Shopping season does not begin until March 16, so there is time for the Giants to get their finances in order before opening their coffers in NFL free agency. They are in good shape and can make a handful of roster moves to get into better shape to sign more expensive, quality players.
Upgrades in talent and experience are needed in order for first-year head coach Joe Judge to put his plans in motion, and free agency is the first way to achieve this goal. The best teams build their base through the draft and augment in free agency. Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman believes smart signings in free agency at targeted positions allows him to enter the draft knowing he can pick the best players on the board without reaching for players to fill a glaring need.
The Giants are projected to be $61.2 million under the 2020 salary cap, estimated to come in at around $200 million. At present, the Giants’ cap space is the seventh-highest total in the league.
There are a handful of cuts the team can make between now and the start of free agency to increase cap space — perhaps more than $20 million in additional space. Here are the moves that make the most sense:
Alec Ogletree, LB
He is jusy 28 years old but it looks as if his time is up with the Giants. Ogletree has started all 93 games he has played in for the Rams and Giants and in 2018 had five interceptions. He is not an impact player, though. This decision would be easier had Ryan Connelly stayed healthy during his highly-promising but injury-shortened rookie season.
2020 cap cost: $11.75 million. Cap savings if cut: $8.5 million.
Rhett Ellison, TE
He was a favorite of Pat Shurmur’s from their time together with the Vikings. Ellison, 31, is steady and extremely team-oriented but played just 10 games this past season with concussion issues. Evan Engram returns as the starter, and figure rookie Kaden Smith’s strong showing down the stretch in 2019 gives him a good shot to stay around. Ellison, more of a blocker, caught 25 passes in 2018, his highest total in his eight-year career.
2020 cap cost: $7.1 million. Cap savings if cut: $5 million.
Kareem Martin, DE
He was signed in large part because defensive coordinator James Bettcher liked the way he operated when they were together with the Cardinals. Martin, 27, played in every game in 2018 and was solid enough against the run but did not offer much as a pass-rusher. He played in just five games last season, on injured reserve most of the time with a knee issue.
2020 cap cost: $5.9 million. Cap savings if cut: $4.8 million.
Antoine Bethea, S
The 35-year-old remains a physical marvel. Not only did he start all 16 games in his first year with the Giants, he played nearly every snap. The 14-year veteran is a fine leader but did not have a great showing performance-wise, and though he is not costly, Julian Love needs to get on the field and probably should have played more than he did as a rookie.
2020 cap cost: $2.8million. Cap savings if cut: $2.75 million.
Nate Solder, LT
This is the big-ticket item for the Giants. The towering tackle, now that Eli Manning is retired and off the books, inherits the crown of highest-paid player, at $9.9 million. Team insiders were alarmed with Solder’s performance this past season but believe the criticism was too harsh. Solder is healthy and a great guy in the locker room. Plus, if he gets cut he leaves behind $13 million in dead money, so it makes sense to keep him. It also makes sense to leave him on the left side. Asking him to play right tackle — a spot he last played as a rookie for the Patriots in 2011 — is probably unwise.
2020 cap cost: $19.5 million. Cap savings if cut: $6.5 million.
Golden Tate, WR
The four-game suspension at the start of last season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs allows the Giants to void his guaranteed 2020 salary of $7.9 million without any repercussions. It is doubtful they will do that, as Tate is a useful player and they are not exactly loaded at receiver, even with Darius Slayton’s emergence as a rookie. Tate, 31, in 11 games had 49 receptions for 676 yards and six touchdowns.
2020 cap cost: $10.5 million. Cap savings if cut: $3.4 million.