While the new league year officially kicks off next week, the Giants have already gotten their offseason started with the placement of the franchise tag on defensive tackle Leonard Williams.
Williams was one of the team's best defenders last season, registering a team-high and career-high 11.5 sacks while playing all 16 games. He added 14 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hits, serving as the Giants' most productive pass rusher.
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport joined the Giants Huddle podcast to discuss Williams' tag along with other potential moves for the team. Rapoport said that while there is a lot of work still to be done to reach a long-term deal with Williams, he believes there is urgency on both sides to reach an agreement soon.
A long-term deal with Williams would most likely lower his 2021 cap hit by a significant margin, thus opening up some cap space for the team to make other moves. While retaining Williams was clearly a priority for the Giants this offseason, another key piece of the defense is set to become a free agent next week in Dalvin Tomlinson.
Tomlinson enjoyed possibly his most productive season in 2020, registering 49 tackles (25 solo), 3.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits and four passes defensed. More importantly, the former second-round pick has not missed a game in his four-year career and has stepped up as a leader in the locker room in recent years.
Rapoport believes the defensive tackle will have a strong market this offseason, but the NFL Network insider noted how important Tomlinson is to the franchise.
"It sounds like he is a priority (to the Giants)," Rapoport said. "Now I know he's going to be coveted. If you're a team like the Giants, you draft well enough where a mid-rounder becomes a really coveted free agent, that's someone you'd like to keep. I think for Dalvin Tomlinson, the interesting thing for the Giants is not that he's a very good player, he is a very good player, but he's also a leader. You rarely have leaders on the defensive line. It just doesn't always happen that way…
"His value is great on the free agent market. It might be greater with the Giants because of how he leads the team and how the players interact with him. He's important. I don't know if they'll be able to keep him, but he is very important to this team."
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The Giants sport a talented group of interior defensive linemen set to return next season. Williams will be joined by 2019 first-round pick Dexter Lawrence and 2018 third-round pick B.J. Hill, as well as RJ McIntosh and David Moa (reserve/future deal).
"It's a lot of resources towards one spot," Rapoport said about the chances Tomlinson is brought back. "Now, if I know Dave Gettleman, and I think I do, there are few things he loves more than defensive linemen. Maybe offensive linemen are the only other thing. If there's one spot where I think you could over allocate or whatever, I think this could be it. Now cap wise, you can do it. That's not a big deal because whenever the Leonard Williams deal comes in, it's going to drastically lower his cap hit this year and actually give them more room as opposed to less room. I think it's possible. Like everything else, it's just going to be hard to make the puzzle pieces fit. But I think it's possible."
The tagging of Williams was not the only big roster move the Giants made this week. On Wednesday, the team announced that they were releasing veteran guard Kevin Zeitler after two seasons with the team.
Zeitler was undoubtedly the team's most experienced offensive lineman the past two years, starting 31 of 32 games. However, the move cleared up a good chunk of cap space for the Giants. Due to the lowering of this year's salary cap to $182.5 million, Rapoport believes that there will be a good group of solid, veteran offensive linemen available this offseason who are likely to be relatively low-priced.
"There are going to be a lot of those guys available," Rapoport explained. "Just very solid, low-priced offensive linemen. There is going to be a lot of very solid low-priced everything in free agency this year. You can definitely find that guy. Now the Giants, they definitely do seem to have some guards they like on their team, (Shane) Lemieux in particular I would say. But yeah, getting some depth would certainly help, and it is a perfect year to do it."
According to the NFL insider, the offensive line isn't the only position group that should offer good value in free agency. Rapoport believes this is a great offseason to be in the market for a wide receiver, especially for teams willing to wait until the second wave of available players.
"It's not that high-end. But again, similar to where the guards and centers are, there is really good value available for a team that's willing to wait just a beat," Rapoport said. "And I think, from what I can tell with the Giants, I know last year they splashed a little bit, but they seem to want to wait until more like Thursday, Friday instead of Monday, Tuesday to get the really good value. It used to be Week 2, now it's like Thursday. But that seems to be where the Giants want to live at."
On a similar note, Rapoport noted how this year's crop of free agent edge rushers is rather deep. With more veteran edge rushers available, teams should be able to find some great value after the first wave of signings.
"With the edge rushers, there does seem to be a lot of them," said Rapoport. "There are some very productive players, but there are a ton of really good, upper-mid level free agent pass rushers. Guys like Romeo Okwara, Trey Hendrickson I think will get paid. But right under that, I think there are a lot of just really, really good players. They can't all make money, especially in a year where the cap is really tight. That's definitely something to watch."
With the salary cap dropping $16 million from 2020, this offseason could be unlike anything we have seen in recent years. Rapoport added that he wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of veteran players go unsigned into April and beyond due to the limited spending available for many teams.
View NFL.com's updated rankings of the top 101 free agents of 2021 ahead of the new league year, which begins March 17.