The NY Giants seem to always have a plan for their defensive tackles. Unfortunately, it may mean not keeping the whole unit together in 2021.
As much as they may want to, the NY Giants can’t bring everyone back in 2021. The front office has many key decisions to make about the roster and no position group will be more affected by those decisions than the defensive line. Two of the Giants’ top players and impending free agents are both defensive tackles in Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson.
The decision to figure out is who to keep and who will likely test free agency.
It’s likely one will leave, while the other stays and it seems very unlikely both players will either leave together or come back together. It’s not financially realistic to expect the Giants to afford both players as they need to make decisions at other key positions too.
Many fans calling for a Tomlinson extension must be reminded of the Giants‘ precedent with defensive tackles. There is a long history and overwhelming amount of evidence to believe that Dalvin Tomlinson will be replaced, this decision will not kill the defense, and history shows us the Giants can easily replace Tomlinson on the defensive line and get comparable or even better production.
Here, we breakdown the team’s impending decision on their free agent defensive tackles and what they should do at the position.
NY Giants have a distinct precedent with handling their defensive tackles.
Since the 2000s, the NY Giants have had a relatively consistent (and widely successful) plan at defensive tackle.
New York has had both current options at the spot and also replenished the position with depth and having replacement options within the unit.
In the 2000s, the New York Giants deployed a 4-3 scheme for several years. This meant the NY defenses had two big, stout defensive tackles in between the two pass rushers who clogged up space and prevented holes from occurring. Even better, the team got great production from their defensive tackles in both the pass-rushing and run-stopping departments.
Starting in 2004, the Giants had Fred Robbins anchor the interior of the d-line in the mid-2000s and Barry Cofield joined him in 2006. Robbins came to New York as a free agent while Cofield was drafted in the 4th round by the Giants. Cofield racked up 10.5 sacks along with a Super Bowl title while Robbins gave the Giants six strong seasons of production with 28.5 sacks along with 5.5 sacks in three consecutive seasons. Robbins also helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back to East Rutherford in 2007.
Both players left in consecutive years with Robbins leaving in 2009 and Cofield in 2010. To replace Robbins, the Giants went to free agency and signed two veteran defensive tackles in Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. To replace Cofield, the team drafted Linval Joseph in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. Joseph gave New York nine sacks in four seasons while helping eat up space on the Giants Super Bowl run in 2011.
As one tandem left, the Giants hoped that drafting two defensive tackles in back-to-back drafts would pan out. Unfortunately, the decision didn’t pan out as Marvin Austin never figured it out and was cut after 2 seasons.
The Giants’ trio of Canty, Joseph, and Rocky Bernard formed a great rotation. Canty racked up nine sacks in four seasons, while Bernard had five sacks of his own in four seasons. The big three up front helped shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots in their second Super Bowl matchup and they all helped contribute to the team’s world championship in five years.
Both Canty and Bernard left the team after 2012. With Joseph set to hit free agency the next season, the front office boldly took Johnathan Hankins in the 2nd round of the 2013 draft to presumably take Joseph’s spot as the team expected him to cash in on a large deal in free agency.
Hankins gave the Giants four solid seasons. He was paired with depth players thrust into larger, starting roles with names such as Mike Patterson, Markus Kuhn, and Cullen Jenkins. The team went out and nabbed Damon “Snacks” Harrison from the Jets in 2016 for big money. Snacks had an All-Pro season in his first year with the Giants and gave the team 2.5 strong seasons before being traded to Detroit in 2018. After 2016, Hankins elected not to resign with the Giants after a strong season and he signed with the then-Oakland Raiders.
To replace Hankins, Jerry Reese took Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. Dalvin has given the organization four strong seasons as his currently pending free agency status looms. He has blossomed into a Team Captain and a leader on the defense who’s also improved his pass-rushing skills.
The Giants have invested heavily into the interior defensive line spot since Dave Gettleman’s reign as the General Manager. Gettleman drafted Dex Lawrence #19th overall in the 2019 draft and then proceeded to trade two mid-round picks for Leonard Williams amidst a 2-6 record and losing season.
This brings us to the 2021 offseason where the Giants again have key decisions to make at the defensive tackle spot. Do they resign Leonard Williams for presumably a large, $15+ million deal? Or, do they go cheaper and stay loyal to their draft product in Dalvin Tomlinson at an expected $10 million rate? Is it financially feasible to keep both?