The Giants dropped Zeitler last week to save about $9.6MM in cap space. The Giants shopped Zeitler before releasing him, but interested teams like the Ravens stayed patient because they expected him to get cut.
Zeitler was the Giants’ best offensive lineman, so the move was more about finances than football. The Ravens, meanwhile, get to fill the longstanding void left by Marshal Yanda‘s 2020 retirement. Tyre Phillips, Patrick Mekari, and Ben Powers all tried their hand at right guard, but no one in that trio was able to replace Yanda’s protection.
The Ravens said they’d prioritize blocking for Lamar Jackson this offseason and Zeitler goes a long way towards addressing that need. Over the last three years, Pro Football Focus has Zeitler ranked as the 17th best guard in the NFL. He’s also been reliable with at least 15 starts in each of the past six seasons.
March 10th, 2021 at 2:18pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
The Giants just made a big move. New York has released guard Kevin Zeitler, the team announced on Wednesday. Zeitler becomes the latest in a string of high profile cap casualties this past week.
The move will clear about $9.6MM in cap space the Giants needed if they wanted to retain guys like defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson. We heard last week that New York was shopping Zeitler, but teams were expecting him to get cut so no one was willing to offer anything. That being said, now that he doesn’t come with the hefty contract, there will be plenty of interest.
Zeitler certainly hasn’t played poorly, the Giants could just no longer justify the cap charge. Some people were skeptical the team would actually cut their best O-lineman with Daniel Jones heading into a make or break year, but these are the kinds of decisions necessitated by the league-wide cap crunch.
Zeitler had been set to make a salary of $12MM, and while he won’t get that, he’ll get some significant guaranteed money on the open market. The 27th overall pick of the 2012 draft spent his first five years with the Bengals before signing a five-year, $60MM pact with the Browns in 2017.
That deal made him the highest-paid guard in the league at the time. He was then traded to New York in March of 2019 as part of the blockbuster Odell Beckham Jr. trade. He’s never made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team, but has nonetheless always been a solid starter.
He’s also been reliable, starting at least 15 games in each of the past six seasons, and he’s never played less than 12. With Zeitler off the roster, Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez now project as the Giants’ two starting guards for 2021.
A pair of veteran offensive linemen are apparently on the trade block, but it’s sounding like there may not be any takers. Jason La Canfora is hearing that the Jaguars are shopping offensive guard Andrew Norwell, while the Giants are trying to move offensive guard Kevin Zeitler (Twitter link). The reporter adds that rival teams believe these two linemen will ultimately be released, at which time they’ll “generate significant interest” around the NFL.
Norwell parlayed his first-team All-Pro nod with the Panthers into a five-year, $66.5MM deal with the Jaguars in 2018. While the veteran hasn’t matched his production from that standout campaign, he’s still been a dependable presence on Jacksonville’s line over the past three years. The organization’s decision to shop (and, presumably, eventually move on from) Norwell is mostly financial; the veteran has a cap hit of $15MM in 2021 and $16MM in 2022, and cutting him would leave manageable dead cap hits of $6MM in 2021 and $3MM in 2022.
Zeitler, a former first-round pick, spent the first five seasons of his career with the Bengals, including a 2012 campaign where he earned All-Rookie Team honors from the Pro Football Writers Association. He inked a five-year, $60MM deal with the Browns in 2017, making him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. He spent a pair of seasons in Cleveland before getting dealt to the Giants as a part of the Odell Beckham trade.
The 30-year-old has played the past two seasons in New York, appearing in all but one game. The veteran has a $14.5MM cap hit in the final year of his contract, and the Giants would be left with only $2.5MM in dead cap if they decided to cut him.
2017 second-round DT Dalvin Tomlinson could also be on the move, per Dunleavy. Tomlinson is playing out the last year of his rookie contract, and while he has expressed interest in staying with the Giants long-term, there has been little progress in contract talks.
As we creep closer to the November 3 deadline, let’s round up a few more trade rumors from around the league:
Big names like Falcons QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are not going to be moved, as Rapoport writes in the same piece linked above. The same can be said for Jets QB Sam Darnold(though Darnold could be dealt this offseason). Gang Green may be more open to trading DT Quinnen Williams, but thus far interested teams have only offered a single second-round pick. That will not be enough to convince GM Joe Douglas to trade the talented interior defender.
Another 1-5 outfit, the Texans, also anticipate making a trade or two, per La Canfora. Houston is in desperate need of draft capital, and receivers Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller are coming up in discussions. Sources expect at least one of those players to be moved, and the team is also gauging the market for edge defender Whitney Mercilus.
One team that could have an eye on the Texans’ receivers is the Patriots, who are once again looking for a pass catcher, as La Canfora writes. One year after the team’s ill-fated trade for Mohamed Sanu, New England wants to get a weapon for QB Cam Newton, and Cooks, Fuller, and Thielen could all be options.
The Vikings greenlit this season’s biggest trade thus far by sending Yannick Ngakoue to the Ravens for third- and fifth-round picks. While GM Rick Spielman said the team is not waving a white flag on its 2020 season, Albert Breer of SI.com notes the Vikings are willing to make more seller’s trades. Teams have contacted them about Kyle Rudolph, their 10th-year tight end who is in the first season of his latest Minnesota extension. The Vikings signed Rudolph to a four-year, $36MM extension but did so shortly after drafting Irv Smith Jr. in the second round. While Breer notes the Vikes are open for business on contract-year players, the soon-to-be 31-year-old Rudolph would make sense as a trade chip as well. He was a trade candidate before he signed his extension. Guard Pat Elflein and franchise-tagged safety Anthony Harris are the Vikings’ highest-profile contract-year players.
Here is the latest from the trade market:
While this year’s NFC East could be historically bad, the Giants are 1-6 and in a seller’s position again. They have fielded calls on Kevin Zeitler and Golden Tate, according to Breer. Tate has been a deadline chip before, with the Lions sending him to the Eagles in 2018. Tate’s through-2022 contract, thanks to a PED suspension in 2019, contains no more guaranteed money. Zeitler’s deal runs through 2021. The upper-echelon guard has more than $5MM in salary remaining this season and is due a $12MM base in 2021. The Giants acquired Zeitler via trade in 2019.
Washington has lost five straight and is also willing to listen on veterans, per Breer. Two that have come up: edge defenders Ryan Kerrigan and Ryan Anderson. The former is Washington’s all-time sack leader; he has three this season for a deep D-line group. But Washington drafted Montez Sweat and Chase Young in the past two first rounds, creating a rare surplus that has moved Kerrigan to a rotational role. Kerrigan and Anderson are in contract years.
Carlos Dunlaptook issue with the Bengals demoting him, joining Geno Atkins in voicing frustration about playing time. The Bengals were not eager to deal veterans last year, despite their struggles in a 2-14 season, but Breer adds teams view Dunlap as available for trade. Dunlap is Cincinnati’s all-time sack leader but still played a part-time role for the team last week, despite Sam Hubbard‘s IR placement. The Bengals are expected to cut Dunlap in 2021.
The Jets dealt nose tackle Steve McLendon to the Buccaneersshortly after their Week 6 game, and in a rare development, McLendon knew he would be a postgame trade piece a day in advance. The Jets interestingly opted not to hold him out of last week’s game. “I got the news on Saturday night that a car would be waiting for me after the game Sunday to come to Tampa,” McLendon said, via Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. “I was like, ‘OK.’ Sunday morning, I woke up, I prayed, and I was like, ‘This is one last ride.’ A lot of guys were saying, ‘Man, you’re really gonna play?’ And I was like, ‘Man, this could be the last time I play with y’all in my career.'” The 11th-year veteran will now be tasked with replacing Vita Vea.
Traded players must go through similar protocols to free agency additions. They must pass a COVID-19 test for five days straight and pass a sixth on the day they enter the facility. This formed the Ravens‘ timetable on their Ngakoue trade, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com (on Twitter), in order for the defensive end to practice Wednesday and play against the Steelers next week.
The Giants have restructured the contract of guard Kevin Zeitler, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The revised contract should give the Giants some much needed flexibility with the anticipated signing of two first-round picks on the horizon.
The tweaked contract will convert $7.5MM of Zeitler’s $10MM salary for 2019 into a signing bonus. By doing that, the G-Men have freed up $5MM in cap room for the upcoming season.
Beyond that, Zeitler is signed through 2021 with non-guaranteed salaries of $10MM and $12MM. But, by easing the blow in 2019, his cap hits will go up $2.5MM in each of those seasons. That’s a bridge the Giants can potentially cross next offseason, if they are still in need of wiggle room.
The Giants acquired Zeitler via trade with the Browns in a swap that sent Olivier Vernon to Cleveland. Later, that trade was merged with the Odell Beckham Jr. blockbuster, resulting in the following mega-trade:
The trades of Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon were originally reported as separate moves, but the Browns and Giants have have each announced the acquisitions as one large transaction. Additionally, as Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com first reported, the fourth- and fifth-round picks that were originally part of the Vernon/Kevin Zeitler trade are no longer involved in the swap.
The pick swap will no longer occur, according to Art Stapleton of NorthJersey.com (Twitter link). Instead, Zeitler will simply be traded straight up for Vernon, while OBJ will go to the Browns in a separate move. However, you can look at both swaps together as such: Beckham and Vernon for Zeitler, Peppers, No. 17 overall and No. 95 overall.
It’s unclear as to why the Giants and Browns have reached this agreement. The return for Beckham has been widely panned, so it’s possible the Giants asked for the Vernon/Zeitler pick swap to be eliminated as something of a face-saving move (although undoing a 23-spot drop in the draft probably isn’t worth all that much).
The deal gives the Browns a formidable defensive end combo between Vernon and Myles Garrett. The swap also allows the Browns to focus on other areas of need next week, rather than overpaying for valued edge rushers.
Vernon inked a massive five-year, $85MM deal with the Giants in 2016. A few years later, the Giants found themselves looking to unload him or potentially release him outright. Vernon is still productive, but he no longer profiles as one of the best edge rushers in the NFL. Even at his time of signing, his contract was a function of an inflated pass rushing market that continues to be player friendly.
Vernon is due $15.5MM in each of the two remaining years on his deal. The Browns had roughly $77MM in cap space entering Friday, but it’s not immediately clear whether the Giants will be chipping in towards what Vernon is owed. Such an arrangement is not unheard of. In the Case Keenum trade between the Broncos and Redskins, for example, the Broncos agreed to pay half of Keenum’s 2019 salary.
Vernon, 28, gave the Giants a career-high 8.5 sacks in his first season with the club. He’s continued to get to the QB with 22 sacks over the course of three years, but injuries have cost him nine games over the last two campaigns. Last year, he averaged four pressures per contest in eleven games.
The Giants, meanwhile, pick up one of the league’s best interior lineman in the trade. Zeitler was Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 ranked guard last season and is midway through a five-year, $60MM deal. The 29-year-old is set to make $10MM this season, though much of that hit will be absorbed by the Browns.
The Browns have “thrown around” the name of guard Kevin Zeitler in trade talks, Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets. It’s a tad surprising to hear that the Browns are exploring a Zeitler trade given his ability and the dead money cap hit that would be associated with dealing him.
On Wednesday, the Browns released linebacker Jamie Collins to save $9MM+ in cap space versus just $2.5MM in dead money. Trading Zeitler, meanwhile, would be roughly the inverse: a savings of $1.7MM versus $10.7MM in dead cap space.
At the time of signing, the Browns’ old regime made him the highest paid guard in the NFL with a five-year, $60MM deal that was more than 50% guaranteed. The payout structure would make this release totally unpalatable for most teams, but the Browns have upwards of $80MM in cap room and could conceivably take the hit in exchange for a sizable draft haul.
If the Browns move Zeitler, they could turn to rising sophomore Austin Corbett, who was selected by John Dorsey in the second round of last year’s draft. Corbett has promise and a rookie deal that will carry a modest $1.71MM cap hit in 2019, making him an intriguing replacement.