Giants ownership gave general manager Jerry Reese one directive this offseason.
It wasn’t about budgets, it wasn’t about contracts, and it wasn’t even about the long-term future of the franchise. After four years without a playoff appearance and three straight losing seasons, the order was much simpler:
That renovation began Wednesday with a $200-million free agency overhaul of the defense that included the richest contract for a defensive end in NFL history, the second-highest contract in the league for a cornerback, and a hefty deal for a hefty tackle. Combined with the re-signing of Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants guaranteed $114.1 million to four players they hope can speed the turnaround they plan on making in 2016.
Even before the official start of free agency at 4 p.m., the Giants had made a splash. They agreed to terms with Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins on a five-year deal worth $62.5 million with $29 million guaranteed, according to a source, and gobbled up Jets defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison with a reported five-year contract worth $46.25 million, with $24 million guaranteed.
But that was just the appetizer.
An hour after the market opened, the Giants won a standoff with the Jaguars to land defensive end Olivier Vernon from the Dolphins, who rescinded his transition tag earlier in the day. Vernon’s five-year deal is reported to be worth $85 million, with a gargantuan $52.5 million guaranteed. That’s more than J.J. Watt, the standard-bearer for the position, got from the Texans last season and is the most lucrative free-agent contract for a Giant under the current CBA.
The Three D-migos — Jenkins, Harrison and Vernon — are expected to arrive at the Giants’ facility on Thursday, have their physicals, and sign their humongous contracts.
Of course, while the money is guaranteed, the production is not. The pressure will be on the additions to perform up to their price tags. Based on their past, it’s possible they will.
Vernon, 25, had 7.5 sacks last season and 29 in his four seasons with Miami. He is also strong against the run and gives the Giants a young, blossoming player at a position they have struggled to fill properly since the departures of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in recent years.
Harrison, 27, is a prodigious run-stuffer at 350 pounds who excelled for the Jets after being an undrafted free agent. He was the reason the Jets made Kenrick Ellis expendable last year in free agency; Ellis signed with the Giants but never produced much. Harrison and tackle Johnathan Hankins, flanked by Pierre-Paul and Vernon, will help give the Giants one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. This after they ranked 30th in sacks and 24th against the run.
On the back end, Jenkins should help a pass defense that was last in the NFL and came perilously close to being the first in league history to allow 300 yards through the air per game. Jenkins, 27, was a second-round pick for the Rams and a four-year starter. He has 10 career interceptions, including five for touchdowns. He also has surrendered 22 touchdowns.
The three new players also should help in an area that has plagued the Giants for years: injuries. Only Jenkins ever missed a game because of injury, and he sat out only four in four seasons.
The additions make the returns of free agents Robert Ayers Jr. and Prince Amukamara remote. Ayers, who led the Giants with 9.5 sacks, reportedly is visiting the Bucs on Thursday.
The Giants entered the league year Wednesday with approximately $56 million in cap space, and it’s unclear exactly how much of a dent these new contracts will put in that amount.
The spending spree was uncharacteristic of the Giants, who usually have shied away from overpaying on the market. But with quarterback Eli Manning’s football mortality coming into focus and the window on his championship capabilities beginning to close, the old way of doing business clearly needed to take a backseat. The Giants had the cap space and they had the urgency. And now, after four lackluster seasons, they have optimism. Even from within.
As receiver Odell Beckham Jr. wrote in a Twitter post as the additions were being reported: “I can’t wait for this year.”