Big Blue’s defense officially has a giant hole to fill.
The month-long Johnathan Hankins sage has finally ended, and, at least on the surface, not for the better where the Giants are concerned.
Hankins agreed to terms with the Indianapolis Colts on a deal reported to be three years and $30 million. He’ll move from the Giants’ 4-3 defense, a unit that last year finished in the top-10 overall league wide, to the Colts 3-4 system where he likely will be a better fit.
— Johnathan Hankins (@BigTimeHank) April 13, 2017
The departure of Hankins, the team’s second-round draft pick in 2013, means the Giants starting defense will be missing a key member of the defensive front.
It also means that of the seven draft picks taken in the 2013 draft class, only one, left guard Justin Pugh, remains on the team, while Hankins and Damontre Moore (third round) are now with other teams.
What does it all mean and where do the Giants go from here?
The Giants Couldn’t Pay Hankins $10M Per Year
— Ryan Smith (@RSmithNFL) February 28, 2017
On the surface, Hankins’ stats from 2014, when he posted career highs in tackles (51), acks (7.0) and passes defensed (3) over that 16-game season dropped off in 2016 (16 games, 43 tackles, 3 sacks and no passes defensed).
Part of the problem for Hankins’ drop-off in production was him moving to the 3-technique. At times, Hankins, who is listed as 6’2″, 320 pounds, seemed out of sorts at the 3-technique spot.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Giants just weren’t in a position to shell out $10 million per season to Hankins.
Per the NFLPA salary cap report, the Giants are listed with $9,483,626 of cap space. They need about $3 million to sign their draft class and at least another $2 million for their practice squad and for emergency signings throughout the upcoming season.
Even if the Giants clear more cap space–linebacker J.T. Thomas remains a possibility, the Giants cap situation isn’t as healthy as it was last year.
Looking ahead, things don’t get better. Per Over the Cap, the Giants are projected to have $39,644,555 of cap space for 2018 (based on a $178 million cap figure).
But they also have some hefty contracts they’ll have to pay out that will cut into that cap space.
These include left guard Justin Pugh (who absent a long-term deal could end up with the franchise tag, which based on the 2017 franchise tag number, will be north of $14.271 million); center Weston Richburg; and receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who will have the option year of his rookie contract picked up before next month’s deadline.
(As former NFL agent Joel Corry explains, the option year amount for a first-round draft pick chosen from 11-32 would be the average of the third- through 25th-highest salaries at a player’s position–an estimated $9.9 million as of now, per figures provided by OTC.)
The Loss of Hankins Doesn’t Appear to Be Catastrophic
Yes, it would have been preferred to keep that defensive front together, but absent the Giants adding a veteran defensive tackle to the mix–Jared Odrick is still out there as is former Giant Cullen Jenkins–it might not be as catastrophic if the Giants have to rotate a drafted rookie into Hankins’ old spot.
The Giants defensive line is still very much a strength of the team with ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. The Giants also seem to like Jay Bromley, the incumbent starting 3-technique, and Robert Thomas.
If they add a rookie to the mix, the hope is that the combined experience and skills of Pierre-Paul, Vernon and Harrison will help bring along whoever step into that opening.
The Giants Were Probably Going to Draft a Defensive Tackle, Regardless
I’ve been saying this since free agency started and will say it again. I always believed that the Giants were going to draft a defensive tackle at some point, regardless if Hankins re-signed.
When mapping out needs (and yes, I know the Giants go “best available”), it’s important to look at current and future contract statuses. At the defensive tackle position, Bromley is going to be an unrestricted free agent next year.
It would not be surprising if the Giants try to sign a veteran in the mold of Cullen Jenkins (an unrestricted free agent, by the way), someone who can play inside and bump outside, as necessary.
A draft prospect to watch that might fit this mold is Michigan’s Chris Wormley. Wormley wasn’t able to participate in combine drills, but that didn’t discourage the Giants from dispatching defensive line coach Patrick Graham to Michigan’s pro day last month to see Wormley in action.
The Bottom Line
We were all probably hoping that the Giants “tradition” of letting young defensive tackles walk out the door via free agency as they enter their prime years would end with Hankins. It didn’t but that doesn’t mean that it’s the beginning of the end for this defense for the reasons mentioned in this analysis.
If there is a silver lining, this means the Giants could end up getting a compensatory pick in next year’s draft. While that doesn’t do the Giants any good now, file that away for future reference because it could come in handy when we start talking about next year’s draft.