Richie James could make Darius Slayton a Giants salary cap cut

He stands out like the aberrations used to. What the hell happened to Richie James the night of Nov. 5, 2020, when the nondescript third-year 49ers receiver busted for nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Packers?

Prior to that, James had just 15 career NFL receptions.

“It’s not something that just happened, that popped up out of nowhere,” James said after a recent practice at Giants training camp. “I look at this game as something that I’ve shown I can do. I can get 100 something a game if you throw the ball at me that many times.”

James was targeted 13 times by backup quarterback Nick Mullens during his breakthrough – pressed to play with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk all out of action.

It turned out that this performance was not an escape at all. James caught just 14 extra assists the rest of this season and then missed all of 2021 after knee surgery. His time in the Bay Area was over, and in late March he signed a one-year contract with the Giants, one of new general manager Joe Schoen’s first steps.

Richie James
Corey Sipkins

At the very least, James is in the mix as a kickoff and punt returner. This could change it in the short term. James, in the spring and so far this summer, has been one of the most productive receivers in camp – his 5-foot-9, 185-pound body rushing in and out, wearing jersey number No. 80 that Victor Cruz donned to create so many of the film’s defining moments. One should expect roster turnover to be complete in the first year for Schoen and head coach Brian Daboll. The new has arrived and James is new.

And confident.

“I think I’m a weapon anywhere,” he said. “It’s just how I feel. Give me the ball in my hands and I’ll show you what I can do. Whether it be [yards after catch] or catch the ball or put the ball back, I feel like I can do anything.

James did it all at Middle Tennessee State, where in his first two seasons he caught 212 passes for 2,959 yards and 20 touchdowns. He never got a foothold on offense with the 49ers, though, but established himself as a threat with the ball in his hands, as he averaged 18.1 yards on 38 career receptions. He also had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as a rookie and an 81-yard return in 2019.

Is there a place for him with the Giants? The top three receiver spots are set with Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney and rookie Wan’Dale Robinson getting nearly all of the first-team reps. Veteran Sterling Shepard, who just underwent surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, is expected to start the season on the physically unable to perform list. There’s competition from returnees CJ Board, Collin Johnson, David Sills and newcomer Robert Foster. It could come down to whether Daboll and his team prefer James, 26, or Darius Slayton, 24, who is entering his fourth season and set to play the final year of his contract.

Darius Slayton makes a take.
robert sabo

From a financial standpoint, the new front office regime will have to see more from Slayton to justify his nearly $2.6 million salary cap reached for 2022. James is coming in at $1 million against the cap. For a team that has less than $5 million under the cap, saving over $1.5 million by choosing James over Slayton is no small feat.

Slayton this summer made plays but was inconsistent, a trait that developed after his stellar rookie year. James was the most impressive receiver going into camp.

Full details of the 2022 NFL schedule:

“Definitely had a few drops in there, I had times I didn’t like but I had times I liked,” Slayton said. “As a receiver, you can’t dwell on bad because bad is going to happen to all of us at some point. You must try to move past them in your mind and create the next one. ”

James, working with the second-team offense during Friday night’s blue-white scrimmage at MetLife Stadium, showed his speed by carrying a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor. Slayton worked with Davis Webb and the third team.

The way James moves on the pitch, he has athletic traits similar to Toney and Robinson. Coming from the running-focused 49ers, James said he thinks there’s more freedom and opportunity with Daboll’s offense. He has special teams value as a returner, and if he proves he can fill a need on offense, James will have a role and a job.

“I can do anything,” James said. “That’s how I see it. I let everyone try to box me but I don’t box myself. Choose your poison, really.”

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