Landon Collins was a defensive player of the year finalist on the only Giants team to reach the playoffs in the last seven years.
And on Tuesday, Giants GM Dave Gettleman let Collins, 25, walk out the door into free agency with no franchise tag, no discussion on a long-term deal, and no return other than a potential third-round-or-so compensatory draft pick in 2020.
This does not make the Giants better in 2019. It does, however, send a strong reminder that no one outside of Eli Manning and Saquon Barkley is safe.
You still think Gettleman wouldn’t trade Odell Beckham Jr.? Really? He just let a co-captain who is one of his top five players walk out the door for nothing.
You don’t think the GM would trade one of his two best players - one who rankled the organization in 2018 with his brutal honesty on his quarterback’s and franchise’s shortcomings - to get his massive contract off the books and acquire valuable draft assets?
At least if Gettleman traded Beckham, though, it would be consistent with a rebuild. Letting Collins walk, releasing Olivier Vernon in the coming days, and trading OBJ would clear a ton of cap space - or avoid committing it, in Collins’ case - and secure assets for the future.
That would be consistent at least with a guiding philosophy. And then maybe they would draft Dwayne Haskins No. 6 overall and the Giants’ 2019 motto would be: “Tomorrow, just not today.”
But what doesn’t add up, still, is where Manning fits. Or, more to the point, why the quarterback would even want to be a part of this.
Because if the Giants are making their team worse off in the short-term to build it back up for the long-term, then Manning’s final year of his contract would not be a run at a third and final Super Bowl. It would be an afterthought.
Will Gettleman’s removal of his best players from the roster lead Manning, 38, to retire? Probably not. But letting Collins walk does beg the question what in the world Gettleman thinks he is accomplishing.
Collins, for those with short memories, had 125 tackles, 13 passes defended, five interceptions, four sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown in 2016. He finished third (nine votes) in that year’s defensive player of the year voting behind Oakland’s Khalil Mack (18 votes) and Denver’s Von Miller (17 votes).
Ben McAdoo’s 11-5 team made the playoffs that year because his second-ranked defense carried his 26th-ranked offense. And Collins was the leader of Steve Spagnuolo’s D.
Collins also was a great example and leader, even on the 2017 team that lost its way. He played through a terribly sprained ankle most of that season, and his well-publicized description of Eli Apple as a “cancer” in Dec. 2017 was Collins’ way of venting frustration over a player issue the leadership had been unable to resolve behind the scenes.
While Gettleman says he prioritizes culture, the starting free safety he brought in last year, Curtis Riley, avoided a tackle in Week 17 against Dallas that got Riley yanked off the field for good. But apparently Collins’ M.O. of always giving his all wasn’t enough. Strange standards, indeed.
Collins has undergone surgery twice in the last year: last spring for a broken right forearm and this December for a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. He played through the shoulder pain in Week 13 in Chicago before missing the rest of the Giants’ 5-11 season.
Maybe that was a factor in the Giants not wanting to sign Collins long-term. They definitely did not feel he was good enough in pass coverage to warrant big money at the strong safety position. So that’s why they didn’t even use the $11.15 million franchise tag for 2019.
At the same time, if the Giants were going to let Collins walk, why didn’t they just trade him midseason before the 2018 deadline, when their season already was in the toilet? If it was really because they truly believed they were going to win out after a 1-7 start, then that is just utterly incredible.
Collins, at least, took the high road on Tuesday, after the Giants informed him in the early afternoon that they would not be franchise-tagging him, and that he’d be free to sign elsewhere on March 13.
“I want to thank the Giants organization for believing in me and allowing me to have 4 great years in NY,” Collins tweeted. “I can’t express how great it was to play with my teammates and in one of the greatest cities in the world. I will forever cherish my time in the blue and white and the relationships I have built in the building and in my community. Now on to the next chapter….”
As the Daily News wrote on Monday, league sources said there is a long line of teams eager to take a run at signing the three-time Pro Bowler in free agency. The free agent negotiating period begins on March 11, two days before players and teams can officially sign their deals.
The Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs (where Spagnuolo is now defensive coordinator) are just a few of the many teams that are expected to check in. Collins’ idol growing up was late Washington safety Sean Taylor, so if the money and opportunity was there, who knows? He could end up staying in division. That wouldn’t work out so well for Big Blue.
But what is working for the Giants these days? They are 8-24 the last two seasons, tied with the Cleveland Browns (7-24-1) for the most losses of all 32 NFL teams in that span.
And if they have a direction, it’s unclear exactly what it is.