New York Giants star Leonard Williams to get franchise tag in 2021

Nov 4, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams (99) warms up before a game against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are going to place their franchise tag on defensive lineman Leonard Williams for the second consecutive season.

Williams got the tag last offseason, too, and came through in a big way for the G-Men, posting an incredible 11.5 sacks during the 2020 campaign.

Leonard Williams earns Giants tag as sides work toward long-term contract

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Williams’ status for 2021, which is expected to precede a lucrative payday for the 26-year-old Pro Bowler.

Williams began his NFL career as the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, but the Jets traded him to the Giants during the 2019 campaign. His missed game during that season is the only one he’s not suited up for to date as a pro, so in addition to high-end talent, New York is retaining a highly durable player.

Had he been allowed to hit the open market, Williams would’ve inevitably gotten tons of huge free-agent offers. He’s evidently buying into what the Giants are building under coach Joe Judge. It was New York general manager Dave Gettleman who took a chance on Williams in the first place, and that’s going to pay huge dividends going forward.

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Giants’ 2021 outlook with Leonard Williams on franchise tag

Giants' 2021 outlook with Leonard Williams on franchise tag
Sep 14, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants defensive end Leonard Williams (99) celebrates his sack on Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) with defensive end B.J. Hill (95) in front of offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva (78) and offensive tackle Zach Banner (72) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of work still to be done with Williams getting the franchise tag for a second straight year. Because of that, he’s going to be on the books for a huge salary cap hit, as Spotrac’s Michael Ginnitti highlighted:

If a long-term contract agreement can be reached, there’s a way for New York to restructure Williams’ deal so that it’s not such a cap burden for 2021, as the Giants are now slated to be approximately $7.45 million over the NFL limit.

Other players on the roster can restructure their contracts, and Gettleman will no doubt be making some cuts to veterans here soon.

Star cornerback James Bradberry, offensive tackle Nate Solder and linebacker Blake Martinez are among the highest-paid players who could agree to rework their deals in order for the Giants to put off some of their financial issues for when the cap ceiling goes way up in 2022.

Williams’ productivity as an interior pass-rusher is extremely difficult to find. Not many 3-4 defensive ends boast Williams’ blend of size, short-area quickness and explosiveness off the ball. It makes life much easier for the Giants’ edge-rushers, not to mention for Bradberry and the secondary.

It’ll be interesting to see how retaining Williams shapes New York’s priorities in the first couple rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. The team owns the 11th and 42nd overall picks, with the chance to get some instant-impact contributors at key spots.

Read More: New York Giants draft picks: Top options in a strong class, ideal 2021 NFL Draft targets

Maybe Michigan edge defender Kwity Paye is an appealing target who can hopefully mold his raw, freakish abilities in coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme and complement the more polished Williams as an inside-outside tandem that wreaks havoc on the opposing quarterback.

Another appealing priority for the Giants is to find a young stud to start at cornerback opposite Bradberry. Graham likes to run a lot of many coverage and blitz often, so someone like Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II would make sense.

However Gettleman and the front office build out the rest of the defense, there’s a rather strong nucleus of players on that side of the ball. The greater questions are on offense: how signal-caller Daniel Jones will fare in Year 3, and is stud tailback Saquon Barkley going to be his usual self after tearing his ACL in 2020?

If Williams continues on his current trajectory and Gettleman can really hit on either of his first two draft picks, these Giants really have a chance to challenge for the NFC East title this coming season.