There was a time when the Giants didn't value defensive tackles nearly as much as they do defensive ends. They wanted a rotation of outside pass rushers and they were willing to spend money and picks to get it. Inside, they were content with a bunch of big bodies clogging up the running lanes - preferably players they developed themselves.
Of course, that hasn't been the same since Jerry Reese took over as general manager. He once made a big offer to Albert Haynesworth in 2009 and he pondered a big-money run at Ndamukong Suh in 2015. Five times in his 10 drafts he's taken a defensive tackle in the first three rounds. And last March he gave Damon Harrison a five-year, $46.25 million contract with $24 million guaranteed.
So defensive tackles are important, and Reese is willing to pay for them.
But, with Harrison already aboard, is he willing to pay for two?
That's the big question he has to answer with Johnathan Hankins - a former second-round pick (2013) - scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
The 24-year-old Hankins, entering his fifth NFL season, is one of the best free agent DTs on the market. And while he likely won't get Harrison money, he might come close, which presents an interesting dilemma for the Giants. They like him, and ideally they'd like both he and Jason Pierre-Paul to return. But they already have $131 million in contracts tied up in Harrison and Olivier Vernon alone, and the two of them will cost $26.6 million against the salary cap in 2017.
They are already planning to be aggressive on JPP, who might just command a Vernon-like deal. So how much more can they afford?
The 6-2, 320-pound Hankins had three sacks and 43 tackles last season in his first full season after tearing a pectoral muscle midway through 2015. He was a key part of the Giants' dominant run defense, but what's tantalizing about him is his pass-rushing potential. Though he had taken a step back in 2015 even before his injury, he had seven sacks in his first full season as a starter in 2014.
The Giants would like to keep their strong and improving defense together, but cost will be an issue. They likely won't consider franchising Hankins at a cost of somewhere between $14-15 million, but he almost surely will get a deal on the open market worth around $8 million per year.
This would be an easier decision, of course, if the Giants had drafted better in recent years. In 2014 they were able to let Linval Joseph go when he signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings because Hankins was waiting in the wings. Now, Hankins' replacement would be Jay Bromley, a third-round pick out of Syracuse in 2014 who hasn't quite developed as well as the Giants hoped.
Of course, the presence of Harrison could make Hankins expendable. The defensive line wouldn't be the same, but perhaps an adequate - and cheaper - replacement could be found elsewhere. It's a bit of a risk, but that would allow the Giants to allocate their cap space to other positions - like at receiver, tight end, or perhaps along the offensive line.
Chances are the Giants will at least make an attempt to sign Hankins between now and the start of free agency on March 9, but his future may be tied to just how expensive Pierre-Paul becomes. And like JPP, if Hankins hits the open market - where teams are overloaded with cap space as the salary cap keeps going up - it might be too late. By then he could be gone.
But the good news is the Giants are likely to have about $35 million in cap space to spend and the markets for their positions of need - tight end, receiver, offensive line - aren't great. The best place for the Giants to spend their money might end up being on their own players.
And they could do a lot worse than spending to keep this defense intact.