Is it crazy to think Giants GM Dave Gettleman would pull the franchise tag from Leonard Williams?

Ralph Vacchiano
SNY

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Dave Gettleman stunned the NFL back on April 20, 2016 when he did what many thought was unthinkable. He had an All-Pro cornerback, generally considered one of the best in the NFL, on an ascending team coming off a loss in Super Bowl 50. And he had him locked up for the next season with the franchise tag.

Then, he pulled that tag right out from under Josh Norman's feet.

Gettleman's decision to rescind the franchise tag that day was bold, bizarre, and almost universally criticized. But from Gettleman's view, as the Carolina Panthers general manager, it was a responsible and necessary thing to do.

 

So that history at least opens up this question four years later: After giving Leonard Williams the franchise tag for the Giants a week ago, is there any chance Gettleman would pull a tag again?

The answer: With Gettleman, you never know.

But probably not.

The biggest reason for why Gettleman is likely to stick with Williams in a way that he didn't with Norman is that he really does like the 25-year-old defensive lineman. As much as he was criticized for trading a third- and fifth-round pick to the Jets for Williams, he did it because he thinks Williams adds value to the Giants' defense. Maybe he's not the pass-rusher the Jets had hoped when they made him the sixth overall pick in 2015, but the Giants believe he's a disruptive presence and is outstanding against the run.

That's why, when the Giants traded for him, sources immediately told SNY the plan was to sign Williams to a long-term contract. That is still the plan, though at last check the two sides weren't close to any deal.

Of course, that was Gettleman's plan with Norman in 2015, too, and he spent a month talking with Norman's agent. They never got close to a deal, though, and that led to Gettleman pulling the tag.

But at the time, according to reports, Gettleman was fearful that the outspoken Norman would become a distraction and a disruptive force for a team getting ready to try for a second-straight Super Bowl run. He said in a statement at the time that "after a number of conversations with Josh's agent, we realized that a long-term deal was not attainable."

Gettleman also apparently realized that Norman planned to skip the Panthers' offseason workouts and mini-camps, and possibly hold out into training camp, too.

There is no indication at all that Williams intends to do any of that. In fact, such a disruptive move would seem to be out of character for him. Also, he has to know that if he doesn't sign his $16.1 million franchise tender, there probably isn't the kind of mega-deal he wants waiting for him on a fairly depressed market. Norman got a five-year, $75 million contract from the Redskins six days after the Panthers un-tagged him -- a deal he surely knew would be available.

But that's not realistic for Williams in a current climate where arguably the best pass rusher on the market -- Jadeveon Clowney -- is still unsigned, and so far hasn't seen anyone meet his asking price of more than $20 million per season on a long-term deal.

Video: What are grades for the Giants in free agency so far?

And it should be noted that even if Williams was furious at the tag and planned to skip the offseason program or on-field workouts, the current coronavirus pandemic gives everyone a little time to let cooler heads prevail. The offseason program will not open, as scheduled, on April 6, and organized team activities (OTAs) and the June mini-camps may end up getting cancelled, too. So even if Williams wanted to take a stand, there is no danger of an unhappy franchise player causing any kind of distraction right now.

But again, this has never felt like it was headed towards the unhappy ending that Norman had in Carolina anyway. Williams, at the end of last season, said he enjoyed his two months playing for the Giants. He said publicly and told Gettleman privately that he wants to sign a long-term deal.

So while things could always change, there's no reason to think rescinding the tag from Williams is even under consideration. Yes, a $16.1 million cap hit is a lot, but there's not much the Giants could do with it now anyway, with the first two waves of free agency basically over.

And while Clowney is still out there, the Giants just aren't interested in him at that price. If they were, they wouldn't have tagged Williams in the first place, and would've made their run at Clowney instead.

The Giants want Williams, and that has been the case since Gettleman began exploring that trade with the Jets back in October. And while Gettleman isn't afraid of shaking up his roster with moves other people think are crazy, rescinding the tag from Williams would be even more of a shocker now than it was when he did it to Norman four years ago.

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