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Free Agent Spotlight: Defensive Tackle, Leonard Williams

Could the former Jet help out his old coach?

NFL: Washington Football Team at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This is kind of a different offseason, isn’t it? Usually when we do these profiles we’re looking for that impact player that we think will put the Buccaneers over the top. This time around, we’re looking for depth and potential replacements for big name free agents that might opt for money over another run at a championship.

In this particular case, we’re looking at the latter.

Ndamukong Suh is a key piece to this Bucs team and defense but he finds himself in free agency yet again. With that in mind, who could potentially replace him should he opt to get himself paid? How about a guy who has already filled that role in a Todd Bowles’ defense?

Leonard Williams’ Career Thus Far

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After being a stand out player for USC - where he was a two-time First Team All-PAC 12 and the 2012 PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Williams was selected sixth overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. From there, he was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team following a 63 tackle, three sack campaign in his first year in the NFL.

In his four-and-a-half years with the New York Jets, Williams amassed 220 tackles (114 solo) with 32 tackles for loss, 90 quarterback hits, 17 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception in 71 games.

Midway through the 2019 season, Williams was traded to the team his Jets share a stadium with - the New York Giants - for a 2020 third round pick and 2021 fifth round pick. The Giants opted to franchise tag him following the 2019 season.

In his season-and-a-half with the G-Men, Williams had 57 tackles (29 solo), 16 tackles for loss, 41 quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. The most eye-popping stat in his time with the Giants is his 41 quarterback hits. His production in that category skyrocketed once he swapped out green for blue.

Why It Works

Williams would come in from day one with a full understanding of the intricacies of Bowles’ defense having played in it from 2015-2018. The big difference is, he didn’t have the cast of characters around him to help the way he would in Tampa. Lining up alongside Vita Vea would go a long way, but with Jason Pierre-Paul, Devin White, and (possibly) Shaquil Barret and Lavonte David rushing the quarterback around him, he would clear the way similarly to what we’ve seen out of Suh the past couple of years.

Something very clearly clicked in his time with the Giants to where he is far better and more consistent about getting pressure on the quarterback. Having a guy like that line up in this defense would bring good things for not just the pass rush, but the back end that made a habit of turning quarterback pressure into opportunistic takeaways.

But...

Why did things click once he got away from Bowles? Was it something about that defensive scheme that didn’t allow for Williams’ talents to truly flourish? Or was he a victim of bad circumstance and below average talent around him? On top of that, would he even want to play for Bowles again?

Williams was a very vocal supporter of Bowles over his time in New York, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the two men got along. It could have been a matter of saying the right things in front of the media - so it’s a question worth asking and wondering if there were any conflicts between the two behind closed doors.

What’s the Cost?

After playing on the franchise tag that paid him $16-million in 2020, Williams’ current market value sits at $11.2-million average annual salary according to Spotrac. That’s a bit steep for a team that currently sits with less than $30-million in projected cap space and has a laundry list of internal free agents to bring back should they so choose.

Is Williams worth taking up more than a third of that? Probably not. That’s the kind of money you would use for Barrett or Chris Godwin, not Williams. However, Jason Licht and Mike Greenberg do a fantastic job with these contracts so if they truly felt Williams was an upgrade they would find a way to get him in the building.

What We Don’t Know

Currently, that’s the situation surrounding Suh. According to an interview Suh had with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, Suh not only wants to be back but believes he will be;

“My goal is to come back and have an opportunity to go win another championship. Me and Tom [Brady] spoke the other day about that opportunity, as well as with Jason Licht. I don’t know if you saw our parade celebration on that podium, Coach B.A. [Bruce Arians] said I’m not going anywhere. And he’s usually a man of his word. So I look forward to the opportunity to continue to play, especially for Tampa. And I honestly believe I have a lot of elite, great talent left in me to play. I’m not ready to hang them up yet. And my wife has given me the O.K.—that’s first and foremost, I got that permission.”

Breer believes Suh will be around for a while so we may see a multi-year deal done with Suh in order to lessen the cap hit for 2021. If that is indeed the case, the point is moot. Williams isn’t going to take a rotational role for less money. He will want to go somewhere that he will be a full time player and contributor.

Make The Decision

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

So, what do you think? If Suh walks, is Williams the guy to look to? Or do you even believe that the younger Williams would be a longer term upgrade over Suh? Vote in the poll below and let us know what you think of the latest free agent spotlight player.

Poll

When It Comes To Leonard Williams, What Would You Have The Buccaneers Do?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (10 votes)
  • 27%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (80 votes)
  • 30%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (89 votes)
  • 18%
    Call Him Up If They Have A Need After The Draft
    (54 votes)
  • 21%
    Don’t Need Him
    (63 votes)
296 votes total Vote Now