The Giants were 2-6 on Oct. 28 when they made what surely seemed like an odd trade with the Jets for defensive tackle Leonard Williams. The Giants finished 5-11, Williams in eight games with his new team produced one-half sack (and a whole bunch of pressures).
Soon enough, the day of reckoning arrives for general manager Dave Gettleman, the instigator of the Williams deal.
Gettleman shipped a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick to the Jets for Williams, even though Williams was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. The 2021 pick is conditional — it becomes a fourth-rounder if the Giants sign Williams before the March 18 official start of NFL free agency.
If the Giants do not sign Williams, the trade is a disaster for Gettleman. If they do sign him, the financial value of the deal will determine whether Gettleman views the player differently (higher) than many others around the league.
There is a way for Gettleman to keep Williams but not commit to him. A two-week window opens Feb. 25 for teams to choose players for certain designations. The Giants can secure Williams for 2020 by placing the franchise tag on him, but that would cost a projected $16 million on the salary cap — way too much for this particular player. A transition tag would cost a projected $13 million on the cap and give the Giants the right to match any offer Williams receives in free agency but the Giants would not receive any compensation if he leaves. The franchise tag brings back two first-round picks as compensation, a price no team will pay.
Neither tag is a great option, given the salary-cap space the tags require to keep Williams on the roster. It stands to reason any multiyear contract would start at $10 million per year and more likely get into the $12 million-per-year average for a durable run-stopper who turns 26 in June.
Gettleman believes Williams is “about to enter his prime’’ and, following this past season, noted Williams “improved our rushing defense with him in there. He buzzes around the quarterback.’’
Gettleman summarized the controversial move thusly: “The juice was worth the squeeze.’’
Only if the Giants do not get priced out on Williams. In his eight games, he had 26 tackles, one forced fumble and the half sack. True, he did buzz around the quarterback, with 17 pressures and 10 quarterback hits — excellent production. But he is not a finisher, with 17.5 sacks in his 79 NFL games.
Williams sent out mixed signals as the 2019 season neared an end, stating he liked what he saw and felt around the Giants, expressing his desire to stay in the area after four years with the Jets. He also talked about testing the market, not settling for an under-value contract and his desire to win — something he has not experienced much in his five NFL seasons. If he is enticed to sign with the Giants without hitting free agency, you can be sure the Giants will have to ante up.
If Williams signs elsewhere, the Giants are entitled to a compensatory draft pick in return. Gettleman estimated it would be a third-round pick, but that formula is based on multiple factors and cannot be determined until the entire free-agent scorecard is completed.
Williams seems to fit best inside on a 4-3 defensive line, although he did display some pass-rush energy as a defensive end in the 3-4 front the Giants used in 2019. All indications are new Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham plans to use multiple defensive fronts, with Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson set to return as interior linemen. The Giants want Williams included in that group and if he is not, Gettleman will have some explaining to do.