In the end, New York Giants left tackle Nate Solder made the easy decision. He chose his family over football. Solder opted out of the 2020 NFL season because of health concerns for himself and his family, most notably his young son who is battling cancer. It's a decision that should not be questioned.
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman told Solder it is all about faith, family and football.
"He is doing what's best for his family," Gettleman said.
And it's a reality the Giants knew was a possibility, so they had time to plan.
The Giants will move forward without the player they signed two offseasons ago to be their answer at left tackle. They get a financial windfall, but their offensive line takes a hit, no matter what you think of Solder after two uneven seasons. This is still a player who was the starting left tackle for two Super Bowl winners.
The loss of the team's left tackle creates a ripple effect.
Who steps in?
Fortunately for the Giants, they spent this offseason investing heavily in the offensive tackle position for the present and future. It turns out the future is now.
They spent their top two draft picks on tackles -- Georgia's Andrew Thomas at No. 4 overall and UConn's Matt Peart in the third round -- and signed veteran swing tackle Cameron Fleming in free agency.
Prior to Solder's decision to opt out, it was "50-50," according to a source, about whether Thomas or Solder would be the starting left tackle. It's the position the Giants drafted Thomas to play, but there was going to be an open competition this summer, which might have ended with Thomas starting at right tackle as a rookie. Solder's departure makes it seem inevitable that Thomas will play left tackle, his college position the past two years.
As for the right side, let the competition begin. Fleming might be the early front-runner, but Peart, Eric Smith and Chad Slade will all get their chances. Nick Gates, who started two games at right tackle last season, should also get a crack at it while simultaneously competing to be the starting center.
Remember, it was only a few months and zero practices ago when Gettleman lauded Gates when asked about the Giants' options at the tackle position.
"We have faith in Nick Gates, the kid we signed two years ago, a free agent we signed out of Nebraska," Gettleman said. "He missed his rookie year on IR, but last year he made a lot of progress. We are excited about him."
The Giants left themselves with plenty of options to replace Solder.
How much money do the Giants save?
This is somewhat complicated. Solder was to count $19.5 million against the salary cap this season. He was to make $13 million, of which he already earned $3.1 million ($3 million roster bonus plus a $100,000 workout bonus).
It's likely he will be classified as a "high-risk" opt out, making him eligible for a $350,000 stipend that will not be considered a salary advance. A source with knowledge of the salary cap confirmed to ESPN that this would leave the Giants with a cap savings of $16.05 million.
That's a substantial chunk. Solder would have had the highest cap hit of any Giants player. His contract now tolls (carries over) and expires in 2022 instead of 2021. His base salary and signing bonus prorations were pushed back a year, or shifted, according to a league memo this week. The memo does say that some of these rules are "subject to final agreement between the parties." So some of the details could change.
What's Solder's future?
Barring a stunning uptick in his performance this year in his age 32 season, the likelihood was that this would have been Solder's last season with the Giants. He would have had one season left on the massive four-year deal he signed in the 2018 offseason that made him (at the time) the NFL's highest-paid offensive tackle.
"Thought they overpaid for him when they got him," an executive with an NFC team said recently.
Because his contract carries over into 2022, the financial penalty to release him next year will be the same as it would have been this year. Cutting him next year will come with a $13 million dead money penalty, so the cap savings for letting him go would be only $3.4 million.
Bottom line, the opt out might have actually bought Solder another year in blue.
Will the Giants add a big name with the newfound money?
There are still some quality players such as pass-rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen and cornerback Logan Ryan on the market. The extra $16.05 million provides the Giants the flexibility to sign a top-end player.
However, it's doubtful they make a major signing such as going after Clowney. This isn't a team in win-now mode and looking for that final piece to the puzzle. The Giants, as evidenced by their maneuvering in free agency (they weren't big spenders despite being flush with cap space), are a team with an eye on the present and future.
They are more likely to carry over the salary-cap space from this year into next, especially considering the uncertainty of next year's cap given the league's inevitable lost revenue from a season marred by the coronavirus pandemic. So don't count on Clowney.