INDIANAPOLIS -- If there's one thing that everyone in the Giants organization seems to agree on, it's that they lack playmakers on defense. With a few more, they've reasoned, they could've held on to win a few more games and their offseason conversation would be much different.
So why, then, do they seem like they're about to let their two best defensive playmakers walk away?
It sure seems like that's what they're about to do with safety Landon Collins and linebacker Olivier Venon. GM Dave Gettleman all but said "Goodbye" to Collins on Wednesday when he laid out all the reasons why he might not use the franchise tag on him. And now comes the news that the Giants are trying to trade Vernon, a team source confirmed, and that if they can't he will likely get cut.
Nothing is certain, of course, until the Giants make it official. But it now seems likely both Collins and Vernon will be on the open market when free agency begins on March 13. Sure, the Giants would essentially be clearing $22.7 million in cap space, saving the $11.2 million cost of Collins' franchise tag and clearing $11.5 million from Vernon off their books.
But as Gettleman likes to say, these decisions aren't made in a vacuum. The minute Collins and Vernon walk out the door, they'll have to be replaced. And it's not like there's a brilliant, young, inexpensive safety waiting to become the playmaker and leader Collins has been, or a speedy, young, inexpensive pass rusher who can duplicate the seven sacks Vernon had in 11 games last year.
The Giants will have to use that entire savings, and maybe more, to replace those two with players of equal caliber. Or they're going to have to settle for lesser players.
How exactly does that help a defense that ranked 24th in the NFL overall, 23rd against the pass, and was tied for 30th in the league with only 30 sacks all year long?
Granted, it's hard to argue either Collins or Vernon were superstar-caliber players last year. For a Giants team that has about $27 million in salary cap space and a lot of holes to fill, the savings aren't insignificant.
Keeping a 25-year-old safety who has become one of the leaders in the locker room seems like a no-brainer, but the $11.2 million cost makes it difficult. And Vernon has never lived up to the five-year, $85 million contract he signed in 2016. He even drew rare criticism from coach Pat Shurmur late in the season when he said, "I don't see teams spending extra resources to block (Vernon)." The 28-year-old has been a particular enigma over the last two years when injuries limited his performance and kept him out of nine games.
But the most important question is: How will the Giants replace them? The safety spot next to Collins was occupied last season by Curtis Riley, who likely won't be back, and Michael Thomas, a solid player who'll be 30 in March. The pass-rusher opposite Vernon was Kareem Martin, who was a bust of a free agent pickup with just 1 ½ sacks, and 23-year-old Lorenzo Carter, who showed some promise with four sacks in limited action as a rookie but who isn't in Vernon's class yet.
Yes, the Giants could fill those holes through the draft and free agency, but they also need to use their limited resources on two offensive linemen, young reinforcements at cornerback, a third receiver and some depth at linebacker. And, by the way, they're in the market for a Quarterback of the Future, too.
No, the Giants' defense wasn't very good with Vernon and Collins, which is the best argument for why they're expendable. But every hole created has to be filled, and the Giants don't seem to have a good plan for filling it. For all the complaining about the offense last season, it was their defense that was the biggest problem late in the season.
If they let both Collins and Vernon go, don't be shocked if the defense gets worse.