When a player makes flashy plays on the big stage of the NFL playoffs, they forever become remembered for those plays.
That’s why, when news broke Tuesday of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White’s trade request, fans of many teams likely thought, “We should go get that guy!” White was a big contributor to the Bucs’ Super Bowl run in 2020.
That brings us to the New York Giants, a team perennially seeking linebacker help since the days of Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor.
Should the Giants be interested in White if he does become available?
Resumé and statistics
White is entering his fifth year in the NFL and will be just 25 years old for the 2023 season. He lines up as an inside/middle linebacker. He has started 62 games in his NFL career, including every game over each of the last two years.
As stated above, White has a second-team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl on his resumé. In 2020, a season in which he did not earn any accolades but put on a show in the playoffs, he recorded 9.0 sacks in 15 regular-season games. He’s had over 120 tackles and at least 16 QB hits in each of the last three seasons. His 16 QB hits in 2022 were ninth among all linebackers.
White’s biggest strength is undoubtedly his ability to rush the passer. Few defenses ask an off-ball linebacker to rush more, as his 144 pass rushes in 2022 were second among off-ball linebackers. Correspondingly, White had the most pressures among them with 32, as well as 5.5 sacks. Among 33 off-ball linebackers with at least 50 pass rushes, White’s 22.2% pressure rate ranked seventh.
White’s coverage is a mixed bag. Pro Football Focus is not high on him as a cover linebacker, rating him 60th out of 70 qualifiers (min. 200 cover snaps) with a 47.6 grade. However, his Pro Football Reference stats show 46-for-60 targets completed for 400 yards and two touchdowns for a 104.9 quarterback rating against, which is below average but not terrible. White’s coverage grade is based primarily on his tendency to get lost in coverage when he is not targeted.
As a run defender, White’s PFF grade and statistics once again diverge. PFF grades him at 42.6, the fifth-worst among linebackers. However, they also record his run stop rate at 6.7%, which is near average (45th percentile). His 8.1% missed tackle rate, per PFR, is better than average for linebackers. Perhaps PFF is picking up on some significant deficiencies in coverage that stats alone cannot capture, as run defense is difficult to evaluate based on numbers alone.
Overall, White has graded out poorly in both run defense and coverage for his entire career.
Fit in Giants’ defense
A cursory glance would definitely indicate that White fits the Giants’ defensive scheme. He’s a 3-4 inside linebacker who blitzes a lot. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale blitzes a lot.
However, the Giants did not necessarily blitz their off-ball linebackers a lot in 2022. Cumulatively, those linebackers had just 109 blitzes, ranked 23rd among teams.
Still, that could be because of a talent discrepancy. Jaylon Smith was pretty efficient as a blitzer, racking up eight pressures on 42 pass rushes with a 17.9% win rate, but no one else really showed an aptitude for blitzing. Martindale would certainly have little trouble finding a way to utilize blitzing talent at any level of the field.
The primary issue is White’s run defense, which was the Giants’ biggest weakness in 2022. Linebackers were primarily responsible for the poor state of affairs in the run game. White would be a poor addition on that level, especially if he gets blown off the ball on plays where he is not involved statistically.
Cost of acquisition
White is seeking a trade because he will not receive an extension from the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is on a post-Brady salary dump, paying the piper after three years of cap gyrations to expand their Super Bowl window.
White’s fifth-year option is $11.76 million, which would go on the books of the acquiring team. Obviously, that team would need to be willing to work out an extension. Financially, the Giants would have trouble fitting that money under their cap in 2023, although they could potentially afford the extension going forward.
Spotrac lists White’s market value at $20 million per year on a four-year deal. That is very steep for a player of White’s caliber. Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edwards received similar deals, but all other off-ball linebacker deals this offseason were far more modest. In fact, Bobby Okereke’s four-year, $40 million deal with the Giants was one of the highest. A contract like that could potentially be worthwhile for what White brings to the table.
The bigger issue is the draft capital required to pick up White. If Tampa does choose to unload White, they’re not going to do it for pennies on the dollar. A former second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler who is just 25 will not come cheap. Smith’s trade from Chicago to Baltimore for a second- and fifth-round pick will likely be Tampa’s comp, although White is not nearly the player that Smith is.
Should the Giants pursue White?
I think the answer to this question comes down to a few things.
Can Martindale see a role for White in the defense that would minimize his weaknesses (run defense and coverage) while maximizing his pass-rushing strength? Or do the Giants believe that getting to the quarterback will overshadow the continued run defense issues?
Then, it’s all about the cost, both in a trade and of a contract. Joe Schoen already invested in Okereke, but White’s skillset is different. Could he come to a workable contract agreement with White? Is it worthwhile to give up cheap draft picks for a more expensive player? Can the Giants even fit White’s fifth-year option under their cap?
Clearly, the Giants would need to do some maneuvering with Leonard Williams’ contract to be able to afford White. If the cost was a second-round pick, though, is the known of White’s abilities more worthwhile than the unknown of the potential pick?
Personally, I am rarely in favor of signing off-ball linebackers to contracts if they do not cover well. However, the Giants’ defense is structured with an attack mindset, and it could be that White’s upside is worthwhile to Martindale.
My answer to whether the Giants should pursue White is no. Will they? It seems that Schoen is not looking to add big cap hits at this point, so my guess, once again, would be no.