Why the Giants Should Use the Transition Tag on Leonard Williams
After trading away premium draft capital to the Jets to obtain defensive tackle Leonard Williams, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman has told anyone who has asked that the intention is to re-sign the 25-year-old defender.
They would pretty much have to as failing to strike a deal with Williams would be a big blow to a team that, according to The Athletic, was the only team that was ever realistically in on a trade for Williams.
While there was some talk after Williams was acquired that the Giants might sign him to an extension before the 2019 season ended, that didn't have a realistic chance of happening due to the Giants' cap situation.
As we are still technically in the 2019 league year, where, according to the NFLPA public cap report the Giants have just $1.9 million of cap space, the chances of Williams getting his new extension now are unlikely (though when the Giants ultimately trim some of the fat off their books, that will certainly help give them some breathing room).
Then there is a matter of meeting Williams in the middle regarding what he feels he’s worth and how the team values him. The Giants will no doubt make Williams a top priority once they clear out some additional cap space. Still, the odds of an extension getting done before the start of free agency are probably slim and will likely require the use of a tag to make sure that the deal does get done.
Tag! You’re It!
As has been widely noted, because this is the final year of the current CBA, NFL teams will be able to use both the transition and franchise tags on two separate players that they wish to retain in free agency.
In Williams’ case, the Giants might want to consider applying the transition tag, which according to Over the Cap, carries an estimated $12.321 million price tag for a defensive tackle as opposed to the franchise tag's $15.5 million price tag.
But while teams can use two tags instead of one or the other this year, what hasn’t changed is the rules governing the tag. A non-exclusive franchise-tagged player still brings two first-round draft picks as compensation if another team signs him to an offer sheet not matched by his original team.
If a transition player signs an offer sheet with another NFL club, the original club has a set period to match the offer; if it doesn’t, then the player’s contractual rights switch to the new team. The old team does not qualify for compensatory picks or compensation of any kind.
The transition tag carries a few more risks, but when it comes to Williams, who many might agree is not a $15 million per year player given his numbers, it could be worth it for multiple reasons.
The first and most obvious is that when the Jets were looking to move Williams at the trade deadline, they reportedly had no takers other than the Giants. It would be hard to imagine that changing now, especially with the draft right around the corner and with the defensive interior free agency class set to include Houston’s D.J. Reader, Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave, Baltimore’s Michael Pierce, and Green Bay’s Mike Daniels.
The second reason is Williams’ production. While the Giants are likely to look at the overall picture, including beyond the numbers, realistically speaking, a player’s measurable production (statistics) plays a massive role in determining his market value, and Williams’ career stats don’t exactly scream “elite player.”
Those two reasons, combined with the lower cap figure for a transition player, make the transition tag worth it for the Giants to use on Williams, who, remember, if he signs with another club, the Giants will have an opportunity to match the offer sheet.
Lastly, assuming the Giants and Williams do reach a new deal, the transition tag can be removed, and his cap hit will be lowered.
The (Multi) Million Dollar Question
Is Williams worth big money?
That depends on what your definition of “big money” is.
If you’re talking about putting him in the same ballpark as the Rams’ Aaron Donald, then no, Williams isn’t quite in that ballpark just based on the simple fact he doesn’t have the numbers Donald has, which again is a significant factor in negotiations.
But despite his lack of numbers, it does need to be noted that Williams had his best eight-game stretch of his career after joining the Giants, a stretch in which he recorded 31 pressures, half a sack, 17 tackles, and 11 stops for zero or negative yardage.
To put those numbers in comparison with his 2016 Pro Bowl season—a 16 game season—Williams had 55 total pressures, 7.0 sacks, 48 tackles, and 48 stops for zero or negative yardage.
Money-wise, Williams isn’t a $15 million per year player. What Williams is, though, is a complementary piece whose arrival just so happened to coincide with the defensive front’s playing much better in the second half of the season.
The final question the Giants will have to contemplate is how Williams will be used in new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme.
Based on his skillset, Williams’ best position appears to be that of a 3-tech defensive interior lineman in a classic 4-3 front where he can use his athletic ability and strength to disrupt.
But with Graham reportedly planning a "multiple" look defense, players are going to be asked to fill different roles, and the counts are likely going to be based on these various roles. That is yet another factor that goes into how a team determines a free agent's value.
Spotrac has estimated Williams' market value of $8.2 million per year based on a 5-year, $41.312 million contract--numbers that appear to be based strictly on his production as compared to similar players.
Will They Get a Long-term Deal Done?
Both parties appear to want each other, with Williams having said as much multiple times.
With that said, Williams, who turns 26 in June, is also going to want a handsome payday on his next contract, which in all likelihood will be his primary opportunity to score financial security.
From the Giants perspective, one would like to believe that Gettleman, upon learning that Williams was available via trade, thoroughly did his homework regarding what it might take to retain Williams’ services for the long term.
But sometimes contract negotiations take weird twists and turns to where they don’t always work out as planned. Whether the Williams negotiations will take that path or be smooth and efficient remains to be seen.