There is a big difference for Joe Schoen as he goes into his second NFL free agency open market as the general manager of the Giants.
“I’ll give you a good example,’’ he said. “We were just talking about a player. I won’t name the position or anything. We were like, ‘Yeah, we’re guessing his market might be $2.5 [million],’ and I was like, ‘We can afford that! It’s only $2.5. We can actually afford it.’ ’’
It is the sweet sense of financial viability that hits anyone on a shopping expedition who suddenly realizes they have money to make purchases.
That was not the case for Schoen at this time last year, when he inherited a mess and went into free agency barely above the salary cap, realizing nearly any deal he could write needed to be bargain-basement, veteran-minimum and most likely for only one year.
He did what he could.
This year, he will do more because he can.
Salary-cap space is fluid, but by any measure the Giants are in much better shape this time around.
A week ago, they owned the third-most cap space in the NFL at around $46 million.
Signing Daniel Jones to a four-year, $160 million contract and applying the franchise tag for $10.1 million on Saquon Barkley lowered the cap space to around $15.5 million.
The Giants will go into free agency with more than that, though, after they make official the release of receiver Kenny Golladay.
If it is an outright cut, the Giants will gain $6.7 million on the 2023 salary cap (but take on $14.7 million in dead money).
If Golladay is designated as a post-June 1 cut, the cap savings will be $13.5 million (though it won’t be available until June 1), with dead money hits of $7.9 million in 2023 and $6.8 million in 2024.
Schoen has repeatedly warned against kicking the can down the road and is leaning toward the standard cut for Golladay.
“If we have the financial flexibility just to take our medicine and take on the dead money this year, that may be better,’’ Schoen said.
The Giants used $1 million in cap space to re-sign linebacker Jarrad Davis.
That means they should have around $21 million in cap space as the signing period begins, with the opportunity to add to that if they get a contract extension done with Dexter Lawrence or move around some of Leonard Williams’ money, though he is not expected to be asked to take a pay cut.
The expectation is the Giants will not be the highest bidders for the marquee players on the market.
They will, however, be able to make competitive offers for mid-range starters and key backups.
“We’re not shopping for minimum players anymore,’’ Schoen said. “So, even players that can be really good depth players will make us that much better. So, just having the flexibility now to be creative, go get players at maybe a little bit higher value, but also able to sign, whether it’s tier three players, two, one, however you do it. We can map it out, and there’s players that we can go procure now that maybe we weren’t in the past.’’
The Giants have plenty of work to do, as they would like to fill a few holes in free agency so that they do not have to address glaring needs in the upcoming draft.
Schoen wants to find a starting-caliber inside linebacker, a wide receiver (that could be more of an emphasis in the draft), reserves for the interior of the defensive line, another cornerback and perhaps another tight end.
He is pleased with the depth on the offensive line, but adding talent there on the interior is always an option.
At inside linebacker, there are options.
T.J. Edwards, 26, started the past three seasons for the Eagles, so the Giants have seen plenty of him over the years.
Tremaine Edmunds is one of the more attractive players soon to hit the open market.
Schoen helped scout him in 2018, when Edmunds became a first-round pick of the Bills.
Would the Giants kick the tires on Lavonte David, a proven tackler from the Buccaneers, who is 33 years old?
The available receivers are not an overly impressive group.
Consider that one of the best on the market, Jakobi Meyer, has just eight career touchdowns.
By comparison, the Giants’ own free agent, Darius Slayton, has 15.
Lest we forget, Odell Beckham Jr. is also available.
“Now we have some financial flexibility this year,’’ Schoen said. “I know people want to talk about offense and the receivers a lot, but we’re still building a team in all three phases. We’re going to look to upgrade offensively, defensively and our special teams unit. So, it’s nice, again, to have the draft capital that we have, the financial flexibility we have to really start building this thing.’’
Three could be Giants
T.J. Edwards, LB
His athletic gifts will not wow anyone, but his production and smarts on the field will.
Edwards started all 17 regular-season games, all three postseason games and led the Eagles with 159 tackles last season.
Edwards, 26, had 130 tackles in 16 games in 2021.
He can cover tight ends if need be.
An undrafted guy for the middle of the defense from a division rival?
Remind anyone of Antonio Pierce?
Dalton Schultz, TE
In the past three years with the Cowboys, the 26-year-old Schultz, had 198 receptions and 17 touchdowns.
The Giants like what Daniel Bellinger did as a rookie, but it takes more than one and more production is needed at this position.
Plus, if the Giants sign Schultz, they won’t have to play against him twice a season.
Zach Allen, DL
It would be a surprise if the Giants do not add a defensive lineman in free agency.
Someone like Dre’Mont Jones of the Broncos will be too costly.
Perhaps the 25-year-old recent Cardinal will not.
He has 9.5 sacks the past two seasons and has local roots (New Canaan, Conn.).
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