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Leonard Williams’ deal with Giants isn’t just about talent

Williams, it turns out, is a really good salesman for Joe Judge and his coaching staff

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants have made it clear that they want Leonard Williams to be a core player as they continue the effort to bring a four-time Super Bowl-winning franchise back to respectability following years of struggle.

The Giants accomplished that with the three-year, $63 million ($45 million guaranteed) contract they signed Williams to this week. Getting Williams to sign that contract was obviously largely about his talent, coming off a career-best 11.5-sack season. A factor that can’t be overlooked, though, is how good a salesman Williams can be for the organization, something he displayed during a Zoom videoconference Thursday after signing his deal (with a fancy Tiffany’s pen, no less).

After five years of largely underperforming his talent and his position as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams had by far the most impactful season of his career in 2020.

Why is he a good salesman for the organization? Because he doesn’t hesitate to credit the Giants, and to laud the work done by head coach Joe Judge and his staff.

“I just love this organization. I love the way I’ve been getting coached here under Coach Judge and his staff. I love the way they treat people here. I love the guys that they’re bringing into the building, player-wise. Overall, it just seemed like a good fit. I’m just glad to be back,” Williams said.

Judge drew criticism in some quarters last season for things like making players run practice laps following mistakes and re-starting practices. The coach has admitted that he and his staff are hard demanding. Williams said last season that players who want to win should want to be coached the way Judge and his staff handle players.

“I thought it was a good fit for me, just the way the coaching staff coaches. I do well under a coaching staff that pushes you and tries to get the best out of you. That’s definitely what this coaching staff does. They don’t really care about who you are, they’re going to coach you the same. They don’t care if you’re a rookie just now coming in or you’re a guy that’s been in the league a long time. They’re going to try to get the best out of you. I thrive well in an environment that pushes you.”

Williams said he had “fun” playing last season.

“There was something about this year that just felt like I was back in college, back in those high school times when you’re not thinking about what the media is saying, you’re not thinking about money, you’re not thinking about anything like that. You’re just thinking about the reason why we play this game is the love for the game,” Williams said. “I’m not saying that ever left me. But this year, it was just a lot of fun playing in this system, playing with my teammates, playing with this staff. When I’m out there having fun, I just play my best.”

Williams doesn’t want to become one of those players who signs a big-money deal and doesn’t earn the paycheck.

“I think if I allow the pressure to sink in or allow outside noise to start sinking in, then it’s going to take away that fun that I was just talking about that allowed me to play so well. I don’t want to think about what type of pressure or what other people are thinking. I just want to be the best for my team, be a good leader and give this team as much as I can. That’s the reason why they brought me back for that. I don’t want to put too much pressure on it,” Williams said.

“To me, it’s really not about the money. I wanted a long-term contract for stability. I wanted to be here long-term and I wanted to keep playing for this coaching staff. I have goals outside of making money in this league. I want to just keep trying to achieve and do my best on the field.”

Williams won’t turn 27 until June, and believes he still has a lot of good football ahead.

“I’m 26 years old still. I think I’m still in the middle of my prime and I think I have a lot of game left in this league, obviously,’ Williams said. “I have a lot of personal goals. I’m not trying to reach any specific stat line or anything like that, but I want to just give it my best and keep playing like the player I am and just keep bringing my best to the table.”

The Giants are counting on it.