Xavier McKinney is heading into free agency off the best season of his career, one in which he played every defensive snap for the Giants, finished second on the team in tackles (a career-best 116) and led in interceptions with three.
And, he’s said, he doesn’t think he’s “scratched the surface of who I am as a player.”
Sounds like a terrific entry point into the open market for McKinney, who also has youth on his side – he’s only 24. But what does it all mean for the safety’s potential future in blue? The Giants, obviously, need to keep talent on their roster. But at what cost, especially when they have so many other roster holes to address?
Let’s take a look at whether the Giants should re-sign one of their best players or let him go.
Why McKinney should return
McKinney has made it clear that he believes he’s the most complete safety available and he’s got an argument. He also could be right in his self-assessment that he might get even better.
His first three seasons in the league were solid after the Giants took him in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. But he missed time with injury in two of them. In 2023, he was clearly ascending as a player, so much so that Pro Football Focus put him on their All-Breakout Team.
McKinney receives raves for being a complete safety, an excellent, sure tackler who also excels in coverage. He had career-bests in passes defended (11) and fumble recoveries (two) and he and Bobby Okereke were the only two Giants to be on the field for every defensive play. And McKinney’s ability to make big plays was evident in the Giants’ season-ending victory over the Eagles, when he had two picks and three passes defended, along with six tackles.
Of course, he has to prove he can be consistently productive at a similar level and consistently healthy. But his age works in his favor. McKinney does not turn 25 until August, making him younger than the other top safeties in free agency. McKinney is ranked fourth by PFF among available safeties, behind Antoine Winfield Jr. (25 years old), Kyle Dugger (28 in March) and Kamren Curl (25 in March).
Why McKinney shouldn’t be back
Really, price should be the only barrier to McKinney returning. He’s talented and young, just what the Giants need. Still, they have so many things on their to-do list this offseason from continuing the Sisyphean task of rebuilding their porous offensive line to bolstering the pass rush to figuring out whether to retain Saquon Barkley and beyond.
Coming off the season he had, and at this point in his career, it would be hard to blame McKinney if he wanted to cash in. The market will let him know exactly how much he’s worth, but here’s a quick look at what the top safeties make.
The highest-paid safety in football, right now, is Derwin James of the Chargers, who makes $19 million per year in a four-year, $76 million deal. Second on that list is Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Steelers at $18.24 million per year on his four-year, $72.98 million contract. The top six safeties each make at least $15.25 million, according to overthecap.com.
The Giants could use the franchise tag on McKinney, which for safeties is estimated to be more than $16 million.
Whatever happens, the money and how it impacts all the other roster work Big Blue must do is the determining factor of McKinney’s future with the Giants. Anything else should just be noise, including when McKinney ruffled blue feathers last season, saying after a blowout loss that he felt leaders among the players were not being heard by the coaching staff. Wink Martindale, then the defensive coordinator, said he was hurt and everyone said they smoothed it all over. And Martindale is gone now.
The Giants need to devote their resources to many different areas this winter and an expensive safety, no matter how good he is, probably isn’t atop the list. They’ll have a new defensive coordinator at some point and they’ve got Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton, both promising, at safety. Pinnock was fourth on the team with 85 tackles and also intercepted two passes, including a pick-six.
Letting McKinney go will sting – he’s that good. But if he gets too pricey, that’s exactly what will happen. This Giant regime has already let a top safety depart in free agency – Julian Love left after 2022 to sign with Seattle and he made the Pro Bowl in his first year there.