The New York Giants made a big swing before the 2019 NFL trade deadline, sending two draft picks to the New York Jets for Leonard Williams. While the move has paid off for the Giants, Williams’ future in New York seems uncertain entering the offseason.
Since joining the Giants, Williams has made a strong impact. The former No. 6 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has been a disruptive force on the defensive line and took his game to another level in 2020. Now, after trading a 2020 third- and 2021 fifth-round pick for him, the Giants must decide whether or not they will shell out a big contract.
The Giants might have been better off signing him to an extension last offseason. He recorded just 0.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in 15 games. On the brink of entering free agency, New York placed the franchise tag on him. Discussions on a long-term extension went nowhere after that, with little progress made before the deadline passed. Once it did, Williams prepared for the upcoming season with an opportunity to put up better numbers.
That’s exactly what the 26-year-old lineman did. He finished with career-highs in quarterback hits (30), tackles for loss (14), sacks (11.5). He also received Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest grade (82.6) among interior defensive linemen against the run. Needless to say, the 26-year-old positioned himself nicely to cash in this offseason.
According to The Athletic’s Dan Duggan, Williams and the Giants aren’t close to a contract extension. There is still a significant gap between the two figures each side is looking for in a long-term deal, leaving plenty of ground to be covered in negotiations.
Williams set a high asking price last spring, seeking to become one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL. Of course, that came in a year when the league revenue kept soaring and the NFL salary cap was at $193 million. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 NFL salary cap is expected to land between $180-185 million.
The window for NFL teams to place the franchise tag their players recently opened and they have until March 9 to place the tag. While the figures for each position will be lower than expected this season, New York is in a worse position. Due to NFL rules, players tagged for the second consecutive year receive a 20% pay increase.
After paying Williams $16.12 million this past season, New York would owe him $19.3 million for the upcoming year. Meanwhile, unlike with a standard contract, every dollar of the franchise tag is fully guaranteed. For the Giants, a team with less than $10 million in cap room, that means further roster cuts.
If that happens, Williams will have even more leverage over the Giants. He’ll have earned $35 million guaranteed over two seasons, setting a bare minimum for his average annual salary ($18-plus million) on a long-term deal.