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What does Leonard Williams have in store for contract year with Giants?

A hefty paycheck, for starters

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NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Williams’ career is really a glass half full/glass half empty scenario.

He’s been one of the most durable and dependable pass rushers in the league for nearly a decade, but he’s arguably never quite lived up to his status as the No. 6 overall pick of the 2015 draft. He’s one of the best players on the New York Giants’ defense, but has still struggled to justify his massive contract.

Williams will take up 14% of the Giants’ salary cap this year. Let’s take a look at what New York is getting for their money.

By the numbers

Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 302
Age: 29
Position: Defensive line
Experience: 9
Contract: Year 3 of three-year, $63 million deal; $45 million guaranteed | 2023 cap hit: $32.26 million

Career to date

Williams was named to a Pro Bowl and started almost every possible game at edge defender in four-and-a-half seasons with the New York Jets. Still, the Jets sent him to the Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for third and fifth round picks.

The move was widely criticized at the time, as Williams was set to be a free agent anyway and the Giants were not playoff contenders. But New York franchise tagged Williams the following year and ended up finding one of the cornerstones of their defense.

2020 was the best year of Williams’ career, as he began playing more along the interior. He finished with 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 30 quarterback hits — all career highs — and was rewarded with a huge contract extension.

In 2022, Williams and Dexter Lawrence led an interior pass rush that gave the Giants’ defense its identity. Pro Football Focus recently named them the best pair of defensive tackles in the league. It’s possible more of that was on Lawrence’s contributions than Williams’. Williams had 2.5 sacks and 42 pressures in 12 games.

However, he played through injury and consistently played more than 80% of the team’s snaps on defense. He also had a strong game in the Giants’ Wild Card win over the Minnesota Vikings, the first postseason appearance of his career.

2023 outlook

Williams carries a ridiculous $32.26 million cap hit this season, more than any other defender in the league and almost $11 million more than anyone else on the Giants. The team elected to eat the cap hit this year rather than extend Williams and spread out the charges, meaning Williams is entering a contract year. He was never asked to take a pay cut, at least not publicly.

Williams said earlier this offseason that he would love to keep playing in New York after this year.

“I think I have a good camaraderie with my teammates. I would love to keep playing with [Dexter Lawrence]. I would love to keep playing with these coaches that I’ve gotten to know,” Williams said. “I’m also not one of those players that wants to bounce around team to team. I want to be able to be here.

“I still have my explosiveness. I still have my power. Honestly I feel like I know the game more and I still have a lot more years left in me. I just joke around about the age thing because this is a young team.”

Williams played 604 snaps on defense last year, a hefty number given that he missed five games with a neck injury. It’s possible the Giants look to reduce that number slightly and give veteran additions such as Rakeem Nunez-Roches some opportunities.

Depending on how the depth chart fills out, Williams will likely be the most experienced full-time starter on New York’s defense as he enters his ninth NFL season. Regardless, he and Lawrence will likely continue to be the focal point of that side of the ball, with two young players starting at edge defender and a young starting cornerback in Deonte Banks.