Joe Schoen braces for ‘tough decisions’ to get Giants under salary cap

If it were easy, anyone could do it.

Perhaps not anyone, but a more basic assignment would not require the expertise the Giants believe they imported with the hiring of Joe Schoen as general manager. That expertise would not be a prerequisite for the job if what awaited Schoen were not so, well, daunting.

“That’s why we’re here,’’ Schoen said recently. “I always say, the jobs with the Hall of Fame quarterbacks, great head coach and great salary cap position, those jobs don’t open. You know what I mean?”

We know what he means.

The Giants do not have a Hall of Fame quarterback on their roster. When Schoen arrived, there was no head coach. The salary-cap situation is best described as bleak. The general manager position opened up because the franchise has been in disrepair, and Schoen is tasked with fixing as much as he can as quickly as he can.

Schoen found a coach, as the Giants committed to Brian Daboll, pairing the former Bills assistant general manager and former Bills offensive coordinator. Schoen all-but committed to quarterback Daniel Jones, if only for now, for the 2022 season. Schoen’s most pressing issue, by far, is one he cannot circumvent or finesse his way out of. By March 16 — the start of the new NFL year — the Giants must be compliant with the league’s salary cap, expected to be set at $208.2 million.

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Joe Schoen
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Currently, the Giants are in bad shape, about $10 million over the cap. Schoen estimates they will want to set aside $17 million to $18 million to sign their nine draft picks; their top two picks, Nos. 5 and 7 overall, will eat up approximately $11.2 million alone on the 2022 cap. The Giants will not be big players in free agency, but they do need money to make several modest signings. Given all that, Schoen has estimated he will need to clear $40 million off the current cap.

“First off, we have to get underneath [the cap], we have to make some tough decisions here in the near future just to get in a place where we can sign draft picks and be below the cap,’’ Schoen said. “There’s a fine line, because you can’t purge.’’

Some might wonder, why not purge a roster that has consistently produced a losing product? There is no doubt lopping players off a team that finished 4-13 is not nearly as excruciating as paring a winning roster. Still, every cut runs deep, one way or another.

The Giants could gain a whopping $12.1 million in cap savings by cutting James Bradberry, but he is by far their top cornerback, and replacing what he provides for a defense, without spending a ton of money, would be impossible. Bradberry’s 2022 cap hit of $21.8 million is untenable, though, so restructuring his contract (for a third time) to gain cap relief is warranted. Trading him would provide cap relief, but the Giants would lose a valued member of their secondary.

James Bradberry
James Bradberry
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Inside linebacker Blake Martinez is coming off a season in which he played just three games before a torn ACL sent him to injured reserve. Cutting him would save $8.5 million on the cap. Would that make any sense? Martinez is the brains of the Giants’ defense and their leading tackler. If he does not man the middle, who will and with what effectiveness?

Now for the hot-button topic: Releasing Saquon Barkley and his $7.2 million contract from the roster would not equate to any salary cap savings. The only way the Giants could recoup that $7.2 million is if they were to trade him. Is there a market? Does this new regime want to rid the roster of former general manager Dave Gettleman’s most polarizing draft pick without giving Barkley a chance to show he can once again be an elite player?

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay did not have a single touchdown reception in 2021, and he will cost $21.1 million on the 2022 cap. Cutting him would not save the Giants anything and actually would cost them $2.45 million in dead cap money.

“The players were paid those contracts they’re making because at some point they were performing to a certain level,’’ Schoen said. “Whether they were overvalued or maybe they got more than how they’re performing or not, that’s where you’re gonna have to free up money.

“I don’t want to purge the roster, because we still want to find out what Daniel Jones can do, we want to find out what Saquon can do. We got some good pieces on defense. The fine balance, the fine line is cutting players that can really help you win but you also got to get under the salary cap, then you’re gonna have the draft picks.’’

Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

There are some moves that would make sense. Receiver Sterling Shepard had another injury-shortened season and, coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in mid-December, he might not be ready until midseason. Cutting Shepard, the longest-tenured Giants player, would save $4.5 million.

Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph made no impact in his first year with the Giants; cutting him would save $5 million. The previous coaching staff had great admiration for center Nick Gates, who in Week 2 went down with a serious leg injury that required several surgeries. He faces a long recovery, and parting ways with him would save $2.1 million on the cap. It remains to be seen if the new front office and coaching regime see value in Gates.

Punter Riley Dixon is not coming off a strong season, and cutting him would save $3.2 million. One of Schoen’s first moves was to sign a punter, Jamie Gillan, dubbed “The Scottish Hammer’’ to a futures contract. Gillan, 24, spent three seasons with the Browns and was on the Bills’ practice squad in 2021.

For every player cut, a replacement must be found. That is what Schoen must consider with the likes of receiver Darius Slayton ($2.5 million in cap savings if cut), safety Julian Love ($2.5 million), running back Devontae Booker ($2 million), tight end Kaden Smith ($2.5 million) and several other affordable players.

Blake Martinez
Blake Martinez is coming off a torn ACL.
Corey Sipkin

Schoen also has the option of reworking the existing contracts of players to free up cap space, but he does not sound inclined to do that, at the risk of robbing future years of salary-cap maneuverability.

“What I would like to do is not be in the situation where you do the big signing bonuses and you kick the can down the road,’’ Schoen said. “That’s not ideal for me. I like to do smaller signing bonuses and then roster bonuses in latter years, it gives you more flexibility.’’

Schoen does not want to rush any of this. He will attend the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis the first week of March, and after that he will sit with Daboll, the newly assembled coaching staff and the medical staff and gather information for a thorough assessment of every player on the roster before providing a thumbs up or thumbs down on anyone.

“Then when we start to plan who are the players that we may have to look out for pay cuts or cut to get under the cap, we’re making educated decisions based on all the information we have,’’ Schoen said. “I think it’s important we take our time and do that the right way.’’

When Schoen gets down to balancing the budget, the roster will look markedly different than the one he inherited. It’s a matter of dollars, and sense.

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