NFC East: New York Giants

So our man in Atlanta, Vaughn McClure, has this today from former New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Osi says he'd like to keep playing football, and with his contract up and free agency two weeks away, I guess he felt it was time to make sure everybody knew that. He is 33 years old and hasn't been a full-time player for some time, but he's always been able to rush the passer and it's not crazy to think he might be able to contribute as a pass-rusher in the right situation.

Umenyiora also told Vaughn that, when it comes time for him to retire, he'd like to do so as a Giant:
"It was nearly a third of my life that I was there in New York, and I did a lot of good things there," Umenyiora said. "As a team, we won some Super Bowls. I was able to go to a couple of Pro Bowls and be like an All-Pro player over there. Unless I'm able to do that somewhere else -- which I don't know how likely that is -- then it would only make sense, whenever it is that I retire.

"I'm not going to play another 10 years. I'm not going to play another three years. Whenever it is that I retire, I think it would only make sense for me to do that as a Giant."

Now, that could be as simple as the Giants putting out a news release announcing Umenyiora's retirement once he decides to do it. Or it could mean Umenyiora returning to play a final season for the team. The former possibility is obviously far more likely than the latter, but with Umenyiora looking for work it's worth at least asking the question of whether the latter is possible at all.

The Giants are going to bring Jason Pierre-Paul back as one of their starting defensive ends, either on a long-term deal or as their franchise player. But on the other side, things are murkier. Mathias Kiwanuka is likely on his way out. Robert Ayers is coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. Damontre Moore is still only 22 and working on his maturity issues. Kerry Wynn, Jordan Stanton and guys like that are unproven. The Giants are almost certain to be looking for some sort of cheap help at that other defensive end spot, even if it's just another rotational player or two. Umenyiora, at this point in his career, would surely come cheap.

He'd also be reunited in New York with Steve Spagnuolo, who was defensive coordinator early in Umenyiora's Giants career and is back for a second tour of duty. That makes a Giants return even more appealing for Umenyiora, who had 13 sacks in 2007 under Spagnuolo and never had that many in a season again (averaging 7.3 per season since and topping out at 11.5 in 2012).

Can we rule this out? Of course not. They brought gimpy, broken-down Mario Manningham to camp last year and gave him a chance to win a job. If Umenyiora can't find work elsewhere, wants to play and would take a veteran minimum, non-guaranteed deal, sure, I could see the Giants bringing him to camp. Yes, he had his feuds with GM Jerry Reese, but Reese is no grudge-holder, and as the Spagnuolo hire shows, the Giants aren't afraid to reach back into their past glory years in hopes of a present-day boost.

I'd put the chances of a Giants-Umenyiora reunion somewhere under 50 percent, but I don't think they're super close to zero. Far stranger things have happened, and it may be worth a shot at the tail end of free agency to see what an old friend has left.
At the present time, the only safeties under contract with the New York Giants for 2015 are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, their 2013 and 2014 fifth-round picks. The three safeties who started games for the Giants last season -- Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown and Quintin Demps -- are all scheduled to be free agents when the new league year begins two weeks from today.

Those facts, along with the state of the safety market in the 2015 offseason, indicate to me that Taylor or Berhe -- and possibly both -- will get a shot to start at safety for the Giants this coming season.

Start with the list of the Giants' own free-agent safeties. It's possible that any or all of them could be back, sure. But the information I'm getting on Rolle indicates a disconnect between player and team on his value -- a disconnect similar to the one the Giants had with Justin Tuck a year ago -- that could mean the end of Rolle's time in New York. That would open up one starting spot, and even if Brown and/or Demps came back, neither played at a level in 2014 that indicates he'd be impossible to beat out for a spot.

Answers aren't likely to come via the draft, either. Alabama's Landon Collins is the top safety available this year, and the consensus at the combine seemed to be that No. 9 was too early to take him. After Collins, the safety pool drops off into mid-round options who aren't likely to be any more NFL-ready in 2015 than Taylor and Berhe would be.

There are a couple of possible free-agent safety options, though the best one, Devin McCourty, isn't likely to leave New England and hit the market. So that leaves the Giants to decide how they feel about guys like Denver's Rahim Moore or Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy. It's possible they could find Rolle's replacement in free agency, but even if they did, that would still leave open one starting spot for one of the young fifth-rounders.

"They’re going to get a chance to compete," Giants GM Jerry Reese said Saturday. "Cooper obviously has to stay healthy, but I think those guys are going to get a chance to compete for that position."

Taylor still has work to do to recover from the foot surgery that cost him the entire 2014 season. But he's making good progress and expects to be ready in time for camp. The Giants believe Taylor's uncommon size (6-foot-4, 228 pounds) makes him a high-ceiling prospect at safety if he ever gets the chance to play it regularly. Berhe (5-foot-10, 200 pounds) doesn't have the same kind of size, but the Giants like his instincts and aggressiveness and believe he could take a leap forward this season.

In the past, the Giants have shown a willingness to commit big resources (Rolle's contract, a first-round pick) on the safety position, so it's easy to imagine them doing that again. But it's tough to believe they're going to go out and bring in two new high-end, experienced starters, which means opportunity this summer for one or both of the young guys.
Our man Adam Schefter reported Monday morning that the New York Giants will use their franchise player designation on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul if the sides can't agree on a long-term deal before next Monday's franchise deadline. This is the latest and strongest confirmation of what we've been writing here for weeks. As I wrote Friday, the sides don't seem to believe a long-term deal will be reached before March 2, and Pierre-Paul's camp is bracing for the franchise tag.

I also have written -- and continue to believe -- that franchising Pierre-Paul is the right move for the Giants. The past three years have offered them legitimate reason to wonder about consistency and health with Pierre-Paul, and with the salary cap going up into the $145 million range, they can afford to tag him even at a projected one-year cost of about $15 million. That buys them time -- as much as another full season, if they want it -- to decide whether they're willing to commit to Pierre-Paul long-term for the top-of-the-market pass-rusher contract he wants. This time next year, Pierre-Paul will be a 27-year-old free agent, and if he's coming off another double-digit sack season, the Giants might be more comfortable paying him the $14 million or so per year he's seeking on a long-term deal.

As for this season, if the Giants let Pierre-Paul leave, their options for fixing the pass rush in his absence would not be great. Kansas City is planning to franchise 2014 NFL sack leader Justin Houston if they can't get a long-term deal done with him. Baltimore's Pernell McPhee, who appeared to be an under-the-radar option at the start of the offseason, is drawing enough attention now that he's going to float up near or to the top of the market. If Pierre-Paul were to hit the market when it opened on March 10, either he or Buffalo's Jerry Hughes would be the best free-agent pass-rusher available. And with other teams joining the bidding, the Giants likely would find the price to keep Pierre-Paul more than they could stomach.

So they're right to take the one-year cap hit and reassess in a year. They know Pierre-Paul and like him, and if he thrives and stays healthy under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, as so many Giants pass-rushers before him did, they're likely to feel more comfortable next year giving him the commitment for which he's looking now.

Giants cap space analysis

February, 22, 2015
Feb 22
INDIANAPOLIS -- Asked Saturday where his team stood this offseason in relation to the NFL's salary cap, New York Giants GM Jerry Reese said, "We're pretty healthy. We're headed in the right direction with respect to the cap. I think we'll be able to do what we need to do. I think we'll have enough money to do what we need to do with the offseason, as far as free agency goes and whatever we decide to do with the other guys."

After spending this past week at the combine, I now believe the salary cap for this year is going to come in at around $145 million per team. ESPN's current projections have the Giants with $22,617,930 in cap room if we assume a $145 million cap.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJason Pierre-Paul posted 12.5 sacks last season.
Now, if they franchise defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for something like $15 million (which is the way I believe they are currently leaning), that obviously would drop the cap-room number down to a far scarier $7.6 million (estimating). But there is other work they can do to bring that number back up.

They're expected to release defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, a move that would save $4.825 million in cap space. It also seems likely that they'll release center J.D. Walton, which would save another $3 million in cap space. So those two moves right there would bring the total back up to $15.425 million with Pierre-Paul in the fold. Add another $2.858 million they could save if they cut middle linebacker Jon Beason (who's almost certainly going to have to take a pay cut at the very least if he wants to stay), and things loosen up pretty well for the Giants with the cap shooting up again this year.

You'll notice we haven't discussed an Eli Manning extension, which remains a smart and likely thing for the Giants to do this offseason. The Giants could save about $11 million more in cap room with a Manning extension, and combined with these other moves that would enable them to do basically anything they wanted to do in free agency. But if they get to the point where they don't need to do a Manning extension just for the cap room, they could decide to let Manning play out the final year of his deal and work on a new deal next year. It's not as though he's going to give them a discount at this point, and they'd still be able to keep him off the market next year with either a new deal at that point or the franchise tag.

Basically, the Giants are in pretty good shape in terms of cap room this offseason, especially when you figure their biggest needs outside of Pierre-Paul aren't at very expensive positions. They'll look for either a right tackle or a guard, a safety or two, a couple of 4-3 outside linebackers and a change-of-pace running back. None of those positions are huge-money free-agent positions, and the Giants should be able to franchise Pierre-Paul and still address their needs without too much financial trouble.
INDIANAPOLIS -- General manager Jerry Reese met with the media Saturday at the NFL combine. Here's what we learned about the New York Giants:

They're still looking for David Wilson's replacement: The Giants' 2012 first-round pick had to retire last summer because of neck injuries, and the Giants this offseason are on the lookout for a speedy, home-run hitter running back who can complement Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. "We've got some big bangers, and David was a fast, quick guy who could catch the ball out of the backfield," Reese said. "You lose a dynamic-type player, it stings a little bit. But it's football, and we'll try and replace that position."

Cornerback Prince Amukamara isn't a contract-extension candidate: Amukamara is scheduled to make $6.898 million this year on the fifth-year contract option the Giants picked up last offseason, then be a free agent at season's end. Reese said the team would first have to assess Amukamara's health (he's coming off a season-ending arm injury) before proceeding with a long-term deal, and he doesn't feel the need to extend Amukamara just to get his cap number in line. "For a starting corner, that's a good price," Reese said.

The Giants are assuming nothing with regard to Victor Cruz: Reese continues to say the team hopes for a full recovery by Cruz from the severe knee injury that ended his 2014 season in Week 6. But he repeated Saturday that, until they see Cruz on the field and running the way he used to, they can't assume that recovery will happen. Receiver remains a position at which Reese would hate to be caught short, and if concerns about Cruz linger in April and May, the Giants could use an early pick on a wideout.

Landon Collins is obsessed with Sean Taylor: The Alabama star, who is the top safety in this year's draft and a possible first-round pick for the Giants, said he watched Taylor's game film before every game, wears No. 26 because Taylor wore it in college, roots for Washington because that was Taylor's NFL team and cried when he heard the news of Taylor's death in 2007.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants' hope is that wide receiver Victor Cruz will make a full recovery from last year's major knee injury and join a 2015 group of receivers that would be formidable with Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle as its primary threats. But GM Jerry Reese said Saturday that the team's offseason plan cannot assume a full recovery by Cruz.

"When a guy has a big injury like Victor had, you can't put all your eggs in his basket," Reese said. "Our doctors say he looks good. I see him down in the training room, working out with our trainers and our medical people, and he looks good. But his game is quickness. And until you get out there and move around, you never really know how he's going to recovery from that. We're hoping and praying that he'll come back 100 percent and be the Victor Cruz that we know, but you can't put 100 percent in that basket."

Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in a Week 6 loss in Philadelphia, had surgery immediately thereafter and missed the rest of the season. He said in December that his hope was to be ready in time for training camp, but that he couldn't be certain. The rehab from that injury and surgery is long and difficult. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said earlier this week that he believed the plan was for Cruz to start running soon, which would indicate progress, but there remains a long way to go.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
Alex Trautwig/Getty ImagesThe Giants will proceed as if Victor Cruz won't return at 100 percent, but he is "looking good," according to GM Jerry Reese.
In the meantime, Reese said, wide receiver is among the positions the Giants will look to improve this offseason.

"We'll upgrade receiver. We'll try to upgrade that spot as well," Reese said. "If Victor's back, and Odell and Rueben, that's a pretty good core. And there are some other guys, [Preston] Parker, [Corey] Washington, some younger guys. But if there's a good receiver, guys, we'll draft him."

Reese chuckled at a question about Beckham, who told reporters at the Pro Bowl that he'd played with two tears in his hamstrings in 2014.

"I don't know about that. I think he's trying to be a hero," Reese said. "I don't think you can play with two torn hamstrings and run fast like that. I think our doctors would have caught that."

Beckham missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, but recovered to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games and win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There were times during the second half of the season when Beckham admitted to pulling up on a deep route because he felt the hamstring tug and he didn't want to pull it again.

"According to our doctors, it was healed up," Reese said. "He may have gotten fatigued later in the season, but I don't think you can go out there and run like that if you've got a couple of torn hamstrings."

Reese also took a question about Randle, who was benched a couple of times late in the season for issues relating to punctuality and practice habits. Randle's relationship with the coaching staff seemed to improve late in the season and he finished with a flurry, catching 12 passes for 290 yards in the final two games of the season. Randle is under contract for less than $840,000 in salary and bonuses this year and counts just $1.047 million against the cap. He has a chance to be among the better bargains in the league at the position.

"Rueben gets banged on a lot. Sometimes he should get banged on, but I think he gets banged on a little bit too much," Reese said. "I think he's a good young player. All he needs is some chances. And with Odell and Victor, I think he'll get plenty of chances."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants are meeting this week with representatives for their own free agents, but as of midday Friday they had yet to meet with the representatives for defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and had no plans to do so.

A source familiar with the discussions said the expectation on both sides is the Giants will designate Pierre-Paul as their franchise player sometime between now and the March 2 deadline for doing so. That wouldn't preclude a long-term deal, but it would serve the purpose of keeping Pierre-Paul off the open market when free agency begins March 10. The Giants want Pierre-Paul back, and with the salary cap expected to rise into the mid-$140 millions, they have plenty of room to keep him on a one-year franchise tender salary that could be as much as $15 million.

Pierre-Paul is likely to be disappointed with the franchise designation, as he's been looking forward to hitting the market and selling himself to teams as an elite pass-rusher worthy of a mega-deal like the one Robert Quinn signed with St. Louis. But while he's only 26 and coming off a 12.5-sack season, the Giants still harbor concerns about injury and inconsistency and so far have been hesitant to commit long-term, top-of-market pass-rusher money to him. Franchising him gives them another year, if they want it, to consider what it's worth to them to lock up their 2010 first-round pick for the long haul.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Thursday that "the goal is for him to be a Giant and play as a Giant forever and retire as a Giant. How that works out is another issue."

The Giants have had meetings this week with the representatives for free agents Antrel Rolle, Walter Thurmond, Mike Patterson and others, though it doesn't sound as though anything is imminent with any of them.
INDIANAPOLIS -- For the second offseason in a row, New York Giants owner John Mara hinted that the team might depart from its long-held policy and allow coach Tom Coughlin to enter this season with only one year left on his contract. But for the second offseason in a row, it appears that was nothing more than noise. Coughlin strongly indicated Thursday that he and the Giants were nearing resolution on his contract situation, and the most likely outcome is that he gets a one-year extension just as he did last year to avoid a lame-duck situation.

One major reason this makes sense is that Coughlin's coordinators are both signed through 2016. Steve Spagnuolo got a two-year contract when he agreed to become the Giants' new defensive coordinator last month. And offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who signed a two-year deal last year, recently had another year added onto his deal as well, according to sources familiar with the situation. Those coordinator contracts are often treated as "rollover" deals, with either team options or mutual options to add a year to the deal as is deemed appropriate.

Obviously, it wouldn't make a lot of sense for a head coach to have only one year left on his deal while his coordinators each had two. So there was never any real doubt that Coughlin would end up signing an extension through 2016 at some point this offseason. Coughlin signed a three-year deal following the Giants' most recent Super Bowl title after the 2011 season. That deal was scheduled to run through 2014 but was extended last year to run through 2015, and it appears it will soon be extended again, if it hasn't been already.

That doesn't mean the Giants can't and won't make major changes to the coaching staff, including at head coach, if they have another bad year in 2015. The extension is a show of respect, and offers a coach who's become a franchise icon a nice financial cushion if he does lose his job a year from now.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Giants are looking to improve their running game for 2015. They'd like to do this primarily by upgrading the run blocking on their offensive line, but it's also clear from talking to people familiar with the Giants' plans that they're on the lookout for another running back -- specifically a "home run hitter" type who's a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and hit a big play. They like Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams for their between-the-tackles work, but they're still looking for someone who can fill the role they had mapped out for David Wilson before neck injuries forced him to retire last year.

So when our man Mike Rothstein wrote this post Wednesday about the possibility of the Detroit Lions cutting veteran running back Reggie Bush, my antennae went up. Bush fits the description of a big-play threat who can catch the ball, and assuming he'd accept a smaller, more specific role in an offense, he could be an appealing option for the Giants if the Lions do put him on the market.

The drawbacks include the fact that Bush turns 30 in March as well as his extensive injury history. But the list of guys the Giants could pursue for this role is filled with imperfect solutions. C.J. Spiller has a history of injuries, Shane Vereen could cost too much, Antone Smith broke his leg in November, etc.

Anyway, the Giants are here at the combine looking at a variety of draft prospects, and they'll have their eyes open for a specialty running back if one makes sense in the middle rounds. But they're also likely to look around at veteran options as we get closer to the start of free agency next month. So, you know. Just sayin'.
A closer look at the areas the New York Giants could address in the draft. We'll get started today with a look at the defensive end position, which is scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Defensive end. Even if the Giants re-sign free agent Jason Pierre-Paul (but especially if they don't), they need another long-term foundation piece for the pass rush. Damontre Moore doesn't look like the answer yet, Mathias Kiwanuka is on his way out and Robert Ayers is a rotational player. And besides, don't the Giants always say you can't have too many pass-rushers?

Three players the Giants could target in the draft:

Shane Ray, DE, Missouri: A relentless pass-rusher who had 14.5 sacks this past season for Missouri. Ray isn't the biggest guy at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 240 pounds and might need to develop as a run defender, but he'd upgrade the pass rush instantly, assuming he lasts long enough for the Giants to pick him at No. 9.

Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: Gregory earns praise for his athleticism and his ability to fit into any scheme. He's 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, which gives him room to add bulk and upside because of his speed and athleticism.

Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon: The size jumps out at you here. Armstead lists at 6-foot-7-1/2 and 285 pounds. He could appeal to the Giants with his strength and ability against the run, even if his pass-rush skills might need some refinement.
Without a doubt, the No. 1 question I get this time of year is, "Any idea which free agents the Giants will go after?" The answer, at this point, is no. I do not have access to the New York Giants' free-agent wish lists, nor am I convinced they're 100 percent assembled. I hope to come home from the scouting combine in a couple of weeks with a better idea, but as of now all I can give you is speculation.

But everyone loves names, so speculation has some value during this slow time. With only Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe on the roster at safety, the Giants will undoubtedly be looking for help at that position when the new league year opens March 10. Here's a PARTIAL list of some of the safeties who could be available in free agency.

The Top of the Market: Devin McCourty, Patriots.

I think the Giants would make a big play for McCourty, who turns 28 in August, if he hit the market. I just don't think he will. The Patriots want him back, he wants to stay, and if they don't get a long-term deal done before free agency opens, it'll only cost them about $10 million to franchise him. They'd have no issue paying one of their best defensive players that much money in 2015 if it came to that. McCourty is likely a pipe dream for the Giants.

The Next Best Things: Da'Norris Searcy, Bills; Rahim Moore, Broncos; Sergio Brown, Colts; Jeromy Miles, Ravens.

Searcy was the Jairus Byrd replacement in Buffalo, played well in his first season as a starter and doesn't turn 27 until November. Moore is even younger -- turns 25 on Wednesday -- and another year removed from a very serious leg injury. Brown is a career special teamer who started eight games for Indianapolis in 2014 and turns 27 in May. Miles turns 28 in July and played for new Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo last season when Spagnuolo was the Ravens' defensive backs coach.

Older Vets: Mike Adams, Colts; Dawan Landry, Jets.

Adams would be a fun story as a Paterson native coming home, but he turns 34 in March and therefore doesn't fit the profile of a Giants free-agent target. Landry is a 32-year-old veteran, but the Giants have one of those they can bring back if they're looking for that (see below).

Their Own Guys: Antrel Rolle, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps

Rolle is a team captain who just finished a five-year deal in which he didn't miss a game. They'd welcome him back, but at their price, since he's 32 years old and they're looking to rebuild with younger guys on defense. Brown got benched early in the season but recovered well and doesn't turn 28 until July. They'd bring him back if he's cheap, and hope another year away from ACL surgery would do the trick. Demps was signed to return kickoffs, ended up starting some in Brown's place but didn't seem to give the Giants what they wanted. He'd come back if they'd have him, but my guess is they move on.

Restricted Free Agents: Will Hill, Ravens; Tashaun Gipson, Browns; Rodney McLeod, Rams; Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jets.

Other than Hill (been there, done that), these are all guys who could conceivably pique the Giants' interest if they hit the market. But as restricted free agents, they're unlikely to do so.
Officially, Jason Pierre-Paul's rookie contract with the New York Giants voided Friday. This is a mere formality -- a quirk of several of the contracts signed by players drafted in 2010, which was the last year of the previous CBA. It doesn't affect Pierre-Paul's status as a free-agent eligible player, which he still is and always was going to be. The Giants still have the same exact decision to make about Pierre-Paul as they had yesterday and two months ago.

That decision is whether to (a) sign Pierre-Paul to the lucrative, long-term deal he seeks, (b) allow him to leave via free agency and replace him with some other high-end pass-rusher or (c) use the franchise player designation on him, effectively binding him to them for 2015 at a salary likely to be around $15 million once the final salary cap numbers are set.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJason Pierre-Paul posted 12.5 sacks in 2014.
I think they should go with (c). It's not something the Giants tend to do -- use the franchise player designation as a means of keeping their player off the market while delaying a long-term decision on him. Traditionally, when the Giants have used the franchise player designation, it has been for the purpose of keeping a player off the market while they finalized discussions on a long-term deal that were already in progress and nearly complete. That was the initial stated purpose of the franchise player designation when it was instituted years ago, though obviously many teams have used it for the purpose of keeping players without committing to them long-term.

In the case of Pierre-Paul, the Giants would be wise to break with custom and slap that franchise tag on him for 2015. They have the cap room to carry Pierre-Paul at that price, especially with the cap projected to rise into the low $140 million range. They're looking at about $14 million in cap room right now and could add about $16 million more to that if they extend Eli Manning's contract and make some obvious roster/salary cuts such as Mathias Kiwanuka and Jon Beason.

So, since the Giants don't need to do a long-term deal with Pierre-Paul just to keep his 2015 cap number low, I don't see the reason to do it at all. Pierre-Paul is immensely talented and still very young (he just turned 26 last month), but his career hasn't been a consistent one. Brilliant in 2011 with 16.5 sacks in the Super Bowl season, Pierre-Paul had only 8.5 sacks total over the two years that followed. He was slowed significantly by injuries in both of those seasons, and missed five games with shoulder and back issues in 2013, but that's part of the resume, right? Those two years give them legitimate reason to wonder about his ability to stay healthy.

Now, this past season, Pierre-Paul did stay healthy. He played all 16 games, was stout against the run from start to finish and ended up with 12.5 sacks thanks to nine in his final five games. So the Giants can put 2011 and 2014 in the "pro" column and 2012 and 2013 in the "con" column (while just chalking up his developmental 2010 season) when considering whether to commit big, long-term money to him.

That's just not convincing enough, and since they can afford to do it, the right call here is to franchise Pierre-Paul and delay the decision by a year. Another strong season like the one he just had, and they can give him the long-term deal this time next year. Another head-scratching, injury-marred year and maybe they decide to go elsewhere. We know the situation with the coaching staff is up in the air after 2015, so making a long-range personnel decision on a player about whom they may not be fully convinced doesn't make a lot of sense right now.

The risk is upsetting Pierre-Paul, who'd prefer to get a long-term, top-of-the-market pass-rusher deal. And he might be annoyed if franchised. But in the end, he'd also be a free agent again at 27 after making about $15 million in 2015, and I imagine he'd find a way to live with that scenario.

I'm not sure what the Giants will do. My understanding is that the only discussions so far have been preliminary and that talks with Pierre-Paul and the Giants' other free agents will pick up in a couple of weeks when everyone is together in Indianapolis at the scouting combine. Perhaps his demands will be reasonable enough that it makes sense for them to do the long-term deal. But my sense is that he's seeking a bank-breaking deal, and if that's the case the Giants would be wise to put that off for a year.
The day after the Super Bowl is the first day on which NFL teams are allowed to terminate veteran contracts -- an ugly bit of league business that helps clear salary-cap room for the work these teams need to do to get younger and better. Here's a look at a few New York Giants players who could fall victim this offseason.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka. His $7.45 million cap number is the fourth-highest on the team, and his production simply doesn't justify it. He turns 32 in March, and if the Giants want him back at all (and they might, considering his nine years of service and two Super Bowl rings), he'd have to take a major pay cut. Kiwanuka's likely release would save the Giants $4.825 million against this year's cap. He took a pay cut last year and has restructured a couple of times over the years to help the team. But the bill is due now, and in the NFL, it's the player who pays it, not the team.

LB Jon Beason. One of last year's big free-agent signings could be one of this year's cuts. The fact that Beason has $900,000 of his 2015 salary fully guaranteed could help him because it's possible the Giants don't want to eat that money. But after a year lost to injury, Beason's $7.367 million cap hit is too heavy. And with another year on the deal after this one, he'll surely be asked to take a pay cut and/or drastically alter his contract. Releasing him would save the Giants more than $3.5 million against the cap, even with the guaranteed money.

DT Cullen Jenkins. He just turned 34 and has one year left on his deal with a $2.917 million cap number. The Giants would save $2.25 million against the cap if they cut him, though they're not exactly deep at his position and might need to spent at least that much to replace him.

C J.D. Walton. One year left on his two-year deal and a cap hit of $3.625 million. They save $3 million if they cut him, and their long-term plan at center is 2014 second-round pick Weston Richburg.

P Steve Weatherford. A Super Bowl XLVI hero and international fitness celebrity, Weatherford did not have his best year in 2014. Like Kiwanuka, he took a pay cut last year and likely will be asked to do so again if he wants to stay. His cap number is over $3 million, and he has two years left on his deal at about $3.1 million per season.
We have spent -- and will continue to spend -- a great deal of time talking about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning's contract. At $19.75 million, Manning's is by far the largest salary cap hit on the Giants' 2015 roster at this point, and they'd be wise to extend his contract beyond 2015 to get some relief from that.

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Victor Cruz is a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they have some tough decisions to make on a possible salary cut.
But on a separate note, I'm curious to see whether the Giants feel the need to do anything about the second-highest cap hit on their roster -- the $8.125 million number that belongs to wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz signed his long-term deal prior to the 2013 season. He has four years left on that deal at an average salary of $7.5 million per year and an average cap hit of $9 million per year. This year's salary is a palatable $6.15 million. Next year's is a more exorbitant $7.9 million. None of the remaining salary in his deal is guaranteed.

Now, if Cruz produces the way he produced in the two years before he signed the deal -- two years in which he averaged 84 catches, 1,314 yards and 9.5 touchdowns -- these numbers are no problem. However, his production dropped in 2013 (73 catches, 998 yards, 4 touchdowns and missed the final two games due to injury). And in the sixth game of the 2014 season, he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee and had to have major surgery that ended his season.

There is no guarantee Cruz comes all the way back from the injury, or that he's the same kind of explosive player he was before it happened. The Giants hope he makes a full recovery, and he and they are optimistic he will. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has some creative ways to use Cruz that he didn't get to show much in 2014 before the injury. The team's preference would be to have Cruz all the way back and earning his contract in their new offense for the next four years.

But this is a cold business, this NFL contract business. And with Odell Beckham Jr. having exploded onto the scene as a superstar talent and producer in Cruz's absence, the Giants may well have the leverage they need to seek a reduction in Cruz's salary over the remaining four years of the deal. And it may be in their best salary-cap interest to seek that reduction. They can point out the 12 missed games over the past two years and use Beckham's emergence to help their case and maybe shave a couple of million bucks off of that cap number this year.

Doing this would run the risk of alienating one of the team's best and favorite players. Cruz is a selfless, team-first guy who showed up in 2014 training camp after signing the deal and told the coaches he wanted to work on becoming a better downfield blocker in the run game. He's a special guy, and the Giants know this, and because of that they may decide this isn't a road they want to travel. That contract definitely means something to him, and it may well hurt his pride if they come to him and threaten him with a release while telling him Beckham has passed him -- even if it's just a negotiating tactic.

Cutting Cruz would only save the Giants $2.425 million cap space this year, so assuming they believe he's going to make it all the way back that's not a worthwhile way to go. But given the way things have gone since Cruz signed that deal a year and a half ago, it's not crazy to at least look at making some changes to it.
It's a headline world, and very few people seem to read beyond them, so all day Monday it was, "Did you hear Odell Beckham Jr. played the whole season with TWO tears in his hamstrings???? OH MY GOD!!!!!!" Someone even asked me on Twitter what New York Giants fans should think of Beckham "playing hurt in the Pro Bowl."


That's not what happened. None of that is what happened. And while I know my plea is likely to fall on deaf ears, I think everybody needs to relax.

One of the most important rules about interviewing professional athletes is to remember that they are not doctors. Beckham can tell the New York Post, if he likes, that he played the whole season with two tears in his hamstrings. He may even technically be correct, because any kind of muscle pull or strain is, in point of fact, a tear of the soft tissue. But all he's doing is using a different word to describe an injury about which everyone already knew. If you go out in the backyard and throw the football around with your kids and you pull your calf or your quad or your hamstring, you will go to work the next day with at least one tear in your muscle. Congrats on toughing that out.

Now, of course, Beckham's job requires him to use his hamstrings to a much more spectacular extent than you or I use them, so the fact that his preseason hamstring injury never fully healed is interesting. But what you have to remember is this: After Beckham pulled his hamstring in the first practice of training camp last summer, and after he pulled it again in a partial practice a couple of weeks later, the Giants sat Beckham out until they were completely sure he could play without risk of reinjuring that muscle. He likely could have played in Week 4 against Washington, but they waited until Week 5 against Atlanta for his debut simply because they wanted to make sure. (And because, if you remember, they only needed Larry Donnell to beat Washington.)

During the season, Beckham would occasionally discuss the hamstring. Once in a while, he would be discussing a particular play or route and say that was one where he felt he might not be able to go full speed because of his hamstring. Wisely, on these occasions, he slowed down so that he might continue playing in the rest of the game. That is the extent to which Beckham's hamstrings affected him after Week 4, and it's possible he could have stretched it out on any or all of those plays and not been affected.

Beckham was absolutely dazzling this season. His 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games are likely to be rewarded Saturday night with the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Might he be even better next season if his hamstring is fully healed after an offseason's worth of rest? Sure. A full offseason program, training camp and slate of preseason games are likely to help him as well, as could the return from injury of fellow star wideout Victor Cruz.

But Beckham's accomplishments and ability require no embellishment. They are great enough on their own, and the words he chose to discuss his hamstring issues Sunday night don't mean anything in the big picture of what this young man did or can continue to do going forward.