The 11.5 sacks he recorded in 2020 certainly went a long way toward making Leonard Williams a Giant for the next three seasons, but he’d like to think it was more than just on-field production that led to his massive new contract.
"They paid me for the guy that I am," he said on Thursday, shortly after having officially inked his $63 million deal. "They brought me back for the guy that I am."
That guy? He’s exactly what the Giants want all of their players to be . . . minus the obscenely large paychecks and salary cap hits of course. Williams, after a season and a half with the team, has become the prototype for the Joe Judge Giants. That they rewarded him and kept him around at such an exorbitant cost indicates as such. And it is why Williams knows that his job now is to do more than just stuff running backs and chase down quarterbacks.
"For me it’s being that guy in the locker room, being that guy on the field, being that example for new guys coming in of what a Giants player is here," Williams said. "We work hard and we compete and we put our best forward. I think bringing good guys and good examples of that into the building is important and if I want those types of guys around me I have to be that type of example as well."
The process that brought him to Thursday’s signing ceremony was just such an example. Williams could easily have accepted the franchise tag the Giants placed on him last week and counted for more than 10 percent of the team’s salary cap this coming season. While he said he wanted the stability of a long-term deal, he was basically handed $19.3 million for one year of work that he could have taken and hit the free agency market anew a year from now, at age 27, with a rising league-wide cap and plenty of broadcast rights cash to be thrown around.
Instead he lowered his asking price and gave the Giants some much-needed cap relief for this free agency period. That doesn’t qualify him as a martyr, but it is certainly something the Giants appreciate. And, Williams hopes, something they use well.
"We have more room to reach out for other players," Williams said. "I don’t really know all the ins and outs going on upstairs, I’m just glad it did work out and we’re able to move forward. I trust the guys upstairs to bring in the right pieces."
When they do, they’ll have Williams to look to as an example. Just as when he first arrived with the Jets as a rookie, he had players he tried to emulate.
"I had a lot of older veteran leadership that I was able to learn from," he said. "Being a leader, being an example is definitely an important part of the reason why they brought me back. I’m going to have to do a good job of showing the next generation or the new guys coming in that same thing . . . I don’t want to change too much, I just want to get better."
Oh, and as for those 11.5 sacks that made 2020 a well-timed career season for him? Williams chalked that up to having "fun" and responding to the hard coaching he received led by Joe Judge.
"I think I have a lot of game left in this league," he said.
The Giants will get the next three years’ worth.