Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul met with the Giants on Monday for the first time all year, and let team doctors examine his injured hand for the first time since losing his index finger in a fireworks accident. But the timing of his return, so close to the start of the season, was no accident: Pierre-Paul was just waiting for a certain deadline to pass to prevent the Giants from withholding six game checks.
Pierre-Paul has a $14.8 million franchise tender on the table, and all summer long, since his injury, his camp has been insisting that everyone would be surprised at how good his health is, that he’d be ready to go “early in the season”—perhaps even by Week 1. The Giants, after examining JPP’s hand at a Manhattan hospital, did not like what they saw. Pierre-Paul will fly home to Florida without a contract.
As of Saturday, Sept. 5, when rosters were finalized and the NFL’s injury-list rules changed, there were only three options for JPP and the Giants. The first was New York signing him whether he’s ready to play or not, and paying him his full salary even if he misses a few games to start the year. The Giants wouldn’t go for that. The second was signing him and putting him on the Non-Football Injury List, which would force him to sit out all season without pay. Pierre-Paul wouldn’t go for that. The third is exactly what happened: without a contract, JPP will work out on his own, away from the team, until the Giants believe he’s ready to play. They’ll then sign him to a pro-rated franchise tender that pays him only for the games he does play.
Until a few days ago there was a fourth option, one Pierre-Paul believed (with good reason) the Giants would have tried to exercise. They could have signed JPP and placed him on the preseason Non-Football Injury List, which until Saturday would have required him to miss just six games—not the whole season—again without pay.
The Giants would have loved that: they would clear JPP’s roster spot, avoid having to pay him for games missed, and get him back for Week 7, when he’ll likely be back to 100 percent. But Pierre-Paul, who believes he’ll be 100 percent before then (even if he’s not quite there now), didn’t want to give the Giants that option. That’s why he wouldn’t allow team staff to visit him in the hospital after his injury and his surgery, and why he stayed away from camp until after Saturday’s deadline had passed.
It’s a gamble for Pierre-Paul, but a wise one if he’s ready to play sooner than six weeks. The Giants, desperate for his pass-rush abilities in a depleted defense, will give him a prorated contract. With each game check being worth nearly $930,000, the difference between six and, say, four missed and unpaid games is a big deal.