EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. >> Sending two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay for two draft picks gives the New York Giants much-needed salary cap space for 2019 and allows the Buccaneers to continue rebuilding a line that had the fewest sacks in the NFL last season.
With the unexpected trade announced today, the Giants take another step in their rebuilding under new general manager Dave Gettleman and the Bucs upgraded their defense in a bid to end a decade-long playoff drought.
The Giants will get Tampa Bay’s third-round pick (69th overall) in the draft in late April. The teams also will swap fourth-round picks, with the Bucs moving up to the 102nd pick and the Giants selecting 108th.
“Jason is an elite-level edge rusher who will make an immediate impact on our defense,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said in a story posted on the team’s website . “We are adding a two-time Pro Bowler who is passionate about the game and has established himself as one of the league’s premier defensive ends.”
Later in the day, the Giants announced they had terminated the contract of wide receiver and special teams player Dwayne Harris, who missed the final 11 games with a broken foot.
While the Pierre-Paul trade only clears up a couple of million dollars in cap space this year, the benefit for the Giants — who were 3-13 last season — will be in 2019 when it sheds roughly $18 million in cap space. That will be important with safety Landon Collins and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. both possibly looking for new contracts.
The effects will be more immediate for the Bucs, who were 5-11 last season and had 22 sacks.
Pierre-Paul, who had 8½ sacks last season and 58½ since being drafted with the 15th pick overall in 2010, joins a team that recently signed two members of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, defensive end Vinny Curry and tackle Beau Allen. Former Bears tackle Mitch Unrein also was signed.
They join returning six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on a Bucs’ line that hasn’t had a player finish with double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005.
Not only does Pierre-Paul give the Bucs a pass rusher, the 29-year-old is an every-down player who has overcome a fireworks accident in 2015 that severely damaged his right hand. He signed a $62 million contract last year.
“We appreciate everything Jason has done for the Giants,” Gettleman said. “He was a fine player for us.”
Pierre-Paul had 68 tackles, 8½ sacks and two forced fumbles last season. He has played in 111 regular-season games with 85 starts, including all 16 games in 2017. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and ‘12 and All Pro in 2011, when he had a career-high 16.5 sacks, the fourth-highest total in Giants history, and helped New York win a Super Bowl.
Pierre-Paul also forced 13 fumbles and recovered seven, including one he returned for a touchdown. He intercepted two passes, returning each for a score. He also had defended 47 passes.
The move also sends Pierre-Paul back to Florida. He attended the University of South Florida and played high school football in the state.
The Giants are moving to a 3-4 defensive alignment under new coordinator James Bettcher, although they will continue to use some 4-3 formations.
This is Gettleman’s second trade since replacing Jerry Reese. He acquired linebacker Alec Ogletree from the Los Angeles Rams for fourth and sixth-round draft choices.
The Giants will have six picks in the draft, including the second overall. They also have the second pick in the second round (No. 34), two third-rounders (Nos. 66 and 69), the Bucs’ fourth-rounder and the second pick in the fifth round (No. 139). They traded their seventh-round pick to Pittsburgh last year for cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Harris did not have a catch last season. He had played in all 16 games with one start in 2016 and was selected for the Pro Bowl as a special teamer.
In his first season with New York in 2015, he played in 15 games with six starts and had a career-high 36 receptions for 396 yards and four touchdowns. He finished third in the NFL with a 28.7-yard average on 22 kickoff returns, including a 100-yard touchdown return against Dallas. He also averaged 10 yards on 34 punt returns, including an 80-yard touchdown against the Jets.
Harris was the third player in Giants’ history with kickoff and punt return touchdowns in the same season, the first in 60 years.