Which defensive linemen are set to be available this offseason? Who could the Giants consider adding to the roster?
There are a number of lingering uncertainties surrounding the near future of the New York Giants defensive line. Both Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson — dominant pieces of what was a successful defensive unit last season — are set to be free agents. Given the on-field production of either, both will be requesting a lump sum of cash, Williams moreso than Tomlinson.
The Giants will certainly do what it takes to retain the pair of defensive weapons, whether they franchise tag Williams and sign Tomlinson to a long-term deal or vice versa. That will be a difficult job in and of itself, especially with the team’s limited salary cap space (just under $8 million at the moment) and the $180 million cap floor.
But regardless of the eventual decisions, there are multiple defensive linemen in free agency who could also be acquired for depth purposes. Backup down lineman Austin Johnson is additionally set to be on the market, and in the event the Giants don’t bring him back, there’s a trio of pending free agents Big Blue may target.
Adam Butler (New England)
Adam Butler worked with Joe Judge in New England from 2017-19 when the current Giants head coach served as the Patriots special teams coordinator. In addition to his defensive playing time, Butler saw time on Judge’s special teams unit, participating on 55, 132, and 98 special teams snaps from 2017-19, respectively.
There’s versatility within his game; Butler can rush the passer even as a down lineman. Last year, he racked up 34 combined tackles (18 solo), six tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, and four sacks.
He’s still young — another plus. Butler is entering just his age-27 season and could definitely be affordable; he played for the Pats with a $3.3 million average annual salary in 2020.
Sheldon Rankins (New Orleans)
While not as productive as Butler, Sheldon Rankins could indeed be cheaper. In 12 games (one start) last year, Rankins recorded just 20 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, and 1.5 sacks for an underwhelming Pro Football Focus grade of 57.8.
He also possesses an issue when it comes to consistently staying healthy — Rankins has played just two full seasons out of the five years he’s been in the league. Not to mention, he missed six and four games the last two seasons.
Rankins hasn’t been consistent since his first-round draft selection (No. 12 overall) back in 2016, but that could lower his value and make him an easy acquisition from a financial standpoint. His current four-year deal provides him with an average salary of $3.2 million; an eventual new deal may be a tad bit lower.
Christian Covington (Cincinnati)
Christian Covington could be a productive run-stopper, but he’s not really a pass-rusher whatsoever. He combined for just one quarterback hit and zero sacks in 16 games (14 starts) with the Bengals last season. Covington has also recorded 8.5 total sacks and 20 total quarterback hits in six seasons (82 games).
The Giants could sign the 27-year-old to a short-term deal and provide him with an Austin Johnson-type role where he’s more of a depth piece and situational down lineman. He wouldn’t be expensive either; Covington played on a $1.5 million average annual salary with the Bengals in 2020. Prior to that, he earned a $2.5 million average salary with the Cowboys in 2019.