Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images
Right now, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning ($19,750,000 in base salary and bonuses) and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul ($14,813,000 franchise tag) take up over 24 percent of the team’s $143,411,883 adjusted 2015 salary cap. That’s two players taking up almost a quarter of the franchise’s cap space. Most teams facing such a situation would look to re-structure or extend the contracts of players placing so much pressure on the cap.
However, with the free agent market drying up and the Giants still roughly $9 million dollars under the 2015 salary cap, the team appears to have the option or “luxury” to carry these two huge cap numbers, allowing both Manning and Pierre-Paul to play out the final year of their contracts. Why would the Giants do this?
Both Manning and Pierre-Paul have proven to be inconsistent players. After having a career season in 2011, Manning was on a downward spiral for two years before bouncing back with a strong 2014 season. The 2013 season was particularly alarming as Manning arguably had his worst season as pro. Pierre-Paul also had his best year in 2011 and was also trending downward until bouncing back in 2014. And although Pierre-Paul had his second-best season as a pro last year, he did not make a big impact in games until the Giants’ post-season hopes were already dead.
Before the Giants extend or re-sign Manning and Pierre-Paul, they may want to see how both perform in 2015. The odds are Manning should do well as he will be in the second season of Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s quarterback-friendly offense. Odell Beckham is arguably the best wideout in the game. Victor Cruz may not be the same player after his October 2014 knee injury but he should be back. And most of the surrounding offensive talent base should be better, including the offensive line, a running back corps that now includes pass-catching back Shane Vereen, and a more mature Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle.
But what if the 34-year old Manning has a bad year in 2015? Signing him now to a contact similar to Ben Roethlisberger’s new 5-year, $99 million deal could sabotage any rebuilding process.
Jason Pierre-Paul Returns an INT for a TD – © USA TODAY Sports Images
The same set of circumstances applies to Pierre-Paul, who is looking to become one of the highest paid defensive players in football despite only accruing a combined total of 8.5 sacks in 2012 and 2013. If the Giants pay Pierre-Paul a huge, long-term contract and he remains an inconsistent player, the team would be severely limited in what it could do to improve the overall state of the defense.
In short, and to be brutally frank, if the Giants extend Manning and Pierre-Paul with mega-contracts, and both do not perform like impact players, then the team’s future would be bleak. The contracts would prove to be an albatross, making it difficult to not only retain and pursue other talent, but probably even preclude the option of releasing either player in a worst case scenario.
Of course, there is a risk here for the Giants. If Manning and Pierre-Paul play extremely well in 2015, the Giants may be faced with the daunting prospect of their franchise quarterback and one of the league’s best pass rushers hitting the open market next offseason at the same time. The Giants can only use the franchise tag on one player per offseason. If the Giants cannot re-sign Manning before free agency begins, they would have to franchise him (over $23 million). Pierre-Paul would then likely hit the open market. And once a player hits the open market, it is a 50-50 proposition on whether he returns.
Nevertheless, right now, it appears this is a gamble the New York Giants are prepared to take.
“There are no guns to anyone’s head, no ticking clock (with respect to Manning),” said team Chairman and Executive Vice President Steve Tisch on Monday. “I have not heard he has been putting any pressure on us. So I think let’s just wait and see.”
As for Pierre-Paul, Tisch said, “A lot depends on how he performs this season.”
The New York Post is also reporting that team President and CEO John Mara said on Monday that an extension for Manning is “preferable” but the Giants are willing to let him play out his contract.
Of course, this could be all negotiation posturing, a way for the team to encourage Manning and Pierre-Paul to reduce their respective contract demands. Without new contracts, there would be a lot of unpleasant pressure on Manning and Pierre-Paul to play well in 2015 for their own financial welfare. Some players do not respond well to such pressure, as we saw with Hakeem Nicks in 2013 and Antrel Rolle in 2014. Both Manning and Pierre-Paul cannot discount the fact that the team appears to at least have the financial option to force them to play well in 2015 in order to get paid well.
For two players taking up nearly 25 percent of the 53-man roster’s cap space, this is indeed high-stakes poker.