Playing tag does not seem to be the way to go this year for the Giants. At least not with Leonard Williams.
The deadline for applying the franchise tag is 4 p.m. Tuesday, and Williams is far and away their most important free agent to retain. The tag for Williams this year would be $19.4 million, which is 120 percent of the salary ($16.1 million) Williams earned on the 2020 franchise tag for defensive tackles.
The goal is to sign Williams to a long-term deal and the franchise tag designation would serve as a placeholder, keeping him off the open market when free agency begins March 15, allowing negotiations to move forward without the threat of Williams signing elsewhere.
The caveat with this approach is that, in order to designate a franchise player, a team must have the accompanying salary in available cap space at the time the tag is applied, so the Giants would have to immediately possess at least $19.4 million in cap space. It is estimated they have around $10 million available after the releases of Golden Tate and David Mayo.
They will add to that total — most likely by more than $1 million — with the restructuring of tight end Levine Toilolo’s contract. Toilolo was scheduled to make $2.95 million this season and will stay on the roster at a reduced cost to the Giants. In his first year with the team, Toilolo played in all 16 games (two starts) but was on the field for only 27 percent of the snaps on offense. He is primarily a blocker; he caught five passes for 46 yards.
Plenty more roster wrangling would have to take place before the deadline to tag Williams, who in 2020 set career highs in sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (14) and quarterback hits (30).
The NFL set the floor for the 2021 salary cap at $180 million, a significant drop from a year ago, when it was $198.2 million. Until the league establishes an official cap number for this season, teams will not know how much they have to spend, need to save and exactly what the franchise tags for each position will cost. This could extend the deadline to apply the tags.
The Giants’ goal is to come away with a long-term contract for Williams. They want the commitment in years and cannot afford to go another season with Williams on the books as a franchise player. A multi-year deal would significantly reduce the salary cap charge for Williams in 2021. A year ago, the tag for Williams did not lead to a contract and he signed the tag in late April.
Any tagged player has until July 15 to come to an agreement on a long-term deal, or else he must play on the tag for the season.
A case — not a strong one — can be made for putting the franchise tag on Dalvin Tomlinson, one of Williams’ running mates at defensive tackle. That would cost the Giants $14.2 million on the cap, which is likely too prohibitive in a year when the cap will be down as much as $18 million per team after the NFL endured a season of COVID-19 protocols and mostly empty stadiums.
Williams was one of 15 players hit with the franchise tag in 2020. That number is expected to go down this year, with teams scrambling with the salary cap reduction. Only two players — safeties Marcus Maye (Jets) and Justin Simmons (Broncos) — had been tagged as of Monday evening. Reports indicate Panthers offensive lineman Taylor Moton will also get tagged. It would come as no surprise if wide receivers Kenny Golladay (Lions), Allen Robinson (Bears) or Chris Godwin (Buccaneers) get tagged. Other possibilities include tight end Hunter Henry (Chargers) and guard Brandon Scherff (Washington).
The Giants hired Kyle O’Brien to a newly created position of senior personnel executive. O’Brien spent the past five years in personnel with the Lions. He also has worked for the Jaguars, Chiefs and Patriots. He started his NFL career as an intern with the Jets in 1999.
Joe Judge added to his staff with the addition of Drew Wilson as assistant strength and conditioning coach. Wilson replaces Thomas Stallworth, who left the Giants after three seasons to become the Falcons’ strength and conditioning coach.
The Giants also released special teams ace Cody Core, who missed the entire 2020 season following surgery to repair a torn Achilles. The move saves the Giants the $500,000 bonus Core was due if he was on the roster March 20 and also shaves $2 million off the salary cap. Core’s release was designated as failed physical and there is a chance he re-signs once he is healthy.