Earlier today, Jordan Raanan broke the news that the New York Giants will be releasing David Baas shortly. As I mentioned here, cutting Baas will clear only $1.775 million in 2014 salary cap space, as the remainder of his $8.225 salary cap hit will result in “dead money.” Cutting him before free agency was not a necessity because the Giants were already under the salary cap. Instead, let’s speculate what this release could really mean — the Giants might already have a new center lined up and ready to go at 4 PM on Tuesday.
Of course, having a contract in place with a free agent is still illegal according to league rules. These rules on tampering are very vague, and often times we hear reports of contracts in place before free agency that are fulfilled right away when it becomes “legal.” We will likely see an example of that this year with the Miami Dolphins and free agent Branden Albert. Multiple reports claim that a contract is “100 percent done” and that “he will be signing with the Dolphins Tuesday.” So, could a contract between the Giants and a free agent center already be in place and we just don’t know it?
Let’s take a look at the rumors first. Earlier this afternoon, it was reported that the Giants have shown interest in free agent centers Brian De La Puente and Evan Dietrich-Smith. Although no further details were given on the De La Puente front, the other source claims that the team’s interest in Dietrich-Smith is “serious.” Earlier this month, I nominated De La Puente as my top underrated free agent target. Dietrich-Smith didn’t make that list, but he should have.
At just 28 years of age, De La Puente offers the Giants a reliable option on the right side of 30. According to Pro Football Focus, in the past three seasons, he has finished no lower than the 16th-best center and as high as the second-best (in 2012). After bouncing around with a few teams as an undrafted free agent, he found a home with the New Orleans Saints before the 2011 season. Since then, he hasn’t missed a game and has started every game for the Saints since claiming his job. This is of high importance to the Giants after dealing with several injury-plagued seasons in a row from Baas.
At just 27 years of age, Dietrich-Smith offers the Giants versatility and upside. He has played both guard and center for the Green Bay Packers, and there is reason to believe that his best seasons are ahead of him. According to Pro Football Focus, he has improved in every season. In 2011 and in the early parts of 2012, he struggled at guard before moving to center, where he earned a positive grade in just 155 snaps. After taking over at center full time in 2013, he graded out in the top 10 overall, according to Pro Football Focus.
Both players present the Giants with a valuable option moving forward at the center position. More importantly, both players should fit into the Giants’ spending plans. Based on the past market at center, their current buzz, age and production, they are both likely to sign a deal in the $4-5 million range annually.
Will we read that the Giants signed one of these two right away on Tuesday evening? Only time will tell. What we do know is that signing either player would be an excellent first step in the roster rebuilding process.