If you think having Saquon Barkley and Daniel Jones reach free agency at the same time creates headaches for the Giants, avert your eyes from 2024.
Next season marks the final year on the contracts of safety Xavier McKinney, left tackle Andrew Thomas and defensive tackles Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. In other words, general manager Joe Schoen faces a balancing act this offseason negotiating with immediate unrestricted free agents and also engaging in early extension talks with the other young core pieces of a playoff team.
“The UFAs will probably be the priority early on, but we’ll also factor those in,” Schoen said. “We’re not just planning for the 2023 offseason. We’re looking down the line at ’24 and ’25. What’s on the horizon? How will this affect us moving forward? We’re going through a bunch of different scenarios.”
McKinney, 23, missed eight games this season after he broke his hand and severely weakened three fingers during an all-terrain vehicle accident in Mexico during the bye week. The Giants did not withhold his pay for a violation of contract, but did that change the view of the defensive co-captain as a franchise cornerstone?
“Not for us,” Schoen said. “He’s a young man who made a mistake. Initially, it wasn’t about football. It was more about his well-being as a young man. We all make mistakes, and we have to learn from them. He fought to get back. I’m just glad he was able to play again. He’s a great kid that we look forward to working with.”
Lawrence, 25, had a breakout season with a career-high 7.5 sacks and remained a dominant run-stuffer. He made his first Pro Bowl and was a Second-Team All-Pro, after it is believed the Giants turned down a trade offer for him at the deadline.
Lawrence is signed on a fifth-year option for $12.4 million next season, but the top of the defensive-tackle market is predicted by the experts to explode to $20 million to $25 million per year. Jets star Quinnen Williams threatened to skip all voluntary offseason activities if he has to play on his option instead of a lucrative extension.
“Dexter has done enough [to enter talks],” Schoen said. “Dexter played really well. Great person, great teammate, happy he’s here. We have certain cap space and certain tools at our disposal, and we’ll figure out how we want to use them.”
The Giants can be more patient with Thomas, 24, by exercising his fifth-year option (a no-brainer before the May deadline) to secure him for 2024 at about $14.5 million, which is about $3 million less than it would have been without a 2022 Pro Bowl snub. Thomas was a second-team All-Pro.
Williams, 28, is in a different boat than the others, having already earned his big second contract (three years, $63 million). The final year of that extension is 2023, when he is due to count $32.2 million (the third-largest charge among all NFL non-quarterbacks) against the cap.
Williams suggested Sunday that he might be open to a pay cut from his $18 million salary but quickly walked it back, perhaps confused with the alternative of a restructure to lower his cap hit but add more years to the deal. The Giants could cut Williams for $12 million in savings against $20.2 million dead cap.
“We haven’t discussed that yet,” Schoen said. “I like his quote that he’d be interested in taking a pay cut — [media] did a good job, whoever asked him that. He didn’t mention that in his exit interview. … If we need to open up money, I wouldn’t rule that out.”