In today NFL, some positions carry a higher premium than others. And elite pass-rushers fit that bill. In fact, the league Top five defenders in terms of salary all earn over $ 15 million per season for their pocket-collapsing ability.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Jason Pierre-Paul of New York Giants seemed to be heading for such a monster salary. Now, after a disastrous accident and a disappointing 2015 season, Pierre-Paul is preparing to hit free agency amid clouds of uncertainty about his future in the NFL.
It is also potentially the biggest theft among a crowded market on the defensive end.
Yes the New York Jets slapped the franchise tag on all-star winger Muhammad Wilkerson. And after placing the transition beacon on Olivier Vernon, the Miami dolphins have the right to match any offer for the 25-year-old. But the closet is as full as it has been for several years for teams looking to bolster the free agency pass rush.
|Free agent defensive ends|
There are accomplished veterans such as Charles Johnson of the Carolina Panthers, Mario Williams from Buffalo bills and Chris Long from Los Angeles Rams, who all have several double-digit bag seasons under their belt.
You have promising young people like Malik Jackson, 26, from Denver Broncos, who looks set to hit the jackpot after a year of career for Super Bowl champions.
Then there are mid-range options like the Giants ‘Robert Ayers and the Rams’ William Hayes, which don’t have the resumes of their star counterparts but also won’t have such a high price tag.
There is something for every taste. And in the middle of it all, with question marks everywhere, is 27-year-old Pierre-Paul.
Just a few years ago, it didn’t look like the Giants would allow Peter Paul to approach the free market. In 2011 and 2014, he released the kind of numbers that give defensive coordinators vapor and quarterback nightmares.
He had 16.5 sacks in 2011 and 12.5 in 2014. He also made over 70 tackles in each of those seasons.
|Jason Pierre-Paul Career Statistics|
At the time, Pierre-Paul was a wildly athletic end barely entering the prime of his career who played running and passing with the same ferocity. In each of those monster seasons, he ranked in the top 10 4-3 to Focus on professional football.
Yes, injuries led to years “on the downside” in 2012 to 2013, but after his rebound two seasons ago, there was no doubt that Pierre-Paul was one of the best in the NFL at one position. where being the best can make a player very rich.
And then disaster struck:
There haven’t been many players in the NFL over the past 25 years whose career arcs have been more altered by an unrelated football injury than Peter Paul’s by the fireworks accident. which cost him part of his right hand. It didn’t matter if he would return to the level that won him a pair of Pro Bowl selections.
No one knew if he would ever play again.
After several surgeries and a grueling rehab, Pierre-Paul returned for eight games in 2015. But he was not the same player. His per-game stats and ability to generate constant quarterback pressure have fallen off a cliff. Pierre-Paul would end his sixth season in the NFL with just one bag.
An NFL executive didn’t mince words when speaking with Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. “He’s not the same player,” he said. “You can see he’s not. It’s all there on the movie. He’s still got the burst, but he’s obviously limited in what he’s able to do.”
There would be no megadeal. No franchise label. No big salary.
However, that same decision maker offered some insight into why this story can have a happy ending. And why the NFL team that is ready to roll the dice on Pierre-Paul could end up reaping a huge payoff.
The greatness of Peter Paul was never the result of power. Or his ability to force his way into the backfield, à la JJ Watt. No, with JPP it was all about the wheels. About another world erupted from the line of scrimmage which propelled him past the blockers before they could react.
This flurry has gone nowhere. Pierre-Paul’s inability to get out of the blocks in 2015 simply suffocated him. It is not easy to disengage an offensive lineman with one hand. And with a huge club on his mutilated club – that’s what he spent last season playing with.
However, as the season progressed and the Giants and Pierre-Paul experimented with different coatings, the club gave way to a specially designed glove:
And with a full offseason to readjust and find cover that works and feels comfortable, Pierre-Paul should be able to do little more than club opponents with his right hand in 2016.
He admitted to Michael Strahan of Fox Sports (via Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News) that 2015 was a trying year but insisted that the best is yet to come. “To be honest, it never pissed me off or anything, because at some point things happen to people. You never know when they’re going to happen,” he says. “I’m just getting started.”
New Giants head coach Ben McAdoo seems to agree, telling Graziano he’s seen enough of Pierre-Paul to want him back with Big Blue in 2016:
I’ve spoken to Jason a few times so far throughout the offseason, and we’ll have to see how that goes. It was obvious when Jason returned last year how disruptive he was. When you watch him, his ability to get out of the ball and lash out at the quarterback is easy to see. It’s something that comes naturally to him, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
It wasn’t like Pierre-Paul was horrible last year. Of course, the stats and the bags weren’t there, but Focus on professional football saw enough of him on the pitch to place him in the top 15 at his position.
However, according to Jordan Raanan from NJ.com, this return is expected to be on the Giants’ “one year proof of agreement” terms. As Raanan wrote, “if Pierre-Paul can get more elsewhere, he’s probably gone.”
And that will be the $ 64 question. Will an NFL team see enough of what Pierre-Paul did a year ago to offer a multi-year contract? It is a calculated risk. A bet that 2015 was the nadir of Pierre-Paul’s career, and 2016 will be the start of a climb to the top of the mountain.
Will Pierre-Paul ever return to the form he showed by terrorizing the NFL in 2011 and 2014? Maybe not. And that’s a shame for a number of reasons, including the huge amount his mistake cost him.
The thing is, he doesn’t have to. If Pierre-Paul can get anywhere near the player he was, if he can grow into a solid, two-way top 15 capable of putting in eight to 10 sacks per season while providing strong run defense, he will be worth a lot more to an NFL team than a multi-year deal would cost this spring.
And that’s the definition of a theft.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report, a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.