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Cover 3: Biggest storylines heading into 2021


In this edition of Cover 3, the crew discusses the biggest storylines heading into 2021.

John Schmeelk: It's how the Giants manage their cap space. The NFL salary cap is going to decrease and the Giants have to decide how to manage their roster and finances. The Giants have two key cogs on their defensive line in Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson who are free agents. Their presence and ability to stop the run was a big reason the Giants were able to play both safeties deep for most of the season and prevent big pass plays. Williams was also their best pass rusher and one of the top defensive tackles in the league. Losing either would be a blow.

At the same time, the Giants made clear in their season wrap-up press conferences that they need to add playmakers to the offensive side of the ball. If they use their available cap space on Tomlinson and Williams, would the draft be enough to add the playmakers the team needs to improve offensively?

The Giants also have options with other people on the roster to free up more sap space if they want to bring in additional players in free agency. Letting go of those players would open up other holes that would either have to be filled by young players on the roster or brought in from the outside. Those are the essential decisions the front office will have to make and none of them will be easy.

Dan Salomone: While no roster ever stays the same from year to year, the core of what coach Joe Judge and general manager Dave Gettleman are trying to build is in place. The foundation was laid in Year 1 of the Judge Era, and now we get to see how they plan to start adding to it. That is the major storyline heading into 2021.

Feeling good about the direction of the team is one thing, but team president John Mara said he "can't wait too much longer, quite frankly" for a winning season. In his season-ending press conference, he added, "I'm tired of sitting up here at the end of the year trying to explain what went wrong and why I feel optimistic about the future. I want to do it after a winning season."

The top brass didn't put any numbers on it, but Judge said he has a vision in mind of where the team needs to be in Year 2. We will see how that comes along in what will hopefully be more normal circumstances – or at least familiar now – due to the pandemic. As a first-year head coach, Judge was in the unenviable position of installing new systems with new coaches and players via Zoom.

Lance Medow: Before the draft and well before we even start speculating about the team during training camp, you have to get through free agency. It's why the biggest storyline heading into 2021 is whether the Giants will be able to keep the bulk of their front seven together. Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Kyler Fackrell are scheduled to be free agents and Williams played the 2020 season under the franchise tag. Those three players are coming off impressive campaigns in which they helped Patrick Graham's unit show noticeable improvement from start to finish.

For the sake of continuity, it's important to keep this group together but, most important, you have to look at productivity. Williams is coming off a career year in which he set career-highs in sacks (11.5), quarterback hits (30) and tackles for loss (14). Tomlinson's stats never really do him justice because he does most of the dirty work in the trenches that opens things up for his teammates, but he matched his career-high with 3.5 sacks and logged a personal-best 10 quarterback hits. You also can't overlook the fact that Tomlinson hasn't missed a game in his first four seasons in the league. Lastly, Fackrell proved to be an effective pass rusher and an opportunistic player, who returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in Dallas in Week 5.  Those three players combined for nearly half (19) of the team's 40 sacks.

Given how well the defense played down the stretch and how it seemed the group got more and more comfortable with Graham's scheme, the last thing the Giants want to see is that unit lose key productive players.

Re-live the most memorable moments and images from the first year of the Joe Judge era.


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