and Minnesota) and had performed well against the Vikings. The one-cut back didn’t get another carry the rest of the season and was relegated to special-teams duties before being shut down because of a leg injury that lingered from the offseason. He had a plate inserted into his leg and is expected to be back at full strength before the spring.
Giants' exclusive rights free agents
TE Will Tye: He won the starting job and finished with 48 catches for 395 yards and one touchdown. He also had a career-long 51-yard reception in the playoff loss to the Packers. Tye has proven to be a serviceable NFL tight end despite his sub-par blocking.
TE Matt LaCosse: The Giants kept him on injured reserve for the entire season because they expect him to return. LaCosse just has to stay healthy. A knee injury ruined his 2016 campaign. He would have played a prominent role if healthy, especially considering he was having another strong summer and was the best blocker out of the group of natural tight ends.
FB Nikita Whitlock: He missed all of this season with a foot injury and also was suspended for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Whitlock has proven to be a quality special-teamer and versatile player.
DT Robert Thomas: The Giants claimed him off waivers prior to the season. Thomas had a few flashes, but played sparingly in eight games.
WR Ben Edwards: He spent this past season on injured reserve with a torn ACL and has appeared in two career games. It's still to be determined if he's an NFL receiver.
(Note: Edwards was previously listed incorrectly as an unrestricted free agent)