Giants, GM Joe Schoen turn focus to future, land impressive haul for Leonard Williams

Joe Schoen has maintained a sober view of his roster at the trade deadline in each of his two seasons as Giants general manager.

A year ago, Schoen resisted the urge to part with any draft capital to upgrade a roster that jumped out to a surprising 6-2 start. In fact, Schoen traded away an asset, wide receiver Kadarius Toney, for third- and sixth-round picks ahead of last year’s deadline.

This year, Schoen recognized his 2-6 team has no hope of contending. So he shifted his focus to the future, shipping defensive lineman Leonard Williams to the Seahawks for a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick.

That’s an impressive haul for the 29-year-old Williams, who is in the final year of a three-year, $63 million contract. The strong return is based on the Giants’ willingness to pay most of Williams’ remaining $10 million salary for this season.

Essentially paying $9.4 million for a second-round pick shows Schoen’s focus is fixed on the future. That pick could be valuable to continue the Giants’ rebuild or as ammo in a trade to move up in the draft.

The Giants are currently projected to have the fourth pick in the 2024 draft, which puts them in prime territory to land a top quarterback if they decide to move on from Daniel Jones. Jones, who signed a four-year, $160 million contract in March, is set to return for Sunday’s game against the Raiders after missing three weeks with a neck injury.

Here are some additional thoughts on the trade:

Fitting farewell

This is a fitting end to Williams’ tenure with the Giants. This trade took place two days after the fourth anniversary of the deal that sent Williams from the Jets to the Giants.

The circumstances are different, however. Despite the Giants having a 2-6 record at the time, former GM Dave Gettleman inexplicably sent third- and fifth-round picks to the Jets for Williams, who was in the last year of his contract.

That deal gave Williams major leverage, which he exerted to secure the $16.1 million franchise tag coming off a season with a half sack. Williams broke out with 11.5 sacks during the 2020 season, which led to the monster $63 million payday.

That contract hung over Schoen, who was forced to restructure Williams’ contract before last season to create cap space. That restructure left Williams with a massive $32.3 million salary cap hit this year, which was the third-highest in the league.

The Giants’ resistance to engage in extension negotiations or to restructure the contract to create cap space this offseason was a clear sign Williams wasn’t viewed as part of the future. So rather than letting Williams leave for nothing — compensatory picks aren’t a lock for any Giants free agents since the team figures to be spenders this offseason — Schoen moved aggressively to secure a premium draft pick.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks are 5-2 and leading the NFC West. They clearly believe they have a chance to make a Super Bowl run this season and they view Williams as a piece that could push them over the top. A second-round pick is valuable, but it won’t help the team’s efforts this season.


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Youth movement

This move undoubtedly weakens the Giants’ roster for the rest of this season. Williams was playing 70 percent of the defensive snaps as the tag-team partner to All-Pro nose tackle Dexter Lawrence.

Williams only has 1.5 sacks this season — and 10.5 sacks in the three seasons since his 2020 breakout. But he’s still an effective pass rusher, recording a season-high six pressures in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Williams’ 22 pressures this season ranks 14th among interior defensive linemen.

The Giants have veterans to offset Williams’ departure. They signed A’Shawn Robinson (one year, $5 million) and Rakeem Nunez-Roches (three years, $12 million) this offseason to beef up their defensive line depth. But this move should open the door for young defensive linemen DJ Davidson and Jordon Riley to get more playing time.

Davidson, a 2022 fifth-round pick, has played 25 percent of the snaps when healthy this season, while Riley, a rookie seventh-round pick, has been a healthy scratch for six games.

Cap considerations

With the Seahawks reportedly only paying Williams the minimum salary for the rest of the season ($647,222), the Giants will be on the hook for the remaining $9.4 million. That salary is being converted to a signing bonus to facilitate the trade.

Williams’ contract contains a void year in 2024, which already has $5.96 million in dead money. If the remaining $9.4 million is spread evenly over this year and next year, the Giants will create $4.7 million in cap savings this year while adding that much to the dead money sum next year. That would bring the dead money charge in 2024 to $10.6 million.

Next man up

The Giants don’t figure to be done dealing. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is another veteran in the final year of his contract who could be on the move. And the Giants certainly would welcome any team taking wide receiver Parris Campbell’s contract ($2.1 million remaining), even if a trade only produces a late-round pick swap. Safety Xavier McKinney is another possible trade chip, but the Giants should be focused on retaining quality young players instead of dealing them away.

Draft tracker

The Giants now have seven picks in the 2024 draft: Their own picks in rounds 1-6, plus the second-rounder from Seattle. They dealt their seventh-round pick to Arizona for linebacker Isaiah Simmons in August.

(Top photo of Leonard Williams: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

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