'Tis the season of rumors.
With the NFL negotiating period kicking off today in advance of Wednesday's start to free agency, information is flying across the league. But what do we know for sure? Here, Giants.com looks at what we know and what we don't know at the start of a pivotal week on the NFL calendar.
What we know
Clubs are operating with a reduced salary cap
After months of speculation, the 2021 NFL salary cap was set at $182.5 million.
The new number is down from $198.2 million in 2020 as the league deals with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL had previously set the salary cap floor at $180 million.
Starting Monday at noon, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with, the certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents upon the expiration of their 2020 player contracts. They cannot sign until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 17.
Giants have already begun making moves
On Tuesday, nine players were designated as non-exclusive franchise players around the league, including Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams. It was the second consecutive year Williams received the franchise tag as he was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after a career season in 2020. The Giants also released veteran guard Kevin Zeitler, who started all 31 games in which he played in two seasons with Big Blue.
2021 Franchise Players:
- DT Leonard Williams (Giants)
- OL Taylor Moton (Panthers)
- WR Allen Robinson (Bears)
- QB Dak Prescott* (Cowboys)
- S Justin Simmons (Broncos)
- OL Cam Robinson (Jaguars)
- S Marcus Williams (Saints)
- S Marcus Maye (Jets)
- WR Chris Godwin (Buccaneers)
*Denotes "Exclusive" Franchise Player
Giants' pending free agents
The following players are set to hit the market at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
- DB Adrian Colbert
- S Nate Ebner
- LB Kyler Fackrell
- OT Cameron Fleming
- RB Wayne Gallman
- DL Austin Johnson
- LS Casey Kreiter
- RB Dion Lewis
- QB Colt McCoy
- RB Alfred Morris
- C Spencer Pulley
- LB Jabaal Sheard
- DL Dalvin Tomlinson
- Restricted Free Agents:
- WR C.J. Board
- LB Devante Downs
Restricted Free Agents:
- WR C.J. Board
- LB Devante Downs
View NFL.com's updated rankings of the top 101 free agents of 2021 ahead of the new league year, which begins March 17.
What we don't know
How will the reduced salary cap affect the Giants' plans?
A year after hitting home runs in free agency with players like linebacker Blake Martinez (defensive captain), cornerback James Bradberry (Pro Bowler), and Logan Ryan (earned contract extension in December), we will wait to see what impact free agency will have on the 2021 roster.
"The goal to best manage the cap is to get flat contracts," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a press conference last week. "So, if a guy is making $15 million – it's a 3-year deal at $45 million – you'd like to have a $15 million cap number every year, that's the goal. once you start restructuring or renegotiating, you usually back-end load them. What you're doing is you're kicking the can, so it depends upon how much pain you want to deal with. That's really what it is. Some teams philosophically say, 'The heck with it,' and they restructure and some people don't. It's a philosophical conversation, but it's not a good place to get to, to constantly restructure and renegotiate."
With or without Nate Solder, what will the offensive line look like?
Solder opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which opened the door for rookie Andrew Thomas, the fourth overall draft pick, to start at left tackle. He was one of three rookies – Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux were the others – to start at least one game on the Giants' offensive line last season. That was in addition to Nick Gates transitioning to center.
"Look, I'm not going to speak for Nate," coach Joe Judge said last week. "The answer is yes, I have talked to Nate. To be honest with you, the majority of our conversations have actually had nothing to do with football. I've talked a good bit with Nate since the end of the season and just checked up on him in terms of how the year off went, how his family is doing, how his son is doing and how he's doing personally. There have been a lot of conversations. We have talked some football. There are other areas of our building as well that are in conversations with Nate, but when the time comes to address all that we'll know. Obviously, these things don't all happen in one day and we'll see where everything goes, but these are players we'd love to have back, they're guys on our roster."
Meanwhile, Zeitler, the team's right guard, leaves a void of 135 games worth of experience up front. The offensive line will also be under new leadership again in 2021 after Judge hired Rob Sale as the position coach. Former Giants offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, who won two Super Bowls in his first tenure, also joined the staff as an offensive/defensive consultant.
Gettleman made it clear that he was comfortable starting two sophomores – Thomas and Peart – at the tackle spots in 2021, but what about the interior? Will the Giants bolster the group in free agency or the draft?
"Listen, every player was a rookie at some point or a young player at some point," Gettleman said. "At some point in time, you have to have confidence in who's on your club and you have to put him in there and let him play. Like I've said to some of you, how many of you had Pulitzer Prize-winning articles your first or second year?"
Sign or draft an offensive playmaker? Or both?
Accentuated by the season-ending injury to Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley, the Giants are in the market for offensive weapons this offseason. Gettleman made that clear in his season-ending press conference in January, and he hasn't changed his mind two months later.
"Every team needs playmakers, let's be honest," Gettleman said. "Good Lord willing, Saquon will be 100 percent and obviously he'll make a huge difference. A healthy Saquon obviously makes a big difference, but, again, you're always looking to add good players. And, oh, by the way, we're not playing until September, so we've got free agency and we've got the draft, and we'll see how it plays out. It's not like we don't realize what we need, but, again, at the end of the day it's also about adding really good players. You can never have too many good players at any positions. Sure, we have our eye out for that, but we also have our eye out for guys that fit us culturally and fit where we're trying to get to."
View photos of every move made by the Giants this offseason.