Johnathan Hankins expected to have plenty of value as free agent

Note: Check back every day this week for a free agent file.

The New York Giants want to keep their defense together. It is just not going to be easy.

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will be a coveted free agent, if he hits the market. He will be costly. Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins should draw plenty of interest as well. He’s young and talented at a position where teams are always looking for quality players.

In order for Hankins and Pierre-Paul to return, which general manager Jerry Reese said he thought was possible after the season, it is going to be costly. Hankins had 43 tackles, 3.0 sacks and was third on the Giants with eight tackles for a loss and 10 quarterback hits. Not bad for a 325-pound interior player who wasn’t necessarily known for his ability to get upfield or rush the passer.

But Hankins proved playing next to run-stuffing defensive tackle Damon Harrison that he can a more than a serviceable complement. The Giants had one of the league’s best run defenses (88.6 yards per game) and allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL during the regular season.

Hankins, 24, was a key piece. He’s a valuable cog in the machine that the Giants are hoping is the impetus of a significant run over the next few years. They went 11-5 this past season and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. And they did it with their defense.

The Giants defensive players have publicly pleaded for the entire unit to return next season. They feel they have unfinished business to handle. That begins with re-signing Pierre-Paul, Hankins and linebacker Keenan Robinson.

Considering Hankins’ age, production and value on the free-agent market, getting him back is going to be costly.

Free agent file

Johnathan Hankins

Position: Defensive tackle

Age: 25 (when the season begins)

Experience: 4 years

Projected contract: 5 years, $43 million, $18 million guaranteed

(Note: The projected contract was derived from the average of five league sources surveyed. The panel consists of a front office executive, salary cap experts and agents.)

Comparable contracts: Linval Joseph (Vikings)

The former Giants tackle bolted in 2014 at 26 years for a lucrative deal with the Minnesota Vikings. He received five years and $31 million with $12.5 million guaranteed.

Since then, the market has exploded. Harrison netted a five-year, $46.25 million deal with $24 million guaranteed last offseason from the Giants. That’s over $9 million per season for a tackle who played just over 60 percent of the snaps last season.

Hankins is younger, but he's not quite Harrison's level as a player. He’s more comparable to Joseph. So Hankins is likely to come in somewhere in between Joseph and Harrison's prices.

Market: There will be suitors for a 25-year-old defensive tackle with talent. The Raiders, Colts, Redskins and even Falcons are teams that could use the 325-pound Hankins in the middle of their defensive line. The Giants would like for him to return as well as they try to keep together a defense that jelled into a dominant unit during the second half of last season.

What he brings: Hankins is a talented young player with value on the free-agent market. He is a strong run defender and a decent pass rusher for a player his size. He’s a hard worker who is well liked in the Giants' locker room. There aren’t many knocks on Hankins, who still may not have hit his ceiling after coming into the league at such a young age.

Synopsis: Hankins was a second-round pick out of Ohio State in the 2013 NFL draft. He has been a solid player for the Giants during his rookie contract. Now he’s about to get paid. It’s a matter of how much the Giants are willing to invest in a defensive tackle playing alongside Harrison. They want to keep their defense together, but at what price?

Chances he returns to Giants: 52%

The tricky part here is that the Giants want Hankins to return and would likely compensate him well. It’s just that with his skill set and age, it’s possible he simply has too much value on the free-agent market that another team could come in and blow the Giants away with a huge offer. Hankins is the type of player teams will pay for in free agency.