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Jabrill Peppers wasn’t drafted by the Giants, but he is as homegrown as NFL players come.
It was no surprise to see the New Jersey high school football legend riling up a Nets crowd Wednesday by playing air guitar from his courtside seats. It was less of a surprise that he was called upon to recruit free-agent prize Kenny Golladay to be his Giants teammate for … one year?
Wait. Is that right? It could be.
Peppers, 25, is in the final year of his rookie contract — his third season with the Giants since he was acquired from the Browns. He’s an interesting case regarding whether the Giants will change their way of managing young talent after two homegrown captains have walked away in free agency in recent years. It’s a message that seeps into the locker room.
“I do worry about that, I really do,” co-owner John Mara said. “I loved Landon Collins and Dalvin Tomlinson. Those were two great players and they were great people in the building. It broke my heart to see them go, but at the end of the day you have to make a cold-hard business decision: Can you afford to devote that much cap space to this particular player?”
Of the three core players eligible to sign second contracts this season, Peppers offers an easier solution than Evan Engram, a fan lightning rod, or Saquon Barkley, returning from ACL surgery. Tomlinson, who signed with the Vikings, seemed like a no-brainer for the Giants, too, but his asking price was too high last offseason.
“We do have some important players that will be coming up for extensions pretty soon,” Mara said, “so that is something that’s always in the back of my mind.”
So, what’s a fair offer for both the Giants and Peppers? CBS Sports contract expert Joel Corry suggested a maximum value comparable to the four-year, $35 million ($16 million guaranteed) contract another “good, not Pro Bowl” safety, Rayshawn Jenkins, just signed with the Jaguars.
Paying the fifth-year option salaries for Peppers ($6.77 million) and Engram ($6 million) is one reason the Giants began free agency pressed up against the cap. After creative accounting, they have $4.5 million in space available, according to the NFLPA, and need about $4.1 million to sign their upcoming draft class.
Signing Peppers to an extension that would lower his 2020 cap hit is another way to free up space to the Giants’ preferred path of restructuring veterans’ contracts.
“Pepp is a tremendous leader,” teammate Logan Ryan told The Post. “He will do whatever it takes to make the team better. He would play 1,000 snaps a game if they let him.”
The Giants re-signed Ryan with a three-year, $31 million extension in December and drafted Xavier McKinney last season. Corry envisions a scenario under which those two are the starting safeties, and the Giants use the 2022 franchise tag as a guard against Peppers building off the best play of his career late last season and fulfilling his first-round potential — like Leonard Williams just did.
“It always makes sense to extend your core players early, but it’s a resource-allocation thing,” Corry said. “I’m skeptical you are going to pay four players in the secondary. The best case for doing Peppers now is you don’t want a Leonard Williams problem.”
The Giants turned down trade offers at the in-season deadline for Collins in 2018 and for Tomlinson last season. A lot will have gone wrong if the Giants are not in playoff contention this season and thus face the same quandary with Peppers.
“Maybe it would’ve been a better idea to try to trade one of them and pick up a draft pick,” Mara said. “One of the things I was concerned about was the message that it sends, but I think players for the most part understand that you just can’t pay everybody.”
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