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.
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.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- New York Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had so many athletic catches that he inspired T-shirts and all forms of Internet creativity in his rookie season, revealed after Sunday's Pro Bowl that he is still affected by a hamstring injury that kept him out of much of the Giants' offseason program, training camp and the first month of the regular season.
Beckham, who still closed out 2014 with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, missed the first four games of the season and didn't have a game with more than four receptions until Nov. 3 when he had eight catches for 156 yards against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I was never fully healthy," Beckham said following Team Irvin's 32-28 win over Team Carter in the NFL's all-star game. "... I was just trying to manage it and maintain it. ... It's still not right. [I'm] still working on it."
Beckham added it was a "long process" for his recovery.
The Giants' first-round pick from the 2014 draft (12th overall) finished Sunday's affair with five receptions for 89 yards for Team Irvin, including a full-layout 48-yard catch on a pass from Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the first half.
Beckham added after Sunday's game that he had actually suffered two hamstring injuries before the season -- one in an early-offseason workout and another in a preseason game. He said he intends to rest in the coming weeks to try to get his leg feeling better.
We'll take a quick look at the New York Giants' end of it. PFF has them six above-average players away, which doesn't sound bad. They have only one player in the "Elite" category -- Pro Bowl rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. -- and seven in the "Good" category (Johnathan Hankins, Robert Ayers, Jason Pierre-Paul, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Will Beatty, Rueben Randle and Daniel Fells).
Check out the project and click on the Giants' link and you'll see I have a bit of a rundown on where I do and don't agree with PFF's evaluations (and why). And you can decide for yourself where you do and don't agree with them. And you can look around the rest of the league to see how other teams' problems stack up with those of the 6-10 Giants. For me, I think the evaluations are generous. But with the Giants, they always seem to be -- until the season ends and we look at the record.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Mathias Kiwanuka is the most obvious New York Giants cap casualty this offseason, as it's been a long time since his production matched up with his salary and they can save $4.85 million by cutting him. Also looming as potential cuts are linebacker Jon Beason and center J.D. Walton, though Walton's not overpriced and the decision on him could come down to how much other work they're able to do on their offensive line this offseason. Beason's case is an interesting one. They obviously like him and believe he makes a difference to their defense. And he's guaranteed $900,000 in salary this year anyway. But the $7.37 million cap number is unwieldy, and they'd save about $3.53 million by cutting him. They could try to talk him into a pay cut, but if they really believe Jameel McClain functioned as a capable replacement, then it's not crazy to move on from Beason at this point.
@DanGrazianoESPN: Obviously, a lot depends on what they do in free agency. And even after that, the Giants do have a tendency not to target specific positions but to go with the best possible player at their spot. If you're looking for a basic framework, my sense is that the market will send them toward offensive linemen in free agency and defensive players in the draft. Given where they're drafting, they could have a chance at a top-flight pass-rusher or a stud safety like Alabama's Landon Collins at No. 9. And while they don't tend to draft linebackers, they do have a significant need at that position, so maybe they'll try for one of those in the second or third round. And even if they do sign a bunch of offensive linemen in free agency, they could (and maybe should) find a tackle or a guard in the second or third round with an eye toward the long term.
@DanGrazianoESPN: It was something of a surprise that the Giants spent big on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in March, even as part of their big free-agent frenzy. But it does show you where their priorities are focused right now, and I think if they did spend big on a marquee free agent this year it would be on the back end of their defense, possibly a safety like Devin McCourty or Da'Norris Searcy. They will make offensive line a priority, but since they consider themselves set at left tackle with Will Beatty, they're unlikely to bring in any "marquee" names on the line. (Guards and right tackles aren't generally marquee names.) The only two safeties on the roster right now are Cooper Taylor and Nat Berhe, and there's some question about whether they'll bring back free agent Antrel Rolle, so this is a place where they have significant resources to spend.
@DanGrazianoESPN: I do not think taking a top quarterback such as Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston would be a good use of the Giants' first-round draft pick this year, even if one of those guys fell to No. 9. The Giants' roster is not in strong enough shape to allow them to double up major resources on the quarterback position, where they're heavily committed to Eli Manning this year and likely to extend his contract into the future. If they believed they were moving on from Manning after this year, then you could maybe make the case for taking Mariota in the first round. But let's be honest -- Mariota or Winston would do well to ever be half as good an NFL quarterback as Eli Manning already is. The Giants know this, and with Manning still in his prime, they're not interested in cutting bait and turning the franchise over to an unproven commodity at the most important position.
Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy the Pro Bowl.
"It's been a guy that I've looked up to for a long time," Beckham said after Friday's Pro Bowl practice at Scottsdale Community College. "A guy who's been at the top and a guy who's been all the way down at the bottom and still remained the same the entire way through.
"Skills like that is something that I admire in a person -- someone who goes through such controversy and adversity and is still able to overcome it."
But Beckham never thought Mathieu would give up.
"Just says a lot about the person and his character," Beckham said. "It's something that I expect from him. I expect nothing but greatness from him. That's what he gives every time."
Beckham experienced some of that adversity during his rookie season in 2014.
He missed the first four games with a hamstring injury but recovered to lead all rookie receivers with 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games. His injury, coupled with the knee injury Mathieu suffered in Week 14 of 2013, kept them from working out together during last offseason.
The two New Orleans natives kept in touch and would "chop it up back-and-forth," Beckham said. They also share a similar style: Like Mathieu, Beckham has the top of his hair dyed blonde.
"I don't know if it's really [a tribute] to him," Beckham said. "It's our little style, so it just works out."
While the Giants plan to have Will Beatty back as their starting left tackle, Weston Richburg back as either a guard or (they hope) their starting center, Geoff Schwartz healthy and back to play one of the guard spots and Justin Pugh back as either a guard or right tackle, don't be surprised if the Giants add multiple pieces on their offensive line. Part of their issue there the past couple of years has been a lack of depth, and they don't want to keep getting caught short on the line.
With that in mind, here's a very short, partial list of potential offensive line targets in free agency:
Joe Barksdale, Rams tackle: This is a 6-foot-5, 326-pound giant who just turned 27 three weeks ago. He graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 10 tackle (and No. 3 right tackle) in run-blocking in 2014. If the Giants' plan is to get a mauling right tackle who would allow them to move Pugh inside to a guard spot, this is a guy to watch -- assuming the Rams let him hit the market, which is no certainty.
Bryan Bulaga, Packers tackle: Grades out better in pass protection, but he's no slouch as a run-blocker. Former first-round pick turns 26 in March and could leave Green Bay if the bidding for his services gets out of their preferred price range.
Doug Free, Cowboys tackle: He has rebounded from a rotten 2012 with two strong seasons at right tackle for Dallas, and was a big part of the league's No. 2 rush offense in 2014. But Free is 31 and therefore a bit older than the Giants' preferred free agents tend to be.
Orlando Franklin, Broncos guard: He has played tackle and guard in his career, and the Giants like that versatility in their linemen. Franklin is 27 years old, which makes him appealing as well.
Mike Iupati, 49ers guard: Turns 28 in May. Graded out as PFF's No. 2 run-blocking guard in 2014. Likely to be in demand.
Clint Boling, Bengals guard: He is quite young, as his 26th birthday is not until May. At 6-foot-5, 310, he's a bit smaller than those first two guards I listed.
Mel liked the Giants' draft in the first place, giving it a "B" immediately after it was over. Since this is an Insider piece, I'm not going to tell you here what the re-grade is. But considering they got 12 rookie-of-the-year-caliber games from first-rounder Odell Beckham Jr., 15 starts from second-rounder Weston Richburg, a team-leading 721 rushing yards from fourth-rounder Andre Williams and 4.5 sacks from fifth-rounder Devon Kennard, you can assume the grade improved upon consideration of the season's worth of evidence.
The Giants desperately needed a strong 2014 draft, after years of unproductive ones, and the early returns indicate that this could be the most productive since Jerry Reese became GM in 2007. If Williams can be a starting running back, Kennard a starting linebacker, Richburg the team's center of the future and Beckham the kind of star performer he was as a rookie, there will be no doubt.
NEW YORK -- If you believe the assertion that you can tell how much something really bothers someone by how much they squawk, then the way a couple of former Patriots responded on television this week to a few taunts that former Giants place-kicker Lawrence Tynes tweeted after New England routed the Colts 45-7 in last Sunday's AFC title game was telling.
Retired cornerback Ty Law scowled and said, "Who is this dude?"
He's a kicker, Law and former Pats wide receiver Troy Brown were reminded.
"A kicker? Next subject," Law scoffed.
"Don't count. Next subject," Brown agreed.
"Go soak your foot," Law added.
For Tynes, who's built a burgeoning reputation as a Twitter smart aleck since leaving the Giants for Tampa and getting knocked out of the league in 2013 by a serious staph infection, the social media blowback he caught in the first 36 hours after his tweets proved he'd hit a sore spot. Tynes insists, "I actually have great respect for how much winning the Patriots have done, all the division titles they've won" -- even if he did also tweet that "maybe the Pats will have a chance now that they're not playing the G-Men."
Pats supporters and former players don't want any reminders of New York's role in interrupting Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the franchise's coronation as the best NFL coach, quarterback and NFL dynasty of all time.
Team Irvin will be coached by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who'll be familiar with his roster. The only Cowboy selected by Team Cris Carter was long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur.
Beckham is (obviously) playing in his first Pro Bowl after a dazzling rookie season in which he missed the first four games due to a hamstring injury but still managed to catch 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Pro Bowl is at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona, and will be broadcast on ESPN.
So at this point assume something close to $19 million in cap room and expect them to push it over $20 million with roster cuts, pay cuts or other contract adjustments. That would give the Giants enough cap room to operate their offseason even if they don't extend the contract of quarterback Eli Manning.
If the Giants do extend Manning this offseason, what would that deal look like? He has averaged $16.25 million a year on the six-year, $97.5 million deal he signed just prior to the 2009 season. Given his production in recent years, it's easy to say they should just extend him for the same money. But given the way quarterback contracts have gone since then, with guys such as Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco averaging more than $20 million a year on new deals and Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford coming in around $18 million a year, it's legitimate for Manning to ask for more.
For the sake of argument (JUST AS AN EXAMPLE), let's give him Romo's deal -- six years, $108 million with a $25 million signing bonus. Takes him to age 40 if he plays it out, but we all know those last couple of years aren't guaranteed. If they structured it the way Dallas structured Romo's deal, they'd knock another $11 million off this year's cap by rolling this year's salary into the new deal and giving Manning a low base salary in 2015 in exchange for the signing bonus. They'd be on the hook for big guaranteed salaries in 2016 and 2017 but nothing after that, and the length of the deal would allow them to restructure that big guarantee in Year Two if they wanted to do it.
I don't know what the Giants' plans are for this. I know they're considering all options, and I know they'd like to keep Manning around for the rest of his career. I know the options on the market aren't any better than Manning, and I believe an extension for Manning is the right way for the Giants to go -- whether now or a year from now. As for the timing: Yes, they can operate their offseason with a fair amount of flexibility if they don't extend Manning this year. But they could have a much more effective and helpful offseason if they do.
Tedy Bruschi, the former Patriots linebacker who's now an NFL analyst for ESPN, has no trouble remembering the game, painful though it may be for a member of that year's Patriots to recall.
"I can't think of a game in Super Bowl history with more on the line than there was that day," Bruschi said Monday in a phone interview. "This was THE SUPER BOWL, all caps. The one that would trump all the others. A chance to go 19-0, be the only team that ever did that, call ourselves the greatest team of all time? No question about it. But the better team won. They were definitely the better team."
"I definitely feel the right team won," Bruschi said. "The way we played, the way they played, they should have won. And that's just the respect I have for the NFL game. To sit here and say we were the better team, or we'd have beaten them nine out of 10 times, come on. What a slap in the face it would be for me to say that."
Bruschi can recall several moments from the game that made him think things weren't going to go the Patriots' way -- the David Tyree helmet catch, of course, but also a dropped interception by Asante Samuel, another pass that went off Brandon Meriweather's hands, an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble that Bradshaw improbably recovered, etc. The kinds of things, Bruschi said, that used to go the Patriots' way when they started winning Super Bowls. But he says it would be a mistake to lay that loss on a few bad bounces.
"They came at us with that power running game with [Brandon] Jacobs and Bradshaw and the fullback, [Madison] Hedgecock," Bruschi said. "Physical offensive line, they had a defensive line, powerful. It validates what really wins football games. We had the highest-scoring offense in the history of the NFL, and we ran into a more physical team that day and lost."
Truly believing the other team was better doesn't help Bruschi deal with the loss, though. What the Patriots lost that day went well beyond one game or even one title. They lost the chance to lay claim to the title of greatest team in NFL history. Bruschi took it so hard, he put off retirement plans.
"I couldn't finish my career with that taste in my mouth," he said. "If we had won that game, I would have retired. No doubt in my mind. But after we lost, I had to come back and play another season."
Bruschi is a Patriot for life, and he recognizes that people will say Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have a chance to go exorcise some demons in the desert in a couple of weeks. But he doesn't think that's really the case.
"I know Tom wants to go out there and right the wrong," Bruschi said. "But if they go out there and win that Super Bowl, it doesn't fix anything for me. I'll be ecstatic and I'll be proud of the organization, but the big one was lost. Nothing's going to change that."
Obviously, the results were mixed, as you'd expect. Some of these guys never played for the team. Some of these contracts continue into 2015 and beyond. Here's a look back at the deals the Giants signed last year and how they look after Year 1:
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (5 years, $35 million): Played hurt most of the year, but within that framework more or less gave them what they hoped for. He's not going anywhere, as he has a $1.25 million guarantee for this year on top of prorated signing bonus and roster bonus money. Their hope is that he gets and stays healthy and performs like the elite player they're paying him to be.
LB Jon Beason (3 years, $17 million): This looked like way too much at the time, though the Giants believed Beason was critical to their defense after they acquired him via trade in 2013. A springtime foot injury never healed, and Beason played in only parts of four games before going on injured reserve. Even though he has $900,000 in guaranteed salary coming in 2015, he's a candidate for release or restructure as his next two years' cap numbers ($7.37 million and $6.57 million) are out of line with his production.
G Geoff Schwartz (4 years, $16.8 million): Signed to play left guard, Schwartz injured his toe in camp and played in only two games all year. The one positive is that he played right tackle in those games, demonstrating versatility that could help the Giants structure their offensive line going forward. With $1 million in guaranteed salary plus a $475,000 roster bonus for 2015, he gets a mulligan and a chance to show he can hold up over a full season at some position on the line.
C J.D. Walton (2 years, $6 million): The Giants were happy with the way he picked up the new offense and helped others learn it. But with 2014 second-rounder Weston Richburg slated for center long-term, Walton is a potential cap casualty. They'll save $2.5 million if they cut him.
LB Jameel McClain (2 years, $4.5 million): Something of an afterthought signing in the way of the Rodgers-Cromartie one, McClain ended up playing middle linebacker in Beason's place and leading the team in tackles (as a 4-3 middle linebacker should). If they keep Beason, they could decide McClain is extraneous and save $3.1 million against the cap by cutting him. But he seems like a useful enough piece to keep around for one more year even as a starter on the outside.
DE Robert Ayers (2 years, $3.75 million): Most of this deal's money is in this second year, with a $1.23 million salary, $500,000 in prorated signing bonus and a $500,000 roster bonus due on March 12. Assuming they move on from Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants have a place for Ayers as a starting defensive end. But he's coming off his own serious injury, so it's no sure thing. And even if he's back, they could seek to reduce the cost, though it's reasonable enough that they don't have to.
CB Walter Thurmond (1 year, $3 million): He said he turned down multiyear deals in the hope of having a big year and cashing in this spring. But he played in only two games before his season-ending injury. The Giants would like him back, assuming low cost in free agency.
CB Trumaine McBride (2 years, $2.875 million): A broken thumb ended his season early, but at $1 million in salary for 2015 he's a valuable piece for the Giants in their secondary.
S Stevie Brown (1 year, $2.75 million): Benched early in the year, rebounded a bit, now a free agent. Could bring him back as long as the cost is minimal. The Giants don't have a starting safety on the roster right now.
K Josh Brown (2 years, $2.5 million): Gave them no reason to regret or alter this deal.
RB Peyton Hillis (2 years, $1.8 million): Concussion issues could force him to retire. Minimal cap cost to the Giants ($945,000) if he is back.
LB Spencer Paysinger (1 year, $1.431 million): Pushed into a part-time role due to the development of Jacquian Williams and Devon Kennard. No real reason to bring him back.
S Quintin Demps (1 year, $1 million): Signed to return kicks, played a bunch of safety when Brown got benched. He and the team wish he'd played better. Free agent. They'll likely look elsewhere.
FB Henry Hynoski (1 year, $1 million): To the (somewhat minimal) extent that the Ben McAdoo offense uses a fullback, Hynoski is a fine one.
DT Mike Patterson (1 year, $920,000): Decent rotational player. Played in all 16 games. Giants like him, cost is low, but he'll turn 32 in September and is no lock to return.
G John Jerry (1 year, $795,000): Signed as a backup, Jerry surprisingly started all 16 games at right guard following the retirement of Chris Snee. But like everyone else on the line, he struggled greatly in the run game. They'll likely seek to upgrade.
CB Zack Bowman (1 year, $795,000): Played in all 16 games, had two interceptions. Didn't hold up when asked to step in as a starter, but that wasn't what they signed him for. As part of the overall cornerback plan, he makes sense to bring back on a minimal deal.
OT Charles Brown (1 year, $795,000): Injured early, and when he finally got into a game it was as a sub for Justin Pugh against the 49ers. He was awful in that game and was cut the following week.
WR Mario Manningham (1 year, $795,000): Never looked healthy in camp, got hurt again at the end of it, placed on IR before season started.
QB Curtis Painter (1 year, $795,000): Lost the backup QB job to Ryan Nassib in camp, was released.
TE Kellen Davis (1 year, $795,000): Released at the end of camp. Ended up on the Lions.
KR Trindon Holliday (1 year, $700,000): Training camp hamstring injury landed him on IR before the season ever started.
WR Travis Harvey (1 year, $420,000): Didn't make the team out of camp.
QBs Josh Freeman and Rusty Smith: Remember? The whole thing about Eli Manning was going to have to miss spring practices following ankle surgery and they needed quarterbacks to take reps. Remember how people actually thought Freeman had a shot to stick? Good times. Good times.