2020 NFL free agency: Giants expected to tag Leonard Williams, unwilling to let him leave, per report

At the time, the New York Giants thought trading for Leonard Williams would somehow help save a dying season. It did not, but it did leave the team strapped to an awkward situation. Williams made it clear while he was open to returning to the Giants in 2020, it’d have to be on a long-term deal, and he was just as open — if not more so — to the idea of heading out of town, citing the fact he’s never been on a winning team in the NFL as a motivator for finding one. 

It doesn’t appear Williams will get his wish to test free agency though, in either the manner he wishes or at all, because the Giants are reportedly expected to tag him before the NFL deadline of March 16 at noon (ET), per Adam Schefter of ESPN. It is unknown if they’ll use the franchise tag or the transition tag, considering teams have access to only one with the ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement, the prices for each coming in at $15.5 million and $12.32 million, respectively. If the exclusive franchise tag is used on Williams, he will be unable to negotiate offers with other teams. 

If the non-exclusive tag or the transition tag is used, he can, and the Giants would receive compensation in the form of two first-round picks if they allow him to walk under the former — nothing to be gained if he walks under the latter.

It’s a foregone conclusion no one will give up a huge contract along with two first-round picks for Williams, but the Jets are pleased with the Giants decision either way, because if Williams agrees to a new deal before the start of the new league it, it changes the 2021 fifth-round pick into a 2021 fourth-rounder. The move to send a 2020 third-round pick and conditional 2021 fifth-round pick during a losing streak to the Jets in exchange for an interior lineman was met with confusion by media and fans alike, and while the team attempted to sell it as a decision for both now and later, the “later” doesn’t look any more promising than the “now.”

Between his time with the Jets and now with the Giants, Williams suffered quite a bit in 2019 and is fed up with losing. This inevitably means it’ll cost the Giants more to keep him.

“If I don’t think they’re giving me what I think I’m worth, then obviously I think hitting free agency would make sense,” Williams said in December, via NJ.com. “Everything is going to have to match up. … I definitely think I’m a top-tier interior defensive lineman, in that top percentage of the d-linemen. I wouldn’t say Aaron Donald, but I would definitely put myself up there with a lot of those other top guys.”

Set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, if the Giants do deploy a tag as reported, Williams’ plan will have been thwarted before it began. That’s sure to make him an unhappy camper, assuming he could be more unhappy than he already was. The relationship can be reconciled fairly easily, however, if Williams likes the offer the Giants put in front of him and don’t force him to play out a tag in 2020.

“Yeah, I would be [open to staying with the Giants], if I felt like they were offering me something that I think is worth it,” he said. “I like to be committed to where I’m at. I like the fact that the GM and the owner wanted me here. I think it speaks volumes that they were willing to trade for me in a rebuilding year. I think that shows that they want me to be a part of this program.”

Not for nothing, though, the lack of winning is weighing heavily on him, and that’s working against any leverage the Giants would like to have in the upcoming negotiations.

“This has definitely been one of the hardest years,” Williams said. “I want to win, and I think it’s time. I want to be able to have some winning years, even if that’s just making it to the playoffs. I at least want to do that. 

“I think it would be hard for me to sit back in retirement and think about never being able to have played in the playoffs. … I’m tired of losing. It’s near the end of the season, around this time, when it’s cold, and you’re not playing for the playoffs. You’re putting your body through all this stuff, and you want to have something to show for it. It kind of sucks to have nothing really to show for it.

“You want to be able to be playing for a championship near the end of the season, after all this mental and physical stuff that you go through. That’s really it — the payoff to the hard work. Literally every year, I feel something more and more getting banged up on my body.”

The Giants made sweeping changes in the offseason that included ditching head coach Pat Shurmur in exchange for the hiring of Joe Judge, but Gettleman remains at the wheel. Williams sees a light at the end of the Giants tunnel, even if he does have one eye closed to it. 

“I do know that this team is rebuilding and has a lot to work on,” he readily admits. “But the division itself does as well. It adds a little bit of hope to what this team is able to do next year. You have to look at all the possibilities.”

Oddly enough, that’s not exactly the vote of confidence Williams thinks it is, but he’ll be forced to sit tight in New York while his future gets sorted out contractually. 

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