Dave Gettleman has steadfastly stood by the most controversial trade of his reign, insisting that sending two draft picks to the Jets for a two-month rental of Leonard Williams was smart because "the juice was worth the squeeze."
The truth, though, is that it remains to be seen just how good the juice actually was. And it all really depends on what happens over the next five weeks. Maybe the juice was worth it for the Giants if they re-sign the 25-year-old Williams to a reasonable contract between now and the start of free agency.
But it also could turn out to be the worst trade the Giants have ever made.
To review: Back on Oct. 28, the day before the NFL trading deadline, the Giants made a deal that looked like an absolutely steal … for the Jets. They sent a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick across town for the underachieving Williams, with the condition that the fifth-rounder would become a fourth-rounder if the Giants sign Williams to a contract extension before free agency begins on March 18.
Gettleman loved Williams, despite his alarming lack of sack production, and believed he could be a huge part of the Giants' future. And he still could be if the Giants are willing to pay the price.
If they don't, or if Williams decides to go elsewhere, the Giants will have sent two valuable picks to essentially rent a low-impact player for six months when they were already 2-6 and going nowhere.
History will judge this trade by what happens next. And the Giants seem to have only four options:
Pay the man
Gettleman thinks Williams wants to stay with the Giants, and Williams has indicated that's true. But Williams has also said he wants to see what he's worth on the market, and that he believes he's one of the best interior defensive linemen available. Depending on how he defines that and whom he uses as a comparable, that puts his financial expectations somewhere in the range of $11-15 million per year -- and very likely on the upper end.
Williams' lack of sacks could keep his price down, but his age and untapped potential could drive it up. And never forget that teams get crazy in free agency. A best-case for the Giants could be something in the five-year, $60 million range with maybe $25 million guaranteed. But if there are other interested teams, all bets are off.
If it's going to cost $15 million to keep Williams, it makes way more sense for the Giants to give him that in the "franchise tag" rather than a long-term contract (that's the estimate of what the tag for a defensive tackle will cost).
It basically gives the Giants another year to determine his true value to them, and gives Williams incentive to produce a little more so he can get a long-term deal. And it also allows the Giants to save face. They wouldn't have given up those two picks for nothing. At least they'd get a full year out of Williams in return.
The only issue with the franchise tag is that $15 million all counts against the cap, whereas they can lower the cap hit with a longer deal. The Giants, though, will have $60-70 million in salary cap space and don't seem intent on being big spenders, so it makes some sense to use it here.
By the way, assuming the Giants use the "non-exclusive" tag, Williams could solicit offers from other teams. The Giants would have the right to match. But more importantly, if they don't, they'd get two first-round picks in return -- which would turn this trade into a huge win for them. Obviously that's unlikely to happen.
Dust off the transition tag
The Giants haven't used the "transition tag" since they placed it on Rodney Hampton in 1996. It only guarantees the tagged player a one-year tender that equals the average of the Top 10 salaries at his position as opposed to the Top 5 average the "franchise tag" offers. And there's no "exclusive" transition tag, which means the player can solicit offers -- possibly easier to do since the tag amount is lower. The Giants retain the right to match, but there's no compensation if they don't.
The projected amount for the "transition tag" for a DT is about $12 million -- or $3 million less than the franchise tag. This saves a little cap pain for the Giants, allows them to keep Williams another year, and there doesn't appear to be a huge risk involved since it doesn't look like Williams has a ton of teams ready to pounce and offer him a lucrative, long-term deal -- at least not one worth more than $12 million per year.
Then again, it only takes one.
Punt (and run)
This seems like the dumbest and worst idea, but it's actually one the Giants would consider. Remember, Gettleman said that if Williams walks away "if we hold our water, we'll get a third-round (compensatory pick in the 2021 draft)." His thought, then, is that in the long run all the Giants would lose for the Williams rental is a 2021 fifth.
Except that's not a fair representation of how comp picks work. They're based on a complex formula that takes into account money, snap counts and postseason awards for all free agents a team signs or loses in a single year, compared with how other teams fare using the same formula. It's not simply a one-player, one-pick scenario, and there's no guarantee Williams would bring back a third by himself even if it was.
There definitely is a chance the Giants would get nothing if Williams walked away except the knowledge that they gave a third- and fifth-round pick to Jets GM Joe Douglas as sort of a "Welcome to New York" gift.
And if that happens, whatever ridicule Gettleman and the Giants had to endure would be well-deserved.