There are always challenges. Figuring out how to pay Leonard Williams is one of them, to be sure, but the Giants are assigning this to the “good problem to have’’ department.
There was a semi-serious sense inside the organization of “that’s going to cost us’’ whenever Williams dropped the opposing quarterback during the 2020 season. That sense will soon turn to reality.
Production on the field leads to rewards in the bank account. The wheels are already turning, as far as getting the 26-year-old defensive tackle signed to a long-term contract extension. The Giants have been prepared for this, realizing it will be a case of “shame on us’’ if they had not already anticipated and allocated the money to secure Williams for years to come. They would like to come to an agreement so Williams is already off the open market when free agency begins in mid-March.
Williams played on the franchise tag of $16.1 million in 2020, and that figure will be eclipsed on a per-year average salary in his next deal. The Giants did not invest this much for Williams to walk away, meaning they know it will take $18 million a year, or more, to keep him. That, plus other moves, could leave the Giants without enough salary-cap space to retain one of their other starting defensive tackles, Dalvin Tomlinson, but they do have improving Dexter Lawrence entering his third NFL season as a player on the rise.
The Giants are estimated to be about $1.3 million under the cap, but that figure will increase when they start paring their roster.
If Tomlinson departs, general manager Dave Gettleman could look for a less expensive alternative. A stopgap option is Kawann Short, who came on the market Tuesday after he was released by the Panthers. Short was scheduled to count $20.8 million against the 2021 cap, and by releasing him, the Panthers saved $8.6 million on the cap.
When he was the Panthers’ general manager, Gettleman made Short a 2013 second-round draft pick, and in April 2017 he gave him a five-year contract worth $80 million. So, Gettleman has been an advocate for this player.
Short, 32, has always been a solid run-stuffer, plus he has 32.5 career sacks. Short, however, does not fit the mold the Giants are looking for — young and healthy — insofar as he played in a total of just five games the past two seasons while battling shoulder injuries. Perhaps a one-year or two-year deal for modest money is the only sensible option.
But Williams is the priority. The Giants understand a player going from one-half sack in 2019 to 11.5 sacks in 2020 is going to be evaluated differently after greatly enhancing his worth to their defense, or anyone else’s defense. That delighted the Giants, but did not shock them. After all, Gettleman traded two draft picks to the Jets for a player known more for his near-misses than his direct hits as a pass rusher.
In 2019, splitting time between the Jets and Giants, Williams had 28 hurries, 19 quarterback hits and 48 total pressures in 732 total snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2020, those numbers were 31 hurries, 18 quarterback hits and 62 total pressures in 803 total snaps. The huge swing in sacks was the only huge swing for Williams, justifying the Giants’ faith in his talent and their ability to take those talents to the next level.
By the first week of March, the Giants should know where the NFL has set the salary-cap number for the 2021 season. Based on COVID-19 revenue losses, it could drop by as much as $20 million from the 2020 figure of $198.2 million. That drop might not hurt Williams, but it will definitely have a trickle-down effect on players in the middle and lower tiers of free agency.
Head coach Joe Judge is making alterations to his staff. Freddie Kitchens is moving from tight ends coach to senior offensive assistant, and Derek Dooley is going from senior offensive assistant to tight ends coach. New hirings are: Rob Sale (Louisiana-Lafayette) as offensive line coach and Jeremy Pruitt (former Tennessee head coach) as senior defensive assistant.