December 13th, 2021 at 1:00pm CST by Zachary Links
Giants defensive end Leonard Williams suffered an elbow injury on Sunday (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). Williams is still having tests done, but he’ll miss multiple games at the very least.
The Giants are 4-9 on the year, so they have little reason to rush their high-priced edge rusher back to the field. Williams remains under contract through 2023 on the three-year, $63MM pact he signed back in March. That contract will see his cap number jump from its current $9.4MM to $27.3MM next year.
In one of the more interesting moves of the offseason, the Giants gave Williams a second franchise tag prior to reaching that big-money extension. He had certainly earned himself the longer-term investment and raise: in 16 games in 2020, he broke out with 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
The 27-year old was enjoying another productive season with the Giants, registering 62 tackles and 5.5 sacks along with one forced fumble. He had started all 13 games this year, but according to Rapoport, “there is a chance he doesn’t return [in 2021]”.
Some assorted contract details from around the NFL:
RB Aaron Jones, Packers: Four years, $48MM, including $20MM over first two years. $7MM roster bonus in 2023. Owed $16MM in 2023 and $12MM in 2024. Via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter.
LB Leonard Floyd, Rams: Four years, $64MM, including $32.5MM guaranteed. $14MM signing bonus. Salaries: $2MM (2021, fully guaranteed), $16.5MM (2022, fully guaranteed), $15.5MM (2023), $16MM (2024). Via Pelissero on Twitter.
DE Leonard Williams, Giants: Three years, $63MM, including $45MM. $22.5MM signing bonus. Salaries: $3.5MM (2021, fully guaranteed), $19MM (2022, fully guaranteed), $18MM (2023). Cap charges: $11MM (2021), $26.5MM (2022), $25.5MM (2023). Via Manish Mehta on Twitter.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Washington: One year, $10MM, including $6MM guaranteed. Max value of $12MM. $6MM signing bonus. $3MM base salary, $1MM per-game roster bonuses. Up to $2MM in incentives. Via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post on Twitter.
QB Jacoby Brissett, Dolphins: One year, $5MM, including $2.5MM guaranteed. $2.5MM signing bonus, up to $2.5MM in incentives. Via Pelissero on Twitter.
QB Andy Dalton, Bears: One year, $10MM. $7MM signing bonus, $3MM base salary, up to $3MM in incentives. Via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle on Twitter.
LB Carl Lawson, Jets: Three years, $45MM, including $30MM guaranteed. $1MM signing bonus. Salaries: $6.2MM (2021, plus $7.8MM roster bonus), $15MM (2022), $15MM (2023). Cap charges: $14.3MM (2021), $15.3MM (2022), $15.3MM (2023). Up to $800K in sack incentives each year. Via Mehta on Twitter.
The Giants will free up some cap space and lock down one of their top players. Given the franchise tag for the second straight year, Leonard Williams reached an agreement on an extension Tuesday.
Williams will sign a three-year, $63MM accord to stay with the Giants, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. While Dalvin Tomlinson departed for Minnesota, the Giants will retain their top defensive line playmaker. Williams did incredibly well on this $21MM-per-year deal; $45MM of the pact is fully guaranteed, per Rapoport.
GM Dave Gettleman confused most by acquiring Williams at the 2019 trade deadline, and the former Jets first-round pick did not impress in his first half-season as a Giant. After a sackless first eight games, however, Williams broke through after being tagged last year. The former top-10 draftee produced his best season, registering 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits.
This deal both locks Williams into a price he was not especially close to as a Jet and will allow him a chance to approach free agency again while in his prime. The Giants and Williams were not close on a deal last year, and he played the season at the $16.1MM defensive tackle tag price. Going into last year’s franchise tag deadline, the Giants were not ready to give Williams an extension that averaged what that tag paid. A year later, the 26-year-old defender acquired tremendous leverage and used it to cash in.
Although the Giants did a few Eli Manning deals and constructed Odell Beckham Jr.‘s current contract, Joel Corry of CBS Sports notes this is the most fully guaranteed money they have handed out (Twitter link). Tuesday’s agreement will vault Williams onto the top tier of D-line contracts. After his breakthrough Giants contract year, the USC alum matches DeForest Buckner as the second-highest-paid interior defender. Only Aaron Donald ($22.5MM AAV) comes in above Williams now. And Williams’ $45MM full guarantee surpasses Buckner’s mark.
The Giants entered the tampering period with Williams tethered to a $19.4MM tag, so this should free up some much-needed cap space for the team to pursue free agents. Despite losing Tomlinson, the Giants have a talented defensive line core still in place. Both Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill remain on their rookie deals, with Austin Johnson agreeing to return on a low-cost accord Monday.
There hasn’t been much progress between the Giants and Leonard Williams yet, according to Dan Duggan of The Athletic (on Twitter). Ideally, the Giants would like to hammer out a deal before the start of the tampering period on Monday.
A new deal for Williams could reduce his 2021 cap hit, giving the Giants some sorely needed flexibility with the reduced cap. As it stands, Williams is set to earn $19.35MM in 2021, a 20% pay raise over last year’s franchise tag.
Last year’s tag raised a lot of eyebrows; Williams responded by dropping jaws. In 2020, he posted a career-high 11.5 sacks, plus 14 total tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits. Now, Williams is looking for a long-term deal to match his performance. That’ll likely cost around ~$20MM per annum.
The Giants have until mid-July to work out a long-term deal with Williams, but they have an increased sense of urgency with free agency on the horizon. The Giants want to go shopping for help at wide receiver, edge rusher, and other key positions, but they don’t want to do it on a shoestring budget. In turn, Williams’ camp has been happy to slow-play negotiations.
The extra room would also help the Giants to retain their own free agents, including fellow defensive linemanDalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 25-ranked interior defender in 2020. Now, he’s in line for multi-year deal worth $8MM-$10MM per season.
The NFL salary cap has been set at $182.5MM, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). This marks a sizable (though expected) drop from last year’s $198.2MM limit.
Teams will not be allowed to borrow cap room from future years, per the CBA, so teams are basically stuck with the hard cap and difficult choices ahead. However, teams do have other ways to navigate the cap, including rollover from 2020, post-June 1 cuts, and contract restructuring.
With the new salary cap, the league has also determined the values of this year’s franchise tag tenders (Twitter link):
Running Back $8.655MM
Tight End $9.601MM
Offensive Lineman $13.754MM
Defensive End $16.069MM
Defensive Tackle $13.888M
Here’s the full rundown of this year’s franchise tags, including players on repeat tags who receive a 20% increase:
The Giants are expected to assign the franchise tag to Leonard Williams (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). This marks the second straight tag for the defensive lineman, though the two sides intend to continue discussions on a multi-year deal.
Per the collective bargaining agreement, Williams will earn a 20% raise on his 2020 tag. Last year, his tag was worth just over $16MM. This year, the tender would amount to $19.351MM.
The Giants’ decision to tag Williams was widely panned last year. Williams responded with a career-high 11.5 sacks, vindicating GM Dave Gettleman in the process. No one knew what to expect from Williams, but after setting a new watermark for sacks plus 14 total tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits, he would have profiled as one of the most prized players in free agency.
Williams is said to be seeking a ~$20MM/year deal. That’s the figure he wanted last year and, this time around, it sounds like he’ll get what he wants. For his career, the Jets’ former No. 6 overall pick has 48 tackles for loss and 131 quarterback hits across six seasons. He also has 29 career sacks. Much to the Jets’ chagrin, he’s logged more than 30% of those for the Meadowlands’ other tenant.
Unless the NFL moves the franchise tag deadline back, the Giants have less than 24 hours to use their tag on Leonard Williams. Multiple issues could stand in the way of that taking place. While the Giants would be taking a risk if they do not tag the standout interior defender, they have less than $10MM in cap space. The Giants want to keep Williams around long-term, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post writes, but they will have a tough time tagging him at $19.4MM. A counterargument would be that the Giants should tag Williams as a precaution, rather than risk losing him next week, and worry about cap issues between Tuesday and the March 17 start of the new league year. The sides were not believed to be close to a long-term deal last year. If the Giants pass on a tag, they will be entering a crucial stretch ahead of the March 15 legal tampering period. They also have defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson as a UFA-to-be.
However, the other part of this equation could cause the Giants to pay even more for a Williams tag. His grievance to be tagged as a defensive end is unresolved, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Should Williams win that grievance, his 2020 salary will balloon from $16.1MM (last year’s defensive tackle tag rate) to $17.8MM. That would bump his 2021 tag price to $21.4MM. Williams played more snaps as an inside defender in 2019, which would point to “defensive tackle” being the correct label for tag purposes. With the Giants up against the cap, this is not an insignificant difference.
Here is the latest from the Big Apple and western New York:
The Giants did do a little work on their cap situation Monday. They restructured tight end Levine Toilolo‘s contract, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The blocking tight end was set to earn $2.95MM next season. He will be back at a lower rate, with Schwartz estimating the Giants will save more than $1MM by making this move.
Recently dismissed from his post as Lions VP of player personnel, Kyle O’Brien will join the Giants’ front office. The Giants are adding O’Brien as a senior personnel executive, the team announced. O’Brien spent the past few years in Detroit under Bob Quinn, but the bulk of his experience came in New England.
This won’t come as a big shock, but the Giants want to re-sign defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, as Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv writes. New York, however, has virtually no cap room at the moment, so GM Dave Gettleman will have his work cut out for him in trying to bring back Tomlinson and fellow D-lineman Leonard Williams.
It won’t be overly difficult to clear between $20MM-$30MM of cap space with a few obvious releases and restructures, but it’s not as though Tomlinson and Williams are Big Blue’s only priorities. The team still has major holes at wide receiver, O-line, and cornerback, so it remains to be seen if Gettleman will be able to keep his defensive front intact.
Tomlinson, Pro Football Focus’ 25th-best interior defender out of 126 qualified players in 2020, could pull down a multi-year pact worth $8MM-$10MM per season. But Vacchiano suggests that he might also be one of those players whose earning power will be weakened as a result of the reduced salary cap, so the 2017 second-rounder may opt for a one-year pact with an eye towards a return trip to free agency in 2022, when the cap may increase dramatically.
Of course, a one-year deal means that the Giants would not be able to spread out any of Tomlinson’s cap charges. So while Vacchiano believes that such an arrangement could represent New York’s best chance to bring Tomlinson back, that might only be true if his market does not bear much fruit.
Williams, meanwhile, is still shooting for the $20MM/year contract he has been seeking for some time, and given his 2020 breakout, there’s a good chance he’ll get it. He was finally able to start converting QB hits into sacks last season, finishing the year with 11.5 sacks and grading out as PFF’s 15th-best interior defender. His abilities to get to the quarterback and to stop the run make him a complete player, and even though there is some concern that he could regress to the level of solid-but-not-great play he displayed with the Jets, he is not likely to get anything less than an $18MM AAV with up to $60MM in guarantees.
Vacchiano confirms a report from last March that the Giants were unwilling to offer a long-term deal to Williams that averaged his 2020 franchise tag value of $16.1MM. At the time, that made perfect sense from New York’s perspective, but Williams was unwilling to go that low, so he chose to bet on himself (and won). This year, a franchise or transition tag for either Williams or Tomlinson would seem to be cost-prohibitive, though Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) says the $19.3MM franchise tag for Williams should not be ruled out (which makes sense if Williams is looking at a $20MM/year long-term deal).
Paul Schwartz of the New York Post unsurprisingly says Williams must be retained, but like Vacchiano, he concedes that keeping Tomlinson could be a little tougher. And assuming Williams is brought back, the club will certainly not be able to be as active in free agency as it was last year, even though the Giants do not have any other free agents of their own that qualify as major priorities. As such, New York may need to make savvy, under-the-radar signings to boost its O-line, especially at right tackle. Last year’s 16-game RT starter, Cameron Fleming, will not be re-signed as a starter, Schwartz writes.
The Giants’ trade for Leonard Williams at the 2019 deadline raised plenty of eyebrows at the time, given New York’s status as a non-contender and Williams’ status as a pending free agent. The team applied the franchise tag on Williams in the offseason, and though player and team were unable to agree to a long-term pact, the former first-round pick is having a breakout year and is a big reason why the Giants are sitting in first place in the NFC East.
The knock on Williams throughout his early career with the Jets is that he was unable to consistently convert his high number of quarterback hits into sacks. That has changed this season, as the USC product has already amassed a career-high 8.5 sacks through 12 games, and Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics consider him the 17th-best interior defender in the league out of 125 qualified players. In addition to his pass-rushing acumen, he continues to excel against the run.
Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.tv believes Williams and the Giants will ultimately come to terms on a lucrative multi-year contract at season’s end, but as always, money will be the determining factor. Because he is not an edge rusher, Williams is unlikely to hit the $25MM+ AAV that players like Joey Bosa enjoy, and several agents think DeForest Buckner‘s four-year, $84MM pact ($56MM guaranteed) is a reasonable benchmark.
Williams does not have Buckner’s track record, so GMs may be hesitant to pony up that kind of guaranteed cash unless they are confident 2020 is not a peak but is instead a harbinger of things to come. Plus, the market may be depressed in general as a result of the pandemic and the potential for a dramatically reduced salary cap, and a number of talented pass rushers may find themselves looking for a new home in 2021, which would help keep Williams’ price down and increase his chances of staying put.
He has not shown any indication that he wants to leave, and since his potential has finally been unlocked with Big Blue, it makes sense that both sides would want to continue their relationship for the foreseeable future. As one agent said, “A deal with the Giants makes too much sense. They’re not going to be able to get a player like him on the market, and he might not be able to get the money he wants on the market. The Giants can afford to give him $20-22 million per year, maybe with an out in the deal so he gets another shot at free agency in a few years when the cap is back to normal.”
One member of the Cowboys’ D-end contingent may not have a chance to supplement Lawrence. The Cowboys have continued to hope for the NFL to reinstate Randy Gregory, but as of Monday, Hill adds that the team has largely given up on this notion. The NFL banned Gregory indefinitely for substance abuse, and although the new CBA’s suspension structure is focused more on PEDs, the former second-round pick was suspended four times under the previous CBA’s discipline structure. Despite being drafted in 2015, Gregory has played 28 career games.
Returning to the Clowney news cycle, the free agent edge rusher wants to join a winning team, veteran Seattle-based NFL reporter John Clayton said during an ESPN 97.3 radio interview (via Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP.radio.com), adding that the Eagles will appeal to the free agent. Clowney’s hesitance about the Browns stemmed from their modern history as a losing team; his Dolphins reluctance did as well, Clayton adds. The Eagles were unwilling to approach Clowney’s lofty asking price earlier this offseason, but with the Browns bowing out and the Seahawks not expected to match their previous offer, his price may now be reduced. And Philadelphia has not been shy about loading up along its lines.
The Eagles are ready to increase T.J. Edwards‘ role. Despite the second-year player arriving in the league as a UDFA, the Eagles are penciling him in as their starting middle linebacker, Shorr-Parks notes. A Wisconsin alum, Edwards played just 11% of Philly’s 2019 defensive snaps. But the Eagles cut Nigel Bradham and do not have a host of high-profile names at linebacker. The team did draft two linebackers — in Rounds 3 and 6 — this year, however. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made this a bad year for rookie development.