The Giants are 2-6, don't have much salary cap space remaining, and clearly are still in the midst of a rebuilding phase. So how does it make any sense that they'd trade two valuable draft picks to the Jets for an eight-game rental of the disappointing Leonard Williams?
The answer: It only makes sense if he's not really a rental.
And that's the key to this blockbuster deal for the Giants, who sent a third-round pick in 2020 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2021 in exchange for the 25-year-old Williams (plus $4 million from the Jets to cover about half of his remaining salary).
Right now, Williams is due to be an unrestricted free agent on March 18. The Giants can't let that happen, otherwise they wasted two draft picks and $3.5 million on a player they just don't need.
That makes what happens next crucial. The Giants essentially have a 4 ½ month exclusive negotiating window with the former first-round pick -- a very good player who has never been much of a pass rusher, but who many scouts think has a ton of untapped potential. The Giants could use the franchise tag on him in March, though it would likely cost about $16 million.
Their intention, though, according to a team source is to try to sign him to a long-term deal.
That should be interesting and could be costly because there's no real consensus on what Williams is worth. Some have speculated that he could land a $100 million contract given his age and potential, but that would've been more likely if he had shown some pass-rush production. With no sacks this season and only two in the last calendar year, he's likely headed for less.
But not a ton less. Several agents and NFL executives put Williams' worth in the range of about $10-12 million per season, but cautioned he'd likely ask for more. Many think he'll be looking for something like a five-year, $75 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. The truth, though, is there's no way to know until he plays out the last eight games and approaches free agency. Then there'll be a clearer idea of what he's worth.
Williams obviously seems to be worth a lot to the Giants, or at least to GM Dave Gettleman, who has made it clear that his rebuilding of the franchise will start with the offensive and defensive lines. His defensive line is loaded with youth and potential now with Williams, rookie first-rounder Dexter Lawrence, second-year pro B.J. Hill and third-year vet Dalvin Tomlinson. The building blocks are there if the talent pans out.
And in Williams, Gettleman does get a very talented player. Maybe he's never lived up to his pass-rushing promise and has been a disappointment to many since he was picked sixth overall. But he's an outstanding run-stuffer, draws a lot of double teams, and really does do the "dirty work" and have the "hidden production" that the Jets have touted in recent years.
But none of that matters if he's only with the Giants for eight games. Their final eight games are meaningless. They have no hope of making the playoffs. Everything they do now is about returning to contention in 2020 and beyond.
So they need to make sure that Williams is a part of that future, that they didn't throw a third-rounder, a fifth-rounder and $3.5 million away for nothing. True, he'd help them get a better compensatory draft pick if he walked, though it's a complicated formula based in part on future performance and isn't simply a one-for-one swap. Even if he helped them somehow land an extra third-rounder in the 2020 draft, it would be at the bottom of the round, far lower than the one they just gave up.
The Giants just can't afford to be throwing away draft capital like that, not while they're on their way to their sixth losing record in seven seasons. They have far too much work to do, so they have to make better decisions than that. And the bottom line is that this is a really bad one if Williams isn't on the field for the Giants in 2020.
Gettleman doesn't have much of a choice here. He now has to sign Williams to a lucrative, long-term deal to make this trade pay off.