New York Giants: 3 players they can’t afford to cut for cap relief

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants are going to need to open up salary-cap space if they want to be aggressive in free agency. With the salary cap expected to drop a minimum of $15 million this off-season, teams will be shedding players at an astronomical rate. We will see some quality faces on the free-agent market, and they will likely sign for cheaper deals as they looked to the 2022 offseason to cash in.

With that being said, the Giants would prefer to be active and utilize available money to acquire talented players. However, they are currently $3 million over the cap, indicating they will need to cut a few players to open up some flexibility. With the expectation that they will release Nate Solder, Golden Tate, and a bevy of options that have zero dead cap for next season, there are also players that they should consider retaining.

Three players the New York Giants can’t afford to cut for cap relief:

1.) Sterling Shepard

Recently, the idea has been floated that Sterling Shepard should be a cut casualty. He will count $9 million for the 2021 season, and if the Giants cut him pre-June 1, he would only count $3 million in savings. However, if they cut him post June 1, he would save them $7 million.

Nonetheless, getting rid of Shep would only make their wide receiver position even more tumultuous. He’s one of their best red-zone threats and showed his influence towards the end of the campaign when Jason Garrett finally realized he could be an asset in the red zone and on the outside.

Shepard is a stellar WR2, and if the Giants finally inject some offensive playmakers this off-season, it will only maximize his abilities and finally see his talents put to good use.

2.) Kevin Zeitler

The Giants have a developing offensive line that still needs time to gel. Some have entertained the idea of cutting Kevin Zeitler, saving the Giants $12.5 million in salary space.

However, he is their best lineman and is the only player I consider reliable. If they get rid of him, the Giants will once again be floundering at the guard position, trying to figure out how they can supplement the loss of an above-average player. Cutting him would do more damage than good, and the money they would have to utilize wouldn’t have the same impact as keeping him.

3.) Evan Engram

The only reason I put Evan Engram on this list is because I would rather trade him than cut him. He has zero dead cap for the 2021 season, so the Giants would be saving $6 million by releasing him.

However, given the fact that he’s a Pro Bowl tight end, the Giants could likely fetch a mid-round pick for his services. He’s on the final year of his rookie deal, as the Giants picked up his fifth-year option last season. If they feel they can move on from Engram and still maintain quality at the tight end position, fielding offers would be more beneficial than straight-up cutting him.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard makes top 25 receivers in 2020 PFF list

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard only played in 12 games last season, but it looked like the Giants were getting their money’s worth for the time he was on the field. Shepard was one of the most threatening receivers to opposing defenses in 2020 and at times, it looked like some of his catches made Daniel Jones look better too.

The effort was ultimately one of the saving graces for the Giants during a year when the offense was all around poor, and it earned Shepard some recognition as Pro Football Focus compiled their position rankings for 2020. Shepard just barely made the cut, but was placed in the top 25 for his position.

23. STERLING SHEPARD, NEW YORK GIANTS

Shepard closed out his 2020 campaign with his two best games of the entire season, subsequently squeaking him into the top 25 with a 79.6 PFF grade for the year. He was one of 85 wide receivers to see at least 80 targets this season, and among that group, he was 11th in the percentage of catchable passes caught at 94.3%. Shepard hardly did anything vertically in Jason Garrett’s offense, but he jumped to 16th in receiving grade on non-vertical route targets.

As mentioned in the article, one of the big obstacles for the Giants passing game last season was Jason Garrett’s offense. The Giants didn’t make much happen down the field and the lack of creativity from Garrett allowed defenses to figure the Giants out somewhat. While receivers had trouble getting separation this year, some of the blame has to fall on the staff for not mixing things up and catching defenses off guard with different looks.

Going into the next season, the Giants may or may not have a more vertical threat as their number one wide receiver. However, Shepard should benefit either way from this setup. After all, if defenses are focusing on another player over the top, that opens up more chances for Shepard as a secondary receiver.

And with Darius Slayton not making the jump forward many expected in 2020, Shepard still might be the most reliable receiver the Giants have on the roster right now.

Should the New York Giants prioritize acquiring a slot or outside receiver?

New York Giants, Chris Godwin

The New York Giants confirmed that they will be looking for offensive playmakers this offseason. Daniel Jones needs help. But where will the help come from? Will the Giants sign a wide receiver in free agency or draft someone early on in the 2021 NFL Draft?

More specifically, what kind of receiver will the Giants target? It is a rich free agency class and an arguably richer draft class. But many of the top prospects in each class are slot receivers. Most fans assume New York will go after an outside wide receiver because the roster already includes Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate.

However, Tate is a potential cut candidate, and the inclusion of Sterling Shepard should not prevent the Giants from signing an outside wide receiver. Shepard has been primarily an outside receiver the past two seasons.

In 2020, Shep played 190 snaps in the slot compared to 356 snaps out wide. In the slot, Sterling recorded 20 receptions for 148 yards and one touchdown (only 7.4 yards per reception). Out wide, Shepard totaled 46 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns (11.04 yards per reception). Given Sterling Shepard’s efficiency lined up outside, should the Giants consider acquiring an elite slot receiver this offseason? Or should they move Shepard inside and get an elite outside receiver?

Slot or outside wide receiver?

Sterling Shepard was far more efficient while playing outside in 2020. Darius Slayton was inconsistent this season but typically plays on the outside. New York had a rotation in the slot that included Golden Tate, Austin Mack, CJ Board, and Sterling Shepard. Going forward, the Giants will have to reconfigure their wide receiver corps as they look to acquire more talent at the position.

Some of the top free-agent wide receivers this offseason are Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, and Curtis Samuel. Golladay and Robinson are outside wide receivers but Godwin and Samuel are primarily slot receivers. The first pair of receivers will likely cost more money than the second pair, which could make the Giants more attracted to one of those top slot receivers.

Furthermore, in the draft, there is a debate between two of the top receiver prospects. Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith, both Alabama products, will be first-round wide receivers in 2021. The Giants are likely to target a wide receiver, but if they go wide receiver in the first round, which one of the two Alabama boys will they prefer?

Whichever player they believe to be better, regardless of whether or not they play inside or outside, is who they should prefer. Smith played primarily outside in college. Waddle operating primarily from the slot. This has fans assuming that the Giants will target Smith and cross Waddle off their list. That is not and should not be the case.

If the Giants believe Waddle is the better player then they should absolutely target him. The Giants need an elite, number one wide receiver. Why must that receiver play outside? It is entirely possible to have your primary receiver play in the slot. Sterling Shepard is efficient at playing outside. When we interviewed his trainer David Robinson on Fireside Giants, Robinson indicated that Shepard is better and more comfortable playing outside.

If the Giants have the opportunity to acquire the likes of Jaylen Waddle or Chris Godwin, they should not shy away from these elite talents just because they are slot receivers. Having your primary receiver play on the outside is not a necessity. The Giants have the personnel to acquire a guy inside or outside. Sterling Shepard could move inside if he has to, but he just might be better off outside.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard rated best player in Baltimore loss

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

The New York Giants fell to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday to further muddy their playoff hopes, but one receiver had a standout game individually. Sterling Shepard has been rated the best Giants player from week 16 by Pro Football Focus, thanks to his nine catch performance which saw him pick up 77 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Shepard came through at the same time that fellow wide receiver Darius Slayton only pulled in a couple of receptions for 26 yards. Not the kind of performance that the Giants are expecting of him following his big first year. With Slayton struggling, much of the load has fallen on Shepard this season.

But despite that, Shepard is still on par to have a subpar season compared to his first three. He should avoid a career low in season yardage if he can grab a few catches in the season finale, but the numbers still aren’t looking great.

Some of that has come down to the Giants not having other receivers that can get open and take away attention. Another problem is the offensive line, and earlier in the season, there were more problems with Daniel Jones failing to find his target. All of this has combined to make it a hard year to be a Giants receiver.

Shepard looks like the number one receiver coming into the 2021 season thanks to Slayton slowing down and Golden Tate most likely being off the team. If the Giants don’t decide to cash in while his value is still high and make an offseason trade, that is.

The future remains unclear. But Shepard’s skill has remained consistent even with a poor offensive coordinator and multiple cases of playing under a backup QB this year.

New York Giants: Wide receivers held offense back against Arizona

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants‘ winning streak came to an end on Sunday after a putrid offensive performance against the Arizona Cardinals. New York let up eight sacks and gained only 159 total yards of offense. Daniel Jones played through his hamstring injury and passed for only 127 yards before being pulled for backup Colt McCoy.

All game long, Daniel Jones was struggling to find open receivers to throw to. The Giants’ wide receivers could not separate from coverage on Sunday. They were completely outmatched and they have been for most of this season. The season is far from over, with the Giants only one game out of first place in the NFC East. However, it will be hard for the Giants to slip into the postseason if their receiving corps continues to play at this level.

The 2020 Giants wide receivers

The New York Giants starting wide receivers are Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, and Golden Tate. Shepard has been with the Giants the longest but has been held back by injuries over the last few seasons. But now, seemingly fully healthy, Shepard has not opened up the offense the way he was expected to.

Golden Tate is in his second season with the New York Giants. He was signed to a lucrative contract last offseason. Since then, Tate has been in the spotlight for a few of the wrong reasons, such as a PED suspension and a public criticism of the Giants’ offense.

Darius Slayton is the Giants’ second-year wide receiver that was expected to have a breakout 2020 season. That has not happened, though, as Slayton has been entirely unreliable this season. In Week 10, Slayton had 5 receptions for 93 yards. He followed that up with a 0 reception performance in Week 11.

Inconsistency and injuries have held the Giants’ receiving corps back in 2020. But what has held them back the most is a simple lack of talent. Yes, Tate, Shepard, and Slayton are talented receiving options. But no, none of those guys are true number one wide receivers that open up an offense and allow the offense to run through them.

In Week 14, the Giants’ wide receivers failed to separate from coverage. According to Next Gen Stats, the league average receiver separation is 2.86 yards. Golden Tate’s average separation in Week 14 was 0.42 yards. Slayton’s average separation was 1.37 yards. Shepard’s average separation was 1.86 yards. The entirety of the Giants’ receiving corps was far below average on Sunday, making things incredibly difficult for quarterback Daniel Jones.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard limited and Kevin Zeitler participates fully

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

Neither team will be completely healthy going into the battle between the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals, and it remains to be seen whether the Giants will have Sterling Shepard for that game or not. Both teams are missing their best player in this one – Saquon Barkley for the Giants and Joe Burrow for the Bengals. But those big name players aren’t the only ones that are injured in some way on either side.

Sterling Shepard is listed on the injury report as having a hip/toe injury and was limited in practice on Wednesday. He was joined on that injury report by Kevin Zeitler, with a concussion. But Zeitler doesn’t look like a risk to miss the game, as he participated fully in practice that day. James Bradberry also missed practice to deal with a family emergency and was encouraged by Joe Judge to take the time off.

According to the injury report, the Giants are expecting to see Bradberry back in practice on Friday.

Shepard has already missed time with injury this season but has appeared in the past four games. During that stretch, he’s been targeted plenty and has had at least six catches each game. And notably, the Giants have won both of their last games with him in the offense.

Both Shepard and Zeitler are expected to play on Sunday despite their presence on the injury report, but it remains to be seen how fast Shepard will play while listed as dealing with multiple injuries.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard key to offense’s success

New York Giants receiver, Sterling Shepard.

The New York Giants suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday Night. But the Giants’ offense had one of its best performances of the season in that game.

New York’s offense put together three touchdown drives, including one 15-play 75-yard scoring drive. That drive was capped off with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Sterling Shepard. Shepard played his first game since Week Two as he has been recovering from a turf toe injury on injured reserve.

In his first game back from injury, Sterling Shepard was excellent and proved just how important he is to the Giants’ offense.

Sterling Shepard Week 7 Stats and Highlights

Sterling Shepard was the Giants’ leading receiver on Thursday night. He totaled 6 receptions for 59 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 targets.

The key to Shepard’s success is his route running. Sterling is by far the Giants’ best route runner. He is able to run elite routes to separate from defenders and get himself open against tight coverage. Shepard averaged an impressive 4.5 yards of separation according to Next Gen Stats.

Sterling Shepard’s consistent separation is crucial for the Giants’ offense. The rest of the team’s playmakers on offense often struggle to separate on their routes. Darius Slayton is only averaging 2.1 yards of separation and Golden Tate is averaging 2.7 yards.

The Giants’ offense severely missed having Sterling Shepard on the field. But now, with Shepard healthy and back in the starting lineup, the Giants’ passing attack should improve drastically. The Giants finally have a wide receiver who can get open consistently. Expect to see Sterling Shepard finish the 2020 NFL season strong for New York.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones is not the problem

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

The New York Giants, once again, suffered a heart-breaking loss last night. The Giants fought valiantly on the road against Philadelphia but came up short to fall to 1-6 on the season. Meanwhile, the Eagles rise to the top of the division as the Giants fall off to the bottom.

The Giants were leading by 11 points last night with under five minutes left to play. The team had a quick meltdown that saw them blow their lead and lose the game 22-21.

It is easy to point fingers and play the blame game after losses like this. Often times, the quarterback gets the bulk of the blame when NFL teams lose close games. But for the Giants, the quarterback is not to blame this week. Daniel Jones is not the problem with the Giants. In fact, after last night, he looks like the solution.

Expanding the Offense

Daniel Jones is providing the Giants’ offense with a versatility that they have never had out of the quarterback position. New York spent the better part of the last twenty years scheming an offense around an immobile quarterback that could only make plays while standing in a clean pocket.

While Daniel Jones does his best work from a clean pocket, he can make plays happen elsewhere. The young quarterback has sneakily elite athleticism. Jones put his athletic ability on full display last night, ripping off an 80-yard run that put the Giants in scoring position.

That was the longest run by a quarterback in New York Giants history. That run was also longer than any rushing attempt by Saquon Barkley since 2018. Jones’s ability to make plays with his legs is special and allows the Giants to expand their offense and open up the playbook. Jones’s running ability should be treated as a real threat from now on and there should be far more designed quarterback-runs called on gamedays.

Coming Up In The Clutch

When the New York Giants needed their quarterback to mak a play last night, Daniel Jones delivered. Unofortunately, the same cannot be said for Jones’s teammates, which is ultimately why the Giants lost this game.

This season, we have seen Daniel Jones make the same mistake on multiple occasions. We have seen him put together long, 14+ play drives to get his team down in the red zone before throwing a heart-breaking interception. This happened in Week One against Pittsburgh, in Week Four against the Rams, and even in the Week Six win against Washington.

In Week Seven, the Giants put together one of those long drives to get in the red zone. This time, Daniel delivered, connecting  with Sterling Shepard on a touchdown pass to finish off a 15-play, 75-yard drivee.

So Daniel Jones passed one test; he proved he can put together long scoring drives. Check. But Jones was faced with a much more difficult and important test later in this game.

In the fourth quarter with a one possession lead with just over two minutes left in the game, the Giants are driving. Their running game is on point but stalls out. The Giants’ offense finds itself in a third and six, must-convert situation. Daniel Jones has to step up and make a play. Daniel Jones delivers with a perfect pass to Evan Engram down the left sideline.

Dropped. Evan Engram dropped it and the Giants had to punt the football. Philadelphia responds with a scoring drive and the Giants fall to 1-6.

This play changed the narrative of the entire game. If Evan Engram catches this football, fans are not talking about the upcoming “fire sale” at the trade deadline. Instead, fans would be talking about how their young, second-year quarterback marched into the belly of the beast and took down the Giants’ biggest division rival with one clutch play after another to thrust the Giants to the top of the NFC East.

Thursday night’s game should have been Daniel Jones’s coming of age. Not the reminder of the Giants’ impending doom. But if fans extract Daniel Jones’s performance from this game and analyze just the way their quarterback played, they might feel a lot more confident in the direction the team is heading. Daniel Jones had a breakout performance last night that will be forgotten due to the ineptitude of the rest of the New York Giants’ roster. The quarterback position is the lone bright spot, despite the contradictory narrative. Daniel Jones is not the problem. In fact, he just might be the solution.

The New York Giants need to be sellers at the trade deadline and nothing else

New York Giants, Dave Gettleman

The Nov. 3 NFL trade deadline is quickly approaching, and the New York Giants find themselves in an interesting dilemma.

They aren’t a playoff-caliber team, not by a long shot, and yet they are still firmly in the race for the NFC East division title despite sitting at 1-5 on the season. Coming off a close win against the Washington Football Team last week, if the Giants win their second divisional game in a row Thursday night against the Eagles, they would be tied for first place in the division.

Getting a win on Thursday, however, could be potentially dangerous for the Giants. Not to say winning is bad, but the Giants being right in the thick of the NFC East race might prompt general manager Dave Gettleman to try and make a move to acquire a player at the trade deadline in an effort to win the division. That is the opposite of what the Giants should be doing, as they are a rebuilding team who needs to acquire more draft capital by giving away players, not the other way around.

Gettleman is widely expected to be let go after the season, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, and this could force him to go into desperation mode at the deadline. But, the reality is this team is nowhere near in position to be giving up more draft picks and future assets because they aren’t a win-now team, no matter where they are in the divisional standings.

The Giants only have five picks in the 2021 NFL Draft as is, after giving up a 5th in the Leonard Williams trade last year and a 7th for cornerback Isaac Yiadom right before the season started. The last thing they can afford is having even less draft picks to work with for this draft and potentially beyond, especially if there’s going to be a new general manager calling the shots.

There have been some players around the league rumored to be potential trade targets who could help the Giants, such as Cincinnati Bengals speedy wide receiver John Ross. The former first-round pick could provide a much-needed boost for the Giants lackluster passing game and give Jason Garrett an intriguing down-field threat to work with.

But, no matter who may be available via trade, the Giants need to resist the temptation and look at the big picture. Making a move at the deadline that would possibly help the team in the short-term would handicap them in the long-term, and that’s what this team should be focusing on. Is it really worth it for the Giants bring in a player who gets them to maybe 6-7 wins at best and buys them a first-round exit in the playoffs? Not only that but by winning the division, the Giants would have a late first-round pick and miss out on a lot of the top draft prospects, which would be a nightmare scenario.

The Giants need to be looking at players on their roster who they can potentially move for any semblance of value. Some possible options include wide receivers Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, and outside linebacker Markus Golden. If they can draft picks for any one of those players, they need to pull the trigger and stock up for the future.

With Gettleman seemingly on his way out, Joe Judge and the Giants need to stop Gettleman from giving in and making another Leonard Williams-type trade in a last-ditch effort to try and save his job. This team needs to be focusing on building for the future, getting any value they can for expendable players who aren’t part of the long-term plan, and developing the young players they have on the roster currently.

Therefore, the Giants need to be sellers this trade deadline rather than buyers because the only thing they would be buying themselves is another ticket on the same carousel they’ve been riding since 2011.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard practices, could play Thursday night

New York Giants, Sterling Shepard

Few would say that the New York Giants are a primetime team based on their performance this season, but that’s the case as they have a Thursday Night Football game coming up with the Eagles. The team has suffered from a number of injuries this season that may hurt their performance in that game. However, one injured player, Sterling Shepard, may make his return.

We’ll probably know the answer sooner rather than later as the Giants have a short week to prepare for this one given the Thursday night date. What we do know for now is that Shepard practiced on Tuesday and hasn’t been eliminated from making a return against the Eagles.

What this return means for the Giants

Shepard has only appeared in two games this season. The first was the season opener where he played the entire game and caught all six of the passes targeted at him. However, his total statistics could have been better as he finished the game with a relatively low 47 yards. The second game Shepard appeared in is the one where he was injured. He registered 2 catches for 29 yards up until that point, and hasn’t played since.

The return of Shepard would be useful to quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw for one touchdown and one interception against Washington and has been under the magnifying glass of the fans and the media this season. With the team suffering from a slow start and with Dave Gettleman on the hot seat, it’s also believed that Jones might not have 100% job security as one of Gettleman’s most known draft picks.

But with Shepard, Jones will have another one of his main weapons and we’ll once again get to see the combination of Shepard and Darius Slayton playing at the same time. With healthy tight end Evan Engram thrown into the mix, the Giants appear to have a dangerous receiving game ready to face the Eagles.