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Dave Gettleman better be right about Landon Collins decision

Giants GM Dave Gettleman speaks to reporters during

Giants GM Dave Gettleman speaks to reporters during a press conference at the team's practice facility on Jan. 2. Credit: Errol Anderson

Dave Gettleman talked about legacy, about setting up the Giants for the long term and about doing only what’s right for the franchise when he addressed reporters last week at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And if the general manager comes through and fixes his quarterback situation long into the future, he’ll have a chance to etch his name among the team’s great executives.

But his decision to let safety Landon Collins walk will certainly not help his legacy and undoubtedly will add to the growing sense of unease among Giants fans who still aren’t sold that Gettleman will have all the right answers.

Gettleman has concluded that Collins is not worth the long-term investment that would be required to keep one of his best defensive players. The loss of a locker room leader whose infectious enthusiasm and joie de vivre on the football field will be significant and potentially long-lasting. Gettleman opted not to use the franchise tag on Collins, thereby making him a free agent and getting nothing in return until next season, when the team likely will receive a compensatory draft pick.

The GM had better be right on this one, because there is plenty to lose if Collins goes on to sign elsewhere — perhaps with an NFC East rival such as Dallas or Washington, or with former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in Kansas City — and plays as well as he has in his four seasons in New York. Collins was one of the very best moves former GM Jerry Reese made in trading up to the top of the second round in 2015 for the Alabama safety. A first-team All Pro in 2016, Collins merited talk of Defensive Player of the Year consideration after producing a career-high five interceptions and four sacks.

Spagnuolo got plenty out of Collins that year and saw greatness in the hard-hitting safety. Collins’ numbers have been down ever since, but there was no player with a bigger heart and no player more universally respected in the locker room. As much as the Giants will miss his playmaking ability, they’ll miss his leadership. For Gettleman, that might be the biggest criticism in opting to let Collins move on.

Spagnuolo surely would love to plug Collins into the Chiefs’ defense, and there could be an opening if Kansas City decides to let Eric Berry go after an injury-plagued 2018 season.

At the very least, Gettleman could have applied the franchise tag and pursued a trade of Collins, which almost certainly would have netted more than the compensatory pick the Giants will receive for him in 2020. Instead, he’ll get nothing for Collins in the immediate term, other than a ton of second-guessing and frustration from fans who had come to admire Collins’ performance.

Salary cap considerations are undoubtedly a major factor here, and Gettleman still has a long way to go toward getting his bloated cap situation under control. He may ask Eli Manning to re-work his contract, and there’s a chance he’ll move on from defensive end Olivier Vernon, who has underperformed and been injured in each of the last two seasons following an excellent year in 2016. But doing away with Vernon would be much more palatable than letting Collins go, because there was no comparison in terms of the effort and respect commanded by the 25-year-old safety.

A class act from start to finish, Collins took to Twitter on Tuesday afternoon to “thank the Giants organization for believing in me and allowing me to have 4 great years in NY. I can’t express how great it was to play with my teammates and in one of the greatest cities in the world. I will forever cherish my time in the blue and white.”

Hard decisions must be made in the salary cap era, and this certainly qualifies. Bill Belichick has been magnificent in walking away from high-priced players during his run in New England, and his ability to replace them with younger, more affordable players is a key part of the Patriots’ dominance over most of the last two decades. Gettleman must now show he can make the same kinds of decisions, although it’s hard to expect him to approach the genius of the greatest coach/de facto GM in NFL history.

If Gettleman finds a suitable replacement for Collins in the draft, or else a cheaper alternative in free agency, then he will have at least recovered somewhat in terms of the roster building process. The bigger issue, of course, is fixing the quarterback dilemma, and if he comes out of the draft with a promising prospect such as Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, then the Collins fallout will be further contained.

But that’s a lot of “ifs,” and Gettleman surely knows the criticism that will come with roster-related misses.

And right now, Collins looks like a miss. And a very big one at that.

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