EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Moments after former Miami pass rusher Olivier Vernon agreed to terms on a five-year, $85 million contract Wednesday, Giants general manager Jerry Reese might have echoed the defensive end’s agent David Canter when he tweeted "What a day."
Given one last opportunity by Giants co-owner John Mara to bulk up a roster that had not made the playoffs in four years, Reese made a huge splash on the first day of NFL free agency. New York agreed to terms with Vernon, former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and former Jets defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison.
Combined with their own defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul signing his one-year, $10.5 million contract shortly after Wednesday’s 4 p.m. start time, Reese will have addressed immediately major weaknesses in the defensive front and the secondary.
All are expected to sign five-year deals as early as Thursday, shortly after they arrive at the Giants’ training centre for physicals.
The Giants also came to agreement on a pay cut for wide receiver Victor Cruz, whose salary will be reduced from $7.9 million to $1.3 million. Incentives could bring his salary to $5.5 million.
Cruz hasn’t played most of the last two seasons, first because of a torn patellar tendon suffered in 2014. A calf strain required surgery and kept him off the field all of last season.
Vernon, the 6-foot-2, 261-pound centerpiece of Reese’s $200 million spending spree was regarded as the premier pass-rusher in this year’s free agent class. The 25-year-old had 7 1/2 sacks in 16 starts in 2015 while being a constant presence in the backfield. He is expected to pair with Pierre-Paul to rejuvenate the NFL’s weakest pass rush.
The Giants confirmed Pierre-Paul’s signing Wednesday.
"I have one year to prove myself, but all I need is one," Pierre-Paul said in a statement. "I know for a fact that I can play better than I did last year."
Harrison, 27, will be play next to returning veteran Jonathan Hankins to form a solid middle. Though he had only a half-sack in 16 starts last year, Harrison is a noted run-stopper who was in on 72 tackles in 2015.
Harrison is expected to sign a five-year, $46.25 million contract, with $24 million guaranteed.
The Jenkins signing will likely end Prince Amukamara’s Giants career. The 2011 first-round draft pick was told by the Giants to test the open market, where he expects to land a contract in the $10 million per year neighbourhood despite an injury history that caused him to miss 25 out of 80-games in his career.
Jenkins will get slightly more than $12 million annually, making him the second-highest-paid cornerback behind the Jets’ Darrelle Revis’ $14.024 million average.
In Jenkins, the Giants will gain a durable, productive cornerback to pair with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to provide immediate improvement to the league’s worst pass defence. The cornerback finished last season with three interceptions, has 10 picks and 35 breakups since 2012, one of only five cornerbacks to achieve those levels. He has six touchdowns in his career.
Harrison came the longest way to get to his big payday. The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent out of NAIA-level William Penn in Iowa.
He played in only five games as a rookie, but the 6-foot-4, 350-pound nose tackle moved into a starting spot the next season. He started every game there the last three seasons, compiling 193 total tackles, 11 1/2 sacks, two pass breakups, and a forced fumble.
The three contracts will cost the Giants about $114 million in guaranteed salary.