EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Leonard Williams recently completed the finest season of his six-year career and he just signed a lucrative new contract, but he hasn't yet reached his peak.
"I'm 26-years-old still," Williams said today. "I think I'm still in the middle of my prime and I think I have a lot of game left in this league, obviously. I have a lot of personal goals. I'm not trying to reach any specific stat line or anything like that, but I want to just give it my best and keep playing like the player I am and just keep bringing my best to the table."
The Giants expect exactly that from Williams and today they officially signed him to the three-year contract they had agreed to earlier in the week. On March 9, the Giants had placed the franchise tag on Williams for the second year in a row. Both sides were determined to continue a partnership that began when Williams was acquired in a trade with the Jets midway through the 2019 season.
"Honestly, I just love this organization," Williams said. "I love the way I've been getting coached here under coach (Joe) Judge and his staff. I love the way they treat people here. I love the guys that they're bringing into the building, player-wise. Overall, it just seemed like a good fit. I'm just glad to be back."
So are the Giants, because under defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and line coach Sean Spencer, Williams developed into one of the NFL's best linemen in 2020. He led the team and was seventh in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, the most by a Giants' player since Jason Pierre-Paul's 14.5 in 2014. He was third in the league with 30 quarterback hits and tied for sixth with 14 tackles for loss. Williams was fifth on the Giants with 57 tackles (29 solo).
"There was something about this year that just felt like I was back in college, back in those high school times when you're not thinking about what the media is saying, you're not thinking about money, you're not thinking about anything like that," Williams said. "You're just thinking about the reason why we play this game is the love for the game. I'm not saying that ever left me. But this year, it was just a lot of fun playing in this system, playing with my teammates, playing with this staff. When I'm out there having fun, I just play my best."
Of course, once a player posts 11.5 sacks in a season, the natural inclination is to wonder if he can exceed that total the following year. What does Williams expect in his encore?
"I don't really want to go into it thinking of a specific stat line," he said. "I just want to keep giving my best. There's always room for improvement. I want to improve on the field, I want to improve off the field. I want to just be that great teammate to my teammates. I want to be that good model of a guy that people see around the building. I want to keep being that great player, but I don't really have any expectations or anything like that."
In addition to the prospect he will again post impressive numbers, Williams should assume a larger leadership role after the departure of fellow tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, a team captain who signed this week with the Minnesota Vikings.
But Williams said those expectations will not weigh him down.
"I think if I allow the pressure to sink in or allow outside noise to start sinking in, then it's going to take away that fun that I was just talking about that allowed me to play so well," Williams said. "I don't want to think about what type of pressure or what other people are thinking. I just want to be the best for my team, be a good leader and give this team as much as I can. That's the reason why they brought me back, for that. I don't want to put too much pressure on it.
"There's always room for improvement, obviously. I think for me, just being that guy in the locker room, being the guy on the field, being that example for new guys coming in of what a Giants player is here. We work hard, we compete, and we put our best forward. I think just bringing good guys and good examples and stuff like that is important. If I want those types of guys around me, I'm going to have to be that type of example as well."
Now he has plenty of time to do exactly that.
"I wanted a long-term contract for stability," Williams said. "I wanted to be here long-term and I wanted to keep playing for this coaching staff. I have goals outside of making money in this league. I want to just keep trying to achieve and do my best on the field."
View photos of defensive lineman Leonard Williams.