Why paying Landon Collins big money is hard for New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 30: Landon Collins #21 of the New York Giants looks on against the New Orleans Saints during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 30, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 30: Landon Collins #21 of the New York Giants looks on against the New Orleans Saints during their game at MetLife Stadium on September 30, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The NFL off season is here and the New York Giants have holes throughout their roster.

General Manager Dave Gettleman and the New York Giants front office will soon prioritize which positions deserve top dollar in free agency and which will be addressed in the draft. With free agency looming, it appears the Giants’ top defensive player from 2018 may not be in the long-term plans.

This week, ESPN’s Josina Anderson reported that Landon Collins cleaned out his locker and said goodbye to teammates, coaches, and trainers early Wednesday.

After Paul Schwartz of the New York Post rebuffed the report, Collins chimed in with his own tweet in order to clarify.

Collins’ future in New York has been in question since midway through the 2018 NFL season. Wednesday’s events are likely a signal that he is not getting the long-term commitment he was seeking from the New York Giants.

Big Blue could franchise tag Collins, costing them upwards of $11 million for next season. That’s based upon last year’s safety franchise tag number that sat at $11.3 million.

Still, the fourth-year player was not enthusiastic about playing under the franchise designation, however, according to NFL writer Herbie Teope.

Collins had this to say, per NFL.com:

"“Honestly, I don’t want it. I know what type of player I am. I’m going to bring forth hard work, talent, play-making abilities to the game each and every week. Why would I want to play under a one-year deal? If something happens I’m not guaranteed. And even though I’m guaranteed that for a year, I’m still not guaranteed.”"

It is not surprising that Collins prefers a long-term deal. Each of his last two seasons were cut short by serious injury.

Given his injury history, it is also not surprising that the New York Giants are hesitant to commit a sizable portion of their long-term salary cap space to Collins.

While he is clearly New York’s top defensive player, he is a run-first safety who often struggles in coverage. Matching up with today’s high-powered offenses is a tough task and the Giants are clearly debating whether to commit major money to a safety who struggles in man-to-man and deep zone coverage.

Last season, the Giants played primarily Cover 1, a man concept with one high safety, and Cover 3, a zone coverage with three deep defenders, under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

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The common characteristic of both of these defenses is that they allow Collins to roll down into the box pre-snap and play the run. By playing him down in the box, Collins is able to play the run while having limited deep coverage obligations in the passing game.

In Cover 1, Collins was often matched up with a tight end in the slot or a back coming out of the backfield. In Cover 3, Collins was mainly responsible for one of the underneath zones while the free safety and cornerbacks were responsible for deep thirds.

With Collins being the Giants’ best defensive player, these coverages were tailored around his skill set. Bettcher worked around safety coverage deficiencies by playing him in the box, limiting his deep responsibilities and allowing him to play the run.

Despite these issues in man to man and deep zone coverage, Collins is still a very good player. He plays the run extremely well and can wreak havoc on blitzes.

However, the New York Giants may prioritize free agents at other positions for a long-term deal. An upgrade at free safety or edge rusher may take priority over Collins.

Earl Thomas, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyrann Mathieu and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will all hit the free agent market at free safety and would likely be cheaper than retaining Collins.

Curtis Riley was a liability at free safety last season. If the Giants continue to frequent the one-high safety look, a free safety with great instincts, range and ball skills is a necessity. It would not be surprising to see Gettleman sign a more affordable free safety who would bolster his deep coverage.

Finding a proven pass rusher is also a top priority that could make Collins dispensable. The Giants’ lack of a pass rush has been the downfall of their defense in recent seasons.

The draft is stacked with talented edge rushers, but finding quarterback Eli Manning’s successor may be the focus. Luckily for the Giants, the free agent market also features several star pass rushers.

Jadeveon Clowney, Demarcus Lawrence, Trey Flowers, Dee Ford, and Frank Clark may all become unrestricted free agents. Landing a top-tier pass rusher would be a bigger upgrade to the Giants’ defense than re-signing Collins.

Collins cleaning out his locker could very well be a stunt to send a message to the front office that he doesn’t want to be franchise tagged. However, if the Giants decide to go that direction, which they very well may, there’s not much he can do about it.

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There are several tough decisions to be made by the Giants’ front office in the coming weeks. Landon Collins’ future in New York is in question but not over. Collins is the Giants’ best defensive player, but that doesn’t mean he is the right player to pay big money long-term.