If there’s anyone more deserving of a contract extension than Leonard Williams after the 2020 season, please let me know in the comments. The New York Giants will have a hard time letting go of one of their most productive players on defense, especially after a breakout campaign when he recorded 11.5 sacks and 30 quarterback hits, a career-high in both categories.
Williams had never breached 7.0 sacks before the 2020 campaign, but under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, he realized his talents and dominated in the trenches. Because of that, Williams is in line for a massive contract that will significantly burden the Giants’ cap space but also ensure they retain one of their most efficient and valuable assets.
The trenches are one of general manager Dave Gettleman’s prized possessions, as he’s built a dominant group composed of Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Dalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson is also looking for a new deal after finishing his rookie contract this past season. He was very productive and represents one of the best run stoppers in the NFL. He finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and eight tackles for a loss. He did finish with a career-high missed tackle rate of 12.5%, while Williams had a career-low, at 3.4%.
Ultimately, keeping the interior defense together should be a priority, but the salary cap is expected to drop this off-season significantly.
Gettleman mentioned during his annual postseason press conference that people are saying the cap could drop to $175 million, down $23.2 million from $198.2 million in 2020. The influence of Covid was significant and will limit free-agent spending this off-season.
With that being said, the Giants already know they have to upgrade their offense significantly after they finished 31st in the NFL in points per game. They were just above the Jets, who were historically bad. That poses the question, is it possible Gettleman allows Williams to walk this off-season, despite his breakout performance?
Realistically, Williams is Gettleman’s golden goose, acquired two years ago in a trade with the New York Jets, which sent a third and fifth-round pick on their way. The Giants acquired Williams, and what seemed to be a poor move at the time has rebounded nicely for the defense. There’s very little chance Good Ole Dave lets Leonard walk after giving away so much draft capital for him and experiencing ‘zero’ winning seasons post-trade.
What type of contract should we expect for Leonard Williams?
Comparably, star defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, Chris Jones, landed a four-year, $80 million deal this past off-season, with an average salary of $20 million. Jones is one of the best interior defenders in the NFL at 26 years old, so I believe Williams will make a bit less but still hover in that range.
Jones routinely puts up elite sack numbers and collapses the pocket efficiently despite the opponent. Since 2018, he hasn’t recorded fewer than 7.5 sacks, and that is with missing three games in 2019. He is a staple in their defense, and I would say is just a bit better than Williams when factoring in his consistency. Williams only has one elite season to his name, so I believe he will likely earn somewhere in the three-year range, worth $17 million per season. Expect high guarantees, though, since he is perennially healthy and has never missed a game.
FULL CONTRACT PROJECTION:
-$17 million per season
-$40 million guaranteed at signing
-Majority dead cap in first and second season