The New York Giants are in an unusual position with their defensive line heading into 2023. Due to the back-loading nature of Leonard Williams’ contract, the 28-year-old carries a $32.26 million cap hit in 2023, which is the third-highest non-quarterback payment for the upcoming season.
Star defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence is currently slated to play on his fifth-year option, which was exercised last May. According to Spotrac.com, the option pays him $12.4 million next season. It would behoove the Giants to explore extending Lawrence, for he’s a foundational building block on the Giants’ roster.
There’s little depth behind the two-star defensive linemen, and the line was exposed in 2022 after Leonard Williams missed time, and played much of the season injured. Justin Ellis and Nick Williams played a collective 604 snaps for New York in 2022. The latter tore his biceps against Seattle but was an effective player upfront. The former struggled when his number was called - both are free agents.
Ryder Anderson and Henry Mondeaux are developmental players who played a collective 442 snaps. The Giants' base personnel package consisted of three down linemen, and the personnel package struggled to defend the run. Rookie D.J. Davidson tore his ACL Week 5 against the Green Bay Packers, so expect more additions to be made to the defensive line room.
The Giants will likely add a player through the draft. However, Williams’ exorbitant cap number probably will be lowered, which is important to the conversation; the Giants already have excessive money allocated to the position.
Presuming the number is renegotiated as an extension or a pay cut, which Williams referenced at the end of the season, then they may have some maneuverability with investing in cheaper veteran free agents. I’m not certain Dalvin Tomlinson would come cheap, but his heart is linked to this Giants franchise.
Age: 29 in the 2023 season
Height: 6-foot-3 | Weight: 325
Position: Defensive Line
Experience: 6 seasons
2022 stats: 14 games | Tackles: (29) | Tackles for a loss: (3) | Stops: (26) | Pressures (30) | Sacks: (2.5) | Missed tackles (6, 12.8 percent)
I have so much admiration for Tomlinson. He embodies smart, tough, and dependable, and he was one of the more likable characters in the Giants’ locker room over the last half-decade. Tomlinson was drafted in the second round by Jerry Reese in 2017. He was an immediate impact player in the middle of the Giants’ defense.
Tomlinson’s wrestling background allows him to utilize excellent leverage at the point of attack. He’s technically proficient with his hand usage and is rarely displaced at the line of scrimmage. The combination of Tomlinson, Williams, and Lawrence was a force to be reckoned with during the 2020 season under the tutelage of Patrick Graham.
But the NFL is a business, and Tomlinson signed a two-year contract worth $10.4 million a year with the Minnesota Vikings after 2020. His energy as a leader, his consistency on the football field, and his intelligence were missed.
Through two seasons with the Vikings, Tomlinson has 51 pressures, 6.5 sacks, 54 tackles, and 47 stops. He’s more impactful as a run defender than a pass rusher, but the Vikings have utilized his skills differently than the Giants did. Tomlinson was mostly used as a nose tackle with the Giants, but he’s playing more 3-technique or 4i-shade with Minnesota, who employs more of an EVEN front.
Lawrence’s success at nose tackle should not be contravened, he’s too effective in that role. Wink Martindale’s TITE front within the tackle box in base personnel could employ Tomlinson as a 4i-shade consisting of Lawrence, Tomlinson, and Williams. When in sub-packages, the trio could rotate, with Lawrence assuming the majority of the snaps.
Not that Tomlinson’s assimilation would ever be an issue, but he was also coached by Andre Patterson in 2021. Spotrac.com has Tomlinson earning a contract of $8.5 million average annual value. That could be low. I don’t believe the Giants can afford to allocate another contract hovering around $ 10 million to the defensive line.
I would love nothing more than to see Tomlinson back in blue. Elerson Smith could be talked into bestowing No. 94 back to Tomlinson, and the run defense would significantly improve, as would the depth of the front. However, the economics may not be on the side of a reunion, albeit one would be excellent to experience.