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Giants’ dwindling free-agent options as potential targets fade away

It is Day 2 of the legal tampering period, otherwise known as full-blown NFL free agency. On Day 1 on Monday and already early Tuesday, teams with money to spend are handing out record-breaking contracts for instant gratification, adding talent to rosters at set-the-market prices that excite fans now and, quite likely, will become financial burdens later.

This is how it goes every year, as the teams with the most salary-cap space making meteoric-sized splashes, agreeing to terms with players now known as “the highest-paid [add position] in the league.” The Giants, last we checked, remain a member of the NFL and thus are allowed to join the fray. In the early frenzy, their first and only move was to re-sign Spencer Pulley, expected to compete for the starting center job, to a three-year, $9.6 million deal. The most noise made by the Giants came from the groans of their fans upon hearing Landon Collins is headed to the Redskins for the richest contract in NFL history for a safety.

Before teams were allowed to contact agents to come to terms on a deal, the Giants agreed to trade outside linebacker Olivier Vernon to the Browns in exchange for guard Kevin Zeitler, with fourth- and fifth-round draft picks also involved in the transaction. This will be made official Wednesday at 4 p.m. and might hold up as the most significant move the Giants make amid this spending frenzy.

The Giants are around $24 million under the salary cap and will gain $1.5 million after the Vernon/Zeitler trade hits the books. Clearly, general manager Dave Gettleman, who rose through the ranks in his formative NFL years in pro personnel, assigning value to players already in the league, is not interested in shelling out money unless he believes the cash is commensurate with value. Free agency in the first few days is all-out overpaying for talent.

The lack of salary-cap space is also an issue, of course. Tuesday morning, three players who could have helped the depleted Giants defense — outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, defensive end Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos — came off the board, all three agreeing to terms with the Packers. The Giants would have loved to sign versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu but never were going to be able to come close to the three-year, $42 million package the Chiefs put together. Soon enough, all the gaudiest, most talented and priciest players will be off the shelves, and then Gettleman better start with some creative bargain hunting, or else his defense is going to be a complete mess.

Markus Golden is still out there and would help in the pass-rush department, as would Shaquil Barrett, who had seven sacks the past two seasons with the Broncos. Deon Bucannon would fill a need at safety and inside linebacker. Andrew Sendejo is a former Vikings starter at safety and will not be cost-prohibitive. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix remains on the market. Capable players at sensible prices must be added to a defense deficient almost across the board. Consider only three of the 10 highest-paid Giants players are on defense — Janoris Jenkins (fourth highest-paid), Alec Ogletree (fifth) and Kareem Martin (eighth). Of the top 15 highest-paid Giants, only five are on defense, and one of them, Dalvin Tomlinson, is on his rookie contract and set to make $880,000 in base salary.

You get what you pay for. There is no doubt the Giants have to go hard and heavy for defense in the upcoming NFL draft.

As for their offensive line, perhaps Mike Remmers, released by the Vikings, is worth consideration at right tackle, although he is better-suited at guard. More likely, the Giants make a play for Daryl Williams at right tackle, as he is a former Gettleman draft pick with the Panthers. Already, the price for starting offensive line help is soaring — take a look at what the Broncos paid Ja’Wuan James (four years, $51 million).

Teams that garner all the headlines in March and win in free agency are not necessarily the big winners in January and early February. Most often, they are not.

The Giants knew they were not going to jump in with both feet. They need to take a hop and a skip, though, and soon.

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