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Big Blue View mailbag: Cap questions, Leonard Williams, Nate Solder, more questions

The mail’s here!

The Big Blue View Mailbag was filled with interesting questions this week. So, let’s get right to it.

John McGruther asks: I have a question about Leonard Williams’ stats. He had a great year with all the sacks, but what about his other numbers? Do you have statistics on how his pressures and hits compared to previous years? Or indeed tackles for loss, but I’m more interested in his value as a pass rusher at this point, as that’s what you pay the big money for.

Ed says: John, this is an understandable question. Sacks are fantastic. They are often difference-making. They get players paid. Still, they are not the only way to judge pass rushers. Truthfully, probably not even the best way. Reality is, a sack is often caused by someone other than the player who gets it. Many sacks are also accumulated in the final minutes of games that are already decided, when pass rushers are just teeing off and padding stats.

Still, it’s pretty clear from Williams’ numbers in 2020 that he did more than compile sacks. He had his most impactful season since his 2016 Pro Bowl year. Here are the relevant numbers from Pro Football Focus:

Another number from Pro Football Focus that is relevant to the discussion is Pass Rush Productivity. PFF defines that as “A formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries relative to how many times they rush the passer.”

In 2020, Williams was fifth in the league among qualifying interior defensive linemen in pass rush productivity with a score of 7.8. Aaron Donald led with a ridiculous score of 10.4.

For comparison’s sake, Williams’ pass rush productivity score was 5.8 in 2019, 5.8 in 2018, 5.3 in 2017, 6.4 in 2016 and 5.9 in 2015. So, 2020 was easily Williams’ best season rushing the passer.

Williams is going to get PAID. The question no one can answer is whether the 2020 season will prove to be an outlier, or if he can maintain that level of production for the next few seasons.

Kurt Kampp asks: The way I would build the 2021 roster. 1) Free Agency- sign L.Williams, D Tomlinson, and keep K. Zeitler, before considering any other free agents. 2) Draft the following in RD#1 J Waddle, D. Smith. J. Chase or K. Pitts. If they are all off the board, trade down and address WR in RD#2. Question: Micah Parsons is projected as the #1 LB in this draft. Some data states there are some off the field red flags. Do you know what they are?

Ed says: Kurt, the off the field red flags involve a fight with a former Penn State player that allegedly involved punching, choking, a knife and were part of a 2019 Title IX inquiry into sexual assault allegations in the Penn State locker room that came from hazing. Read more about that here.

I’m not passing any judgment here at all. NFL teams will do their due diligence and make their own judgments.

Mike Koopersmith asks: As you and others have indicated in recent posts, the reduction in the 2021 salary cap will present challenges for every team and I would expect a lot of good players to be cut all over the league. I have a bunch of salary cap related questions, maybe too many for a single mailbag question.

When will we know the 2021 salary cap? Assuming a cap in the $177+/- million range, where does each team stand with respect to the cap? When can we expect teams to start making cuts (and restructuring contracts) in response to the 2021 cap? Any thoughts on what good players are likely to be cut by other teams? If a player is cut, is it a free-for-all in signing players, or do they go through a process like the waiver process where the worst teams get priority?

Ed says: Mike, I will answer what I can. Expectations are that we will know the exact salary cap number in late February or early March. The NFL has to negotiate that with the NFL Players Association. Teams can make cuts at any time, though a lot of that won’t happen until the exact number is known. The other thing that can trigger decisions is the various dates when certain contract clauses take effect for players. Who will be cut? No idea. There are always surprises, and lots of teams will have to make some painful choices. Free agency is free agency. No waivers. Teams bid for the players they want. There is no priority.

Matt Totaro asks: Joe Judge’s style of coaching, in practices/preseason, were considered polarizing by some analysts, reporters and former NFL players for doing punishment laps and pushups , live goal line pads on practices, ETC. Emmanuel Acho had this great sound bite (Acho’s transcript below if you don’t want to click on the link) on the practices in August along with other former NFL players Shannon Sharp and Benjamin Watson who were very critical of Judge as well. There were some in the media saying this would fracture the Giants internally and make this a last option for free agents to sign and very hard to retain their own talent. With the season over and we can look back, are people eating crow on this? Was Logan Ryan an anomaly, with signing this season then doubling down with the extension? With Judge and his style, will the Giants be able to sign free agents because they want to play for Judge and the Giants, not because they are being thrown an absorbent amount of money?

Acho’s comments:

“Giants fans, on behalf of everyone intelligent everywhere, I apologize for your 2-14 record this season. I have to go ahead and apologize. And it’s not your fault, Giants fans. It’s not your fault that you have dedicated yourself to an organization that has hired a coach that is instilling imbecilic practices. I’m not sure if imbecilic is a word, but the practices that Joe Judge is instilling are so dumb that imbecilic is the only word that will fit. That is the only word that will fit the crime.

“You’re a professional athlete. That means you should be intrinsically motivated, meaning motivation that comes from within. If you’re not intrinsically motivated, then you’re motivated extrinsically — money, fame, females, whatever you want to call it. All of those things work. What doesn’t work is fear-based motivation: ‘Hey, if y’all mess up, y’all have to bear crawl. If y’all mess up, y’all running wind sprints.’ Those are tactics to use on kids.”

Ed says: Matt, Acho’s comments were nonsensical drivel meant to draw attention to himself when he made them. They still are. Acho’s NFL career amounted to 16 games during which he accomplished nothing.

We talked to players all year long about Judge’s style. None were going to criticize him, of course, but comments from Leonard Williams stuck in my mind. I’m paraphrasing, but Williams basically said while it’s not easy, players who want to win want to be coached the way they are by Judge and his staff.

I’m not buying that players will avoid the Giants because of the coaching staff or the GM or whatever. Players will go where the money and the opportunity is. Some are concerned about geography. Some are concerned about going where they believe they can win. Some, frankly, aren’t. They just want to get paid.

Because of the pandemic I wasn’t around the team at all after training camp. I know, though, that Judge and his staff connected with players. That players believed in them. That the messages they were delivering were being received.

Judge’s methods, I’m sure, will evolve over time. I’m not worried about comments from Acho and others like him who just shot from the hip without talking to players or actually getting to know Judge at all.

Vlado Kurek asks: How is it possible that we do not have enough funds under the salary cap? With QB under rookie contract. is there too much dead money from previous contracts? (OBJ?) It cannot be about Solder and Zeitler only, right?

Ed says: Vlado, you have to keep in mind that the salary cap is expected to go down significantly in 2021 due to revenue lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cap in 2020 was $198.2 million. The current Over The Cap estimate for 2021 that shows the Giants exceeding the cap is $176 million. The expectation is that the cap will land somewhere between $180 and $185 million.

All NFL teams built their rosters and paid their players based on a $198.2 million cap. The cap has gone up every year since it was instituted in 1994, with 2010 having been uncapped. This is an extraordinary circumstance no team could have planned for.

As a point of reference, Over The Cap shows 12 teams farther over the projected cap than the Giants are. The New Orleans Saints are a ridiculous $112.4 million over the cap. The Giants $3.373 million number pales in comparison.

There will be some pain for many teams. There will also probably be lots of middle of the road veteran players who lose jobs to rookies or guys who will sign veteran minimum contracts. That’s just the economics of the current situation.

ctscan123 asks: You’ve made it abundantly clear that you’d like to keep Williams, but I have a feeling that big boy is going to ask for the moon. As a hypothetical then, suppose we can’t or won’t meet his asking price. Could we tag and trade him? I think we’d get a third for him as a comp pick, as you know, it’s at the very end of the third round though. If we could tag and trade, what do you think we could get for him?

Ed says: CT, yes Williams could be tagged and traded. There is no rule against that. What could the Giants get for him? I think the answer is roughly what they gave up to get him from the New York Jets — a third-round and fifth-round draft pick.

The St. Louis Rams gave up third- and fifth-round picks to get Dante Fowler from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Minnesota Vikings gave up a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick to get Yannick Ngakoue from the Jaguars, then later traded Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for a third-round pick and conditional fifth-round pick.

I think that’s the ballpark. I doubt anyone would give the Giants a second-rounder, but I suppose there’s no harm in asking for that and going from there.

Jon Hilsenrath asks: A lot of people are saying the Giants should cut Nate Solder to save cap money. Either way, the Giants are on the hook for $6.5 million in dead money with him. What are the chances that they agree to restructure his deal, paying him $6.5 million in base with lots of performance incentives, maybe even add a year with no guaranteed money. They’ve got to spend the money anyway, why not spend it and keep a tackle who might be able to play right tackle or swing tackle. I’m not sure he’d get much more than $6.5 million on the free market anyway, after being out a year, and he’s got young kids and might want some stability by staying in NJ.

Ed says: Jon, that’s not an unreasonable plan. It’s just not one I think the Giants will pursue. First, let’s clarify. Solder’s 2021 cap hit is $16.5 million. As a pre-June 1 cut, the Giants save $6 million and are on the hook for $10.5 million against the cap. As a post-June 1 cut, the numbers are basically reversed. They would be on the hook for $6.5 million and would save $10 million against the cap.

As of now, we have no idea what Solder’s 2021 plans are. Will he retire? Will he opt out again if the pandemic remains an issue, as seems possible at this point? To be honest, in a year where the cap is likely to go down by $15 million or so — the first time it will ever go down — that $10 million is money the Giants are probably going to need.

You can keep Cam Fleming, a perfectly viable swing tackle, for a lot less money. I just see the Giants as a lot more likely to want out from under Solder’s contract than they would be to extend him and keep him around longer.

Bruce Frazer asks: Several scribes have raised the possible benefits of the Giants drafting Kyle Pitts with the No. 11 pick. His overall metrics, size, and speed present a fascinating skill set. His ability to hold onto the ball is well noted. Would he be a better, more reliable weapon for the Giants than Engram? A nimble tight end the size of Pitts that can run like a wide out would be a tough cover for any CB.

Ed says: Bruce, you can look at Pitts as an Engram replacement if you want to. That could be the case. I prefer to look at him as a potential complement. To the point of annoyance, our Chris Pflum insists again and again ... and again that Pitts is not a tight end. He is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body being wasted lining up inline.

I prefer to look at him as a hybrid. A player who is a matchup nightmare for linebackers or safeties when inside or in the backfield, but also with the capability of getting off the press and beating cornerbacks while lined up outside. My $.02 is using him purely as one or the other is wasting his full skill set.

Why can’t you run an offense with both players on the field full time? The New England Patriots were a dynamic offense back in the day with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Philadelphia Eagles had Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Two pass-catching tight ends who can get down the field and be used in multiple ways causes all kinds of matchup issues for defenses.

What if Pitts turns out to be Darren Waller, who caught 107 passes and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2020? By the way, the pass-receiver needy Baltimore Ravens have to be kicking themselves for not seeing what they had in Waller’s two years with the Ravens (2015-16), where he caught only 12 passes.

Waller played 639 snaps inline and 345 in the slot or out wide in 2020. Engram played 450 inline and 383 in the slot or out wide. Throw in Kaden Smith as a blocker and capable pass-catching tight end, and the Giants would be able to use a Pitts/Engram/Smith group to challenge defenses in a number of ways.

I know fans are frustrated by Engram. Pairing him with Pitts instead of replacing him with Pitts might, though, be a better way to help the passing attack take a step forward.