The best teams, the most successful franchises, draft wisely, develop soundly and re-sign diligently.
The Giants for far too long have not been one of the best teams. They have been one of the worst teams. This brings us to what happens next with Dalvin Tomlinson.
The entire future of the franchise does not hinge on whether Tomlinson returns for a fifth season or moves on to another team. He is not a transcendent talent capable of determining the fate of a team. What Tomlinson is, without debate, is a rock-solid player and person, uber-dependable and durable, hard-working and professional, quiet yet forceful, the respect for him manifested in his selection as a team captain. An unflashy, effective defensive tackle, a linchpin of a Giants defense that in 2020 finished 10th in the league against the run, allowing only 111.4 rushing yards per game.
This is a player who wants to return, even after four years of losing, sensing a turnaround is coming.
The question: Can the Giants afford to pay Tomlinson the $10 million per year, or more, he would command on the open market in free agency while also re-signing linemate Leonard Williams to a multiyear deal averaging at least $18 million per season?
Another question: Can the Giants afford not to bring Tomlinson back?
In many says, what Joe Judge is preaching and building almost necessitates keeping Tomlinson. The big man has never missed a game in his four-year career, never created a hint of controversy and sacrifices on the field, taking on double-team blocks to help free up teammates to make plays. Ask inside linebacker Blake Martinez how many of his team-high 140 tackles in his first year with the Giants were aided and abetted by Tomlinson’s dirty work at the line of scrimmage.
Ask members of the secondary to gauge Tomlinson’s value. His 49 total tackles and career-highs in tackles for loss (eight) and quarterback hits (10) plus his 3.5 sacks only tell part of the tale.
“I think Dalvin is having as good of a year as anybody on our defense,” safety Logan Ryan said late last season. “Leonard’s having a great year statistically, but Dalvin is having a better year for our team and what we ask him to do.”
If Tomlinson leaves it will continue a disturbing trend — a trend Judge has said he is determined to stop.
There was a long span when the Giants often had the golden touch with their second-round draft picks. Michael Strahan. Amani Toomer. Tiki Barber. Without Osi Umenyiora, Chris Snee and Corey Webster, there would not be the two newest Lombardi trophies in the glass-enclosed case. The failure to keep and, in more cases, to develop their second-round picks has severely compromised the Giants’ chances for success.
In December 2008, the Giants gave Webster, a reliable cornerback, a five-year contract extension. In the next 10 drafts, the Giants’ second round pick did not receive a multiyear contract extension. That is abysmal. In some cases, injuries (Steve Smith, Terrell Thomas) ruined careers. There were a slew of unproductive players taken in the second round. When there were big hits (Linval Joseph, Landon Collins), the decision was made not to ante up with a lucrative deal. The ruinous streak ended when Sterling Shepard signed a four-year extension in April 2019.
What message does Judge send to his players if Tomlinson, a player who did everything right in order to stay, ends up leaving?
Tuesday is the first day teams can place franchise or transition tags on players, a period ending March 9. Putting the franchise tag on Tomlinson is a way of making sure he plays for the Giants this season but most likely does not make financial sense. Based on a salary cap of $180 million, the tag for defensive tackles is expected to cost around $14 million. That would be more costly on the 2021 cap than any long-term deal for Tomlinson.
Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was the Giants defensive line coach in 2017 when Tomlinson was a rookie and said the success of the defensive line this past season was “a direct correlation to his leadership and what he does on that field, regardless of statistics or what have you.”
The Giants will have to consider this, and their unsightly record in re-signing their own second-round picks, when it comes time to make the call on Tomlinson.