INDIANAPOLIS — There is a chance the Giants will play in 2019 without outside linebacker Olivier Vernon and strong safety Landon Collins, their two most effective players on a defense severely lacking in effective players.
Fairly strapped for salary-cap space and with plenty of holes to fill, the Giants are contemplating trading away Vernon, one of their highest-paid players, The Post confirmed Friday. Collins is set to become an unrestricted free agent and the Giants are contemplating whether or not to apply the franchise tag to keep Collins off the open market — a tag Collins does not want and might refuse to sign.
Vernon could be dealt or cut. One constant with Pat Shurmur in his first season as Giants coach is he staunchly refused to go public with any criticism of his players. There was one slight exception: He made sure to let everyone know in late November after a loss to the Eagles that he did not see opponents “spending extra resources’’ to block Vernon.
It was a subtle shot, to be sure, but it was a shot, pointing out Vernon’s lack of production as a pass rusher was not the result of getting double-teamed.
Vernon arrived in 2016 as part of high-priced free-agent haul that transformed the Giants’ defense, signing a five-year, $85 million contract that includes $52.5 million in guaranteed money. In three seasons, Vernon came up with 22 sacks in 39 games, missing four games in 2017 and the first five games in 2018 with injuries. He is scheduled to make $15.5 million in 2019 and count $19.5 million on the salary cap. If the Giants trade or release Vernon, they would save $11.5 million on this year’s salary cap, but Vernon would count for $8 million in dead money.
Perhaps the Giants can package Vernon with a draft pick to acquire quarterback Josh Rosen from the Cardinals, if the smoke leads to fire and the Cardinals are serious about making Kyler Murray the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The franchise tag for Collins would count $11.2 million on the cap — essentially the same amount the Giants would save if they get Vernon off their roster. General manager Dave Gettleman gave indications this week at the NFL Scouting Combine that tagging Collins might not be a financially prudent move.
After the Giants finished with a 5-11 record, Gettleman pointed to a lack of playmakers on defense as the main reason for the losing.
Vernon is overpaid based on his production, but he is also the best pass rusher on the roster. Collins, despite his limitations in deep coverage, is a fierce tackler and a force the closer he is to the line of scrimmage. If they are removed from the starting lineup, Gettleman will have to do a great deal of work in free agency and the draft to fortify a defense already lacking in several areas.
Collins does not want to play on the franchise tag — he wants a multi-year deal making him one of the league’s highest-paid safeties — and is expected to stay away from all of the voluntary team activities in the spring, and possibly not report to training camp, in the absence of a long-term deal. This is precisely what Gettleman said he wants to avoid.
“Let’s go to the conversation of eliminating distractions,” Gettleman said. “You tag a guy. He’s mad. And that’s all you guys are going to write about. For six months it’s what it’s going to be. So I have to say to myself, ‘Is it worth it?’ ’’
The Giants have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to tag Collins or allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Gettleman, asked Wednesday whether Vernon will be on the team this season, was purposely evasive. “Again, we’re in the evaluation process,’’ he said. “I hope I’m with the team this year.’’
Vernon led the Giants with seven sacks last season despite playing in just 11 games. The Giants managed 30 sacks all season.