The New York Giants have spent much of the offseason flirting with veteran offensive tackles. Russell Okung, Donald Penn and Eugene Monroe come to mind. The Giants, though have been steadfast in refusing to offer the biggest enticement they could aside from money. They have stubbornly insisted on leaving Ereck Flowers at left tackle despite his struggles, as a rookie, instead apparently telling veteran left tackles they would have to play on the right side for the Giants.
This is a question that comes up again and again. Why not just move Flowers to right tackle, clear the deck for a veteran left tackle, sign one and move on? Perhaps the following quote from new offensive line coach Mike Solari, given to me during the Meet the Coaches gathering before the draft, will shed some light on that.
“He's got all those reps at the left tackle spot. There's a big difference between left-handed stance, right-handed stance. There's been a lot of investment on those reps,” Solari said. “You'd like to right now keep him at that position because he's got a foundation, he's got a little experience there.”
Remember, too, what GM Jerry Reese said during the combine:
“We think Ereck Flowers is a left tackle. We think he’s going to be our left tackle moving forward,” Reese said. “He was up and down a little bit during the season. He really looked good at times, then he looked like a rookie at times. I think that rookie wall, I think he hit that at some point as well. But he’s a tough kid that stayed out there the whole time.”
So, the Giants have pretty much drawn a line in the sand with Flowers. They believe he has what it takes to be a quality left tackle for the long term. They have invested a year, now actually more than a year when you factor in spring OTAs and minicamps. They aren’t ready to throw away those reps or abandon the idea that Flowers can be what they drafted him to become — a franchise left tackle.
Reese likes to say that the organization wants to give its drafted players a chance to before making decisions about them. In Flowers’ case, you can argue that one season when he wasn’t supposed to play on the left side and did so while playing on a nagging ankle injury, isn’t enough of a chance to fail. Rookie left tackles historically have a difficult time. So, the fact that Flowers struggled mightily in 2015 came as a surprise to no one.
Sure, if someone like Tyron Smith fell into the Giants’ lap they would likely move Flowers. It does not, however, seem like they would be amenable to moving Flowers for a marginal short-term upgrade on the left side.
Remember also that football teams sometimes make decisions with more than the upcoming season in mind. It is easier, in theory, to re-construct the right of an offensive line than to find a franchise left tackle. The Giants can’t find out for sure if they need one without letting Flowers prove whether or not he is one.
Right? Left? What’s the difference, anyway?
We see it again and again — veteran left tackle balks at coming to a team to play the right side. Is it really that big of a deal?
The way the game is played now, with defenses moving players all around to look for mismatches, you can easily make an argument that there isn’t as much of a gap as there once was. Not when teams are lining up Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Justin Houston, J.J. Watt and other premier pass rushers as often as they can.
Solari, though, said that because the left side of the formation is open more than the right, meaning no tight end on that side, "You still want that best lineman, that best athlete at that left tackle spot.”
Perception, paychecks and plaudits all go to the left tackles. The right tackle is just that guy who isn’t quite quick enough, athletic enough or good enough to handle the “blind side” of the quarterback.
SB Nation’s Jeanna Thomas did an excellent study of left tackles vs. right tackles. She found that left tackles make an average of just below $9.85 million, while right tackles make just above $6.5 million.
Thomas also pointed out that Pro Football Focus lists five left tackles among its top 101 players, but zero right tackles. Here is some of what Thomas wrote:
Teams tend to place less talented players at right tackle -- and move more talented right tackles to the left side -- and defenses scheme to take advantage of that weakness. It all contributes to the collective performance deficit at the right tackle position across the NFL. ...
There's enough data to suggest that quarterbacks rely equally on quality protection from both tackles, and there are many right tackles making strong cases for teams to reevaluate the way they value the position. What remains to be seen is whether teams will actually change the way they prioritize either tackle position as a result.
Flowers says he “couldn’t care less” about left or right. The Giants, though, apparently still see left as a higher priority than right tackle. They believe Flowers is their answer, and they seem determined to allow him to prove them right. Or wrong.