By Ernie Palladino
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Even after putting together an impressive, though shortened, season with 7 1/2 fingers, Jason Pierre-Paul knows what he’s worth.
The question now is whether Jerry Reese is familiar with that number.
Giants fans should only hope he is. In an offseason where Reese will have much to do, given the team’s 16 players who could hit the market as unrestricted free agents and a long-range desire to draft Eli Manning’s eventual successor, re-signing JPP stands as one of the biggest priorities.
And it could become one of Reese’s biggest problems, too. After sprinkling around $200 million to bulk up a sagging defense, the general manager must now follow up that successful financial gambit by pumping at least a representative sum into the offense. Specifically, the line in charge of protecting Manning and creating holes for next year’s starting running back, Paul Perkins, needs at least one, perhaps two pieces.
Depending on whether Ben McAdoo stubbornly sticks with Ereck Flowers at left tackle or wisely moves him to the right side, that could mean finding a veteran left tackle.
That’s going to cost some money. Rebuilding the whole right side, what with Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry both unrestricted, would cost even more if Flowers stays in his current spot.
Whatever the case, that’s not going to leave a lot of dough left over for JPP. But Reese may have to put himself on the hook for it, anyway.
The Giants need him.
And who on July 5, 2015, would have expected anyone would have written that sentence two seasons later?
But it’s true. For all the good Romeo Okwara did as Pierre-Paul recovered from sports hernia surgery, it was obvious that the defensive front missed JPP’s athleticism. Okwara had a nice run with two sacks and five quarterback pressures in his five games. He even had a 15-yard sack on Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s wild card game.
But the Giants lost the quality that allowed JPP to add three forced fumbles and a touchdown off a fumble recovery to his own sack total.
Pierre-Paul did all that under the terms of the one-year, $10 million “show me” deal he signed on the same day free agents Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Keenan Robinson became Giants.
Well, he not only showed the Giants. He showed the rest of the league, too. Given how coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive stallions made McAdoo’s offense look like nags en route to 11-5, Pierre-Paul would go into free agency as one of its most desirable defensive ends.
JPP knows that. And he’ll be more than happy to explore the green pastures if Reese can’t lock him into a long-term contract before the free agent starter’s gun sounds in early March.
So Reese is in a position where he’ll either have to shell out a load of money before free agency or slap the franchise tag on his star. The latter would no doubt incense JPP, at least as far as the jump from the $15.7 million figure of last year’s tag can tick a guy off.
JPP is also not of a mind to offer the Giants a hometown discount.
He wants long-term security as well as the money.
And Reese, having spent an eye-popping amount to fix the defense last year, probably won’t get the same kind of bankroll this time around.
Still, with defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins also on the unrestricted list, Reese should do his utmost to keep as much of that effective defensive front intact.
That means shelling out for JPP.
Even if it means putting other expenses on the back burner.
Even if it means paying more than $2.5 million for each of his remaining fingers.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino