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What you want, what you need and what you realistically can have are all about to collide when it comes to the Giants and their desire to keep Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson as stalwarts on their defensive line.
They want both of them. They need both of them. Realistically, though, can they keep both of them?
“Super-close friends,’’ Tomlinson said. “I love that guy, love playing beside him.’’
Keeping the super-close friends together or splitting them up is going to come down to dollars and sense. As free agency beckons, there is only so much a team can commit to one position group.
Williams, after a monster season, must be retained. To get him, the Giants gave up two draft picks in a trade with the Jets and were rewarded with one of the top performances by one of their interior defensive linemen in franchise history.
“The bottom line is he thrived in our atmosphere,’’ general manager Dave Gettleman said. “I’m ecstatic. It’s like I tell players all the time, ‘I only want you to be successful, and I want you to make me cry when it comes to negotiations.’ ’’
Williams may not make Gettleman cry, but he will make the Giants pay, as he is in the driver’s seat when it comes to his next contract. He played in 2020 on the franchise tag of $16.1 million. No one compares with Aaron Donald ($22 million per year,) but Williams can now legitimately put himself in the next tier.
Williams (50 tackles, career-high 11.5 sacks) had a better year than the Colts’ DeForest Buckner (49 tackles, 9.5 sacks), the Chiefs’ Chris Jones (36 tackles, 7.5 sacks) and the Packers’ Kenny Clark (38 tackles, two sacks). Buckner averages $21 million per year, Jones $20 million and Clark $17.5 million. Fletcher Cox of the Eagles set a standard not long ago with a six-year deal worth $102 million ($17.1 million average). Cox, 30, had 39 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season, both far below Williams’ output.
Plus, Williams — the No. 6 pick in the 2015 draft — is just 26 years old and has missed only one game in his six-year career. It is fair to assume his eventual deal will flirt with or reach $20 million annually.
“I’m not going to lie, going into this season, throughout the season, at the end of the season, it’s never been about money for me,’’ Williams said. “I was kind of drafted high, made a lot of money already in my career. I feel like I was smart enough and I could retire now and still have enough money for the rest of my life, but it’s never been about the money. I think I just more wanted the respect and to show guys the reason why I’m in this league.’’
Tomlinson, 26, is the first Giants defensive player to start every game (64) in his first four seasons. He is a remarkably consistent run-stopper — 46, 45 and 45 tackles the past three years — and has seven sacks the past two seasons. He also deflected four passes in 2020, flourishing in the Patrick Graham system and under defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
A team captain, Tomlinson will not command Williams’ money, but the 2017 second-round pick will cash in. Think $10 million per year as a starting point.
“I’ve been blessed to be here,’’ Tomlinson said. “I love this organization. I always want to be a Giant.’’
Williams, Tomlinson and massive Dexter Lawrence, who is about to enter his third NFL season, were starters the Giants depended on to dominate up front.
“Our defensive line is the strength of our team,’’ safety Logan Ryan said. “They’re a special group, they have a lot of fun and they’re very violent, physical, big men down there in the box.’’
The salary cap in 2021 could be $190 million or it could fall to $175 million, after a year with no fans in the stands amid a pandemic. The Giants currently are about $23 million under the cap, possessing the 13th-most cap money in the league.
“The toughest thing for us right now, frankly, is we don’t know what the cap number is going to look like,’’ Gettleman said. “That’s a problem. We’re not going to know for a while. That’s going to dictate, obviously, how you operate.’’
Does Spencer go into Gettleman’s office and tell him, ‘Pay my guys,’ before exiting the room?
“That was your quote, not mine,’’ Spencer said.
So, what does he say?
“I’d say, ‘I’d like to coach those guys,’ ” Spencer said. “That’s all I would say.’’
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