When the New York Giants drafted Kadarius Toney with the 20th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, some asked the question regarding Sterling Shepard and his future. Shepard has an OUT after the 2021 season, where the Giants can cut him and save about $6.5 million in salary cap. Otherwise, they will owe him $10.5 million for the 2022 season and $11.5 million for the 2023 season when he is 30 years old. Shepard has been a key contributor for the Giants over the past few seasons but has dealt with injuries that have kept them out for significant portions of time.
Sterling made it known that his goal for the 2021 campaign is to remain 100% healthy, as he missed four games last season and six the year before. He has only experienced two years of full health over five years in the NFL, so consistency remains one of his goals.
However, drafting Toney undoubtedly put a question mark on Shepard’s head, as they both play a similar position. Toney is traditionally a slot receiver who can also be utilized in gadget formations, specifically on end-arounds and jet sweeps. General manager Dave Gettleman referred to Toney as a receiver who runs like a running back, given his low center of gravity and talents in the open field.
Where does Sterling Shepard fit into the New York Giants’ plans?
Shepard, on the other hand, is also considered a slot receiver but has spent the last few seasons operating on the outside. For example, in 2020, he spent 356 total snaps on the outside and 190 in the slot, indicating a slight positional change where Toney shouldn’t impact his future with the squad.
Following the most recent draft, head coach Joe Judge made it a priority to call Shepard and let him know he was a part of the team’s future plans, and drafting Toney wouldn’t impact his status.
Joe Judge said that he called Sterling Shepard after they drafted Kadarius Toney to let him know his job was safe since Toney operates mostly out of the slot.
Shepard has an OUT in his contract after the 2021 season, so there's reason for worry.
Shep is an asset tho!
— Alex Wilson (@AlexWilsonESM) June 10, 2021
This is a bold move by Judge, who respects the veterans on the squad and values their opinion. Informing Shepard of this decision was honorable, but there is a possibility they move on from the five-year veteran sooner rather than later.
At the end of the day, the NFL is a business, and if Shepard is not producing at a high level, the Giants could see him as a trade piece, looking to move him at the deadline this upcoming year. If Toney is capable of holding it down in the slot and even moving outside on occasion, the Giants have plenty of wide receiver depth to supplement his loss. That doesn’t discount his influence when he’s on the field, as Shepard is one of the best route runners on the team and remains a productive weapon for Daniel Jones.
Given the amount of money they would save next season and the potential addition of draft capital for 2022, it could be an idea worth exploring, but Judge seems committed to Shepard for the time being, so unless anything drastic happens, I would expect him to be with the team for the remainder of his contract.