LAS VEGAS — When the Giants decided they wanted to build their defensive front around Dexter Lawrence, the expectation was he would play alongside Leonard Williams for the entire 2023 season and perhaps not beyond that.
Williams was entering the final year of his contract, and Lawrence was at the start of a four-year, $90 million extension that secured his services through 2027.
Eight games into the season, Williams was sent to the Seahawks for two draft picks, with the 2024 second-rounder the reason why the Giants decided to make the deal.
Just like that, Lawrence’s good friend and his tag-team partner on the interior of the defensive line was shipped clear across the country.
Williams, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium, will be replaced by a combination of A’Shawn Robinson and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, veterans signed this year for depth options.
How much better did Williams’ presence make Lawrence?
He is the NFL’s top-rated interior defender, according to Pro Football Focus, and his 44 total pressures are ahead of the other top three players at the position: Jalen Carter (28), Aaron Donald (38) and Quinnen Williams (25).
And now, Lawrence goes at it without Leonard Williams, who is PFF’s 37th-ranked defensive lineman.
“He’s definitely a major piece and we’ve got to figure out a way to — I think we’ve done a good job of having other guys play those roles, come in the game and do well and make plays,’’ Lawrence said.
“Obviously, he’s Leonard Williams, he’s a great football player and it’s going to be hard to replace something like that. The thing is, everybody doesn’t have to be a Leonard Williams, everybody doesn’t have to be a Dexter Lawrence. Nacho has to be a Nacho. AR has to be an AR, and they are still good players that can play in this league, that have played in this league for a long time. So, I don’t want to hear the things about, ‘How do we replace Leonard?’ You can’t replace Leonard, he’s only one of one. So, the next guys got to step up and do their job.’’
The Giants are 1-2 since the return of Saquon Barkley, who missed three games with a high ankle sprain.
In the two losses, the Giants ended a 14-9 defeat on the Buffalo 1-yard line and last week blew a 10-7 lead to the Jets in the final 24 seconds of regulation.
“We feel like we should be 4-4 right now,’’ Barkley said. “Obviously, we’re not. We’re 2-6. The games didn’t go our way, but there’s a couple plays here and there where if we could change, it’d be completely different, and it would be a whole different mindset for the outside world view of where the Giants are at and how we can compete.’’
Antonio Pierce as the interim head is not the only Giants connection with the Raiders.
Patrick Graham, the defensive coordinator for two years under Joe Judge, runs the Raiders’ defense — and was not elevated to the head coach position when Josh McDaniels was fired.
Jerry Schuplinski, the quarterbacks coach for Judge, is the Raiders tight ends coach and another former Giants assistant, Robbie Leonard, is Graham’s defensive line coach.
This story originally appeared on NYPost