Giants Looked Into DL Christian Wilkins

While a number of teams undoubtedly gave consideration to pursuing Christian Wilkins in free agency, the Giants having their inner workings subject to the masses in HBO’s maiden Hard Knocks offseason voyage illuminates their interest in bolstering the pass rush.

New York’s effort ended up producing Brian Burns via trade, but the team considered a Wilkins run. Third-year GM Joe Schoen‘s close ties to ex-Panthers and Bills coworker Dan Morgan, now Carolina’s GM, played a key role in the teams completing the Burns trade. Had the Panthers gone with an outside hire at GM rather than a longtime Schoen friend, a Giants pursuit of Wilkins may have been necessary.

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Schoen and assistant GM Brandon Brown discussed Wilkins at the Combine, with the former loosely applying a $22MM-per-year price tag on the five-year Dolphins defender. Brown gave a positive review of Wilkins to Schoen, though the Giants joined the Dolphins in having questions about the 2019 first-rounder’s pass-rushing impact.

After Giants pro scouting director Chris Rossetti referred to Wilkins as Dexter Lawrence‘s best friend, Schoen confirmed the All-Pro Giants D-tackle asked him if the front office was considering a run at the former Clemson standout. Rossetti referred to Wilkins as a “really good football player who will do well for himself” but called the eventual Raider a non-difference-making presence on third down.

The Dolphins stopped short of an extension offer in the Lawrence-Quinnen WilliamsJeffery Simmons range ($22-$24MM per year) due to Wilkins’ limited pass-rushing impact through four seasons. Last year, however, the 28-year-old defender launched a well-timed breakthrough by totaling nine sacks and 23 QB hits. He had previously never surpassed 4.5 sacks or 13 QB hits in a season. Teams certainly took notice, with the Dolphins’ cap situation making a franchise tag untenable. Though, Miami made a last-ditch attempt to keep Wilkins off the market.

Indicating a third-down presence alongside Lawrence was an offseason goal, Rossetti provided a sign the Giants would pass on a true Wilkins pursuit. Though, it is notable Schoen and Brown were still discussing the five-year starter at the Combine. Schoen’s early prediction on Wilkins’ AAV turned out to undersell where his market went, with the Raiders needing to give the top-flight run defender/emerging pass rusher a $27.5MM-per-year accord. Wilkins committed to the Raiders hours before the Giants traded for Burns.

Chris Jones, whom Rossetti understandably held in higher regard, did not reach free agency. The likely Hall of Famer re-signed with the Chiefs — on a market-resetting contract that included a $95MM practical guarantee — two days before the legal tampering period. With Jones out of the mix, Wilkins’ price assuredly rose due to becoming the top FA DT available.

PFR’s No. 4 overall free agent, Wilkins scored an $82.75MM guarantee from the Raiders. Wilkins’ guarantee at signing ($57.5MM) came in just south of Jones’ $60MM number. Both DTs smashed the previous guarantee highs at the position, capitalizing on the offseason cap spike and the Chiefs and Dolphins not unholstering the franchise tag.

The Texans and Vikings were also linked to Wilkins; Houston held more cap room than New York, and Minnesota employed ex-Miami HC Brian Flores as its DC. Had the Falcons not signed Kirk Cousins, they would have pursued Wilkins as well.

Schoen floated out a Burns AAV between $28-$29MM at the Combine; that proved to be telling, as the Giants ended up giving the franchise-tagged Panther a $28.2MM-per-year extension. As for Big Blue’s DT post alongside Wilkins, lower-cost cogs — as the big money went to Burns — will be asked to contribute. While the Giants have a formidable trio (Lawrence, Burns, Kayvon Thibodeaux) anchoring their pass rush, the likes of Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jordan Phillips, D.J. Davidson and Ryder Anderson will vie for time next to Lawrence on the D-line.

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