EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants will not let free agency determine whether they get to keep Leonard Williams.
The team announced it has placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the standout defensive tackle, who had the finest season of his six-year career in 2020. It is the second consecutive year Williams has received the franchise tag.
Williams is the second player the Giants have tagged twice. Another defensive linemen, Jason Pierre-Paul, was tagged in 2015 and 2017. But he never signed the franchise tender 2015 and it was rescinded after he suffered serious injuries in a fireworks accident on July 4. Williams could become the first Giants player to twice receive a tag and sign his franchise tender.
Williams, 26, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent a week from tomorrow, the start of the NFL's new business year. A franchise tag is basically a one-year deal that grants a window to negotiate a long-term contract. If there is no contract agreement before July 15, Williams will play the 2021 season under the one-year deal, which is what he did last season. His salary would be a calculation based on the average of the top five salaries from his position or 120% of his previous year's salary, whichever is great.
The move gives the two sides time to negotiate a long-term contract, though Williams is free to negotiate with other teams when the free agency signing period begins. But if Williams signs a contract with another team, the Giants will receive two first round draft choices as compensation.
Given his production last season, Williams would likely be a coveted free agent target.
View photos of defensive lineman Leonard Williams.
Williams' team-leading 11.5 sacks were the most by a Giants' player since Jason Pierre-Paul's 14.5 in 2014 and were 7.5 more than any of his teammates, 4.5 more than his previous best total (in 2016) and 11.0 more than he had in 2019. He was third in the NFL with 30 quarterback hits and tied for sixth with 14 tackles for loss. Williams was fifth on the Giants with 57 tackles (29 solo).
In the season's final five weeks, Williams was twice named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
He was first honored following the Giants' 17-12 defeat of the NFC West champion Seahawks in Seattle on Dec. 6. Williams tied his then career high with 2.5 sacks – all in the second half – for 25.5 yards and was credited with five of the Giants' 10 pressures of Russell Wilson. In the third quarter, Williams sacked Wilson for a 15-yard loss to help force a Seattle punt. Midway through the fourth quarter, Williams teamed with Jabaal Sheard for a 5-yard sack. And with the Seahawks trying to drive for the go-ahead touchdown, Williams sacked Wilson for a 10-yard loss on third down with 48 seconds remaining, all but ending Seattle's chances to win the game.
The NFL again cited Williams following the Giants' season-ending 23-19 victory against Dallas on Jan. 3. In that game, he had a season-high seven tackles (five solo), a career-best 3.0 sacks for 20 yards, five quarterback hits and two critical pressures in the Giants' 23-19 victory. With 1:53 remaining, the Cowboys had a first-and-goal at the Giants' 7-yard line when Williams sacked Andy Dalton for a 10-yard loss. Two plays later, on third down from the 17, Williams pressured Dalton into throwing a pass that floated into the end zone, where rookie safety Xavier McKinney made a game-saving interception.
Williams, the sixth overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Jets, was acquired by the Giants on Oct. 29, 2019 for a third-round selection in the 2020 draft and a fifth rounder this year.
Williams, 6-5 and 302 pounds, has played in 95 career games with 87 starts for the Jets and Giants. His career totals include 323 tackles (164 solo), 29.0 sacks, 131 quarterback hits, 48 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, seven passes defensed and one interception.