The Giants applied the franchise tag to Jason Pierre-Paul on Monday, which all but assures that the defensive end will be back with the team for the 2017 season. But there is still a very big variable in play. Pierre-Paul could play next season on the one-year, $17 million franchise tag or the sides could come to an agreement on a long-term deal.

The Giants and Pierre-Paul have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal or else he’ll only be able to sign a one-year contract. But there is urgency to come to an agreement sooner because free agency begins on March 9.

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Before tagging Pierre-Paul, the Giants had approximately $31.5 million in salary cap space. If the Giants can’t come to a long-term agreement that reduces Pierre-Paul’s salary cap hit in 2017 (while increasing his total guaranteed haul), their free-agent budget will be tight.

Here’s a look at how applying the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul will impact the Giants’ other offseason decisions:

*Hankins’ odds of returning decrease

The Giants decision to franchise Pierre-Paul doesn’t preclude them from re-signing defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, but it makes doing so far less likely. Re-signing both Pierre-Paul and Hankins always was going to be a challenge. By franchising Pierre-Paul at his huge cap number, the Giants signaled that they find him more irreplaceable than Hankins, a 2013 second-round pick.

Hankins reportedly could command more than $8 million annually on the open market. The Giants currently have $43 million of the estimated $168 million salary cap for 2017 tied up in Pierre-Paul, defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. It’s highly unlikely that the team will make another significant investment on the defensive line.

*Less money for offensive free agents

Unless the Giants had let Pierre-Paul walk, he was always going to be their big-ticket free-agent signing this offseason. But a long-term deal would likely carry a lower cap hit in 2017. For perspective, Vernon signed a monster contract last offseason that had an average annual salary of $17 million, but the cap hit was only $13 million in the first year of the deal.

If the Giants sign Pierre-Paul to a similar deal, they could recoup $4-6 million in cap space in 2017. Without that additional cap space, it will be much more challenging to fill the team’s offensive holes with premier free agents, such as Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

Salary cap impact

*More urgency to restructure existing deals

The Giants made a few obvious cost-cutting moves early in the offseason, releasing wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings to create $10 million in cap space. The Giants haven’t made any other moves, but with Pierre-Paul eating up a sizable chunk of their cap space, they may be forced to tighten the belt some more.

Cutting backup linebacker J.T. Thomas would save $3 million in cap space. The team also could demand Thomas take a pay cut for the second straight season. Other veterans with inflated cap numbers include cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Dwayne Harris. Those players will likely be back, but they’re in more jeopardy now than they were before Pierre-Paul was tagged.

*Less emphasis on drafting a pass rusher

If the Giants didn’t keep Pierre-Paul, replacing him would be the team’s top priority. While the Giants will likely still look to add more pass-rushing help, it’s not a necessity that they use a first-round pick on a defensive end.

Dan Duggan may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DDuggan21. Find our Giants coverage on Facebook.

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