The Giants could have somewhere near $40 million in salary cap space to play with this offseason if the cap rises all the way to $168 million, as some in the NFL project. They might even end up with more, depending on what contracts they restructure and which players they decide to cut.
And while that may not be enough to turn them into big spenders in free agency the way they were a year ago, it certainly is enough for them to re-sign some of their own unrestricted free agents. They have 17 UFAs to deal with, and several other free agents who are restricted. And a few of them could demand and command big money from someone -- particularly the two free agents on the Giants' defensive line.
So will the Giants open their wallet and bring back defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins? They will certainly try, and those two are probably Nos. 1 and 1A on the Giants' offseason to-do list.
Here's a full list of the Giants' unrestricted free agents, and how hard the Giants will try to lure each one of them back:
DE Jason Pierre-Paul - He's already said he won't sign another one-year deal like he did last offseason when the Giants asked him to return and prove his worth. He thinks he did that with seven sacks, eight pass deflections and three forced fumbles in 12 games. Considering he's still only 28 years old and a lot of pass rush-needy teams have a ton of cap room, someone will surely open their vault for him. And for starters, you can be sure he's got his eye on the five-year, $85 million deal (with $52.5 million in guaranteed money) the Giants gave Olivier Vernon last March. Still, that's a big risk to take for a player who in the last four years has had back surgery, groin/hernia surgery, and blew off part of his right hand in a fireworks accident. The Giants will try hard to re-sign him, but it's hard to see them staying in a crazy bidding war like they did with Jacksonville over Vernon. And forget loyalty. JPP is going to the highest bidder. Remember, thanks to the franchise tag and then his fireworks accident, he missed out on a Vernon-like payday twice.
DT Johnathan Hankins - It's hard to judge a players' market value until the market is actually in action, but Hankins probably can't get the five-year, $46.25 million deal the Giants gave Damon Harrison last year. But even if he got to $30 million over that span, if the Giants re-signed both him and JPP, it would mean they'd have about $250 million in contracts tied up in their defensive line alone. That's too much when they have so many other problems. That's why the general feeling is that it'll be either JPP or Hankins for the Giants, and that Hankins is more expendable because a second DT will be easier to find than a premier pass-rusher. It's hard to tell if they think Jay Bromley, their third-rounder from 2014, is ready. If they do, they may let Hankins go. If they don't, they'll try to bring him back at a bargain.
NICE, AT THE RIGHT PRICE
LB Keenan Robinson - He played all 16 games for the first time in his career, after an injury-plagued three years with the Redskins. He proved to be a valuable part of the Giants' run defense and even started six games. Given his injury history, though, the Giants won't overspend to bring him back.
K Robbie Gould - The Giants were lucky to find an available veteran after they finally came to their senses and cut Josh Brown in March, and the 35-year-old didn't miss any of his 10 field goal attempts. They like veteran kickers and aren't afraid of older ones, so this seems like a no-brainer.
G John Jerry - The Giants' whole offensive line needs an overhaul, but they're hurting more at tackle than at guard. Jerry is huge (6-5, 340) and has played relatively well in his three seasons with the Giants. He's also well-liked by his teammates, which wasn't a given after his supporting role in the Dolphins' Bully-Gate scandal back in 2013.
T Marshall Newhouse - The Giants looked for an upgrade at right tackle last offseason and will look for an upgrade again -- maybe at both tackles this offseason. Still, their line also needs depth and they could do worse than a 6-4, 328-pounder who is still only 28 years old, has started 56 NFL games, and is versatile enough to play inside, too. He'd be worth a return on a one-year, low-budget deal.
LS Zak DeOssie - He's still only 32 years old and other than the four games he missed in 2015 with a wrist injury, he's proven to be incredibly durable. Most importantly, when's the last time anyone ever worried about the snap on a punt or field goal try with the Giants?
LB Mark Herzlich - He's a valuable special teams player and a high-character leader in the locker room. He's also a favorite of several key executives -- so he'll probably find his way back on a low-cost, one- or two-year deal.
QB Josh Johnson - He's not the Giants' quarterback of the future and they hope he never has to play, but Eli Manning is 36 years old. If he ever does get hurt, the Giants could do a lot worse than this 30-year-old who hasn't taken a snap in a game since 2011. Despite that, he's more liked around the NFL by scouts than you think.
RB Bobby Rainey - It's hard to see where he fits with Shane Vereen on the roster, but everyone thought that last summer too and he still made the team. And after Vereen needed surgery on a torn triceps and then re-injured it late in the season, maybe having a backup for the third-down back job isn't the worst idea.
LB Kelvin Sheppard - The Giants play so much nickel and dime, the role of a middle linebacker is limited, and somewhat predictably his playing time decreased late in the season. Also, he's in the way of B.J. Goodson, their fourth-round pick. If the Giants think Goodson is ready, there's no need to bring Sheppard back.
CB Trevin Wade - Ignore the way Aaron Rodgers went after him in the wild-card game. He's not a bad fourth cornerback and would provide some low-cost depth.
CB Coty Sensabaugh - He's a former fourth-round pick and, one year ago the Rams liked him enough to give him a three-year, $15 million deal. Of course, they cut him four games into it. The Giants will likely sign either him or Wade. Sensabaugh might have more upside. The Giants used Wade more often, though.
OT Will Beatty - The Giants signed their former starting left tackle right before the regular-season opener, guaranteed him $1.1 million, then activated him for only six games in which he played just seven snaps on offense. Obviously they didn't like what they saw.
TE Larry Donnell - He lost his job in Week 7 despite the Giants' weak tight end group. He got it back in the end, but his time as a useful offensive player was over. He caught just 15 passes, none after Oct. 23, as the Giants tired of his poor blocking and ball security issues. For all that, he got $1.671 million. That'll be enough.
DB Leon Hall - It's always nice to have a veteran in the secondary, but the 32-year-old could never crack the Giants' cornerback rotation. He did start the playoff game at safety, but a healthy Darian Thompson should take that role back next year.
QB Ryan Nassib - Hard to imagine he'd want to return and continue to sit behind the NFL's most durable quarterback. If he does, great, but he's 26 years old and surely he'll find a better situation elsewhere. Maybe not a chance to compete for a starting job, but certainly a clearer path to one.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The Giants have two -- RB Orleans Darkwa and DE Kerry Wynn -- and the cost figures to be at least around $1.8 million for each. Darkwa played only 10 games and rushed just 30 times for 111 yards this season, and now he's coming off surgery on his lower leg after dealing with a fractured tibia that dated back to last spring. That price seems high for an unproven player coming off surgery. It seems high for Wynn, too, considering he played double-digit snaps in only four games this season and has just two sacks in three NFL seasons -- including just ½ in the last two years.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
The Giants have five -- TE Will Tye, TE Matt LaCosse, DT Robert Thomas, FB Nikita Whitlock, and WR Ben Edwards. And since all it takes is a non-guaranteed, minimum-salary tender to bring them back for the offseason, it's a good bet they'll all return.