Jerry Reese survived the worst Giants season in ten years to continue building the Giants back toward playoff contention, but the work will not get any easier. Perhaps the most difficult situation Reese will have to handle in the coming months is the future of Jason-Pierre Paul. A free agent this upcoming offseason, Pierre-Paul finished the season hot and put together his best season since his standout sophomore campaign.
His 12.5 sacks placed him within the top ten in the league for sacks on the year and he was one of just a few Giants that could say he held his own versus the run. Having just turned 26 years old, coming off a double digit sack season and finishing as one of the top 4-3 run defending ends in the league, Pierre-Paul on the surface is a must-sign player and is surely going to be a valued commodity on the open market.
While the salary cap for 2015 will not be determined for another month, early projections suggest the Giants will have close to 17 million in cap space before any cuts and restructures are made. After all the trimmings are done (Beason and Kiwanuka look to be likely candidates, and would free over 8 million), the Giants will likely hover around 30 million in cap room – enough to make some moves, but real improvement will require smart spending.
Should the Giants wish to place the franchise tag on Pierre-Paul, the 2015 cap commitment is likely to be around 13 to 14 million. What Pierre-Paul would accept on a long-term deal is another story. The recent deals for top pass rushers annually sits around that same range, but also come with significant chunks of guaranteed money.
The big deals for J.J. Watt and Mario Williams both reached over 50 million guaranteed. Pierre-Paul is not in that stratosphere, but is still sure to find a deal that pays him handsomely in guarantees. While Pierre-Paul would not be the most precious pass-rushing commodity on the market, that honor looks destined to go to Chiefs pass rusher Justin Houston; Pierre-Paul would certainly be next in line. A long-term deal for Pierre-Paul could be valued upwards of 10 million annually and tens of millions in guarantees.
For a team that needs pass rushers and run defenders both, it seems like a no brainer to do whatever it takes to bring Pierre-Paul back. To commit the big dollars to Pierre-Paul Long term though, the Giants must be sure he is worth it, especially compared to possible alternatives. When the Giants were tumbling to a seven-game losing streak a major issue was a lack of pass rush. 11 games into the season and at the heart of the team’s losing streak, Pierre-Paul had mustered just 3.5 sacks on the year.
Pierre-Paul then went on a tear, accumulating nine sacks in the last five games, beating up such struggling offensive lines as Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and St. Louis. To the cynic, this is a classic case of stepping up when there is no pressure to perform and yet a lot of money at stake. To his credit though, Pierre-Paul also had sacks against top NFL tackles Tyron Smith and Jason Peters. However, is it a level of consistency the Giants should be satisfied with?
The wildcard in this scenario is the firing of Perry Fewell and the scheme his eventual replacement brings in place. Could the Giants shift to a 3-4 alignment? Pierre-Paul isn’t a natural fit in such a scheme but it would be a perfect fit for Justin Houston, should the Giants decide to pay a greater premium for 2014’s top sack man.
Ultimately, Pierre-Paul did enough toward the end of the season to warrant a return, and I expect he’ll receive the franchise tag in order to prove he can take late 2014 into 2015. Anything else is a great risk given Pierre-Paul’s career path, and one the Giants at this point should not feel comfortable making.
*Salary cap information taken from overthecap.com