The Giants signaled they were open for business and making moves for the future by trading Damon Harrison and Eli Apple in October.
Trading defensive co-captain Landon Collins would have raised a white flag.
“It was a touchy situation,” general manager Dave Gettleman told WFAN’s Mike Francesa, recalling the 1-7 record at the NFL trade deadline.
“That was when we were at our nadir. We were just so low. I know that every decision that comes out of the GM and head coach’s office sends a message downstairs. I just felt the message that would be sent by trading Landon would be a bad message. That was my feeling at the time. I’m still glad we did what we did.”
Gettleman has been under fire for not getting a return on Collins, who signed a record-setting six-year, $84 million contract with the Redskins last week.
The best offer the Giants received for Collins was a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, as previously reported by NJ Advance Media. Bleacher Report said the Giants turned down a first-rounder, which Gettleman said “It isn’t even remotely close to being accurate.”
Gettleman spends a lot of energy trying to find the right locker-room chemistry, and he read this situation correctly.
Neither Apple nor Harrison carried the same locker-room presence as Collins, whose respect went beyond any position group cliques.
After the locker room crumbled and led to firings during the 2017 season, Gettleman determined keeping leaders in place for the second half was worth more than a fourth-round pick. Keeping Collins around made coach Pat Shurmur’s job easier by helping root out the me-first thinking and lost confidence in management that led to the 2017 implosion.
“I didn’t think the value was there,” Gettleman said, “and it’s about value, so that’s why we didn’t do it.”
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The Giants won four of their next five games but closed 0-3 with Collins sidelined by shoulder surgery. Collins became an unrestricted free agent when the Giants decided not to franchise tag him.
“I hurt for him,” special teams co-captain Michael Thomas said after Collins was injured. “I respect the hell out of him. I’m proud of the way he has handled this situation and carried himself. He has been the greatest teammate you could ask for.”
On the other hand, not rewarding Collins — a captain, Pro Bowler and good citizen — by even making a serious contract extension offer is something Gettleman might have to explain to his locker room this season. Especially to Sterling Shepard, who will be in a similar spot next offseason.
Look no further than Gettleman’s mistakes handling the Panthers stars to see it could be a real problem if allowed to boil.
“What it was going to cost to sign him, it was the big picture,” Gettleman said. “We thought our best play was to let him go and see what the market would bring and give us a call. And the market went crazy.”
Because of the size of Collins’ contract and his projected role, the Giants likely will get back a compensation pick at the end of the third round in the 2020 NFL Draft. It could be anywhere from 1-32 picks better than the fourth-rounder offered in 2019, though with a year’s delay.
“We are very mindful of that,” Gettleman said. “We’ll get a third-round comp.”
Of course, those words are a Gettleman admission the Giants do not plan to hand out a mega contract in free agency that would offset the loss of Collins in the compensation formula, but the first week of free agency already revealed the Giants’ plan is to look for short-term bargain deals, load up on draft picks and save cap space for 2020.