Landon Collins should be back on a football field by this spring after he undergoes surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder sometime next week. At the very least, everyone seems certain that he'll be ready to go by training camp.
What's uncertain, though, is what team he'll be on when camp begins.
His future with the Giants is very up in the air, after his 2018 season officially ended on Wednesday. Collins is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March unless the Giants use the franchise tag on him, or sign him to a long-term deal. According to an NFL source, there has been no progress at all towards a new contract. And there was no guarantee the Giants would use the franchise tag on him before his shoulder injury.
That's even more uncertain now.
What makes this so interesting is that, on the surface, Collins is exactly the kind of player the rebuilding Giants would want as part of their core. He's a two-time Pro Bowl player, a leader in the locker room, and he's only 24 years old. He's also well-liked, and his teammates seemed unanimous on Wednesday that they want him to return for the 2019 season.
"I mean, who doesn't?" said veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
Possibly the Giants - depending on Collins' price. That will be one of the biggest offseason decisions facing Giants GM Dave Gettleman. And the cost will matter to a team that is currently only projected to have about $32 million in salary cap space this offseason.
The franchise tag for a safety is expected to cost about $12 million, and it'll likely take more than that per season to sign him to a long-term deal.
The proof of that is several teams tried to acquire Collins near the trading deadline, as SNY reported back in October. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were two of the teams willing to part with at least a third-round pick, even though Collins isn't signed beyond the end of the season. It's a good bet that both those teams, and probably a few more, will pursue him again in the offseason - assuming his surgery goes OK.
Currently, the NFL's highest-paid safety is Kansas City's Eric Berry, who signed a six-year, $78 million contract with $40 million last offseason. That could definitely be in Collins' price-range if he has multiple suitors, especially considering the second-biggest contract for a safety is the four-year, $48 million deal (with $19.8 million guaranteed) that Miami gave to Reshad Jones.
So as long as he's healthy, Collins won't come cheap. But would the Giants even pay the price for him even for one year? It was hard to tell how they valued Collins from their actions at the trading deadline. They obviously didn't trade him for a third-round pick. But one NFL source said the Giants had indicated they were willing to do it if someone would offer a second-round pick instead.
"They're a rebuilding team that was willing to trade a 24-year-old who is probably their best defensive player," the source said. "What does that tell you?"
It seemed to tell Collins a lot. In an exclusive interview with SNY in early November, he said the Giants' apparent willingness to deal him "surprised the hell out of me." It also showed him that "If they're rebuilding, they can rebuild without me."
The may choose to rebuild with him, too. And they can create extra cap room by cutting players in the offseason like linebacker Olivier Vernon (a cap savings of $11.5 million), cornerback Janoris Jenkins ($7.75 million), linebacker Alec Ogletree ($6.5 million), and possibly even quarterback Eli Manning ($17 million). But the Giants would have to replace all those players too, and they need to use some of their cap space for help with their pass rush and along the offensive line.
There's also this to consider: Collins made it very clear in that interview with SNY that he doesn't want the Giants to use the franchise tag on him. If they use it, it certainly could lead to him sitting out the offseason rather than sign it, though he admitted that if it happens "There's not much I can do."
"Honestly I don't want it," he told SNY. "I know what type of player I am. I'm going to bring forth hard-work, talent, play-making abilities to the game each and every week. Why would I want to play under a one-year deal? If something happens I'm not guaranteed. And even though I'm guaranteed that for a year, I'm still not guaranteed."
In the end, it'll be up to Gettleman, who doesn't have a long history of paying big money to defensive backs. But, since he hasn't spoken publicly since July 27, it's not clear exactly how he feels.
It's also not clear how Collins' shoulder injury will affect that decision, since the Giants won't see him on a field again until long after they have to make up their minds.