EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Giants co-owner John Mara didn't blink (much) at the idea of giving a five-year, $95 million contract to Odell Beckham Jr. with $65 million guaranteed. He said, correctly, that it's not "completely out of line in the wide receiver market," which has skyrocketed in recent months.
That doesn't mean they got off easy, though. The salary cap numbers associated with Beckham's new contract could create some future problems. And it's possible it could force the Giants to make some difficult decisions as early as next year.
Though his new deal provided the Giants with $3 million in salary cap relief for 2018, they will feel the pain in 2019 and beyond. When the five-year extension kicks in, Beckham will count for $21 million against the cap in 2019 and then $18.25 million, $19.75 million, $19 million and $15 million between 2020 and 2023, according to a source who viewed his contract.
That means that next year, Beckham and quarterback Eli Manning ($23.2 million) could potentially count for 23 percent of the Giants' cap space if the cap goes up to $190 million (which is a safe, early projection).
Add in the cap numbers for Olivier Vernon ($19.5 million), Nate Solder ($17 million) and Janoris Jenkins ($13.5 million) … well, that's nearly half of their cap allotment on just five players for 2019 right there. And that's with safety Landon Collins unsigned.
So you can see the problem. As it is, Overthecap.com only projected the Giants to have about $33.4 million in salary cap space in 2019 before the Beckham deal. Now they'll be down to a dangerously low $12 million.
Now, things can change a lot between now and March, and their cap number is bloated by a lot of seemingly dead weight. They could clear an easy $7 million, for example, by cutting running back Jonathan Stewart, linebacker Connor Barwin and tight end Rhett Ellison after the season. There also appears to be plenty of room to clear space by restructuring some deals, too.
But there's no doubt that Beckham's hefty number will force the Giants to make some decisions, perhaps particularly with these players in mind...
QB Eli Manning
His contract expires after the 2019 season, but his '19 cap hit will seem like an anchor if the quarterback doesn't have a bounce-back season. Could the Giants do the unthinkable and cut him in March and hand the ball to Davis Webb or Kyle Lauletta? That would clear $17 million in cap space. Here's another thought: What if Manning plays well this season? The Giants could extend him a year or two and lower his 2019 cap number that way. A short-term extension into his 40s won't seem so ridiculous if the other options aren't good.
S Landon Collins
In theory he's got the most to lose if the Giants can't find cap space. His bargaining position becomes interesting, though. Assuming he has a good season, it will be hard for the Giants to hold the franchise tag over him (which figures to be at least $12 million) if he knows they can't afford it. If they want to keep him, a long-term extension after the season remains the best bet. But even if they can keep his first-year cap number low on a new deal, he'd still currently be a very tight fit.
CB Janoris Jenkins
Cutting Jenkins sounds silly now because he had a terrific summer, but at the end of last season it didn't seem so crazy at all. Doing it would clear $9.25 million in cap space in 2019 and more than $11 million off the 2020 books. Of course, the Giants aren't exactly deep at cornerback, but cap-strapped teams can't have everything.
LB Olivier Vernon
Cutting an under-30 edge rusher capable of double-digit sacks doesn't make a lot of sense, but the Giants could clear up to $15.5 million by cutting Vernon in March. OK, they'd probably have to spend all that to adequately replace him, and there's no guarantee that they could. But he's going to have to earn his $19.5 million cap number for 2019 and 2020 with his play this season. That and his health (he's already out with a sprained ankle) will play a big part in their decision. A pay cut or a restructuring could make a lot of sense, too.
He's due a $6 million roster bonus in March, which makes his Giants tenure essentially a one-year tryout to see if he's worth the $30 million he's due on his contract over the final three years. The Giants could save up to $10 million in cap space by letting him go if they think he's not worth it.