new york giants defensive free agents
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The New York Giants will have a number of their own defensive free agents this offseason. Who will they keep? Who will they let walk?

A weird and unusual NFL free agency period is ahead of us, and it’s all thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the lingering coronavirus, either no fans or a limited number were allowed in stadiums this season. Thus, the league took a major revenue hit, which will certainly alter the salary cap heading into the 2021 campaign.

Like every other team, the New York Giants have multiple decisions to make regarding their own pending free agents, but those decisions are expected to become even trickier this offseason. Many of these soon-to-be free agents are on the defensive side of the ball, and it’s intriguing to wonder what each of their respective futures will look like.

So, which players are even expected to be on the market?

DE Leonard Williams (Keep)

This is an absolute no-brainer. Leonard Williams this past season was the Giants’ best pass rusher, led the team with 11.5 sacks, and played the best football of his life. Noteworthy performances came in the Week 13 win over Seattle (2.5 sacks, five quarterback hits) and Week 17 win over Dallas (3.0 sacks, five quarterback hits).

In all likelihood, the Giants will need to break the bank on him, and they may not have a choice. If Big Blue wants its pass rush to be as dominant in 2021, the organization will need to meet his asking price and bring him back. Not to mention, if the Giants don’t sign him to a long-term deal, the original trade for him in 2019 would still look bad on Dave Gettleman’s part. Giving up two picks for just a year and a half out of Williams would not bode well with fans.

EDGE Kyler Fackrell (Keep)

The Giants should attempt to bring Kyler Fackrell back on another cheap, short-term deal. He proved to be productive when healthy in 2021 and reliable in the absences of Lorenzo Carter (Achilles), Oshane Ximines (shoulder), and Markus Golden (traded in October).

Patrick Graham’s defensive unit requires edge rusher depth for an effective pass-rushing rotation, and Fackrell would certainly be beneficial for that type of development.

The veteran notched four total sacks in 2020.

ST (and FS) Nate Ebner (Keep)

Nate Ebner is a serviceable special teams ace who would be cheap. Thus, keeping him wouldn’t come with any sort of notable penalty. He’s also close with head coach Joe Judge — they worked together in New England for years and Judge definitely trusts him.

Just don’t play him on defense. That is not what he is there for, at all.

DL Dalvin Tomlinson (Keep)

This is another no-brainer; the Giants need to do everything they can to retain Dalvin Tomlinson.

The four-year pro makes a massive difference on the defensive line and has since his 2017 rookie campaign. He’s a defensive captain, a leader, and additionally productive, having combined for 49 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and four pass breakups in 2020.

As both a run-stopper and pass-rusher, Tomlinson has proven to be versatile, a quality that is very much welcomed when you play for both Joe Judge and Patrick Graham.

DL Austin Johnson (Let walk)

You can’t keep everyone on the defensive line, and the Giants are expected to favor Williams and Tomlinson within this position group.

At the end of the day, Austin Johnson is certainly replaceable and not even a significant part of Graham’s defense whatsoever. He recorded just 18 total tackles this past season and didn’t see the field nearly as much as some of his defensive line counterparts. The most number of defensive snaps Johnson saw in a game this year was 23 in the Week 14 loss to Arizona.

DE Jabaal Sheard (Let walk)

Jabaal Sheard’s situation could likely be similar to Austin Johnson’s, in a sense that the Giants will favor Williams and Tomlinson over any other pending free agents on the defensive line. Despite the fact that he sort of found his niche within Graham’s defense, Sheard is just much more replaceable than those two talented individuals.

The veteran averaged 2.1 combined tackles per game and didn’t record a single sack with Big Blue.

Ryan Honey is a staff writer and host of the Wide Right Podcast.