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Proposing a fair contract extension for Leonard Williams

How can the Giants lower Williams’ cap hit without tying up too much money long-term?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles
Leonard Williams
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Another year, same story: the New York Giants are low on cap space.

Such is the situation that general manager Joe Schoen inherited from his predecessor at the front office helm. Though Schoen has added a bit to the cap, primarily with Daniel Jones’ deal, the bulk of the Giants’ 2023 cap problems stem from moves by Dave Gettleman.

Per Over the Cap, the Giants currently have $22.7 million in dead cap on the books for 2023. That all comes from three players: Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Sterling Shepard —the former two of which were Gettleman’s responsibility. Golladay alone is eating up $14.7 million.

This leaves the Giants with just $2.3 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, the third-lowest amount in the NFL. Since the team’s rookie pool is projected to cost approximately $10.5 million, that leaves a cap problem.

The obvious solution to this problem is to do something with the most expensive Giant of them all, Leonard Williams. However, for a player in the last year of a backloaded deal, it’s never that simple.

What should Schoen do with Williams’ contract to free up the needed cap space while also keeping his team both cap- and talent-solvent in 2023 and beyond?

Current contract

Williams is in the final year of a three-year, $63 million contract signed in 2021. His 2023 cap hit is $32.26 million, which is the highest cap number of all interior defensive linemen in the NFL this year. It is also the Giants’ highest cap hit, over $11 million more than the next-highest (Daniel Jones).

However, the Giants cannot just cut Williams. Doing so prior to June 1 would carry a dead cap charge of $20.22 million while saving $12.04 million. After June 1, the calculus would change to $14.26 million in dead cap and $18 million in savings. That is still too much dead money, especially for a player who is still productive.

A restructure is also not realistic. Williams already has a void year on his contract. This means that the Giants will have $5.96 million in 2024 dead cap while Williams is a free agent. Pushing even more dead money into the future is exactly what Schoen is trying to avoid. In fact, he signaled that by choosing not to designate Golladay as a post-June 1 cut, preferring to carry his full dead cap hit in 2023.

Therefore, if the Giants want to spread out Williams’ cap hit, an extension is the only feasible way to do so. The question is how to find a fair number that will both help the Giants and be amenable to Williams.

Production and trajectory

2022 was not Williams’ best season, but he was still a productive two-way player. Overall, Williams ranked 18th out of 66 qualified interior defensive linemen (minimum 250 pass-rush snaps) with a 9.3% pressure rate, per Pro Football Focus. Although his 2.5 sacks did not jump off the page, he ranked ninth with a 4.25% combined sack and hit rate, meaning that his pass rushes impacted the quarterback significantly. His 14.5% pass rush win rate was 11th-best.

It is more difficult to contextualize a defensive lineman’s impact in the run game. Williams ranked 30th with a 7.5% stop rate against the run, which is marginally lower than his 7.8% career average. However, it’s important to note that 3-4 linemen will often have lower run stop rates than their 4-3 counterparts due to the different emphasis of each scheme.

Williams did have a rather hefty 10.5% missed tackle rate in the run game, which ranked 48th.

This is not a player the Giants want to let go just yet, either.

Age and Injuries

Although Williams is still contributing as a player, he’s starting to tilt toward the downside of his career. Entering his age-29 season, he already has eight years of football under his belt. He also missed five games due to injury in 2022.

This is not the kind of player to give a big contract. How can the Giants work out a fair extension?

Extension terms

Williams’ 2023 base salary is $18 million. The Giants will want to convert as much of that as possible into a bonus to spread it out over multiple seasons.

Realistically, a two-year extension would make the most sense. It would carry Williams through his age-31 season, giving him some more financial stability and the Giants more wiggle room.

Some of the lucrative contracts given to defensive tackles this offseason include those of Javon Hargrave, Daron Payne, Dre’Mont Jones, Zach Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, David Onyemata, Marcus Davenport, and Jeffery Simmons. Quinnen Williams and the Giants’ own Dexter Lawrence are likely to come.

Most of those players are younger and/or more productive than Williams at this point. However, given the run on defensive tackles this offseason, it’s likely that Williams could have still gotten some significant money on the open market.

Tomlinson is probably the best comp for Williams at this point: both are heading into their age-29 seasons and had similar statistical years in 2022. Tomlinson’s deal was for four years and $57.5 million, an average annual value of $14.25 million, and had $27.5 million in total guarantees.

An equivalent extension for Williams could be for two years and $29 million with $17 million guaranteed. This particular structure would have an $8.4 million signing bonus and an $8.6 million guaranteed salary in 2024.

The Giants would then also restructure part of Williams’ 2023 cap hit into the deal, taking $10.2 million of his base salary and converting it into a bonus. They could also add a void year at the end of the contract (to stay on the conservative side).

All told, these would be the contract numbers:

New Leonard Williams Contract

Year Age Base Salary Prorated Bonus Guaranteed Salary Cap Number Dead Cap Cap Savings
Year Age Base Salary Prorated Bonus Guaranteed Salary Cap Number Dead Cap Cap Savings
2023 29 $7,800,000.00 $14,260,000.00 $0 $22,060,000.00 $47,420,000.00 -$25,360,000.00
2024 30 $8,600,000.00 $12,160,000.00 $8,600,000.00 $20,760,000.00 $33,160,000.00 -$12,400,000.00
2025 31 $10,200,000.00 $6,200,000.00 $0.00 $16,400,000.00 $12,400,000.00 $4,000,000.00
2026 32 0 $6,200,000.00 $0 $6,200,000.00 $6,200,000.00 $0.00

[NOTE: 2026 is a ‘void’ year].

The advantage of this structure is that it gives Williams some security for the next few years while also providing the Giants with 2023 cap relief. The downside is that it’s still a decent-sized contract for a player who may start a decline very soon due to age and injury.

Also, this deal is not very maneuverable. That’s simply going to be the cost of doing business with a player who has a $32.26 million cap hit. Lowering the 2023 cap hit by $10 million should give the Giants some breathing room.

Other options and considerations

The Giants could choose to add more void years to a deal to spread out the cap hits. That’s what Hargrave, Tomlinson, and many others have in their deals. This exercise sticks with one void year simply because that’s the blueprint Schoen set forth in his previous restructure of Williams’ contract.

Alternatively, the Giants could simply add more void years to Williams’ contract, spreading out his cap hit while not giving him any additional money. This might make sense if they want to move on with Lawrence’s extension and then move on from Williams toward cheaper options.

Note that adding void years to a contract is not the same thing as a pay cut. Williams would still be paid the same amount of money; it would simply be spread out on the salary cap.

The Giants’ final option is simply to allow Williams’ contract to expire in 2023. They could eat his enormous cap hit the same way they cut Golladay without a post-June 1 designation, absorbing the full $14.7 million dead cap charge this season. There would still be a $5.96 million dead cap charge for the 2024 void year, but that is unavoidable.

The question is how Schoen would then account for draft picks and other signings on the salary cap. The only other contract that could be restructured or extended is Adoree’ Jackson’s. Given his age (28) and injury history, plus the propensity for cornerback play to fall off precipitously, that seems less likely than Williams’.

The Giants have the fifth-most cap space ($115.4 million) and effective cap space ($98.7 million) among all teams in 2024. However, they are also tied for the eighth-fewest players under contract with 30. Although the draft will presumably lower that somewhat, New York will definitely need their 2024 capital.

Will they choose to extend Williams? It’s hard to see a scenario in which they don’t do something. How Schoen chooses to act will likely give a sneak preview into how he views the Giants’ roster, both in 2023 and moving forward.