But football is a business, and with the imminent salary cap issues the Giants will face, Boley, who was due to earn $4.25 million in 2013, was released.
The move was not a total shock, but it now opens the door for the 25-year-old Jacquian Williams to slide into a starting role.
However, rather than just handing him the job, the Giants must ensure Williams earns his spot on the depth chart. If he feels he’s the team’s starter even before training camp, this sense of complacency can only lessen his production.
The Giants will likely draft a linebacker or two to either challenge Williams for playing time or provide much-needed depth.
But the position is Williams’ to lose.
Williams has shown signs the past two seasons of being a capable starter at linebacker. He’s spent most of his time on special teams, but his speed on the outside could give the Giants’ defense another weapon.
In a year when pressure on opposing quarterbacks was lacking, Williams could provide the necessary spark to get the Giants’ defense back to playing its typical style of football. If Williams commands attention from opposing defenses, maybe Jason Pierre-Paul will no longer draw double teams and may thus have a better chance at getting to the quarterback.
Williams is set to earn $555,000 in 2013, which if he lives up to his potential would be an extreme bargain. Giants’ general manager Jerry Reese will likely be searching for plenty of bargains this offseason.
With Chase Blackburn’s future also uncertain, Mark Herzlich may take over in the middle for the Giants. That leaves Mathias Kiwanuka and Spencer Paysinger as the only other linebackers under team control besides Williams. A reunion with free-agent Keith Rivers could certainly be possible.
So while all signs point to Williams taking over as the “next man up,” the Giants must be weary of challenging the youngster to earn playing time rather than simply handing him a starting role.
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari.