People did not foresee much activity from the seemingly cap-strapped Giants in the 2021 free agency cycle. When the NFL announced the salary cap was set at $182.5 million one week before the signing period opened, down from $198.2 the year before, the bar dropped even lower for Big Blue.
Inside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, however, the plan was hatched.
"There were no surprises," vice president of football operations and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams said Tuesday. "I mean, it's always a bit of an unknown who the players are that you'll be able to target and who you'll be able to attract, but we knew we were going to be aggressive."
Headlined by Kenny Golladay, the 2019 NFL touchdown reception leader and regarded as the top receiver on the market, the class turned heads around the league. The haul also included two-time Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph, cornerback Adoree' Jackson and, of course, defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who signed a new deal after a career year in which he led the team in sacks.
"We identified, like everyone had, that this year was going to be a little different," Abrams said. "Cap going down impacts everybody and so I think we thought that there would be some opportunities because there might be fewer buyers out there. Our plan was to be aggressive from the beginning, though, and we knew that we had ownership support, which was probably uncommon this year to be as aggressive as we were. And we had our targets and as the market played out it became apparent to us that of the targets that we wanted to go and pursue who was going to be available at the right price for us."
"We got four high-dollar guys at very good value for their positions, for the whole nine yards," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "We feel very good about what we've done."
Of course, front offices need to keep their eye on the horizon. The Giants felt they positioned themselves well in the short and long term – no matter where the salary cap goes after an unprecedented period dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Well, we don't know what next year is going to look like yet, so we're making some conservative assumptions," said Abrams, who is the lead negotiator in player contracts. "We were aggressive this year, we had to do probably a few practices that we normally, typically try to avoid, but with a lower cap number and some plans to be aggressive we had to do some of those things. We know that next year's number could be a low one again and we're prepared for whatever the outcome is."
Abrams added: "Beyond, I'm more optimistic that nothing that we've done last year or this year puts us in any kind of precarious position. Next year could be a little bit of a challenge, we'll see. It's going to depend on science and state legislatures and fans in stands and a lot of other variables and we'll see where it goes. I don't think we're in a bad spot cap-wise, but next year could be a little more challenging than probably the years after that."
For now, though, they move ahead with the players they added this offseason.
*Gettleman was asked about adding Devontae Booker to a running back room headlined by Saquon Barkley, who is recovering from a season-ending knee injury.
"Well, one of the reasons we prioritized Devontae is you can never have too many good players at any position, I don't care what anybody says," Gettleman said. "One of the things that made Devontae so attractive was the fact that we felt he was a legitimate three-down running back. It's always a group decision here, everything's in the best interest of the Giants, so obviously he can be a good part of our solution at running back."
*Abrams peeled back the curtain on the negotiation to sign Williams to a long-term deal after the Giants placed the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive year.
"It was a good negotiation. The agents were very good to work with, they were interactive, which isn't always the case as players get closer and closer to free agency. Sometimes they become a little harder to reach as they get closer to free agency, but these guys remained involved. Leonard clearly wanted to be here, and we clearly wanted him here. It took a while to establish what was a fair spot within the market from both perspectives, but eventually we got there."
*Gettleman was asked if they have enough offensive weapons following free agency.
"To answer your question, we're better, and the other guy that's going to be interesting is [WR] John Ross when he walks in the door because he gives you the take-off-the-top, oh-my-gosh speed. Yes, again, you want touchdown-makers, it's what you're looking for on offense and we feel like we added them."
*Signing high-dollar players in the NFL means teams also must let some go. That was the case with former defensive co-captain Dalvin Tomlinson, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
"Dalvin is a wonderful young man and he was a captain, so obviously there's regret," Gettleman said. "But at the end of the day, you only have so much money and you've got to make decisions, that's just the way it is. We'll miss Dalvin and I'm thrilled that he got what he wanted and Minnesota is a fine organization, so for what it's worth, sure it's hard, but unfortunately because of what happened you have to make decisions."
View photos of every move made by the Giants this offseason.