It is that time of the year when everyone starts keeping tabs on salary cap space. They look at the numbers and pretend to understand how much money each team has available to sign free agents and conduct business. The reality is that it is significantly more complicated than most people (including myself) are able to completely comprehend.
Here is what we do know: The New York Giants are expected to have somewhere in the range of $25-30 million available under the salary cap this offseason, depending on the cuts they make in the coming weeks. It may sound like a relatively small number -- the Jets are expected to have about $80 million -- but it's not anything overly prohibitive to a team in need of rebuilding certain position groups, beginning with the offensive line.
As one executive involved in handling a team’s finances once told me: “We can always make things work.”
The Giants likely fall into that category this offseason. They don’t have an exorbitant amount to spend given their current situation -- salary cap site Over the Cap suggests they will have $25 million in cap space -- but it is enough to make some significant moves.
Among the reasons is the Giants’ long-term outlook. Over the Cap estimates they currently have in the neighborhood of $70 million available in 2019. This probably doesn’t even account for the likelihood that Eli Manning ($23.2 million vs. the cap in 2019) will be off the books next year and the Giants can move on rather easily from several others of the biggest contracts on their books from the offseason spending spree of 2016. They are in good shape moving forward.
Defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul all have contracts that the team can get out of rather easily next offseason, if it so desires. No wonder the Giants aren’t overly concerned about their financial situation this offseason or moving forward.
“We’re healthy,” assistant general manager Kevin Abrams said late last year. Abrams’ job responsibilities include handling the Giants’ salary cap and negotiating contracts.
He added: “We won’t have any restrictions on what we can do based upon the salary cap. We’ll have tough decisions like we have every offseason, but we don’t have to make any decisions because of the salary cap.”
Those tough decisions include how to rebuild the offensive line, what to do with veterans such as Brandon Marshall and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who make significant money, and whether to re-sign Odell Beckham Jr. Regardless, the Giants will be busy as they try to fix a roster that went 3-13 last season.
The Giants can afford several big moves (free-agent signings or re-upping their own) without threatening the long-term health of the franchise. There are ways around not having an abundance of salary cap space this offseason, but knowing next year will be different.
Among the possibilities is keeping the first-year cap hits of any new deals down this year and having them jump in Year 2 or beyond, much like they did when they signed Rodgers-Cromartie in 2014. The cornerback signed a five-year, $35 million deal that offseason, an average of $7 million per season. His first-year cap hit was only $2.75 million.
This is one way the Giants can fit several significant offseason moves into this year’s budget, including a potential re-signing of Beckham. They have made it clear that kind of move is financially feasible, if they so desire.
“I think we have enough money in the bank to do that,” co-owner John Mara joked last summer. He then added more seriously, “Salary cap-wise, there’s a way to work it out, yes.”
Not much has changed financially for the Giants in the six months since Mara made those comments. The Giants know it will not be cheap. They are aware they need to spend money to rebuild their offensive line and lock up Beckham and/or safety Landon Collins, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
The Giants have the financial means and well-being to make it happen, in part because eventually they will have a starting quarterback (Davis Webb or the No. 2 overall pick) at a relatively cheap price. That will allow them to spend elsewhere. They can keep that in consideration when making moves this offseason.