How Giants can get to clearing $40 million of cap space — Joe Schoen’s goal — after Blake Martinez, Sterling Shepard moves

Giants general manager Joe Schoen has said he wants to clear $40 million in cap this offseason, though he never necessarily gave a deadline for when he wants to do it.

If the Giants intend to add any players of note in free agency, though, he’ll want to do it by the start of the league year on March 16. His process has already started — though there’s still a few moves left to be made .

Schoen kicked things off with a couple of expected cuts in tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Devontae Booker. The Giants cut punter Riley Dixon on Friday, another expected move. They also agreed to a restructured contract with wide receiver Sterling Shepard, though the terms of that restructure have yet to be revealed.

There’s still a ways to go to get to that $40 million figure, which Schoen said factors in getting under the salary cap — they were $7.6 million over as of Friday before factoring in Dixon’s cut or Shepard’s restructure — while also creating enough space for the 2022 draft class, free agents and other necessary space needed for the season (practice squad, injury replacements, etc.).

Let’s take a look at where they’re at now — and what Schoen can do to get to that $40 million figure:

Step 1: Cut Kyle Rudolph. The Giants cut the veteran tight end on March 2, less than one year after he signed a two-year, $12 million deal. He didn’t contribute much in his lone Giants season. Cutting him saved the Giants $5 million in cap space, while they incurred a $2.4 million dead cap penalty.

Total savings: $5 million.

Step 2: Cut RB Devontae Booker. The Giants also cut Booker on March 2. He was a solid contributor for the Giants, tying Saquon Barkley for the lead in rushing yards and giving more consistent production than Barkley in general. But the Giants confusingly overpaid Booker at the start of free agency last year (two years, $5.5 million) when it doesn’t make much sense to give much more than the minimum to backup running backs. Cutting Booker saved $2.125 millionwith a $1 million dead cap hit.

Total savings: $7.125 million

Step 3: Cut P Riley Dixon. The Giants cut Dixon on Thursday, an expected move for a punter making a little too much money ($3.1 million cap hit in 2022) coming off a bad season. They signed veteran punter Jamie Gillan as a potential replacement already this offseason. Dumping Dixon saved $2.8 million against the cap, with $320,566 in dead cap.

Total savings: $9.925 million

Step 4: WR Sterling Shepard pays cut. The Giants and Shepard have been working on a restructuring of the two years remaining on his contract and it appears they came to an agreement in the last couple days. Shepard was due for a $12.49 cap hit in 2022 and $13.49 million in 2023. The new deal is expected to eliminate that second year and, per ESPN, Shepard will now be able to reach a max value of $5.5 million this season — much of that likely tied to various performance or playing time incentives — though it’s unclear as of yet how exactly that will be structured. The expectation is that the Giants will at least save what they would’ve had they just outright cut Shepard, who is recovering from an Achilles injury. That is: around $4.5 million in savings. Expect the move to carry a dead cap hit of some sort in 2023 too. (Note: That $4.5 million figure is a guesstimate right now and not official.)

Total savings (estimated): $14.425 million

Step 5: Cut TE Kaden Smith. The 24-year-old has performed well in three years with the Giants when given the opportunity, but injuries derailed his 2021 season and a knee issue might wind up sending him into retirement. By cutting Smith, the Giants now only have two tight ends on the active roster: Chris Myarick and Rysen John, who have a combined three NFL catches. They already cut Kyle Rudolph and Evan Engram is expected to depart in free agency. Cutting Smith will save the Giants $2.54 millionwith no dead cap penalty.

Total savings (estimated): $16.965 million

Step 6: LB Blake Martinez pays cut. The veteran linebacker has been a key part of the Giants defense and so it’s understandable that the team wants him back, even coming off a torn ACL. We friday, Martinez agreed to a pay cut to stick around. A person familiar had told NJ Advance Media that Martinez and the Giants were in discussions on a pay cut a week ago and that Martinez didn’t want to leave. It’s unlikely Martinez would make as much in free agency coming off that injury, and the Giants would’ve had a hard time finding a real upgrade to start in the middle of Wink Martindale’s defense. Expect the restructure to look something like it did when the Giants restructured offensive tackle Nate Solder’s contract last year, saving them the amount of money they would’ve anyway with a cut but without incurring the dead cap penalty. Per ESPN, the pay cut will save the Giants around $6 million.Expect his new deal to include incentives too.

Total savings (estimated): $22.99 million

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Those are the moves the Giants have made so far. Now on the ones they can make next to get to the $40 million figure…

Step 7: Trade or cut CB James Bradberry. This will be the key move to get the Giants to that $40 million figure. They also could sign Bradberry to an extension to reduce the cap hit in 2022, but the reality is Schoen doesn’t want to push money into future years and Bradberry is this team’s most valuable, realistic trade chip they have right now as a quality player at a premium position. Bradberry is set to carry a $21.8 million cap hit this year, which is too large — especially since Schoen has made it clear that he won’t restructure any contracts (like Leonard Williams or Kenny Golladay) other than as a “last resort” to save money. So, a Bradberry (or cut if there’s no market) is the most likely path. Trading Bradberry — who should net a mid-round pick or two — would save $12.1 million with a $9.7 million penalty.

Total savings (estimated): $35.09 million.

Step 8: Cut C Nick Gates. This is an unfortunate reality of the business of football. Gates, a former undrafted rookie, had built himself into a quality offensive lineman, captain and popular teammate. Then he suffered a gruesome injury in Week 2 last year, putting his career in question. Maybe the Giants can get him down to a minimum salary to stick around, but he’d likely spend the entire 2022 season on injured reserve anyway. Cutting him now would save $2.125 millionwith $879,167 in dead cap.

Total savings: $37.215 million.

Step 9: Cut or trade WR Darius Slayton. Shepard is coming back, and Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney are locked into spots ahead of Slayton on the depth chart. He’s proven capable of being a quality player, but he’s coming off a bad season and his salary jumped up a little bit higher than Schoen might be willing to pay a player who will be the fourth receiver on the depth chart, at best. Maybe Slayton would agree to a pay cut, but that’s not guaranteed — especially since he’d conceivably at least have some interest in free agency as a young deep threat with proven, recent production. A trade for a late-round pick or a player would make sense too. Trading or cutting Slayton would save $2.54 million with $58,721 in dead cap.

Total savings: $39.755 million

Step 10: Cut OLB Oshane Ximines. He was a healthy scratch for most of last season. The former third-round pick has been a massive disappointment. The savings would be minimal, but we’re trying to get to $40 million here. Cutting Ximines saves $995,000with a $209,195 penalty.

Final tally: $40.75 million in savings, $14.567 million in dead cap penalties.

Alternative moves the Giants could make to save money:

Trade Saquon Barkley. It shouldn’t be completely ruled out, but I wouldn’t expect it at this time, even if it’d save $7.2 million without any dead cap hit.

Trade Logan Ryan. It’s unlikely he has much value on the trade market due to his age and salary ($9.25 million) and the savings wouldn’t be significant anyway, $6.275 million with a $5.95 million dead cap penalty.

Cut or trade DB Julian Love. He still has value in this defense with his versatility, though maybe Schoen views his $2.732 million cap hit as too high. They’d save all but $192,715 of that.

Restructures Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay or Adoree’ Jackson: Williams ($27.3 million), Golladay ($21.15 million) and Jackson ($15.264 million) all have huge cap hits in 2022, but Schoen has said he’ll only restructure deals as a last resort.

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Zack Rosenblatt may be reached at zrosenblatt@njadvancemedia.com.

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