Two years ago the Giants hit Jason Pierre-Paul with the "franchise tag" with the hopes that it would only be a place-holder until he agreed to a long-term deal. It almost happened, too, with talks that continued well into the summer - right up until his infamous fireworks accident on the 4th of July.
Then last year the Giants didn't use the tag on him when he was still recovering from his hand injuries and his value was obviously low, and it worked out when they lured him back for just $10 million and one year.
But now, JPP is poised to become the best pass rusher on the open market this spring, which means he might be one of the most sought-after free agents of all.
So will the Giants try to prevent that from happening by using the franchise tag on him again?
If they can't sign him to a long-term deal by March 1, it doesn't look like they have much of a choice.
That's the dilemma for the Giants as the tagging period begins on Wednesday (and lasts until March 1). The tag for defensive ends is likely to be about $17 million, which means they might have to tie up half of their projected salary cap space in just one player. That's a lot considering they have a couple of their own free agents to re-sign, not to mention plenty of other needs.
Even more problematic, they'd be doing it at a position (defensive line) where they went crazy last offseason, giving Olivier Vernon a five-year, $85 million deal with $52.5 million guaranteed, and Damon Harrison a five-year, $46.5 million contract with $24 million guaranteed. Vernon and Harrison will count for $26.6 million against the likely $168 million cap in 2017. Add in $17 million for JPP and that's $43.6 million - or about 25 percent.
And that's before they re-sign or replace defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who almost certainly will have to sign elsewhere if JPP gets the tag.
Now, that doesn't mean the Giants are definitely going to use their franchise tag on JPP again. They've made it clear they want to re-sign JPP to a long-term contract, and team sources say they plan to try to do that between now and March 1. Their intention is to only use the franchise tag if they have to use it as a place-holder, buying time for them to complete that long-term deal.
But if they're not close to that long-term deal, which could potentially reduce the first-year cap hit, a franchise tag of $17 million becomes a difficult pill to swallow. For one thing, it's not fiscally smart to tie up that much cap space in one position. It seems even riskier when considering that JPP is coming off hernia/groin surgery, is only a few years removed from back surgery, and is still missing part of his right hand.
And yet, what else can the Giants do? JPP was the Giants' best defensive end last season and - with a notable nod to Harrison - maybe even their best defensive lineman at times. He had seven sacks in 12 games, plenty of quarterback pressures, deflected eight passes and was outstanding against the run.
There is no potential replacement on the Giants roster that even comes close to doing what he can do.
So the Giants' choice is this: Keep him off the market, or watch his price skyrocket, which likely means they'll have to watch him leave. And if that happen they're going to have to overpay for a lesser player or hope they get lucky like they did in 2014 when they signed Robert Ayers to a two-year, $3.75 million contract and then watched him record 14 ½ sacks (despite missing eight games) in those two years.
For a team in a win-now mode that doesn't want to break up its defense and is trying to win a Super Bowl in the next three years before their franchise quarterback's contract expires at age 39, that's really not much of a choice at all.
It's unfortunate for them that JPP, having missed out on the big money each of the last two years, is looking for a big pay day and has his eyes on a Vernon-like deal. Maybe that seems crazy, but few thought Vernon would get that last March coming off a 7 ½-sack season. JPP, for all his health concerns, is a 28-year-old physical freak who had 12 ½ sacks in his last full season (2014).
There's simply no one else on the market like that. In fact, the only other headliner at defensive end - not including hybrid DE/linebackers like Chandler Jones or Melvin Ingram - is Arizona's Calais Campbell, who'll be 31 next opening day and has a career high of nine sacks. Everyone else on the list is untapped potential.
JPP is a proven commodity - worth the lucrative contract when he's at his best. And someone will meet his asking price. For the top free agents, someone always does.
So, if the Giants believe their defense was at its best with JPP on the field - and they definitely do - they have to pay the price, because there's no one else out there like him. It's a big risk, given his health issues and given the cost against the cap.
But the bigger risk might be in letting him hit the market, because that almost certainly means they'll be accepting the risk of letting him go.