PALM BEACH, Fla. — They knew.
They all knew.
Joe Schoen, though, knew more than most, because he is his job as the new general manager of the Giants to confront and solve what he describes as the “daunting task” of building his first roster despite extreme financial restraints.
The first few waves of free agency have come and gone, with the Giants active on a bottom-feeder level, unable to rise up to ingest the more attractive and pricey options swimming closer to the surface.
This was not easy to sit back and observe.
“It’s hard to operate,” Schoen said Monday from the NFL owners’ meetings. “It’s always tough to sit on your hands in free agency when you have holes on the team that you’d like to fill. I knew what I was getting into.”
So too, Schoen said, did co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch know what Schoen had inherited from the previous front office regime. So too did the newly hired head coach know what the Giants would not be able to afford.
“Brian Daboll understood what he was getting into,” Schoen said.
Everyone involved in these conversations realize expectations must be tempered, based on the players the Giants could and, more importantly, could not fit into their shoehorn-tight salary cap space.
Of the 13 players brought in from other teams or re-signed from the 2021 Giants roster, the vast majority — 10 of them — received veteran minimum salaries. Schoen was able to write only one contract for definitive starting money, and even that one — three years, $18.3 million for guard Mike Glowinski — was a moderate mid-line salary for a first-team offensive lineman.
The Giants are barely $1 million under the cap and will continue to add to the back of the depth chart with low-end signings. They could gain $12.1 million in cap relief if they find a trade partner to unload cornerback James Bradberry. Schoen has engaged in discussions with teams about this but thus far nothing has enticed him to make a move. He is not inclined to release Bradberry and get nothing in return.
“He’s currently on the roster,” Schoen said. “He’s a good corner, he was a Pro Bowler in 2020 and he’s 28 years old and he can still play at a high level and he’s on our roster.”
Does this mean Schoen expects Bradberry to remain on the roster?
“Yeah,” he said.
It was not exactly expressed with the need for an exclamation point.
“I’m not gonna say that,” Schoen said, when asked if he is not going to trade Bradberry. “I’m not going to say that about anybody. People have called about certain players and people have value. Again, he’s 28 years old, he’s two years removed from a Pro Bowl season and he’s still a high-caliber corner.
“I mean, if it’s the right offer and it makes sense for the New York Giants I got to consider it.”
It is not feasible for the Giants to keep Bradberry at his current salary structure, as they cannot absorb his cap hit of $21.8 million and have the ability to sign their draft picks — they at present have nine of them in next month’s NFL draft. Schoen reiterated his “last resort” scenario of extending Bradberry’s contract to gain salary cap relief in 2022.
“The goal is to get in good salary cap health,” Schoen said. “Where we are, it’s just hard to — you have seen what we did in free agency, you’re a little bit handcuffed in terms of the players you can pursue.”
Schoen said he went into his first free-agency period as the man in charge with three main goals: Find a starting guard, a backup quarterback and add depth and competition to the back end of the roster. He believes he accomplished these goals with Glowinski, Tyrod Taylor and several signings of veterans with starting experience.
The price was fairly steep for Taylor — two years, $11 million, with $8.1 million in guaranteed money — but Schoen views this signing as insurance in case anything happens to Daniel Jones, who has missed games in every season as a starting quarterback, including the final six in 2021 with a neck injury.
“Not looking too deep into that, there have been some injuries over his career, so just to protect the team,” Schoen said. “If we’re having a good season that someone can go in there and win games for the organization, I thought that was important.”
Schoen arrived to the Bills in 2017 as the assistant to general manager Brandon Beane and they were stuck with more than $50 million in dead cap money. The Bills cut and spent where they could, won six games in 2018 and are now a powerhouse in good financial shape.
“We kind of took it on the chin one year, financially,” Schoen said.
The Giants are in a similar situation for 2022.
“We’d like to be in better salary cap health next year,” Schoen said, “for sure.”