Who’s not safe when Giants cut down this roster
One year ago, the Giants staged their version of a Valentine’s Day massacre, cutting popular receiver Victor Cruz and starting running back Rashad Jennings. The moves saved $10 million in salary-cap space for a team coming off a season that produced a record of 11-5 and the first playoff appearance in five years.
A year later, the Giants have already undergone tremendous upheaval, as for the first time in 39 years they will enter a season with a new head coach and new general manager. Reshaping the roster is the next order of business. Figure it will be a widespread, invasive slashing commensurate with a team that went 3-13 and is now operating under the scrutiny of Dave Gettleman at general manager and Pat Shurmur as head coach — veteran NFL leaders desirous of building the team the way they see fit.
With just under $22 million in salary-cap money, for now, to work with, Gettleman is inheriting a healthier financial situation with the Giants than he did five years ago with the Panthers. The four highest-paid players on the roster — Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins — account for an unwieldy 43 percent of the total salary-cap allotment. All four of those players are coming off sluggish or subpar seasons. Based on their contracts, though, it is highly unlikely any of the four get cut.
Last season Jenkins was suspended one game for violating team rules — he failed to return on time coming off the bye week — and then went down with a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. When healthy and motivated, he is a top-tier cornerback; cutting him (he counts $13 million on the cap) would save $7 million on the salary cap but result in $6 million in dead money.
As for Manning, the new regime has committed to him for at least one more season. With a $22.2 million cap hit, Manning occupies nearly 14 percent of the Giants’ cap; any team requires great production for that expenditure. Cutting Manning would save $9.8 million on the 2018 salary cap but cost $12.4 million in dead money.
Moves will be coming, with the start of free agency arriving March 14. Here are the Giants players in danger of getting the call they do not want to get:
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: The 31-year-old cornerback was suspended one game when he left the team facility in a huff after he learned he was going to be benched for a game for angrily leaving the field during a loss to the Chargers. He remains an athletic marvel but is no longer an every-down defensive player, and his carefree attitude likely will be viewed as a detriment by the new staff. Cutting him would save $6.5 million on the salary cap.
Brandon Marshall: The 33-year-old, well-traveled receiver played in only five games last season before landing on injured reserve and needing ankle surgery. He was not very effective when he did play (18 receptions for 154 yards and no touchdowns), and his strong locker-room personality can be seen as a positive or a negative. He was slow to develop chemistry with Manning and, at best, will stay around only if he accepts a pay cut. Considering that parting ways with Marshall would save the Giants $5.1 million on the cap, it would be no shocker if the Giants cut ties with him.
Dwayne Harris: There are few, if any, tougher players, but this guy has taken a beating and lasted only five games before going on injured reserve. His production as a kickoff and punt returner has hit near empty on the gauge, and he is not a contributor on offense as a receiver. Cutting Harris would save $2.4 million on the cap.
John Jerry: The veteran guard is remarkably durable — no missed games in his four years with the Giants — but is also a remarkably unremarkable player and especially non-explosive as a run-blocker, despite his bulk. Cutting him would save the Giants $2.45 million on the cap.
Eli Apple: Teams usually do not give up on athletic, 22-year-old cornerbacks who were first-round draft picks, but Apple could be an exception, based on the nightmare-scenario second NFL season he struggled through and the abject immaturity he displayed. Apple will count $4.13 million on the cap, and it would actually cost the Giants $477,468 on the cap if they cut him — unless they push to void his guaranteed money based on the one-game suspension he was hit with last season. Gettleman has said players have a “clean slate” with him. Expect Apple to be with the team this summer and be given the opportunity to prove he has grown up and deserves a roster spot.