Dave Gettleman does not like to put timelines on negotiations.
"Contracts get done when they’re supposed to get done," he has said numerous times during his tenure as Giants general manager, including last week.
On Tuesday, with the opening stages of free agency in full swing and the start of the new league year about 24 hours away, it became clear it was time for a Leonard Williams deal to get done.
So it was.
The two sides met for several hours and by mid-afternoon hammered out an agreement for a three-year, $63 million contract that makes Williams the second-highest paid interior defensive lineman in the league in terms of annual average behind DeForest Buckner. It includes $45 million guaranteed, second most in the league at his position behind Aaron Donald. The numbers were first reported by ESPN and NFL Network and confirmed by Newsday sources.
While both sides moved off their previous positions in terms of the financial details, there were wins for both sides. For Williams, who turns 27 in June, the three-year contract means he can hit the open market again before he turns 30 and, assuming he plays somewhere close to the level he performed at for the Giants in 2020 with 11.5 sacks, cash in on another long-term deal.
"It’s never been about money for me," Williams said at the close of the 2020 campaign. "I was kind of drafted high, made a lot of money already in my career. I feel like I was smart enough and I could retire now and still have enough money for the rest of my life, but it’s never been about the money. I think I just more wanted the respect and to show guys the reason why I’m in this league. It’s just more about the respect to me than the contract."
For the Giants, the deal alleviates approximately $8 million of the $19.3 million direct hit on their salary cap that came when they used the franchise tag on Williams last week. While three years is not a long time to spread out the cap implications of such a massive contract, it at least loosens the financial straitjacket the organization had under the old number. It also pushes the hit into seasons when the cap is expected to grow quickly thanks to pending broadcast deals for the NFL.
That freedom allowed them to make their first somewhat splashy acquisition of the offseason. Shortly after the Williams deal was finalized the Giants came to terms on a one-year $2.5 million deal with free-agent wide receiver John Ross, a source confirmed. That contract will not be finalized until Ross passes a team physical at some point following the start of the league year on Wednesday afternoon.
Prior to having the Williams contract settled, the Giants were mostly bystanders in the first salvos of free agency as teams have been allowed to negotiate with agents since Monday at noon.
Ross gives the Giants pure speed at wide receiver. Ross is probably best known for his record-breaking 4.22 second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in 2017 that helped make him a first-round pick out of Washington than anything he accomplished in actual NFL games. While his speed never translated into great production during four seasons with the Bengals (Ross had just 733 total receiving yards in his time there) and he struggled with injuries (he played more than eight games in a season just once, and never more than 13), the Giants see his titillating velocity as a weapon they could use to put playmakers around quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Giants still have work to do this offseason. They have to finalize their plans with offensive tackle Nate Solder to lower the $16.5 million cap hit his current contract will cost them. They still could be in the market for a wide receiver, especially with the prices of players at that position coming in lower than some anticipated. Kenny Golladay or Cordarelle Patterson still might be in play for them.
But before any of that was even able to be contemplated the Giants had to put their own house in order. That meant signing a longer-term deal with Williams and getting rid of the franchise tag they placed on him just last week.
It may have happened a little later than it should have, but it still managed to fit into Gettleman’s vague timeline of getting done when it was supposed to get done.
The Giants signed Cullen Gillaspia to a two-year contract on Tuesday, giving them a special teams ace who will likely replace Nate Ebner’s role on that unit. Listed as a fullback, Gillaspia spent the past two years with the Texans. He has one career reception and zero carries but played a considerable role on Houston’s kicking teams. He was available to sign before the start of the league year because he was waived earlier this month following a failed physical; he suffered a back injury that limited him to seven games in 2020.
As for Ebner, he’ll become a free agent on Wednesday after one year with the Giants and may return at some point, but until then he has announced his intention try out for the U.S. rugby team that will compete in the Olympics this summer.
"We are proud to support Nate in his effort to earn a place on the United States national rugby team," Joe Judge said. "This is the second time I have been with Nate while he tries to make the team to represent our country in the Olympics. We know that rugby has been an important part of Nate's life since he was a young man, and Dave [Gettleman] and I both encouraged him to pursue this opportunity. Nate's rugby training will keep him in great shape this offseason, and we will stay in touch with him as he goes through the process."