By Ernie Palladino
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It’s hard to know what, exactly, is going through Jason Pierre-Paul’s head these days.

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Why he would treat his approximately 57,400 Twitter followers to an avatar displaying the X-ray of his fireworks-mangled right hand is certainly a quandary. The purpose of showing the two sets of pins surgeons inserted to stabilize his damaged thumb, the missing index digit, and the shadow of scar tissue that envelops his middle finger is anybody’s guess.

Is Pierre-Paul just an over-sharing type of guy? If that’s the reason, then mission accomplished. Way too much information there, JPP!

Is he trying to inspire? If so, then mission accomplished there, too, even though the public really didn’t need a picture to drive home the point. The mere fact that Pierre-Paul came far enough back from the July 4 accident that made the X-ray necessary in the first place to rejoin the Giants in an active role was nothing short of remarkable. He was, is, and will remain a prime example of how the human spirit can overcome crippling misfortune.

Few greater endeavors in life exceed the satisfaction of inspiring others. Despite the dubious thought process that prompted JPP to recently change his avatar to that jarring image, if the defensive end’s one and only purpose was to shine a light, then he has truly done an admirable deed.

While doing so, however, he may have unwittingly done himself a professional disservice. Not that the Giants or the rest of the NFL need any refresher courses, but the X-ray illustrates again the severity of his injuries. With free agency looming less than a month away, JPP will have all he can handle to convince Giants general manager Jerry Reese or any other moneyman out there that the two offseason operations he’s had to improve the gripping ability of that scarred middle finger will make him worth the millions he seeks.

Co-owner John Mara said at Tom Coughlin’s farewell press conference that he had seen enough over Pierre-Paul’s eight-game return to want him back, but not for the lofty dollars the pass rusher hopes. In other words, if JPP is looking for double-figure millions, he had better hope some other team will see the one sack he recorded with his club-encased hand as a mere step back to Pro Bowl-level production.

He won’t get it from the Giants.

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Despite having cleared another $12 million or so under the salary cap with the releases of tackle Will Beatty, guard Geoff Schwartz, and the retirement of linebacker Jon Beason, they must still exercise some caution with the nearly $60 million available. The league’s worst defense must be rebuilt, and JPP can no longer be looked upon as its premier player, whether this offseason’s surgeries improve his hand or not. He may stand as the Giants’ best pass rush option right now, but only because they can’t sign outside talent before the starting gun goes off March 9.

Once that happens, Pierre-Paul’s status could fall precipitously. There’s a good chance, in fact, that if he doesn’t sign a Giants contract before then, he won’t be able to at all.

With holes all over the defense, Reese undoubtedly has a varied wish list. Prince Amukamara probably won’t get his $10 million price from the Giants, either, so Reese will need a cornerback. A whole new set of linebackers would be nice, but the Giants would probably be delighted with an outside guy who can get after the quarterback. And no, Denver’s Von Miller is not coming here.

The defensive interior needs fixing, and even if JPP and fellow unrestricted veteran Robert Ayers, Jr. stay, they’ll still need another defensive end.

The offense needs help, too. Schwartz’ departure creates the need for a starting guard, unless the Giants are prepared to put all their faith in the mediocre John Jerry. The O-line needs depth, too. And a younger running back — 30-year-old former Bear Matt Forte probably won’t be a candidate due to his age and injury history — wouldn’t be unwelcome. Nor would a savvy receiver to complement Odell Beckham, Jr.

Pierre-Paul will head into free agency with the odds stacked against him, new Twitter avatar or not. But no one with his hand on the Giants’ purse strings needed any further reminder of the devastation that came the afternoon of July 4.

Pierre-Paul must know that. So add self-sacrifice to inspiration.

For in his attempt to give others hope, he probably did his personal situation no favors by laying out all the graphics.

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Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino