There have been a number of changes made to the Giants front seven after just a few days of the free agency period.
You win some, you lose some.
That’s essentially been the moral of the story when it comes to the Giants front seven over the past few days.
The win: Retaining Leonard Williams, regardless of what you think of the financial details. The organization agreed to a three-year deal worth $63 million — a contract that makes Williams one of the highest-paid in the NFL at his position at $21 million in average annual salary. The dollar amount is significant, but talent is expensive in this league and becoming more and more costly every year.
The loss: Missing out on a potential re-signing of Dalvin Tomlinson, the valuable defensive tackle who’s headed to Minnesota on a new two-year deal. The Giants front office didn’t handle the situation correctly and should’ve extended Tomlinson last offseason. Waiting on an extension provided the Giants with a shorter timeframe and tighter financial situation (the organization possessed limited salary cap space during an offseason in which the cap was down).
Among the aforementioned events along with other moves, the Giants front seven is going to look different in 2021 than it did this past year, a season in which the entire defensive unit impressed many.
The defensive line
Well, as mentioned before, Williams is back. This is a huge development considering he’s the Giants’ top down lineman and pass rusher — Williams underwent a career year in 2020 and led the team in both sacks (11.5) and quarterback hits (30).
He’ll be the so-called “star of the show,” and while Patrick Graham likes to utilize guys based on matchups, Williams is too expensive and valuable not to have on the field for almost every single snap.
Dexter Lawrence will obviously reprise his role as one of the starting down linemen as well. He’s still on his rookie deal (therefore a cheap asset) and if he continues to impress in 2021 like he did during his first two years in the league, an extension next offseason may be en route (unless the Giants exercise his fifth-year option).
The performer in Tomlinson’s old spot is unknown at this time. Will it be B.J. Hill in the final year of his rookie deal? Maybe Austin Johnson?
The latter just re-signed with the Giants (one year, $3 million), so it’s clear the organization sees upside within his on-field play. He’s a low-risk player right now, given the cheap deal he’s playing on for 2021.
Hill, however, may be more talented and seemed to possess a more concrete role within Graham’s defensive schemes than Johnson did last year. Hill was on the field for 35% of the team’s defensive snaps in comparison to Johnson’s 21%.
Expect a position battle between the pair of individuals to potentially take place in the upcoming training camp period.
The Giants recently added defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million — he’ll provide pass-rushing depth and he’s another cheap player with notable on-field potential. Odenigbo racked up 10.5 sacks combined over the last two years with the Vikings.
The coaching staff seemingly liked 2020 undrafted rookie Niko Lalos; he appeared in six games last year, so hopefully he further develops in his sophomore campaign.
New York will possess options for starting roles and depth pieces. The loss of Tomlinson is huge, but given the Giants’ cap situation, some expected Dalvin to depart anyway.
The linebacking corps
The state of the outside linebacker unit is unclear right now.
Will Lorenzo Carter come back from this Achilles rupture and be able to portray on-field consistency? Will Oshane Ximines be the dominant pass-rushing weapon the Giants were hoping he would be when they selected him in the 2019 draft’s third round?
Kyler Fackrell’s Giants future is unclear. He’s a free agent as of Wednesday but has yet to find a new team. It’s additionally unknown if the organization is looking to bring him back on another cheap, short-term deal (Fackrell signed a one-year, $4.6 million contract last offseason).
Pending second-year linebackers Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin (both 2020 late-round draft picks) possess evident upside, but the Giants may also benefit from acquiring an edge rusher early in the draft.
It doesn’t need to be at No. 11 overall, but maybe at No. 42 in the second round. Graham already has a star pass rusher in Williams; he just needs a guy who can slot in with the alternative weapons and become a reliable part of the rotation.
And then that inside linebacker spot alongside Martinez? At this point, it could be Tae Crowder, 2020’s Mr. Irrelevant and another player who possesses great upside but is currently on a cheap rookie deal. It was incredibly impressive to see a guy who ended up the last pick in the draft find a starting role five games into his career last year.
Crowder started six games (11 total appearances) during his inaugural pro season, and right now, might be the best option in a 3-4 scheme.