By Michael Eisen
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dave Gettleman's decision this week to bring defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Giants can be explained by one of the general manager's core philosophies.
"Big men," Gettleman said, "allow you to compete."
Williams is big. He is a 6-5, 302-pound man who is a roadblock for opposing running backs and an interior tormentor to quarterbacks.
The sixth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams, a five-year veteran, was acquired in a trade with the Jets for a 2020 third-round draft choice and a 2021 fifth-round selection that can become a fourth. He will team with a group of defensive tackles that includes third-year pro Dalvin Tomlinson, second-year vet B.J. Hill and rookie Dexter Lawrence, who was taken in the first-round – to give the Giants an imposing defensive front.
"It gives us a really strong inside defensive tackle rotation," Gettleman said. "We're very happy with the progress that B.J. Hill is making. We're happy with Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson. We're very happy with our defensive tackle group, but you're always looking to get better. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Defensive tackles line up closer to the quarterback than defensive ends."
That will give Williams, who has 17.0 career sacks, a shorter path to the quarterback.
"Leonard is a legitimate pass rusher," Gettleman said. "He's been to the Pro Bowl (in 2016). He's the old man of the group at 25, which is really pretty funny. He's never missed a game. He's a great human being. He's a great teammate."
Gettleman initiated the trade last week by reaching out to Jets general manager Joe Douglas.
"I called the Jets G.M. and asked if Leonard was available. We went back and forth and basically came to an agreement over the weekend. But we didn't finalize it. He had to speak to his ownership and I had to speak with mine. We made the deal on Monday. Leonard came in and passed his physical on Tuesday, and he's now a Giant wearing number 99."
Gettleman considers Williams another foundational player as he continues to upgrade the Giants' roster.
"It's a great add for us moving forward because you have to build this thing brick by brick," Gettleman said. "We have one of the youngest teams in the league and this for us is a very strong add. It's a process. This is a talented young football player who we can add to the other talented young kids that we have, a group that includes Daniel Jones, Saquon (Barkley), B.J. Hill, Lorenzo Carter, Will Hernandez, Evan (Engram) and Sterling (Shepard), among others.
"Leonard is not just a run defender, not just a pass rusher. He's a legitimate three-down player."
Although the four defensive linemen have similar attributes, Gettleman does not consider them interchangeable.
"They're all different," he said. "Dalvin is a powerful point of attack run player. Leonard is a little more linear, but he's long. Him, Dexter and B.J. all have run-pass ability. While the style of play has evolved, you have to do the same basics. You have to run the ball, you have to stop the run, because if you don't stop the run, you're not getting to third and long. You're not getting to obvious passing downs. This gives us a real strong rotation. You just roll them in and out, which makes it very difficult for the opposing team."
Gettleman is particularly impressed that Williams played in all 71 games in his Jets career, starting all but one of them.
"When you're building your team, especially in the offseason, you count on guys to be available," Gettleman said. "When you get into a situation where you can't count on a guy, how do you plan? The best ability sometimes is availability. Leonard has been available his whole career. We just think that he has plenty of upside, he's athletic, he can run.
"The other thing we love about him is he plays strong, he plays as powerful. He's a really good athlete. He chases the ball all over the place. He's running. Especially when your linebackers can corral those guys and they make them stop and futz around, and you get these big ol' hog mollies coming from behind, you're going to get some balls out. That's another thing about Leonard that really makes him special."
Williams can become a free agent after this season, but Gettleman would like him to be a long-term member of the Giants.
"We gave up a three and a five. Our goal is to sign him long-term. He's only 25-years-old. And obviously talented. He's a piece you can build around."
Gettleman also likes the fact that the trade is an interesting footnote in Giants history, because it is just the second ever consummated between the Giants and Jets. The first, however, was voided.
On Aug. 23, 1983, the Giants traded center Chris Foote to the Jets for a draft choice. But the Jets released Foote six days later, nullifying the trade. Foote re-signed with the Giants on Sept. 12 and he played in 11 games for them that season.
"So this" Gettleman said of adding Williams, "is really the first trade that'll stick."
Photos from Wednesday's practice as on-field preparations began for the Dallas Cowboys