Giants GM Dave Gettleman has finally seemed to embrace the obvious, that the Giants are not contending right now. They are rebuilding. And coming off a 4-12 season -- their third straight with double-digit losses -- they have a lot of rebuilding to do.
For starters, their entire defense is a mess, though they do have plenty of young players with promise. They are also still trying to fix an offensive line that was supposed to be Gettleman's priority when he arrived two years ago.
The good news is they have nearly $80 million in salary cap space to use when free agency begins next week. The bad news is that free agents are often overpriced, and the Giants learned the hard way in 2016 that they have to be smart with their spending. They also do have the fourth overall pick in the draft and 10 picks to use overall. So they certainly have the ammunition to get things done.
Their plan for doing it will start to come into focus on Monday, when the free-agent negotiating window officially opens. For now, all anyone can do is dream that the best-case scenarios will work out.
So with that in mind, and given what they have to work with, here's one take on what a dream offseason could look like for the Giants:
Sign Leonard Williams to a reasonable, short-term deal
OK, so this isn't a dream scenario for anyone, but it's the best possible solution to a difficult problem. The Giants are backed into a corner after their ill-advised trade for Williams in October. Letting him go makes no sense, despite Gettleman's "thick, rhino hide" to handle the criticism and people on Twitter screaming about "sunk cost". The Giants traded for him because they liked him. He's also only 25 and a good player despite his lack of sacks. They want him back.
How can they do it? Well, they can tag him, but the cost would be about $17 million (120 percent of his 2019 salary). A better solution would be to sign him, which would shrink the cap hit. Unfortunately for the Giants, Williams understandably wants to be paid like the best defensive ends on the market, and the Giants can't do that.
But maybe they could agree on a smaller, shorter deal, that guarantees him more money and allows him to hit free agency again in a year or two. Maybe a three-year, $40.5 million contract ($13.5 million per season) with, say, $25 million guaranteed and incentives or triggers that could get him out after two years, so he'd hit free agency again at age 27 and after the new NFL TV deals kick in and the cap goes way up. That would be cheaper cap-wise than a tag and give him another shot at a big-money deal.
Yes, it's still a high cost and it's fair to wonder if Williams is worth it. But the Giants think he is, and that their front line is better with him than without him. Also, a replacement won't be easy to find.
Sign free agent LB Kyle Van Noy
The Giants know they need a pass rusher, but unfortunately the market will be thinned out by franchise tags, and they don't seem to think Jadeveon Clowney is worth $22 million per year. That leaves them shopping on the second tier, where they'll find Van Noy and Markus Golden, who had 10 sacks for them last year.
Now, the pass-rusher market can get crazy, but the general consensus seems to be that Van Noy will end up getting about $12-14 million per year, with Golden being in the $10-12 million range. The Giants know Golden, but they also know he got a lot of second-effort sacks and didn't have a huge impact as a pass rusher.
He's also more one-dimensional than Van Noy, who can be an edge rusher, excels in coverage, and could even play middle linebacker. He'd be a valuable defender, and he's someone new coach Joe Judge and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham know very well.
Sign free agent LB Cory Littleton
A big pass rusher is important, but don't forget that a key piece of the last great Giants defense was Antonio Pierce, a smart, aggressive middle linebacker with sideline-to-sideline speed. That describes the 26-year-old Littleton. And with Alec Ogletree gone, the Giants are left with a very inexperienced linebacking corps, so they need someone to hold it together.
The only issue here is price. He could end up in the $12-14 million-per-year range, too. But he'd be worth it. And adding Littleton and Van Noy together would instantly make the Giants linebacking corps more dangerous than it's been in a decade.
Sign free agent CB Logan Ryan
It's nice that they're interested in Byron Jones and James Bradberry, but it's hard to imagine they'll be willing to pay the price ($17 million-ish for Jones and only slightly less for Bradberry). Veteran Chris Harris is probably going to be a little out of their price range, too.
The good news is they don't necessarily need to overspend in this market. What the Giants need is a veteran, so they don't have to ride with the inexperienced trio of DeAndre Baker, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine. And the 29-year-old Ryan would be an ideal fit. A solid player, and by all accounts a good person, he could be the leader the Giants need in the secondary.
It still might take a contract worth about $10 million per season, but at his age it likely won't be a long-term deal. Also, Ryan spent four years in New England (2013-16), so he's very familiar to Judge and Graham.
Trade down in the draft, but not too far, and draft the best available tackle
The Giants have 10 picks in the NFL draft, thanks to three comp picks, so they don't have a great need to add more - though adding another one in the first two days certainly wouldn't hurt. They are also in a great position to trade down, assuming the first three picks go as expected. There will be a lot of teams looking to jump over the Dolphins at 5 to get one of the top quarterbacks on the board.
That opens up this juicy scenario: Trade down with the Los Angeles Chargers, who are at No. 6 and need a young quarterback to groom as the heir to the now-departed Philip Rivers. The price: a 3rd and 5th rounder in this draft (71st, 151st) and a first rounder in 2021.
That's a fair price to pay, considering the Eagles traded a third and a fourth, plus a future first and second to move up from pick No. 8 to No. 2 in 2016. The Chargers would be able to get their choice of Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon's Justin Herbert before the Dolphins take one of them off the board. If they make this deal early enough, it also could guarantee a top quarterback is still available, just in case another team trades up to take a quarterback at No. 2 or No. 3.
And for the Giants, it's a no-brainer. Sliding from pick No. 4 to No. 6 does nothing to their selection, especially if quarterbacks are taken with the fourth and fifth picks. They'd still likely land the top offensive lineman. Whether it's Louisville's Mekhi Becton or Iowa's Tristan Wirfs, they'd find an immediate starter at right tackle, and someone who could switch to the left next year when Nate Solder is gone.
Draft Michigan C Cesar Ruiz in the second round
Yes, they have needs at edge rusher and many other spots along the defense. But they are long overdue to rebuild the offensive line. They have two guards to build around and they probably will draft a tackle in Round 1. But center remains a big hole, especially with the health of Jon Halapio uncertain after he tore his Achilles at the end of last year.
The Giants have plenty of offensive weapons and a promising young quarterback, but none of it matters if they can't block. And that's especially true up the middle. The 6-foot-3, 307-pound Ruiz is the best center in the draft and has the strength and attitude to be a mauler. If he somehow slips out of the first round, his value would likely be higher than any available pass rusher, and he fits a bigger need than any of the talented receivers who'll be on the board.
And with Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez at guard, the first-round pick (Becton or Wirfs) at right tackle for now and maybe Nick Gates at right tackle in the future, the Giants' rebuilding of the line would suddenly be nearly complete.