If the New York Giants aren’t going to be a one-season wonder after their surprise playoff campaign of 2022-’23, general manager Joe Schoen must re-sign core players. He has the money to do it, but Schoen faces a litany of tough decisions, including the futures of free agents quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley, as well as agreeing a contract extension with All-Pro nose tackle Dexter Lawrence II.
Schoen’s toughest decision may be what to do about defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The former Pro-Bowler is due to earn $18 million in base salary this year, something that could prompt the Giants to part terms with the 28-year-old.
Williams is in “contract limbo,” according to Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. The limbo comes from confusion over comments Williams made about his willingness to take a pay cut.
Contract Could Prompt Giants to Repeat History
Dunleavy reported how “Williams initially said that he ‘would probably consider’ a pay cut from his $18 million salary, but he quickly walked back his words to say a pay cut is ‘probably something I would have to talk to my agent [about] and probably something I would have to see how [the Giants front office] is feeling.'”
Schoen jokingly thanked whichever reporter had coaxed the possibility of a pay cut from Williams, although the GM did say Williams hadn’t mentioned the idea in person, per Talkin’ Giants: “He didn’t mention that in the exit interview with us.”
There isn’t much confidence Williams’ representatives would be open to their client taking a pay cut. Dunleavy recalled how they’ve “squeezed out every penny” in previous contract negotiations, a sentiment echoed by Dan Duggan of The Athletic:
If Williams doesn’t take a pay cut, history isn’t on his side regarding the chances of him staying a Giant beyond this season. Especially when Dunleavy noted how “the Giants cut the player with the highest cap hit (James Bradberry) going into this season because they were cap-strapped.”
That decision backfired somewhat when Bradberry joined NFC East rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. He exacted a measure of revenge by intercepting a Jones pass during Philly’s 38-7 win in the Divisional Playoffs.
The Eagles didn’t let Bradberry’s moment go unnoticed, using social media to take a jab at the Giants:
Williams could find himself in a similar position after missing five games due to knee and neck injuries. Those ailments meant No. 99 was less effective, logging 2.5 sacks, well below the 11.5 Williams notched in 2020 to earn a bumper payday from the Giants.
The problem for Williams is he’s struggled while Lawrence has gone from strength to strength.
Giants Will Struggle to Pay 2 Linchpins
Lawrence set new standards for nose tackles, particularly when it comes to rushing the passer. The 25-year-old recorded career-highs with 7.5 sacks and 28 QB hits during the regular season, per Pro Football Reference.
There was no stopping Lawrence when the Giants played their first postseason game since 2016. His eight pressures tallied by Next Gen Stats were key to the Giants beating the Minnesota Vikings 31-24 on the road:
Lawrence is set to play on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal next season, but he’s earned the right to more long-term security and greater money. Giving him those things is going to be costly, with Dunleavy reporting “the defensive-tackle market is expected to explode, which could elevate Lawrence to $20 million-$25 million per year, according to contract analysts.”
Schoen will find it difficult to avoid paying up after Lawrence proved invaluable at the most important position in coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s defense. Schoen’s bigger problem will be finding room for Lawrence’s contract while also bringing back Jones, Barkley and free safety Julian Love.
Having a projected $45,066,480, per Spotrac.com, gives Schoen a chance to get important deals done. Yet, his chances of keeping every core player will be better if the Giants shed Williams’ $32,260,000 cap hit.
There’s a cold, hard financial reality facing both player and team, and Williams already sounds philosophical about the potential consequences: “I’m sure I’ll end up somewhere, if not here.”
As talented as Williams is, Schoen and the Giants would find it easier to replace an interior defensive lineman than to acquire another winning quarterback and bluechip running back.