Giants are playing a dangerous game with their star free agents

New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) is introduced before a game against the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are simply not good enough to be letting young players walk in free agency. Saquon Barkley is 26 years old and headed toward the back end of his prime at the running back position, but the Giants could still bring him back on a reasonable deal if he doesn’t receive a lucrative contract from another team.

The door is still open for both sides to connect regarding Barkley, but the Giants aren’t keen on spending over $10 million per season on him. There’s a reason they decided to avoid using the franchise tag on Barkley: letting him test the open market.

With an extremely deep running back free agency class, the Giants can supplement the position at a fraction of the cost. Still, they will be losing a key leader in the locker room and a prominent offensive contributor. Losing Xavier McKinney would be equally as devastating, counting yet another leader the team is willing to part ways with.

Xavier McKinney’s Uncertain Future

On Tuesday, the Giants didn’t use the franchise or transition tag on McKinney, giving themselves just one more week to negotiate exclusively before he’s able to speak with other teams.

A depressed safety market will certainly drive his price up, and the Giants have a red line they are not willing to cross. Clearly, they are keen on utilizing their salary space to address multiple positions, notably in the trenches. They need significant offensive line support and could use a premium pass rusher, which could cost them upward of $16 million per season, around McKinney’s price range.

READ MORE: Giants will not tag star safety Xavier McKinney, will let him hit the open market

Giants’ Cap Space Strategy and Draft Implications

However, they’re playing a dangerous game, bringing in free-agent talent and not extending their own, which sends a certain message to the locker room but also compromises their leadership. Losing Leonard Williams, Barkley, and McKinney within a year would spread them a bit thin in the intangibles department, so other players will have to step up.

The Giants currently have $38.3 million in available cap space, but they can open up an extra $25 million by restructuring the contracts of Andrew Thomas and Dexter Lawrence. That is not to mention saving nearly $7 million if they cut Darren Waller or he elects to retire this off-season. The Giants’ financial flexibility is more than healthy, especially if they take the out in Daniel Jones’s contract next year, which could be baked into their overall strategy in this free agency class.

Depending on how much money they spend and where they spend it, we should get a good idea of where the Giants will allocate their 2024 draft capital, whether it be on a quarterback or several high-upside players they can maximize in the first two rounds.

Fortunately, the Giants have plenty of options, and they likely have their preferences, but nothing ever falls the way it should in the draft.

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