Defense was the underlying foundation of the New York Giants’ turnaround last season, despite the unit dealing with a few high-profile injuries. One of the linchpins who missed time was defensive tackle Leonard Williams, and he carries a hefty salary cap hit this offseason.
The Giants could restructure Williams’ deal or trade him if the Pro-Bowler won’t take a pay cut. A trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers can net the Giants two extra picks for the 2023 NFL draft, according to Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine.
He outlined a deal involving the Steelers sending second- and fourth-round picks this year to the Giants. This trade package would surely be hard for general manager Joe Schoen to resist, particularly after Williams’ fellow lineman Dexter Lawrence became an All-Pro and is due for a bumper new contract of his own.
AFC North Franchise a Perfect Fit for Potential Giants’ Cap Casualty
Williams, who went to the Pro Bowl in 2016 as a member of the New York Jets, won’t find a better fit than the Steelers if he has to look for a new team this offseason. As Ballentine pointed out, “The 6’5″, 302-pound Williams is a great fit in the Steelers defense with the flexibility to play a 5-technique defensive end in 3-4 alignments and reducing down to a 3-technique in four-man fronts.”
Ballentine also noted how the Steelers have plenty of room to accommodate Williams up front: “The surprise retirement of Stephon Tuitt and an aging Cameron Heyward has left them a little thin up front.”
There’s a strong chance Williams could be available, one way or another. Especially since he’s set to count for $32,260,000 against the cap, per Spotrac.com.
Offloading Williams’ $18 million base salary won’t be easy, even though the player previously told reporters he’d “probably consider” taking a pay cut:
Yet, Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post doubts Williams’ representatives would consent to their client accepting reducing terms: “In two previous negotiations since the Giants gave up all leverage with an in-season trade in 2019, Williams’ agents, Roosevelt Barnes and Brandon Parker, have squeezed out every penny, taking a franchise tag in 2020 and a top-of-the-market three-year, $63 million extension in 2021.”
Williams will need to be true to his word to help the Giants during an offseason when Schoen needs to secure the futures of free agents Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley. Extending Lawrence’s contract is also a must if the Giants are going to stay strong up front defensively.
Defensive Line Can’t Be Allowed to Deteriorate
The Giants have one of the toughest front fours in football when Williams and Lawrence are flanked by edge-rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari. Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale’s base defense also relies on Lawrence and Williams acting as the foundation of a three-man front, but the latter missed five games with knee and neck injuries.
Without Williams, there isn’t a great deal of talent in the trenches aside from Lawrence. Options are already set to be weakened with nose tackles Justin Ellis and Nick Williams both free agents.
Dealing Williams would leave Lawrence alone manning the fort. The latter could handle the responsibility after notching 7.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 36 pressures last season, per Pro Football Reference.
Lawrence became so dominant in both phases of defense, he even began dominating fellow All-Pros such as Indianapolis Colts’ guard Quenton Nelson, like on this play highlighted by The Draft Network’s Ryan Fowler:
No. 97 has earned his place in line to benefit from what Dan Duggan of The Athletic called “the expected explosion of the defensive tackle market.”
All signs point to the Giants having to pay big to prolong Lawrence’s stay at MetLife Stadium, but it won’t be easy when trying to do the same for Jones or Barkley. Free safety Julian Love is also a key free agent the Giants will be keen to bring back.
If Williams won’t help out, a trade like the one Ballentine outlined makes sense. Especially since the Giants have used previous second-round picks to find quality pro D-tackles like Linval Joseph and Dalvin Tomlinson.