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Jerry Reese may have to do free-agent shopping in NFL bargain bin

New York Giants Senior Vice President & General

New York Giants Senior Vice President & General Manager Jerry Reese speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

INDIANAPOLIS — Jerry Reese is getting ready for the biggest shopping spree of his career. And likely the most important one.

Unfortunately for him and the Giants, the most high-end products are likely going to be pulled from the shelves by the time he can start spending.

While the Giants could have upward of $60 million in salary-cap space to spend when free agency begins in less than two weeks, the rest of the league will also be flush with cash as the cap expands ever upward. With many teams expected to either re-sign their best players to long-term deals or use the franchise tag liberally — with the higher cap there is less of a disincentive to do so than ever before — the Giants could be forced to pick through the leftovers in the discount bin.

In another not-so-distant era the Giants might be looking to add Von Miller, Mo Wilkerson, Josh Norman and Alshon Jeffery to rebuild. This year? It’s unlikely any of those star players will be on the move.

“Whoever makes it to the market makes it to the market,” Reese, the Giants’ general manager, said at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday. “We have a little bit of money to spend this time and we’ll try to spend it wisely on the players who make it to the market. I’m sure there will be plenty of players who don’t make it. People try to keep their best players. But whoever is out there we’ll try to get some of the best players available.”

The advantage, if you wish to call it such, is that the Giants’ current roster is so thin that they are not focusing on any one position as they embark on free agency.

“We need good players and we’ll try to look for good players at every level: offense, defense and special teams,” Reese said. “That’s what’s important to us. We need help all over the roster, and we’ll work hard to do that.”

There are even some players on the current roster the Giants will consider, though assigning them value could be difficult. The most important and perplexing may be Jason Pierre-Paul, who missed half of the 2015 season after a July 4 fireworks accident left him with a mangled right hand. Pierre-Paul is due to become a free agent, but Reese seemed to echo the desire of coach Ben McAdoo on Wednesday to have him back.

“That was probably the biggest blow we got going into the season,” Reese said of Pierre-Paul’s accident, calling it a “miracle” that he played eight games. “We know him better than anybody else would know him, so we’re hopeful that this procedure he had after the season helps him with respect to the hand injury that he has. I know he’s working hard at it.”

As for other potential free agents such as defensive end Robert Ayers Jr. and cornerback Prince Amukamara who were productive but have missed significant time over the years because of injuries, Reese said the team will see who is available in free agency and the draft before deciding how to handle those possible negotiations. The Giants are expected to present both with offers prior to free agency, but ones that will likely find them testing the market before deciding whether to accept them.

And then there is Victor Cruz, who is currently under contract for 2016 and due to earn $7.7 million in base salary but will likely be asked to take a pay cut after missing the past year and a half with knee and calf injuries.

“From everything I understand now he’s heading in the right direction,” Reese said. “He’s under contract right now. We’ll see where the process goes.”

The Giants were officially given even more money for their 2016 roster renovation on Thursday when the NFL Players Association announced that the team will carry over more than $11 million from 2015 to count toward the 2016 salary cap. While the exact 2016 cap number has yet to be announced, it is believed to land above the currently projected $154 million. The Giants should have close to $60 million or even more worth of space.

It won’t do the Giants much good to max out their budget in a mediocre market, of course, but Reese sounded confident that after three straight losing seasons the team will be able to buy their way back to the top.

“You can get well pretty quickly in the National Football League,” Reese said. “I think we have work to do, obviously, but we’re close enough to believe we can compete for the NFC East. I don’t think anybody is running away with it, I think the NFC East is a close division still, and I think we can put together a team that can challenge for that NFC East crown next year.”

After co-owner John Mara closed the 2015 season by overseeing a change at head coach and saying it was Reese’s job to “fix” the issues, he should hope so.

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