EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants were intently monitoring Tuesday's NFL franchise tag deadline. Specifically what was going on in Chicago, Tampa Bay and Detroit.
The Giants need to add playmakers and that begins with the No. 1 wide receiver they are desperately missing. The consensus top options who would potentially be available in NFL free agency were Allen Robinson II (Bears), Chris Godwin (Buccaneers) and Kenny Golladay (Lions).
Robinson and Godwin were tagged and are no longer options to be quarterback Daniel Jones' top target in New York. It's Golladay or bust this offseason for a proven No. 1 receiver.
The 27-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent when the league year begins Wednesday, free to sign elsewhere with no compensation heading to the Lions in return. There is a strong possibility the Giants will be in that mix.
"In terms of adding specifically a receiver, look, if the right situation is up with a guy in free agency, then we'll pursue it," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "If the right situation is up with a guy in the draft, then we'll pursue it."
It makes sense the Giants would be interested in Golladay, who will be the top receiver available. He has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons on his résumé and is the tall (6-foot-4), big-play receiver they need to complement Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. There is no denying he's a good player when healthy (11 TD catches in 2019), though he played in just five games in 2020 because of hamstring and hip injuries.
The belief around the league is the Giants are interested in Golladay. They even checked on him last year prior to the trade deadline, according to a source.
The Lions, still (somewhat) competitive at the time with general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia on the hot seat, were never going to trade their top wide receiver. The Giants also weren't in position to relinquish assets for a potential impending free agent, though it's something general manager Dave Gettleman did to acquire defensive lineman Leonard Williams from the Jets in 2019.
The Giants were likely doing reconnaissance for this exact situation. They're capable of pouncing now, if they so desire. The major obstacles are money and some serious competition for Golladay's services.
The Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots are expected to be in the running for a No. 1 wide receiver. Miami, in fact, has already been linked to Golladay by the Miami Herald, which had a league source predict he would land with either the Dolphins or Giants.
What's working against the Giants, according to Roster Management System, is the Patriots (about $59 million) and Dolphins (about $27 million) were among the teams with the most available salary-cap space as of Wednesday morning when it was announced the cap for this season will be $182.5 million. New York (about $4 million under the cap after releasing guard Kevin Zeitler on Wednesday) doesn't have the same financial freedom, though like most teams is in position to create cap room with roster moves before free agency opens Wednesday.
It seems the Giants are likely to be shopping at the top of the market at one position in free agency only, in part because of their finances and philosophical approach.
"I'm always a long-term-picture guy," Judge said. "You have success by continuously building your team through the draft, by developing your players, by adding the right players in free agency. ... The one thing to keep in mind as we go through this free agency point of the year -- and, look, it's very exciting and there's a lot of press and media and it's all over TV -- but the reality is it's not fantasy football. You can't just grab a player, put him on your team and think everything's going to work out. It has to be the right fit for your team going forward and that's a fit culturally and a fit schematically, and it's got to go both ways."
Edge rusher also needed
Should it be a wide receiver for the Giants' big splash? It's the only way to assure Jones gets the immediate help he needs to be successful this season. But drafting a wide receiver -- even at No. 11 overall in the 2021 NFL draft -- doesn't ensure immediate dividends. At his best, Golladay can be Jones' Stefon Diggs, who helped Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen morph into an MVP candidate in Year 3.
Or, the Giants can pivot to edge rusher, a position at which they also have a desperate need. That market is much stronger and deeper with Shaq Barrett, Bud Dupree, Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Carl Lawson and Hasson Reddick as some of the more enticing options who are expected to be available.
Price matters. Two guesstimates from league sources for Golladay have him getting in excess of $17 million per season. Dupree and some of the edge rushers (minus Barrett and Judon) could be $15 million or less. With the draft flush with wide receivers, edge rusher would seem to make more sense in free agency for a team such as the Giants with holes at the expensive positions. They know signing both in free agency is not a prudent team-building approach.
"Well, there is a draft, right? So, you don't necessarily have to buy them both," Gettleman said. "We're just going to see how it plays out, see what guys are worth and what the expense costs are, and just keep moving forward."
There are a lot of moving parts before the Giants even get to that point. Signing Williams to a long-term deal over the next six days is a must with his massive franchise tag number ($19.351 million) looming over New York's available cap space. Deciding what to do with offensive tackle Nate Solder (pay cut or outright cut?) could also affect the Giants' bottom line. In addition, they need to determine if defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, whom they would like to keep, fits financially into their plan.
The same holds true for Golladay. He makes sense and would fill a massive need, but the Giants aren't desperate enough to sign him at all costs.
Like most of these moves, it will happen if the price is right.