The 2019 NFL trade deadline has come and gone, with the New York Giants taking a chance on the under-productive but extremely talented Leonard Williams. We are also at the halfway point of the season, with the Giants at 2-6 and almost certainly on their way to yet another playoff-less, sub-.500 season.
With those things as backdrop, it’s time for some “things I think” about the Giants.
The Leonard Williams trade
In the wake of the Giants’ trade for the 25-year-old defensive tackle, I keep being asked a pair of questions. Why did the Giants make this trade? How do they plan on using him?
I honestly don’t have clear answers on either front, but let me give you what I can.
Why the trade was made
First, Williams is clearly not a rental. Yes, he can be a free agent at the end of the season and no, the Giants did not negotiate a contract extension as part of the trade for him. Still, you don’t give up what could amount to third- and fourth-round picks for an eight-game rental when you are a 2-6 team that isn’t make the playoffs.
Williams has clearly under-achieved during the past couple of seasons, but he is still a 25-year-old player with a rare blend of athletic and physical gifts.
GM Dave Gettleman wants versatile defensive linemen who can play all across the Giants’ defensive front in both three- and four-man alignments, as well as players who can rush the passer.
Williams has zero sacks this season, but there is this:
Will the acquisition of Leonard Williams help improve a @Giants pass rush that has generated the 3rd-lowest pressure rate (19.6%) in the NFL this season?— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 28, 2019
Williams has twice as many pressures (14) as any other interior DL on his new team.#GiantsPride pic.twitter.com/mzD6nQIWwC
Pro Football Focus also points out that the only defensive linemen with more run stops than Williams since 2016 are Damon Harrison and Akiem Hicks.
Of Williams, PFF writes:
Williams earned 75.0-plus overall grades in each of his first four seasons in the NFL, including a 78.2 overall grade across 866 defensive snaps in 2018. His success, however, is rooted in his run defense rather than his pass-rushing ability. It wasn’t until last season that Williams earned a pass-rushing grade above 67.0, and he still earned just a 71.4 pass-rush grade across 541 pass-rushing snaps.
Of course, Williams is still one of the NFL’s dominant run defenders. He ranks inside the top-five in total run stops (97) among all at his position since 2016. He also owns an impressive 82.9 run-defense grade since entering the league in 2016, ranking 21st among the 40 interior defensive linemen with 800 or more run-defense snaps over the past four seasons (2016-19).
Maybe the Giants and Williams will go through these next eight games and decide they aren’t a match. Far more likely, in my view, is that the Giants made this deal believing Williams can be better than what he showed for the Jets the past season-and-a-half and that he can be part of the long-term solution for their struggling defense. Which, of course, means an eventual contract extension.
How he will be used
This is the interesting part. Coach Pat Shurmur said the Giants see Williams as another player who can fill multiple roles along the front, something they like. Evaluators I have talked to, though, are a bit flummoxed about Williams’ fit in the Giants’ defense. At 302 pounds he isn’t a 1 tech nose tackle. Some think he’s a 3 tech. He’s played the 5 tech. Often this season the Giants have played with only two true defensive linemen, using Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden and Oshane Ximines with their hands in the ground. Is Williams going to cut into Dalvin Tomlinson’s snaps? B.J. Hill’s? Or, is he just going to get the snaps that were going to backups Olsen Pierre and R.J. McIntosh?
No one will really know until we see what unfolds Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
Handling of Tae Davis a mystery
With the Giants not making a trade Tuesday to remove a veteran player from the roster, I understood why second-year linebacker Tae Davis was dropped from the 53-man roster.
What I think I never understood is why the Giants committed to the former undrafted free agent in the first place, and why they wasted first-team snaps in the spring and summer on a player they ended up yanking from the lineup and burying after just one 2019 game.
I get that the Giants wanted a linebacker with coverage skills and that Davis was a collegiate safety. Still, Davis’ coverage was awful a year ago when he gave up 19 completions in 23 targets with a 119.2 passer rating against.
Why Davis instead of the more established B.J. Goodson in the first place? Or, why not just commit from the get-go to rookie Ryan Connelly, with whom the Giants were impressed as far back as rookie mini-camp?
If Davis had been a Dave Gettleman draft pick sticking with him would have been more understandable. For me, though, the use of Davis was always a head-scratcher.
Thoughts on the Daniel Jones era
We are now six games into the Daniel Jones era. We have learned that Jones is not some sort of perfect quarterback terminator. He has at times morphed from ‘Danny Dimes’ into ‘Danny Fumble’ or ‘Danny, Don’t Throw That One!” In other words, he has at times looked like what he is — a talented rookie figuring out the NFL on the fly.
In my view, we have learned that Pat Shurmur was absolutely right to pull the plug on the Eli Manning era after an 0-2 start. Jones can make some plays Manning can’t, simply because of his youth and his athleticism. He brings hope to an organization that desperately needed it.
Jones has been far from perfect, but it’s not his fault the Giants have lost the last four games. Just like it wasn’t Manning’s fault the Giants were 0-2, or were bad in 2018. Or 2017. Or 2015. Or 2014.
The Giants have still not had their entire cadre of offensive playmakers — Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley — on the field for a single snap this season. The in-game management by Shurmur — play-calling, challenges, lack of help for his offensive tackles, botched fourth-quarter sequences — has been problematic.
The biggest issue, though, is what we thought all along that it would be. Opposing teams are taking advantage of a young, developing defense that can’t cover well enough.
Thoughts on the second half of the season
With a losing team that has to be pointed toward the future, this would usually be the time to break out the “let the kids play” speech. Except, they are already playing. Everywhere except in the secondary, which just happens to have probably been the Giants’ biggest weakness through the first eight games.
Which brings me to 35-year-old 14-year veteran Antoine Bethea. He is on the roster because he is a favorite of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and because it was thought his experience would help the secondary and make him a valuable resource for the younger players.
The latter may still be true, but the reality is that after watching eight games it’s painfully obvious that Bethea no longer has the athleticism to be a starting free safety in the NFL. There are too many situations where he simply can’t get where he needs to be in order to make a play, even when he makes the correct read. When he reads a play wrong? No chance he can use speed and athleticism to recover.
The view here is that snaps for Bethea are pointless from here on out. If the coaching staff still believes Julian Love isn’t ready, then second-year man Sean Chandler should get a full opportunity. Love, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine could all benefit from some snaps the remainder of the year. If those come at the expense of Janoris Jenkins, so be it. Getting Love or Ballentine on the field in place of Grant Haley in the slot is another idea.
Having missed opportunities in a couple of winnable games over the first half of the season, the 2019 Giants are going to be fortunate to exceed last season’s total of five victories. There is just no reason to leave kids who might be part of the future chained to the bench while a 35-year-old safety who won’t be on the roster in 2020 continues tp play.