The Green Bay Packers made news Saturday when they agreed to a huge four-year, $70 million contract with nose tackle Kenny Clark.
That deal not only made Clark the highest-paid nose tackle in the NFL, but the 12th-highest paid defensive player. He’s obviously a great defender, having anchored a good Green Bay defense and notching 6 sacks in each of the last two years. But Clark’s deal didn’t happen in a vacuum this year, either.
The Cincinnati Bengals agreed to a four-year, $53 million contract with former Houston Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader during the “legal tampering” period before 2020s free agency period even got going. Like Clark, Reader had established himself as one of the league’s top nose tackles. A couple days later, the Philadelphia Eagles signed former Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Javon Hargrave to a 3-year, $39 million contract.
This brings us to a looming decision for the New York Giants: What to do about Dalvin Tomlinson?
Selected by the Giants in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Tomlinson is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and is also the longest-tenured member of the Giants’ defense. Since entering the league, Tomlinson has established himself as not only a consistent, capable, and dependable presence in the Giants’ front seven. He has also — quietly, because nose tackles seldom get the recognition they deserve — become one of the best nose tackles in the league, along with the likes of Clark and Reader.
The Giants have invested heavily, very heavily, in their defensive line since selecting Tomlinson in 2017. In 2018 they added B.J. Hill in the third round and last year the Giants drafted Dexter Lawrence in the first round. Last year they also made the infamous trade for Leonard Williams and signed him to a $16 million franchise tag this offseason. All of that is in addition to still more late-round draft picks and free agent additions.
But for all that investment, Tomlinson was their best lineman in 2019.
Tomlinson was their best nose tackle, outperforming Lawrence and Hill at occupying the middle of the offensive line. Tomlinson took on one of the highest rates of double teams among all defensive tackles, seeing a double team on roughly 67 percent of his snaps (per ESPN stats and info).
Despite seeing a high rate of double teams, Tomlinson also produced the highest pass rush win rate (defined as defeating a pass block in 2.5 seconds or less) among the Giants’ defensive tackles. Tomlinson also proved he could get home, notching 3.5 sacks on the season. While that isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, it’s very solid total and more than Reader has ever had in a season.
So where does that leave the Giants and Tomlinson?
Well, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap told The Athletic that “The going rate for players like Tomlinson is $13 million a year and he probably has a chance to get more if he has a big season.”
An agent said in the same piece that Tomlinson shouldn’t settle for less than the 4-year, $42 million extension to which the Bears signed Eddie Goldman in 2018. However, the agent added “I think it’s tough to justify paying him that on an extension with the other bills you’re about to have. But I think it would take $11 million per year to get him done.”
The ultimate projected contract was four years, $48 million, or an average $12 million a year.
As it stands now, the Giants have roughly $22 million in cap space, per Spotrac. While the Giants obviously want to keep a nice rainy day fund in a season that will be anything but predictable, they have room to get a deal done. Tomlinson is due $1.08 million this year, however the Giants could use some of their cap room to front load an extension this year. While that would increase Tomlinson’s cost this right now, it could lessen his cap hit in subsequent years when the salary cap may not rise and might even shrink.
On the other hand, the Giants have a long-established tradition of letting good defensive tackles walk in free agency after their rookie contracts expire.
Can the Giants get a deal done with Tomlinson in light of the recent contracts signed by Clark, Reader, Hargrave and Goldman? Will they even try?