NFL rumors: Tagging Leonard Williams again would cost NY Giants a fortune

Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Leonard Williams #99 of the New York Giants (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

If the NY Giants are unable to reach a long-term agreement with Leonard Williams before the burgeoning defensive lineman becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time, the organization has the option to use the franchise tag for the second consecutive offseason to keep him in East Rutherford. It would be a cost prohibitive decision to make.

The NY Giants’ plan for Williams last offseason, from the moment he was acquired from the Jets in Week 8 of the 2019 season, sources say, was to use the franchise tag so long as he didn’t disappoint in his eight game audition.

This time around, Williams certainly exceeded expectations in his first full season with the Giants, producing a career-high 11.5 sacks while finishing as Pro Football Focus‘ No. 5 ranked interior defensive lineman with a 79.8 overall grade.

According to Spotrac, tagging Williams would cost the NY Giants $19.5 million for him to play out the 2021 season:

"One of the better stories in the game, as Williams was a complete castaway just 24 months ago, but has restored his career since joining the Giants. They have mouths to feed on both sides of the ball, and they’d probably like to see Williams repeat the year he just had before dropping too many guaranteed dollars in his lap, so a second franchise tag – though pricey – is likely the best play here."

Because the salary cap is estimated to come in somewhere around $180 million, committing $19.5 million to Williams would be difficult for the Giants, who currently have just $1.12 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.

Williams, there’s no question, blossomed in coordinator Patrick Graham’s system and defensive line coach Sean Spencer brought out the best in the former first-round pick. But, committing over $3 million more in 2021 to Williams than the organization did in 2020 under a more stringent salary cap could significantly hamstring GM Dave Gettleman’s ability to address needs at wide receiver, along the offensive line, and in the secondary.

Using the tag for the second year could also start a war between the Giants, Williams, and his representatives because it would be less than he would likely command on the open-market.

“Williams and his camp will certainly want to reset the defensive end market,” a prominent agent recently told GMenHQ. “But, in reality wants top-three defensive end money and best case is that he gets top-five money at the position. If he negotiates as a defensive end, and continues to produce at this level, he’ll push for and probably command a four-year deal in the $20-$25 million annual range.”

It would be far smarter, and more prudent, if the Giants view Williams as part of their long-term plans to come to terms on a long-term contract to spread the guaranteed portion of the contract to later years. This would satisfy Williams’ desire to reset the market, and favor the Giants because they can spread much of the salary cap hit to later years when the cap is expected to balloon after the league’s new television rights deal takes effect as early as 2022.

Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.