New York Giants: Choosing between Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins
Oct 16, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) reacts to a referee's call during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After a defensive overhaul last offseason, the New York Giants will once again have some tough decisions to make with their defense.

With Super Bowl Sunday rapidly approaching, NFL fans have to cope with the very real, but, nonetheless, gloomy realization that football season is coming to an end.

At the end of every season, teams are faced with the difficult decisions regarding who to keep, who to dump and how much they should pay everyone in the coming season.

In 2017, the Giants are no different, with their biggest decision coming between keeping Jason Pierre-Paul or Johnathan Hankins.

Both linemen are free agents, and after stellar performances in 2016, seem due for bigger contracts. Unfortunately for the Giants, a team with just $32 million in projected cap room according to Spotrac.com, as well as numerous holes on offense, simply doesn’t have the space to add two defensive linemen at that price.

Making matters more complicated, JPP has indicated that he has no interest in a one-year deal, and will instead seek a contract similar to the five-year, $85 million deal that the Giants gave Olivier Vernon in 2015. Thus, it makes sense that New York should ramp up its pursuit of Hankins, and allow JPP to walk.

While JPP is probably a slightly better player than Hankins in a vacuum, there simply aren’t very many run-stuffing defensive tackles in free agency in the draft for the Giants to replace him with. In contrast, both the free agency class and draft are loaded with edge rushers.

After seeing Romeo Okwara have a great deal of success in his limited time filling in for JPP, the Giants could easily imagine someone else stepping into the defensive end spot opposite Vernon. Veteran free agents like Jabaal Sheard or Mario Addison could easily step in as pass rushers for the Giants.

Additionally, according to Walter Football, there are seven edge rushers expected to be taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, with many more defensive ends coming in the later rounds. The Giants could easily find a talented edge rusher on a rookie contract to replace the massive price tag set by JPP, thus saving their money to improve the offense and retain Hankins long term.

The facts remain that the defense simply did not drop off significantly following the JPP injury. Apart from the second half collapse against Green Bay, the Giants were able to hold their opponents under 10 points in three out of the five contests they played without their star defensive end. That should give the Giants a ton of confidence in letting Pierre-Paul walk this offseason.

Sadly for fans of JPP staying in New York, there is a rash of teams with a need at defensive end and the cap space to get one. While Pierre-Paul’s contract demands would seem absurd a year ago, in this salary cap climate, it seems probable that he gets a contract that closely resembles what he’s looking for. The Giants simply cannot afford that deal if they want to address their other needs, especially on offense.

Realistically, it makes sense for the Giants to retain Hankins, sign a veteran defensive end to spell with Okwara in JPP’s absence, and utilize draft picks to fill the holes on offense. Even mediocre offensive linemen can be very expensive in free agency, and the Giants need to focus on cultivating some young talent along their line.

Utilizing rookie contacts along that line can help mitigate the cap hit, thus allowing New York to afford their big money defense. However, it became clear that the Giants can effectively replace Pierre-Paul’s production with a cheaper player, so they should do as much.

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