It is not as if the Giants had to re-sign Dalvin Tomlinson, although it would have been nice.
It is not as if the Giants had to land a starting wide receiver on the first day of the NFL free agency legal tampering period, but it would have been appreciated.
It is not if the Giants on Day 1 had to come to contract terms with Bud Dupree or Leonard Floyd or Trey Hendrickson, but it surely would have helped their pass-rush.
The first day was more about what the Giants did not do, because re-signing Austin Johnson and getting running back Devontae Booker secured are not moves to assuage anyone’s fears that the Giants’ salary-cap restraints will lead to an uninspiring haul. Johnson was a backup with the Giants in 2020 and Booker has been an NFL backup for five years, turns 29 in May and is expected to once again be a backup, with Saquon Barkley’s return from injury.
The Giants certainly did not “win” opening day. That does not matter much or at all, as long as the Giants do something, soon, to make their roster look better and convince the paying customers that they have a plan, other than “we’ll do what we can.”
Everyone knew this was not going to be a free-agency feeding frenzy for the Giants, not with limited cap space — about $4 million heading into the first day of negotiating — and considering the Joe Judge team-building philosophy is more about developing his own young players acquired in the draft or with under-the-radar signings.
Everyone also knows cap space can be created — often without compromising the hit down the road — and that the Giants need more than a few minor upgrades to their roster. Everyone also knows it is imperative for the Giants to gain cap room with a Nate Solder salary slash and reduce Leonard Williams franchise tag cap hit of $19.4 million by signing him to a long-term deal. This is the goal and was the goal for quite a while, and if the Giants cannot do it, they either read Williams wrong or read the market for top-tier defensive tackles wrong or else Williams is holding them hostage for far more than $20 million per year. Either way, this is a deal that must get done, or else the Giants and general manager Dave Gettleman look bad and the ramifications on the cap are debilitating.
It does not take long for the “What the hell are they doing?” crowd to pivot to “Now I get it, good move” sentiments. Watch what happens if the Giants sign one of the remaining stud receivers, Kenny Golladay or JuJu Smith-Schuster, or pass rusher Haason Reddick.
Not every plan will assuage the fans but there needs to be a plan that is coherent and makes sense. The Giants knew they had to release steady guard Kevin Zeitler to remove his $14.5 million cap hit and gain $12 million in cap savings. That was subtraction. If the plan moving forward is for a total youth movement on the offensive line, with Shane Lemieux and possibly benched Will Hernandez as the starting guards, that is more hope and prayer than a plan.
The Giants love Tomlinson, but not enough to deem him irreplaceable, which is fine, considering their 2017 second-round pick is an excellent run-stuffer and an even better team guy, but not a difference-maker. As long as Williams is secured on a long-term deal and he is paired with Dexter Lawrence up front, the Giants should be fine on their defensive line. But this does not mean they can throw anyone in there at nose tackle. The front office knew Tomlinson would command at least $10 million a year and that is pretty much how it went down, with Tomlinson landing with the Vikings on a two-year deal worth $22 million. The money was not there for Williams and Tomlinson. But the money must be there to fortify other areas, right?
This is one phase. The NFL Draft is the second phase. If the Giants go into the draft — remember, they only have six picks this year — with the same glaring needs as they had entering free agency, it will be mission impossible. They do not have to be incredibly bold in the coming days but they cannot be willfully bland, or else the losing cycle will not be broken.