Leonard Williams just walked into the Giants locker room. Now everyone wants to know how long he intends to stay.
The Giants traded for the former Jets defensive lineman earlier this week not to salvage this season (though if he can, they’d welcome it), but to become a building block for the team moving forward. The problem is that he is due to hit free agency after his eight-week audition with the Giants.
The Giants hope they are renting with the option to buy.
Pat Shurmur said he is “very confident” that the Giants will be able to sign Williams to his next contract and have him stick around a while.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t be [here],” Shurmur said on Wednesday. “We brought him in with the idea that he was going to get out there and play and be with us...I really liked him as a player before we brought him in. I think we added an outstanding player to our group.”
Williams said he is “open” to the idea of signing with the Giants, be it before this season ends or before free agency begins in March. Up to that point, the only things the Giants acquired from the Jets for two future draft picks was a half-season of play and exclusive rights to negotiate with Williams. They also could use the franchise tag, which would be extremely costly. Clearly the best route would be to sign him to a long-term deal.
For now, though, Williams isn’t focusing on that.
“I’m assuming that is something that is going to be talked about soon or at the end of the season,” he said in front of his new locker, next to his new helmet and new jersey and new number. “They knew that this is my contract year. Everyone pretty much knows it. But at the same time I still have stuff to prove for this team.”
And of course, underlying it all, they have “stuff” to prove to him.
While Williams has eight weeks to show his value, the Giants have eight weeks to convince Williams that they are a team headed in the right direction and will be a good fit for him. He was thrilled to be traded to the Giants this week because it meant he didn’t have to move. He didn’t have to ask anyone to watch his dogs while he traveled to a different town, he said on Wednesday.
But during the offseason, such conveniences are afterthoughts. There are 32 NFL teams, and all of them are dog-friendly.
So the courtship began on Wednesday.
He already knows the defense, with James Bettcher’s system very similar to the one he played in [and thrived under] for four seasons with Todd Bowles and the Jets. Some of the terminology is even the same, he said. After his first practice on Wednesday, Williams walked off the field with fellow defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson, yukking it up as if they were lifelong friends.
“He fit in very well,” Lawrence said. “We were laughing with each other, joking around, coaching each other. It helps to have him as part of the brotherhood . . . He wants to be here and he wants to get better with us.”
Williams said he appreciated those efforts, even if his new team is still, well, his new team.
“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to think about near the end of the season,” he said of his contract status. “I’m going to take it day by day right now since I’m new. This is my first time in this color. It still feels a little weird. But I’m trying to embrace it. It’s been an easy transition.”
The locker room is more like a fitting room for Williams. He gets to try on that blue uniform, check himself out in the mirrors, and see if it's something he wants to buy. The Giants seem to already know they want to make the purchase, though there have yet to be any face-to-face discussions about it.
“I’m not trying to think about contract stuff yet,” Williams said. “I’m trying to focus on getting to know my teammates here, showing who I am."
He called it “an audition.”
It is. For both sides.