With Odell Beckham Jr. ready to start his new chapter in Cleveland, Sterling Shepard will enter the new season with much more responsibility in the receiving game. And with his contract expiring at the end of the year, the 2019 season will be very interesting for No. 87.
Shepard had his best season in a Giants uniform last year with with 66 receptions (107 targets) for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Eli Manning was also fond of throwing him the ball when he needed a third-down conversion, as he converted 17 of his 20 third-down receptions.
The Oklahoma product has proven to be a reliable target with the ability to break out for the big play, which is why he is likely to start camp as the No. 1 receiver in the room. But things changed when the Giants decided to sign veteran free agent WR Golden Tate to a hefty four-year, $37.5 million contract.
Tate is basically the same receiver as Shepard. They both work out of the slot, possess reliable hands, and they are both 5-foot-10 and around 200 pounds. Obviously Tate brings more NFL experience to the table, and also has the affiinity to make defenders miss. He actually leads NFL receivers with 118 missed tackles since 2014 -- more than Beckham and his new teammate Jarvis Landry.
The Giants will likely put Tate in the slot more than Shepard, as the 30-year-old has seen most of his success in that position. That means Shepard will have to get used to most of his snaps coming on the outside, an area he definitely needs to improve in if he wants to post the same numbers he has for his first three seasons.
And this transition couldn't come at a worse timing for Shepard, who will be looking for a contract extension. Being a second-round pick, his rookie deal is up and the Giants will have to decide whether or not they extend him, or try to find a new team for him via trade before he hits the open market.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman already dropped the ball once on a former second-rounder this offseason, when Landon Collins waltzed into free agency and saw a lucrative deal worth $14 million per season come from a division rival in the Redskins. To make up for Collins' leaving for free, Gettleman could be inclined to trade Shepard if the team has no intention to re-sign him.
That's why the Tate signing is very interesting. No word has come regarding Shepard's contract status, but the thought of trading him has popped up recently. It would be a bad look, though, to see both Beckham and Shepard -- the Giants' most productive receivers over the past few years -- be traded virtually in the same season.
It will be an interesting all season long to see how Shepard performs with all of this in mind. He knows he's entering a contract year, and the best way to see one come his way is to perform well in his new role.