There aren’t many slam dunks in NFL free agency this offseason.
“Fewer and fewer great players are getting to the market,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said at the Combine last week.
With tools like the franchise tag and transition tag and an ever-expanding salary cap, it’s become rare for superstar players in their prime to find themselves accepting bids from teams around the league. “Teams are signing their own,” Gettleman said, “and that’s why drafting well is so critical.”
And it’s probably one of the reasons the Giants have struggled for most of the past six seasons. The last Giants first-round pick to sign a long-term second contract with the team has been out of football since 2011. That was Jeremy Shockey, who inked a five-year extension in 2005 after 3 1⁄2 productive seasons. The last Giants draft pick in any round to sign a long-term second contract? Will Beatty, who landed a five-year deal in 2013.
Some guys have managed to stick around on shorter-term deals. Mathias Kiwanuka signed a two-year deal after his rookie contract expired. Jason Pierre-Paul was tagged twice before getting a four-year deal last offseason. And obviously Eli Manning has had several big contracts with the Giants, but he was a first-round pick of the Chargers.
A few other high-round picks seemed to be on their way to rich second contracts before injuries scuttled those plans. Kenny Phillips and Hakeem Nicks were first-round picks. Steve Smith and Terrell Thomas were second-rounders. Some struck it rich elsewhere, such as Linval Joseph and Johnathan Hankins, but for every one of those stories, there are more like Clint Sintim, Marvin Austin, Jerel Jernigan and Jayron Hosley — all taken in the top three rounds — who simply faded away.
For most of the past decade, the Giants’ draft picks have been like Kentucky basketball players when it comes to their contracts: One and done.
Enter Justin Pugh, the latest first-round pick for whom the Giants must make a decision. He’s scheduled to become a free agent on Wednesday, one of 19 players who were on the Giants’ roster last season and about to hit the market. That list includes a two-time defensive captain (Jonathan Casillas), a former first-round pick of the Chargers (D.J. Fluker), a second-round pick by the Giants (Weston Richburg) and a breakout running back (Orleans Darkwa) . . . not to mention the quarterback who usurped Eli Manning and ended his streak of consecutive starts (Geno Smith).
Not one of them was acquired by the current regime, however. That means there’s a good chance most of them will become former Giants in the coming days and weeks. The roster turnover this offseason figures to be dramatic.
Pugh expressed his free-agency desires when he spoke immediately after the season, a season in which he missed eight of the final nine games with a back injury.
“I’m looking forward to getting to [free agency] and it’s an exciting time,” he said. “This is the first time I’ll ever get to choose where I play and the situation that I’m in. Obviously, I’ve grown up in New York. I want to be in New York. But we’ll see what happens.”
Gettleman seemed to appreciate what Pugh could offer to the Giants if he is re-signed.
“He’s a versatile, smart football player,” he said. “Really, he’s a four-hole guy, which is unusual.”
As for having him back on the Giants with a significant second contract, that would be unusual.