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Counting down the Top 5 Giants under the most pressure this season: No. 4 Leonard Williams

Ralph Vacchiano | Facebook | Twitter | Archive

The heat will be on the entire Giants franchise when they begin their quest to make the playoffs for only the second time since they won Super Bowl XLVI following the 2011 season, but a few of them will feel it a little more than the others. SNY made a list of the five Giants who’ll be under the most pressure this season.

No. 5 was tight end Evan Engram. The countdown continues with No. 4 … 

Defensive end Leonard Williams 

Pressure is nothing new to Leonard Williams. It’s also his biggest issue. His supporters talk about all the pressure he puts on quarterbacks in his role as a pass-rusher. His detractors point out that the pressure rarely leads to sacks.

Now the Giants are squarely in the camp of his supporters, after trading a third- and a fifth-round pick to the Jets to acquire him back in October in what was easily the most controversial move of Giants GM Dave Gettleman’s tenure so far. And then Gettleman backed up his faith in Williams with the Giants’ checkbook, giving Williams the “franchise tag,” which guarantees him $16.1 million this season.

Many believe that the cost of two draft picks and all that cash was way too much for the sixth overall pick of the 2015 draft, considering he has just 7 ½ sacks over the last three seasons – including only a half sack last year.

The heat is definitely on the 26-year-old Williams to prove them wrong.

And while whatever pressure he can create is nice, as is his ability as a run-stopper, he needs those sacks to finally come, because that’s about the only thing that will prove that the Giants were right and he was deserving of all that money. Players and coaches often like to say that sacks are overrated, but when it comes to free agency and new contracts, sacks are what usually get pass rushers paid.

That’s important because the Giants tried to sign Williams to a long-term contract this offseason before settling on the expensive franchise tag instead, and they are expected to try again. While it likely won’t happen before the July 15 deadline to extend the contracts of franchise players, their hope is to revisit it in the offseason (assuming Gettleman is still the Giants GM).

So if Williams wants to be paid like a premiere pass rusher, if he wants $100 million from the Giants or anyone else, he’s going to need double-digit sacks – a number he hasn’t even approached, except for when he had seven in 2016, his second NFL season. He can’t rely on “hidden production” or any other measure of value. The sacks are going to have to come.

If they don’t, he can probably expect a thin market next offseason – a market which may be quiet anyway if NFL revenues drop as much as expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and he likely won’t be able to bank on Gettleman bailing him out. Gettleman already doubled down on his trade by using the franchise tag on Williams. If Williams doesn’t live up to his salary, the Giants won’t let Gettleman double down again.

Of course, if Williams doesn’t justify the Giants’ faith in him this season, Gettleman may not even be around to make that decision next year.

Video: Looking at the first 4 games for the Jets and Giants

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