New Giants general manager Joe Schoen has a lot of work to do in New York, and some -- OK, much -- of it will not be easy.
Schoen is tasked with lifting the Giants out of what is now a half-decade run of losing defined by a revolving door at head coach that has produced nothing but disappointment. Gone are former GM Dave Gettleman and the last of his head coach choices, Joe Judge, but a roster makeover won't be as swift.
Gettleman went shopping in 2021, and retirement called him from the table before the bill came due. Schoen is stuck with the tab and now needs to figure out how to maneuver the Giants into a financially solvent position entering 2022, starting with shedding roughly $12 million in existing salary to get under the league's projected $208.2 million salary cap.
"First off, we have to get underneath [the cap], we have to make some tough decisions here in the near future just to get in a place where we can sign draft picks and be below the cap," Schoen said, via the New York Post. "There's a fine line, because you can't purge."
To be fair, the Giants aren't in the worst cap situation in the NFL. Five teams (Vikings, Rams, Cowboys, Packers and Saints) are currently over the cap worse than the Giants.
The key difference, though: Most of those teams believe they have rosters that can contend immediately. The same can't quite be said for the Giants, who will have to make a few of those tough decisions regarding a few household names.
James Bradberry is the first player who comes to mind thanks to his 2022 cap number of $21.8 million. Only a handful of corners in the entire NFL carry a higher number into the upcoming season, and while Bradberry is clearly New York's top defensive player, the Giants' current situation is going to require a restructure at minimum (which wouldn't be the first instance in Bradberry's time with the Giants). A trade involving Bradberry (with a post-June 1 designation) would clear $13.5 million and extract value out of a contract that will expire after 2022.
But it would also make the Giants worse than they already are.
Bradberry isn't the only defender with a large cap number entering 2022. Leonard Williams accounts for the largest, but he's entering the second year of a three-year deal that includes $19 million in guaranteed money for 2022. He's not going anywhere.
Adoree' Jackson joined New York on a three-year deal that included a cap-friendly first year that is suddenly not as welcoming in 2022. Jackson's cap number jumps from $6.7 million to $15.2 million, accounting for the fourth-highest number on the team, but cutting him before June 1 would actually cost the Giants over $3 million in dead cap. A trade would save $6.26 million before June 1 and over $10 million after that date.
Right behind Jackson is Blake Martinez, a tackling machine and a key part of New York's defense whose loss to injury significantly hindered the Giants in 2021. Cutting him would clear $8.5 million, but again, make the Giants worse.
Perhaps most important to this equation are the players whose presence hasn't made New York significantly better in the last couple of seasons. Saquon Barkley is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal after a 2021 season that was indisputably his worst in the NFL. Barkley came off an ACL tear to average 3.7 yards per carry and score four total touchdowns in 2021, leading many to question whether he still has the ability that once led Gettleman to spend the second-overall pick on him in the 2018 draft.
The bad news on Barkley: The Giants are going to have to play this out or find a trade partner interested in taking on $7.2 million in guaranteed salary for one season of Barkley. Otherwise, they're carrying that number in 2022.
Kenny Golladay's cap number leaps from $4.47 million in 2021 to $21.15 million in 2022 and will remain steady around that mark for the duration of his deal with the Giants (through 2024). That price bought the Giants 37 catches for 521 yards in 2021. Schoen can't just cut Gettleman's gamble loose, as it would cost New York additional cap space ($2.45 million in dead cap) if it occurred before June 1. A trade would be more feasible, but if you thought Odell Beckham was untradeable at his number (about $5 million lower than Golladay's 2022 number) during the 2021 season, then you'd know Golladay isn't going anywhere until the summer at the very least.
Injuries factored into our evaluation of a lot of these players. Golladay has had his medical struggles in recent seasons, as did teammate Sterling Shepard in 2021. He's another one who could be on the move, though a departure wouldn't make the Giants better anywhere but on the books (by about $8.5 million after June 1).
"The players were paid those contracts they're making because at some point they were performing to a certain level," Schoen said. "Whether they were overvalued or maybe they got more than how they're performing or not, that's where you're gonna have to free up money."
Signing picks will include two first-round, top-10 selections. Those two alone will cost the Giants close to $11 million in cap space.
With all of this in mind, it's easier to understand why the Giants are positioning themselves to continue with Daniel Jones as their quarterback in 2022. Schoen doesn't have much of a choice when attempting to remedy the team's cap situation left behind by Gettleman.
"I don't want to purge the roster, because we still want to find out what Daniel Jones can do, we want to find out what Saquon can do," Schoen said. "We got some good pieces on defense. The fine balance, the fine line is cutting players that can really help you win but you also got to get under the salary cap, then you're gonna have the draft picks."
Those are the tough decisions and necessary sacrifices ahead for the Giants, and some decisions -- like on the future of tight end Kyle Rudolph, whose release would save the Giants $5 million immediately -- should be easier than others. The most important part of Schoen's statement was its closer: Then you're gonna have the draft picks.
Expect the Giants to get younger with their nine picks this spring. They'll likely have some empty lockers to fill once Schoen is done pruning this tree.