This Giants team that has gone just 8-24 over the last two seasons unsurprisingly had a lot of areas that needed to be addressed coming into the 2019 offseason. Their key needs, not necessarily in order of priority, were:
- 2 safeties to replace Landon Collins and Curtis Riley
- 2 cornerbacks to replace B.W. Webb and Eli Apple (traded midseason)
- An impact pass rusher (Giants were 30th in sacks in 2018)
- Upgrades to the right side of the offensive line
- A QB of the future (via Draft, Trade, or Free Agency)
Dave Gettleman entered the offseason without a lot of cap space (roughly $26 million) to address these areas. His first big decision to pass on tagging or working out a long-term deal with safety Landon Collins was not a popular one with most fans. However, it made perfect sense.
Had the Giants brought back Landon Collins on the tag for $11+ million, that would have left them with about $15 million to fill their many needs via free agency and the draft. What would that have meant? It would have meant that a Giants Defense that was not very talented in 2018 would have had Landon Collins at safety, incremental upgrades to one of the NFL’s worst pass rushes, and lots of mid-to-late round rookies trying to grasp James Bettcher’s complicated defensive scheme while seeing significant playing time.
Or, in order to add an impact pass rusher, the Giants would have to forego using their top pick on a potential quarterback of the future (This still might happen).
Either way, dedicating so much money to Collins would not have made sense. Gettleman’s philosophy is that a safety’s ability to impact a game is minimal compared to other defensive positions on the field. With rare exceptions (Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu), we don’t entirely disagree. Landon Collins is a nice player, but he is not in Reed or Polamalu’s class.
Below are a few stand-out plays (both the good and the bad) from Collins’ 2018 season to illustrate what we mean.
First, watch how Collins operates near the line of scrimmage (#21 on the right). He’s clearly comfortable reading, reacting, sifting through the offensive line, and quickly attacking the ball carrier in the running game.
Check him out again near the line of scrimmage, this time in a blitzing situation (right side). His quick pressure and the athletic ability to avoid the running back in protection made Cam Newton rush his throw, resulting in an interception.
Now watch Collins aligned in man-to-man coverage in the slot against a tight end.
That’s pretty tight coverage and a good job of getting his head around to play the ball. You can see that he is not totally lost in space, as some have claimed.
With that being said, Collins isn’t exactly spectacular in coverage. Watch Collins below as the safety towards the top of the screen. He was playing quarters coverage here, meaning he was responsible for the #2 vertical route to his side of the field (the tight end on this play). That receiver was clearly attacking him and there was no one else threatening Collins’ area. Yet Collins did not hug or play tight to him in response.
He was both late and slow to react, resulting in an easy completion of 24 yards.
Below, you can see two nearly identical plays where Collins was matched up 1-on-1 vs. a dynamic pass-catching running back in Tarik Cohen. Twice he got burned by Cohen on wheel routes.
Collins stopped his feet and was slow to recover on both completions.
Below is one more example of Collins struggling in the open field, again getting caught flat-footed. This time, it forced him to miss a tackle.
Collins missed this tackle because instead of being an “arrow through snow” and attacking the ball carrier, he broke down and was slow to close.
Again, from the above plays you can see that Collins is a good player, not a great player, and not worth the $11 million or more he would have commanded.
Gettleman ultimately replaced Collins with Jabrill Peppers, a cheaper yet similar player to Collins with 3 more years of team control. He clearly feels that Peppers can come somewhat close to matching or even surpassing Collins’ production on the field and for a fraction of the cost financially (Between $9 – 10 million less).
Yes, the price of acquiring Peppers from the Browns was Odell Beckham, Jr. The discussion on whether Beckham’s talent and production were worth the money and the trouble is a different one for a different day. With that being said, the Giants are in a much better overall position at safety than they would have been had they tagged or worked out a contract with Collins. He’s a good player, but based on his ability and the position he plays, that money was better spent elsewhere.
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