There’s been a lot of talk around the Giants lately about the possibility of restructuring Eli Manning’s contract in order to ease the team out of its salary-cap crisis, particularly with the Patriots having just done the same with Tom Brady. On the surface this makes perfect sense: Eli has the highest cap number of any player in the NFL. He also is reportedly willing to adjust the terms of his deal, especially if it helps bring Victor Cruz back into the fold.
First, a primer: Veterans can have their contracts restructured once per calendar year. To restructure, team and player agree to turn a portion of the player’s salary for the upcoming year into a signing bonus. The benefit of doing so for salary cap purposes is that a player’s signing bonus is prorated over the length of the contract to determine its effect on the salary cap. This means that if a player has a 5-year contract and a $6 million salary ($6 million cap number), turning $5 million of that salary into a bonus will reduce that player’s cap number by $4 million ($1 million salary + $5 million/5 years = $2 million cap number). The team can do
While the benefits of doing so should be obvious, restructuring a contract also pushes salary into the future, and can hamstring a team for years into the future. This matters because not only is the Giants cap situation perilous right now, it likely will be next year as well. And if you think the Giants have a lot of free agents to worry about now, remember that Justin Tuck, Andre Brown, Hakeem Nicks and – assuming he comes back on his restricted tender – Victor Cruz will all be unrestricted free agents after next season.
The point is that the Giants, like all teams, have the option to ease their cap situation this year at the expense of the cap in other years down the road. But should they? John Mara doesn’t seem to think so:
We haven’t really talked about [restructuring Manning's contract]. That’s always an option at some point in time, but he’s proven to be worth the amount of salary-cap space that’s been allocated to him.
The Giants are obviously in win-now mode, with a roster filled with expensive talent (which is what got us into this mess in the first place). No team can stay competitive for long in the NFL, but the biggest factor for a team’s success is clearly the presence of a franchise-quarterback. So long as the Giants have Eli Manning and a reasonable level of talent around him, the team will be contenders. Eli is 32 years old, meaning he has about 5 years left in his prime, and a few years thereafter when he will still be productive. When Eli gets to the tail-end of that window (like Brady), it might make sense to mortgage the future to squeeze as much production out of our star quarterback as possible. But until then, flexibility is the most valuable asset.