As it turns out, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman might not have been confusing at all in Indianapolis when discussing Landon Collins and whether the hard-hitting strong safety will be hit with the franchise tag.
There is a deadline of 4 p.m. Tuesday looming, and Gettleman last week made a clear case that committing the franchise-tag price of $11.15 million to Collins does not make complete sense.
It is not an exorbitant salary for a top-tier safety. That is how Collins, who was a team captain this past season, views himself. If the Giants do not tag Collins and allow him to head off into free agency, it would be proof they do not share that vision of Collins as a player.
What Gettleman did is lay the groundwork for taking a pass on Collins. At this point, it is more likely than not Collins has played his last game for the Giants. If this is the case, letting the 25-year-old Collins walk would be an unpopular move with the fan base and open up yet another hole in the team’s already-porous defense.
Another, less expensive option for the Giants is to use the transition tag on Collins. That would cost $9.5 million and give the Giants the right to match any offer Collins might get from another team in free agency.
Perhaps Gettleman’s dim view of applying the franchise tag was intended to remind everyone it is the team that holds the upper hand here, that the Giants hold the cards, even if Collins is tagged, is disgruntled (he would be), delays in signing the tag (he would), stays away from the team all spring (he would) and perhaps into the summer, eschewing training camp (he might) and does not arrive until a week or so before the regular season.
More likely, the Giants are moving on. They assessed the situation during a season that ended at 5-11 and traded away two starting defensive players, cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison. They did not do the same with Collins, last season a team captain, and now are expected to see him leave, with nothing in return.
Without Collins, the Giants would need two starting safeties. The best of the bunch in free agency will be Earl Thomas, but he would cost a bundle. Tyrann Mathieu played for Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher with the Cardinals. Other options include LaMarcus Joyner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Adrian Amos.
If the Giants ultimately want to keep Collins they would find a way to fit him in financially. With all the money available in free agency and the salary cap inflating to $188.2 million — up $11 million from 2018 — the Giants will be around $27 million under the cap. They can gain $11.5 million in cap savings by releasing outside linebacker Olivier Vernon, a move than seems imminent if they cannot find a trade partner.
Another high-priced defensive player, cornerback Janoris Jenkins, will count $14.75 million on the salary cap. He is due a roster bonus of $1 million on March 13, corresponding to the start of the league year, and a source said the Giants intend to pay that bonus.
There is no real fear Collins would not sign the franchise tag and sit out all season. Agents canvassed during the combine indicated it would be unwise for Collins, if he is tagged, to pass up the $11.15 million salary for 2019, the way Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell sat out in 2018 and failed to receive the $14.5 million on his second franchise tag. The franchise tag for safeties is low — only tight ends and special team players get paid less — and indicates what the league thinks top safeties are worth.
Collins completed his four-year rookie contract and extracted the full value ($6.1 million) of the deal. Collins, naturally, wants the financial security of a multi-year deal. Harrison Smith is guaranteed $28.5 million on his deal with the Vikings. Thomas was guaranteed $27.5 million on his deal with the Seahawks. Eric Berry is guaranteed $40 million on his deal with the Chiefs.
Collins was selected to the Pro Bowl in three of his four NFL seasons. After not missing a game his first two years, Collins failed to finish the season in 2017 (fractured forearm) and 2018 (partially torn labrum) and, like it or not, his injury history is a part of the evaluation process.
If tagged, the Giants have until July 15 to come up with a multi-year contract for Collins. If they cannot, rescinding the tag is always a possibility — Gettleman, with the Panthers, did that a few years back when negotiations with cornerback Josh Norman grew untenable.
Gettleman admitted he must decide if it is worth tagging Collins and then dealing with the distraction that comes with an unhappy player separating himself from the team.
“I’m not crying about it,” Gettleman said of the impending decision and all the ramifications. “I have fun with it.”
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