Brett Jones came to the Giants as a curiosity three years ago -- a top prospect for the Canadian Football League who preferred to try and fight his way into a job in the NFL. He did, eventually earning a job as the Giants' starting center.
He looks like he could be their future at center, too.
Whether he is, and just how much they're willing to commit to that possibility, is a decision the Giants are going to have to make in the coming days. The 26-year-old Jones is scheduled to be a restricted free agent, which means the Giants have to tender him by March 14 to retain his rights.
They are expected to do it. The only question is at what level. With the salary cap set at $177.2 million for 2018, the RFA tender levels are set at $1.907 million (original round), $2.914 million (second round), and $4.149 million (first round), according to former NFL agent Joel Corry. Tendering a player means the team has a right to match any offer he receivers. The "round" refers to the draft-pick compensation they'd receive if they don't match.
So with center Weston Richburg set to hit unrestricted free agency, and with several teams -- including the Jets -- apparently interested in signing him, how much will the Giants spend on Jones? The "original round" tender would seem risky, since he wasn't drafted (meaning the Giants would receive no compensation if they declined to match any offer. The first-round price seems way too high for a player who has made only 14 NFL starts.
Would the Giants spend $2.914 million on a second-round tender? That's unclear, and the Giants haven't notified Jones of their intentions yet, according to a source.
But it would be a shock if they don't tender the 6-2, 312-pounder at all, given that he started 13 games last season as Richburg was sidelined with a concussion last season, and he played very well. The native of Saskatchewan, and former CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman (2014), has continually impressed since he recovered from a knee that wiped out his first NFL season (in 2015).
New Giants GM Dave Gettleman, of course, has made it clear he intends to rebuild and fix the Giants' offensive line. But several team sources said they expect Jones will be a part of that, at least in the short term. One source said it was possible that with Richburg and guards Justin Pugh and D.J. Fluker heading to unrestricted free agency, Jones could be the only returning starter on the line in 2018.
"I just want to keep being the starter," Jones told the Giants team website last month. "That's all I want to do. I want to be able to keep playing. It's just so much fun and I'm looking forward to that."
Jones is the Giants' only restricted free agent, but they do have four "exclusive rights" free agents. To keep those players, they only need to offer them a one-year tender at the minimum NFL salary. If they don't, the players become unrestricted free agents.
Here's a look at the four ERFAs, with some insight into the Giants' plans:
LB Curtis Grant
After kicking around some NFL practice squads for two seasons, he became a valuable special-teamer for the Giants. That alone makes him worth the $555,000 he would cost the Giants to keep him, but his health is uncertain after he tore his ACL on Thanksgiving night. Since tenders aren't guaranteed, it makes sense the Giants will bring him back and let him rehab to see what his chances are of being ready for the start of next season.
OL Jon Halapio
The Giants do plan to bring him back, according to a source, which is not surprising since the 6-3, 315-pounder played relatively well in six starts for the Giants last season. He'll compete to be part of the depth on a rebuilt line. The cost would only be $555,000.
TE Ryan O'Malley
He only joined the Giants in mid-December and they do have a lot of tight ends (Evan Engram, Rhett Ellison, Jerell Adams, and the recently-claimed Kyle Carter). His cost is a little higher too ($630,000 … the amount is based on NFL experience), but again, it's not guaranteed, so they could opt to bring the 6-6, 260-pounder to camp.
DT Robert Thomas
He hasn't done much in two seasons with the Giants, but keep in mind he was in camp with Gettleman's Panthers in 2016 and was among the final cuts. It's hard to see the Giants not spending the $630,000 on a 6-1, 331-pound defensive tackle, especially with Jay Bromley likely to sign elsewhere in free agency.